My elusive inner child.

little_girl_hiding

Chair Girl (the name I call the vulnerable and scared little girl who lives inside me) is an elusive, skittish little kid. I named her Chair Girl because when I’m in therapy I usually have her “sit” in the extra arm chair to my left, and talk to her there. I picture her as being about 6 – 8 years old, which is around the time life became too painful for her to bear. She began to go into hiding around that time (or more accurately, I sent her there).

But she never went away. She’s always been a part of me, but a part of me I found shameful and embarrassing. I began to dissociate from her over the next few years, trying to deny her existence.

Sometimes she’s a bit older, around 10 years old; on occasion she is of preschool age — about 4 or 5.  When she “sits” in the big black chair, she looks so tiny there, as if the chair is going to swallow her up.  She does little kid things, like swing her legs and wiggle, twirl her hair around her small finger and fidget.   She’s very cute but has a scared and wary look like a feral animal — or a deer caught in the headlights.  Her eyes seem way too big for her pale little face.

Sometimes she’s willing to come out of hiding and talk about the way she feels. I have noticed lately when I’m “her,” I speak in a 6 – 8 year old’s voice. My therapist speaks to her in what I can only describe as a “dad” voice. Sometimes he even calls her sweetie. She likes that and knows it’s sincere. My therapist told me he really likes Chair Girl and wants to get to know her better, but she’s still very shy and not always willing to come out. Sometimes I feel like I have to coax her out, but it doesn’t always work.

It’s harder to penetrate the emptiness and painful emotions inside me when I can’t bring Chair Girl out. It’s like trying to speak or feel through a thick filter. Even when I can describe the feelings I don’t actually feel them. When I’m in my normal adult-mode, I intellectualize these feelings and talk about them matter of factly, as if I’m discussing someone else. I can’t release the trauma or work with the emotions unless I can actually feel them.

That’s why Chair Girl is so important to me. I used to hate and be ashamed of her, but I’ve developed some empathy and even love for her, and am beginning to see her wonderful and positive qualities, and the ways she can help me heal and grow as a person. She has gifts, but was never shown how to use them. Instead, she was shamed for them. I became ashamed of her and sent her into hiding until she rarely came out anymore.

I’ve apologized to her for sending her into exile, and for devaluing her. I told her I love her and want us to have a healthy and loving relationship but asked her to be patient with me.

When she does come out in my sessions, I usually get emotional. Sometimes I even cry because of how sorry I am and how much I regret treating her the same way my parents and others during my childhood did. I cry over the lost years, a life blighted and stunted because of my refusal to accept her as she is. But sometimes I shed tears of happiness too, that we’ve found each other again, even if it’s only sometimes.

Last week’s session was frustrating because Chair Girl didn’t come out of hiding until the last five minutes. There’s not much work we can do in those few short minutes. Afterwards, I told her that she shouldn’t be afraid, that she is in a safe place and will not be hurt during our sessions. She will only be validated and loved.

Even though she’s so elusive, Chair Girl is learning things and gaining confidence. All she wants is to love and be loved for herself, without condition. She wants to play and have fun and have friends and learn about the world and people. She wants to help other people who suffered the same kind of trauma she did.  She loves animals and nature and books.

She wants to be able to use the high sensitivity she was born with, and through me beginning to show her the empathy she never received (this felt awkward and fake at first but it’s getting a lot easier and more natural now), she’s slowly learning how to use her gifts instead of being so ashamed of them. She’s finding out what a powerful and beautiful little person she is and that she has the ability to heal us both by bringing us together for good.

Trust.

I have trouble trusting people who are too kind to me, because I always assume they will abandon me or turn on me later. So I avoid people who try to get too close.

The irony of this is I have this fantasy of just being held and loved unconditionally (not in a sexual way at all), just for being me, and this can bring me to tears. But in reality, I can’t let this happen and avoid that kind of closeness. It really sucks because I know that’s what I really need more than anything.

Tonight in therapy I was my 8 year old self and even found myself talking in a little girl’s voice. My therapist talked to me in a “daddy” voice. He even called me sweetie, the way you’d call a little girl sweetie. I liked that. It’s gotten a lot easier for me to slip into my child-self and actually become her. I pleaded in a higher pitched voice, “Daddy, please stop confusing me. I wish you could just love me.” Then I started to cry. That surprised me, but I think it was a kind of breakthrough.

Fear of joy.

fear_of_joy

There was another thing my therapist and I talked about last night, which I forgot to mention in last night’s post.   Another reason why I might have become sad and depressed is because while the inner peace and quiet joy I felt upon returning from my vacation felt wonderful, the pathological part of my mind–the one that obeys the “narrative” I was expected to adhere to for most of my life–fears the emotional openness that joy requires, and also the freedom it makes possible.  That part of me feels “safer” staying confined within its gloomy prison of defenses and avoidance because it’s all it ever knew.

There’s a kind of sadness inherent in intense joy.*   This is very hard to explain, but I think it’s because the emotion is so “big”–bordering on the spiritual.  Maybe “sadness” isn’t quite the right word, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed by too much joy if you’re not used to it.    It’s like looking into the face of God if you haven’t prepared yourself first.  An example of this that many people remember (and found funny because it was) is that guy who made that viral Youtube video of the double rainbow and broke down in sobs because he couldn’t handle how beautiful it was.

To someone who has felt too little joy, and has spent most of their life running away from authentic connection with other people, with your authentic self, with the world, with nature, with the creative impulse, or with the divine (all things that lead to joy), suddenly finding the door to your soul–which has always been safely locked and kept you from being able to experience any emotions other than the survival ones (anger and fear) or the ones having to do with shame (self hatred, shame and guilt)–  flung wide open with the sun streaming in can be overwhelming and even frightening.    It’s a kind of emotional agoraphobia.  I think it’s related to our fear of the unknown.  The type of joy I experienced recently was intense and seemed to have some sort of profound meaning.  I couldn’t decipher what exactly what it all meant, but I knew it was big. Being able to feel something so intense and spiritual required being completely open and vulnerable in a childlike way, something I’ve long protected myself against.

My therapist thinks the defensive, disordered part of me rejected it because it was afraid of its mystery and unknowability–and the requirement of allowing so much childlike openness and vulnerability.  It’s part of the unhealthy narrative I was programmed to adhere to:   Never take emotional risks, don’t walk blindly into the unknown, always know exactly what you’re doing at all times.  Don’t trust. Don’t love anyone or anything too much. Don’t let yourself be too vulnerable.  Keep the door locked tight.  It’s too dangerous not to.

So when the internal narrative finally had enough intense positive emotion and kicked back in to guard against it, my inner child felt grief stricken at the loss of those glorious  feelings and believed the lie that she could never feel that way again because what she had thought was real was merely a bizarre and dangerous delusion suddenly dropped into an otherwise constricted, unfulfilling, but “safe” life.

*****

* There’s also a kind of joy inherent in certain types of sadness (NOT depression), but I won’t elaborate on that in this post.

Envy and replacing shame with acceptance.

shame_jung

For as long as I can remember, envy was always a huge problem for me. This is one of the reasons I think I probably have covert narcissism. Envy isn’t something usually associated with BPD (borderlines are much more likely to become codependent to those they see as “superior”). Of course, it’s possible to be both.

Envy is associated with a sense of entitlement. For a covert narcissist, the emotion of envy is a lot more complicated than it is for an grandiose narcissist. A grandiose narcissist, believing they are better than others (but only the false self actually believes this), feels entitled to be treated accordingly. They are filled with anger and resentment when they see someone else who has something they want and if they are malignant, they may try to sabotage the other person’s good fortune. They don’t try to hide behind a facade of deference to others.

Covert narcissists also have problems with entitlement, but it’s a lot more hidden. They normally do not think of themselves as superior, at least not in the overt, in your face way a grandiose narcissist does. They may even consciously suffer from low self esteem and feel worthless. Being a victim often becomes a way to obtain supply, in the form of sympathy or attention. Not all covert narcissists are like this, but many of them are. But at the same time they feel worthless, they also feel a sense of superiority or entitlement.

The dynamics of how this works are complicated, but try to stay with me here.

Emotions at war.

Covert narcissists, as opposed to grandiose narcissists, tend to be low functioning (though not always).   If, let’s say, a covert narcissist is the outcast in a group or ignored (and they are often introverted and sometimes socially awkward too, though not always), they feel victimized or unappreciated. To resolve the cognitive dissonance caused by wanting to feel superior to others but their reality indicating anything but, they take on a kind of “sour grapes” attitude. So, for example, they might pretend (or even convince themselves) their introversion or social awkwardness makes them somehow “better” than others who are more extroverted or popular.  They tell themselves the reason they’re ignored, rejected, or unappreciated is because they are actually more intelligent, more insightful, or have more “depth” than the extroverted or more popular “peons” who are ignoring or rejecting them. They tell themselves others just don’t appreciate their superior mind (or whatever) because they are too stupid (or shallow, or whatever). They believe they deserve better and resent others for treating them like they’re less. They might even go so far as to tell themselves others are jealous of them! This is actually projection, because the reality is, no one is jealous of them–they are actually deeply envious of others. Of course they will never tell you they think they’re better than you, because that would make them grandiose. They keep the feelings of superiority and entitlement to themselves and it’s still mixed with feelings of worthlessness and self hatred.

Unfortunately, as ugly (and confusing) as this description is, I can identify all too well with it, because I’ve been this way since adolescence. Telling myself I was really better than others made the fact I was usually an outcast (or deliberately isolated myself, assuming I would be cast out) more bearable. But the truth was never far away, and the truth was: I felt absolutely worthless and hated myself.

Life as a zero-sum game.

Until very recently, it was hard for me to feel any joy when something good happened to someone else (unless there was something in it for me) because somehow another’s good fortune made me feel diminished. It was as if I regarded life as a zero-sum game. If you win, that means I must lose. I’ve been aware of this trait for many years. I always hated this about myself and tried not to be this way, but it was nearly impossible to drum up any joy for others. It was so difficult to fake being happy for someone that I compensated by changing the subject or ignoring the good news of someone else. Or sometimes, even throwing subtle barbs into a compliment or congratulations. Yes, it was very narcissistic and I’m ashamed of that.

cartoon_antidepressant

It got so bad that when I was married, when my husband got a promotion (even though the extra money we’d have DID affect me positively), I was overcome with envy and all I could do was change the subject because I found myself unable to even fake happiness. I remember thinking, “why don’t I ever get promoted? I deserve to be recognized for my hard work too.” Somehow his achievement made me feel like a failure in comparison, and I felt bitter and miserable for days after that. I tried to hide these feelings because I knew they were wrong and filled me with shame. But I couldn’t make my emotions obey my mind (which told me his promotion–or anyone else’s good news–had nothing to do with me). Because this isn’t a BPD trait, I think I developed a thin sheet of narcissism on top of my BPD.

Fortunately, this awful trait never extended to my kids. Even when I was at my worst, I always felt happy when my kids succeeded in something or were happy. I always felt sad when they were sad or hurt. I had a lot of empathy for my kids, even when that didn’t really extend to anyone else.

Learning to love your real self.

I’m happy to say that this is changing, and my empathy is starting to extend way beyond my children. I’m no longer so envious of others (though I can’t say it’s completely gone–I do have relapses, especially when triggered). I don’t always feel diminished or resentful when someone tells me their good news. More and more often, I’m actually able to feel happy for others when they tell me something good happened to them–even when there’s nothing in it for me. It sure is a lot nicer to feel happy for someone than to resent them!

I’ve written about this recently, but lately I’ve been feeling a kind of softening inside, more tender and loving emotions, like something inside me has shifted. I think this is because in therapy (and because of my faith too), I’m learning how to accept my inner child (true self). This basically means replacing shame and dislike with love and empathy for that child. When you begin to stop feeling ashamed of who you really are, and begin to see the gifts your inner child was born with but you were blind to because shame was always in the way, you begin to stop rejecting that child and allow your real self to come out more often and shine (and in so doing, you no longer have a need for a fake, false self as a shoddy replacement).

In my case, I always tried to hide my inner child’s positive traits — high sensitivity, emotionality, desire for connection, appreciation of beauty, and wanting to love and be loved — because I was programmed at an early age to believe all these traits were “weak” and that emotional vulnerability and everything that goes with it was something to be ashamed of. It was the narrative I lived that my parents (and later, bullies at school) drummed into me at a very early age. I tried to cover that over with a tough exterior for awhile, but when that didn’t work (grandiose narcissism was a very bad fit for my temperament!), I turned inward and began to isolate myself and at the same time, resent everyone else. I wouldn’t let anyone get to know the real me, and isolating myself was the easiest way for me to hide.

little_girl

Fortunately I never developed full-blown NPD (just a lot of N traits as a way to protect myself from the emotional ravages of BPD–I call this my “aluminum foil” false self because it’s so thin and easily torn), so it may be taking less time for me to be able to access my real self, and begin to replace shame with acceptance and real self-love. I’ve only been in therapy for 10 months and I can’t believe how far I’ve come already. Of course it also helps to have a therapist who is highly empathetic and skilled in getting someone like me to be able to see themselves from a different vantage point and teach me how to empathize with my inner child (and in so doing, learn to re-parent myself). I also had a head start because I was blogging about my mental and emotional state for about a year before I started therapy, and that helped me gain a high degree of insight into myself (and temperamentally, I’ve always been analytical). Prayer and meditation have helped enormously too.

I’m also highly motivated. I don’t like these traits in myself at all. I hate them so much that if I were offered a choice between being rid of them for good and a million dollars, I would choose to forgo the money but be emotionally free.  I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I really am going to win this fight.

This…shifting.

kaleidoscope

Since my trip to the Gulf Coast, I’ve been noticing this…shifting inside.  Other people have mentioned that they’ve noticed something in me has changed.  I think something has.

I don’t know exactly what it is, but I feel like more and more, I can see things as they actually are–and they almost always aren’t nearly so bad as I had feared.

I’m also starting to realize just how much I project ill will onto others where it doesn’t exist.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t have an emotionally abusive mother and husband, but it means that a lot of my paranoia, hypervigilance, suspicion and fear of others is often unfounded.   it’s nothing but a defensive mechanism, part of my disorder.

In a post from a few days ago, I talked about my mother in law. I thought she hated me for a long time, but during my trip I learned from my son that she doesn’t, not at all.   In fact she actually does care about me.  I projected ill will onto her because she isn’t a woman who is emotionally expressive and she’s very pragmatic in her dealings with others.    Being so hypevigilant and sensitive, I read that as “hate.”   I can think of several other examples of this too, where I realized it was me projecting things onto others in a negative way.

It’s like my vantage point has shifted.

At the same time these blinders to myself are being removed, I feel myself beginning to embrace the moment I’m in. Not just as a mindfulness practice, but as a real way of being and feeling. Maybe it’s due to trusting others–and the world–and God– more.  Maybe I’m slowly learning to trust again, the way I did when I was a child–and there’s awe and wonder there now mixed in with the tired old fear and shame. But it’s a new, more mindful kind of trust than the mindless gullibility I had as a young girl– a trust tempered with caution born of great pain.

Sometimes when I’m fully in the moment and allowing my heart to open to it, I feel this sort of melting…or shifting inside. It’s almost a physical feeling but not quite. It’s like the emotional equivalent of that warm, contented feeling that permeates through you like warm syrup  after a having a glass of wine.   It’s an expansive, almost loving feeling, toward life itself, and it’s delicious.

It’s not something I’m used to, and its fleetingness makes it almost hurt sometimes. I want this feeling. I want so much more of it. I miss it when it goes away again, and it always does.  It doesn’t last.   Right now, it’s such an elusive  thing and so fragile.   The fragility hurts, but it’s the kind of hurt that feels almost good, like the way a loose tooth hurt when you were a kid and you just had to keep pressing it with your tongue.  That doesn’t really accurately describe it, but it’s the closest analogy I can think of.

This feeling is better than any drug.   I need to feel it again…and again.   I need to internalize and make it a full-time part of me.

I know these are the real feelings of my inner child, who is no longer in such a deep slumber.

She’s beginning to wake up because someone–me–is learning to love and accept her for who she is and is no longer keeping her hidden away like some sort of shameful embarrassment.

A reader of this blog who is also a friend, described this exact same feeling to me in an email today. In some ways I think we’re at the same stage of our healing, although other details differ.

We talked a lot about that and about me as a child. I got this warmth in my chest, and acceptance of the child. Of me. I felt this softness inside, like something broke and became fluid. I felt warmth, maybe even love, to that child that was me. It was so nice to feel like that. Soft inside. Forgiving. No anger.
Now it has turned a bit cold again. But I wan’t to feel it again.

This nails the feeling exactly, and so beautifully expressed.

Freeing myself from my past by making peace with it.

makepeacewithpast
Credit: Me

I woke up earlier from a very odd dream.  Unfortunately, I didn’t post about it right away, so the details are a little fuzzy, but I do remember the gist of it.  At first it made no sense to me (most dreams don’t right away), but when I realized it wasn’t to be taken literally, it began to make perfect sense.

I dreamt I was on vacation with my MN ex.  I don’t know where we were, but it was on a beach somewhere.  We were renting a beach house.   We were getting along very well (!), and at some point I felt this outpouring of love for him.   In real life, I feel nothing but a strong dislike and disgust.

Inspired by my loving feelings toward him, I told him I’d like to make things work with him again.   I apologized for my part in the destruction of our marriage and the ways I’d hurt him.  I prompted him to do the same.   He was hesitant, but he agreed, and made amends for all the terrible things he did to me and to our family.

“Let’s just let the past stay in the past now and start over, as if we just met,” I said, and he agreed to let bygones be bygones.

When I woke up, I actually laughed, because I have no loving feelings toward my ex whatsoever.  I have no desire to resume any kind of contact with him, ever.  He’s still as evil and hateful as he ever was and has grown worse over time (I know not all narcissists are evil, but THIS one definitely is!) and has zero conscience or empathy.   I also know that in real life, there’s no way he would ever be so agreeable and cooperative, even if I were to suggest such a crazy thing.

I scratched my head trying to decipher what this meant.  Obviously it wasn’t really about him.   Slowly it dawned on me that in the dream, my ex represented either my inner child (who I’ve spent years rejecting and denying) or my past.   Either way, it doesn’t matter, because both bleed into each other.  My inner child is my past, and my past is my inner child.

Slowly I’ve been learning to develop empathy for my inner child and stop pretending she isn’t there.  I’m actually learning to love her and appreciate her because her heart is so huge and she is so genuine and has so much love to give.  I’m learning to incorporate her gifts into my everyday life.  It’s not easy and sometimes I still pretend I can’t hear her because I’m still programmed to feel ashamed of her.   But I’m hearing her more, and realizing she’s not some pathetic, weak, immature little brat, but she is the real me–the one who never got to grow up because her spirit was squashed when she was so young.   I’m mature enough now–and also armed with the truth about what really happened to me–to know how to use her gifts, or at least start trying.  When I was a child, her gifts only brought me shame and I had no idea how to use them (and wasn’t allowed to use them anyway), so I rejected them.

In the process of learning to love the real me, I’m also learning to accept my past, and finally move on from it.

For as long as we can’t make peace with our past, we remain trapped in it.

Surrounded by beauty.

gulf_lowtide2

I went back to the beach this morning (I finally got up early), and the tide was the lowest I’ve seen it, and it was still going out. Sandbars stretched pretty far into what was covered over by water the day before yesterday, leaving bathwater-hot tidal pools filled with small tan fish (probably minnows), skeins of green-brown seaweed, and tiny hermit crabs. I put my things down on the dry part of the beach and waded out, deliberately stepping in the warm pools and feeling the soft silty sand along the way. Dragonflies flitted back and forth, probably looking for mosquitoes for brunch. The only annoying thing was the many biting sand-flies, which tried to eat up my legs (why didn’t the dragonflies go after those?) But as soon as I’d waded far enough where no more sand was exposed, the biting flies disappeared.

gulf_lowtide5

I found a nice spot that wasn’t too mushy (some of the sand here is VERY soft, reminding me of quicksand, so I had to be mindful of that) and fairly free of seaweed. I settled into the slightly cooler water there, which only came up to my waist when I sat down in it.

At first there was no one else but me on the beach. I felt like I was the only person on earth. The sky was a bright blue dome, darkening to almost indigo toward its center, with white puffy cumulus clouds lining the edges against the horizon like lace trim. The water was clear and reflected the blue of the sky. I had waded so far out that I was surrounded on every side by barely moving but ever-changing water. I could tell the tide was still going out by the direction of the tiny ripples, and I kept having to move farther in to stay immersed. I looked back at where I’d laid my things on the beach and could barely see them anymore. I was very far out! I decided not to go any further because I didn’t want to lose sight of my things, even though it looked like the very shallow water went out quite a ways. I also didn’t want to be stuck any farther out if the tide suddenly came in.

gulf_lowtide3

I laid down in the water and dug my toes into the wonderful fine sand. I put my hands behind my head and let my elbows rest in the sand, propping my head up so I could see. It was clouding up just a little, and they looked so close overhead I felt like I could reach out and touch them. I heard gulls overhead and way in the distance, I could hear the rumble of a motorboat. I stretched out my arms and legs and just let myself float, tempted to shout to the sky about how great God is and what an incredible gift this trip has been for me, and how blessed I am to be in this healing place right now.

gulf_lowtide1

Mindful of my things on the beach and not wanting to drift too far away, I got myself back in a seated position and played with the sand again, rubbing it all over me the way I did two days ago. I decided to give myself a facial (that’s how soft this sand is!) so I plastered some of it on my face, let it dry a little, and then washed it off in the slightly salty water (Gulf water is less salty than ocean water). A few other people were visible here and there now, wading in the tidal pools or sitting in the shallow water. A young couple obviously in love embraced not too far away. Maybe they were on their honeymoon. I hoped things worked out for them.

gulf_lowtide4_toes

It was getting hotter and there were more people now, including some kids with plastic buckets and shovels collecting shells and hermit crabs. These kids and their equipment triggered a memory of myself as a mosquito-bitten, golden-tanned and skinny 8 year old, exploring a similar beach much farther north where my parents had rented a vacation cottage for two weeks. That beach was off Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, where I remembered the sandbars had stretched out even further into the distance–so far that the deeper water was only a thin dark blue line against the horizon. I remembered playing out there for hours, collecting hermit crabs in my orange plastic bucket and then setting them free, and how fast the incoming tide had moved–so fast my friends and I used to try to race it in. I recalled sunsets seen from our screened in porch, painting the tidal pools pink and orange, and the smell of citronella and the sound of the bug zapper as the armies of mosquitoes dodged into it. Memories of that distant summer fused with the here and now, and time itself seemed to stop. I was still that child, yes–more wounded and damaged, but still essentially intact under my armor born of pain; still curious about everything and still in love with the wonders of the natural world. A child who still possessed the ability to give and receive love.  I always wanted to go back to that place; now I’m here instead.

cape_code_sandbars
Sandbars off Cape Cod Bay, Brewster, Massachusetts

I had no idea how long I remained out there. It seemed like a very long time. I could have stayed in that heavenly spot all day, but being so fair skinned, I knew I should probably head back to the car before I got too sunburned.

The most healing thing that could ever happen to me.

newborn

I had an extra appointment with my therapist today because of how fragile and exposed I’ve been feeling lately. (I also won’t be seeing him next week because I’m going on vacation). I will still be able to post from where I’ll be, though. I think this vacation is exactly what I need right now.

A lot of things have been triggering me and making me doubt my ability to ever heal. But in actuality, I’m more emotional because I *am* healing–I just seem a lot crazier, at least to myself (other people actually seem to think I’m less crazy, which is good). The wall of emotionlessness and aloofness I used to protect myself was always pretty thin to begin with (if it was not, I might have developed NPD). Breaking it down isn’t really that difficult but it’s still very, very painful–but liberating at the same time.

I finally told my therapist my fantasy about what I wish could happen (but probably won’t). It was hard to talk about, because it’s so embarrassing and makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. But it’s the wish of my true self (Chair Girl) and everything just came spilling out.

What I want more than anything in the world is to be able to curl up into the fetal position on his lap and just let him stroke me like a baby (not in a sexual way, just a loving, parental way), and just feel the unconditional acceptance and love my parents could never give me. I was told, I think by my father, that when I was a baby, my mother just let me cry alone in my room. I suppose back in those days this was the fashion–to let a baby “cry it out” for fear of “spoiling” and I’m sure this was damaging to me, especially being born as sensitive as I am.

I just want to be a baby again and cry all my pain and hurt out in his arms and feel that healing parental love I still need so badly. I know this sounds really weird, and it felt so awkward telling him this. I also told him there is no one in the world I would ever allow to do this except him; that’s how much I’ve come to trust him. If this could ever happen, I think it would be the most healing thing that could ever happen to me. I know he doesn’t judge me, but it was still so embarrassing to tell him this and I felt so vulnerable I was staring at the ceiling and over at the wall, couldn’t look at him at all, and I was stammering and turning all red. But something inside me compelled me to let him know. When I was done I finally looked over at him sheepishly, and I swear he had tears in his eyes. He didn’t say anything for a minute, then he thanked me for telling him this. Then he said he saw me making enormous progress and also that he saw me working hard and taking therapy very seriously and he appreciated that.

Sometimes I do think there may be a little countertransference on his part–he sometimes seems to be more than a little fond of me and even–maybe–attracted?–but he’s ethical and I trust that he would never act on this or step over my boundaries. He has never laid a hand on me. And if he did, I would refuse because I value our therapeutic relationship far too much to risk ruining it with messy personal feelings. It could be I’m just imagining he has these feelings. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the case may be, he would never act on any countertransference if it even exists, and we have a good rapport and that has been such a blessing.

I do feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in the almost year I’ve been seeing him, and even though it’s no longer “fun”–it’s damn painful in fact now–I know that pain means I’m getting better. It’s going to take a long time, and this is what needs to happen. It’s like being in labor–it hurts like hell, but you know the end result is worth all the pain. And it is a kind of labor–giving birth to myself.

BPD vs. NPD

npd_bpd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How a child develops BPD or NPD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A gift for Chair Girl.

gift_child

My therapist and I observed that in our last few sessions I’ve been avoiding something. All the progress we’ve been making with Chair Girl seems to have come to a screeching halt.   This wasn’t my intention, at least not consciously.   But in our sessions, I’d find myself wasting his and my time, talking about some extraneous or trivial thing that has little or nothing to do with the work we’re trying to do.    This is also why I have been posting so little–nothing has been happening.

My therapist decided enough was enough.  In the middle of this week’s session he suddenly stood up, went over to the empty chair in the room where Chair Girl has often sat (but lately it’s just been an empty chair),  and pulled her chair really close to me–uncomfortably close.  I felt almost overwhelmed with shame and awkwardness.  I  felt myself turning inward and beginning to fidget.  I laughed because  I didn’t know what to say.   I continued trying to deflect the topic to other things, tell stories, jokes, etc.

But he wasn’t having any of that.  It was time for a little tough love.

“Look at Chair Girl,” my therapist ordered.  He looked almost angry.

I looked. I felt nervous and fidgety again.  I cleared my throat, shifted around in my chair.  I looked at the ceiling.

“Look at her sitting there.  What emotion is she feeling right now?”

I looked back at the chair.  “She wishes I’d pay more attention to her.”

“What does she want?”

I thought about this for a minute, and then suddenly I blurted: “Don’t judge me.  Love me unconditionally.”

“Where does she live?”

Without hesitation:  “A cold, dark prison cell.”

“Does she ever get to come out?”

“Yes, but I always have to lock her back up because of the way she makes me feel ashamed and embarrassed.”

“So you punish her.”

“Yes.”

“Is she afraid of you?”

“No, I am afraid of her.”

“Why?”

“Because she acts like a baby, out of control, and brings me shame and disapproval”

“But she is only a little girl, about 6-7 years old.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Does she feel like you judge her harshly?”

“Yes.”  My voice broke.

“Does she have any good qualities?”

“She…she has a kind heart.”

“Tell me again what she wants.”

I felt my eyes welling with tears but they did not spill.  “She wants to be held and told everything will be okay…she wants to run barefoot in the grass, turn somersaults down the hill…she wants to love and be loved.  All she wants is to be accepted for who she is.”

“So…she wants freedom from her prison cell.”

“More than anything,” I said.

I  judge and reject Chair Girl.   I do to her what my abusive mother did to me when I was little and I internalized that, continuing the abuse against myself.

“I’m giving you a homework assignment this week,” my therapist said.

I dabbed at my damp eyes and looked at him, waiting.

“I want you to bring her a gift.”

I have no idea what to get her but I know it has to be special because she is special. It has to be just the right gift though.  A gift that shows her that I’m sorry for rejecting her and judging her and also one that lets her know I won’t ever abandon her again.

I feel like this kind of work is helping to integrate Chair Girl back inside myself.  But allowing myself to accept and love her unconditionally, including her flaws,  I learn to love and accept myself.  The process itself is almost laughably simple. But making myself do it can be so very hard.