Echo – The Opposite of Narcissism

I’ve recently read a really good book on narcissism, “Rethinking Narcissism” by Craig Malkin. He describes types of narcissism along a continuum with NPD at one extreme and what he calls echoism at the other end. All people fall somewhere along this line of either extreme deprecation and need lack, to extreme self-absorption and need demands. Malkin discusses several really important things in his book (he is a professor at Harvard Medical School, lectures in psychotherapy, is world expert on treating narcissism and had a narcissistic mother himself), this continuum of narcissism which we all lie on, the need for healthy narcissism in everyone, early red flags of narcissistic traits in people we meet and how to manage a narcissistic person who you have to deal with.

Echo was the water nymph who fell in love with Narcissus the utterly vain and self-absorbed youth in the Greek myth. She followed him around providing constant adoration and attentiveness. All that was left of her, having pined away in the face of his complete disregard, was her voice repeating the last few words he said. She lost herself in placing another’s needs ahead of her own, Narcissus lost himself in placing his needs ahead of everyone else. Both had lost any sense of balance.

I think the polar opposite of narcissism, echoism, isn’t talked about enough. I think it is a trait which a lot of people who find themselves inexplicably tangled up with a narcissist have but may not be aware of. I have also noticed how my NPD MIL can make her children act like echoes when she is around but that they can also copy her and demonstrate the same narcissistic traits when she isn’t. They flip from one end to the other.

What does Echoism Look Like?

I’ll quote Malkin here as he summarises it in his own words…

“The other thing that becomes clear as soon as you start viewing this way is the problem when people lack healthy narcissism. That’s a problem. We already know from the research that people who don’t have those rose­ coloured glasses view themselves and the world in a slightly dimmer light. Sometimes they’re more anxious, sometimes they’re more depressed. In my research with my colleagues, I dubbed this problem echoism. Echo was the nymph who was cursed to repeat back only the last few words she heard. Where Narcissus fell in love with his reflection, Echo fell in love with Narcissus. Like Echo, people who struggle with echoism struggle to have a voice of their own. They’re afraid of seeming narcissistic in any way. They’re afraid of being a burden. They berate themselves for being too needy. They blame themselves for problems that go wrong in relationships. In the mild range of echoism what we found is these are people who can be deeply empathic. They prefer to focus on others as opposed to themselves. The danger here is in lacking those rose­ coloured glasses, in shifting away from themselves to other people rather reflexively, echoists also tend to fall into relationships with extremely narcissistic partners and friends.”

“I’m a recovered echoist. Most people who have been raised by extremely narcissistic parents are vulnerable to this. I learned to echo my mother’s narcissism. The other thing I wanted to do was empower people who struggle in this way. There were no words for this. “

Struggle to have a voice of their own, don’t want to be a burden, reject their own needs, blame themselves for relationship problems. I can recognise myself as an adolescent and young adult in this description. Unlike Malkin, I wasn’t raised by an extreme narcissist, but I was raised in an abusive, domestically violent situation and was expected to be no bother to anyone, perfectly behaved and without needs as it was all my mother could do to contain my father’s unpredictable and violent outbursts and drink problem. I was very good at being seen and not heard or actually not seen and not heard. It was safer to take myself off to my room, deal with problems by myself, ask for nothing. When I was very young I would hide in a cupboard to be out of the way and to minimise the unbearable onslaught of scary behaviour around me. Echo hid behind trees to catch a glimpse of Narcissus but would never step forwards and present herself.

Malkin expended on his description of echoism in a discussion on Quora, the question and answer site,

“they’re afraid of becoming a burden, uncomfortable with attention (even if positive), and —it’s not a stretch to say —they hate having needs. They prefer to live life by the rule, “the less room I take up the better” and agree with statements like “I don’t know what I want or need from my relationships.”

“It’s best to think of it kind of like an unconscious contract—if I bury my needs, preferences, and feelings, maybe people will accept me.”

“[Echoism is] a complete absence of normal self-enhancement that causes a number of problems, not the least of which is that, like Echo—the nymph cursed to echo peoples’ words who pined to death for Narcissus — echoists tend to struggle with a voice of their own and fall in love with and befriend extremely narcissistic people. Why? Because narcissists are more than happy to take up all the room echoists are afraid to occupy.”

There is an upside to this also, echoist are not complete doormats with no self of their own. The orientation of an echoists attention onto other people’s needs and feelings makes them exceptional at caring professions and genuinely helpful, empathic friends and partners. As Malkin says,

“of all the people we studied, echoists were the most “warm hearted.” (yup, there’s a measure for that too).

So while they might be socially isolated, not all are, and many milder echoists can be wonderful care-takers (not martyrs).”

I think there is also a cultural facet to echoism. Malkin is American, a culture notorious for it’s brash extraversion and reinforcement of attention grabbing superstar behaviour. My Irish family would be horrified by the loudness and attention seeking of the average American person. In the small country town they came from someone walking down the high street in a new coat would have elicited comments like “Oooh, look at her thinking she’s so special in her posh coat…”. My mother would chastise me for ever drawing attention to myself by doing childlike things such as cartwheels (you’re showing your pants!), skipping down the street (that’s no way to walk to church), practising my ballet steps by looking at my reflection in the TV (stop admiring at yourself), you get the general idea. In many cultures all people or people of one gender or social class have prohibitions against self-enhancement.

Throwing someone who for whatever reason demonstrates echoism into a mix with people at the other extreme is a situation ripe for exploitation of the echoist by the narcissist.

Echoism and The Child of Narcissistic In-Laws

This part of Prof. Malkin’s description above really hits me in the gut, “echoists also tend to fall into relationships with extremely narcissistic partners and friends”. I hate, just hate to think that my childhood which was so incredibly difficult has set me up to choose a family of in-laws with the cancer of narcissism. Good God like I haven’t endured enough already! It makes me so angry. But it is correct.

If there is one thing I wish anyone reading this blog could take away and really, deeply understand it is that you have not found yourself in a relationship with the child of an extreme narcissist by accident.

We fall into relationships with the children of narcissists because we have what they want and they have a role for us which feels familiar. What do they want? The child of a narcissist has lacked many things in their upbringing as a result of their disordered mothers behaviour and it is inevitable that they will bring these unmet needs into your relationship. Something about you made them feel like you could satisfy these unmet needs. They can be very needy or as Malkin says they can be echo themselves and be very reluctant to even think about their own needs and still play a very subservient, servant relationship with their mother.

Unconsciously the child of a narcissist has expectations, as we all do, about how relationships with people work and they can act them out without ever having declared their expectations openly. Often these expectations are a set of unspoken rules about how power and control work in relationships and how one goes about getting needs met. For the abusiveness of the MIL to spill into our relationships we must cooperate in some way with this role.

Healthy narcissism lends itself towards open negotiation of needs and the rules around them as both people accept their own and others needs. Unhealthy narcissism or the lack of narcissism (echoism) tends towards an unbalanced and exploitive relationship where one set of needs gets unfair prominence and the other is left utterly unacknowledged. If you are an echo yourself you can fall into a preprepared role with its unspoken set of rules with the child of a narcissist. So where if at all is the echo in your situation? Who is being echo if MIL is being Narcissus?

There are 4 possible combinations of echo-narcissus that may describe your relationship, your spouse and their mother’s relationship or your in-laws’ relationship.

Echo with Echo

Your partner could expect you to go along with their echoist behaviour and become their co-echo around their mother. If you have echo tendencies yourself you can both become stuck in a pattern of always letting NPD MIL run the show and be unable to assert your needs to each other never mind to her. You would be left with a deep feeling of unfulfilled potential in your marriage and intrusion from the outside.

The rest of the NPD MIL’s family may also play echo roles, a weak FIL and echo children who all play court to her Royal Highness narcissistic MIL is a common set up. Are you filling the role of another echo servant in the life of the Duchess of Up Her Own Arse?

Relationships like this result in both partners being treated badly by the NPD MIL, boundaries being violated left right and centre, the NPD MIL walking into the house whenever she likes and serious concerns about her influence on grandchildren arise. Eventually one partner breaks the pattern and starts pushing back. This can be quite terrifying to the child of the NPD mother. If both echoes can stand together though they make a solid team against the NPD mother and her shenanigans.

Echo with Narcissus

Alternatively your partner could echo in your own relationship and put you on a pedestal whether you want it or not. Indeed some children of narcissists marry narcissists although such narc partners generally wouldn’t be searching the internet for help with their NPD MILs and reading blogs like this. They end up being the subject of blogs called “So I Married a Narcissist…”.

Such an echo partner is unable to stand up for you in the face of NPD MIL’s attacks and manipulations. They may also have similarly exploitive friends or work associates and a history of finding themselves in close company with other narcissistic people. They may be the one sibling who is not like mum whereas others are mini-me narcissists. Extreme echoes would be attracted to confidence and self assurance which granted narcissists have on the surface but they can also be attracted to genuinely confident people, finding yourself partnered with an echo doesn’t automatically mean you are an unhealthy narcissist!

Aside from the obviously narcissistic partners, having a spouse who puts themselves last all the time is not a good relationship to be in. They treat you as a copy of their mother even if you are not NPD yourself, they know no other way, to them acting like echo is how you demonstrate love. They map that behaviour straight onto you, even reacting fearfully as if you were going to be as abusive as their mothers. They can harbour long term resentment and act in passive-aggressive ways or become silent and withdrawn, unable to ask for help and support that they may need. They may find relationships smothering and be quite avoidant in their behaviour. It can be frustrating and lonely to be in relationship with someone who is unable to share their inner world with you because they have never paid attention to it and would rather run screaming from the room than let you in.

Remember the definition of echo is someone who denies, even fees from their own needs and is very uncomfortable with any attention. The old TV series “Absolutely Fabulous” with Jennifer Saunders as the flamboyant, grotesquely self-absorbed designer and her mousy, shy daughter is a narcissus-echo pair.

Narcissus with Echo

The third possibility is that you are the echo to your spouse’s narcissism. Children of NPD mothers can learn narcissistic behaviour and copy their mother’s way of relating to people without even realising it. They can develop their own narcissistic traits as a way of compensating for the deep emotional neglect their mother caused in their own childhoods. Partnering with someone who has strong echo traits means they get all their needs met just as they had to meet their mothers and this is fair to them.

They can act as an echo to their mother, being very attentive, looking for her praise and approval, not wishing to upset her and then once she has gone they can act in exactly the same ways she did but with you. I know of people who describe how the narcissistic MIL teams up with the narcissistic spouse against the echo spouse, both acting very haughty and superior and mocking the echo-spouse. The narcissist spouse is very unlikely to be aware of any family dysfunction, you will in all likelihood be the one to uncover it. That can really devastate the family image and your spouse will make you pay for it.

This is one way you can separate out real echoes from pseudo-echo communal/covert narcissists. The real echoes will a) already know their mothers dominate everything and b) be deeply upset for YOU when you reveal how hurt you have been by MIL’s behaviour. The pseudo-echo communal narcissist will a) not be willing to face that there is anything wrong with their family and b) feel very sorry for themselves while refuting, dismissing, denying and minimising anything you say on the matter.

I hear of overt grandiose narcissistic mothers who rear communal/covert narcissistic children and vice versa so the narcissism is there in the spouse too but revealed in different behaviours. I was fooled for a long time into thinking only very cocky arrogant behaviour or snobby superiority was narcissism. People who fall over themselves to demonstrate how “nice/Christian/helpful” they are are just as obsessed with their self-image it merely manifests in a different way.

It can be particularly hard to see if you are supporting your spouse with their very challenging mother (acting like a good echo) and putting your spouse’s feelings and problems foremost. It is  hard to spot that sometimes having their problems and feelings at the centre all the time and needing reassurance by talking about how horrible mummy is etc is actually a way of self-enhancing at your expense. If you stand up for your own needs they can easily switch into oh-poor-me martyrdom. Not all narcissism is about showing off accomplishments sometimes narcissists feel special and enhance their self-image by being long-suffering victims.

Narcissus with Narcissus

Finally of course both the child of the NPD mother and the spouse can exhibit extreme narcissistic traits. I have heard of situations where both MIL and FIL appear extremely narcissistic and back each other to the hilt. I have never met anyone like this but presumably this works a bit like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, both people love attention and adulation and both feel important and enhanced by association with the other. Their mate has something they value highly like good looks, fame, wealth or whatever and they have other people to supply to their needs. The idea of multiple narcissists in one family makes my head spin.

There are of course other combinations, you or your spouse may be in a place of healthy narcissism due to good parenting, good fortune, good therapy, a clear view of their mother and her behaviour etc. Healthy and echo will work if healthy encourages echo to speak up more, positively enhancing them both, also healthy and slightly narcissistic can work if the healthy uses what Malkin calls empathy prompts to push the slightly narcissistic partner to notice the other’s needs.

Partners with healthy narcissism are far less likely to put up with nonsense from an NPD MIL. They can support the child of the narcissist to break out of old behaviours and become more healthy themselves provided their isn’t a huge level of denial around the MIL’s behaviour or abusive behaviour within the relationship.

Beyond Echoism

Sadly I can see how my echoist behaviour was attractive to my husband. As I have worked hard on myself with my therapist and by reading and reflecting on all of this I have moved my position along the echo—-narcissus continuum. This is the single most encouraging thing about this whole horrible situation for me. Despite my crappy childhood and poor marriage choice I have become a person far more capable of recognising and valuing my own needs, better at standing my ground, I found my own voice (writing this blog was part of that) and stating my preferences. And you know what, I am more accepted now as a result than I was while being more of an echo. I am noticed and accepted by different people and am far less appealing to the narcissists. I don’t notice needy people hoovering up my attention, if I find someone like that has snuck their way into my social sphere I can keep a healthy distance and my neediness doesn’t turn normal people away, it gives them an opportunity to be helpful and what do you know, people actually like doing things for others!

It’s OK to feel special about yourself in fact Malkin would say it is necessary to believe you are a bit above average (apparently most people think this even though it is statistically impossible). You are allowed to feel good and to see your Narcissus MIL as the fool she really is shake your head and say “girl what were you thinking?!” and walk away. Walk away from your relationship too if they are as narcissistic. Let them starve to death staring at their own bloody reflection, I’m not sticking around to watch.

 

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Denial, Describing narcissism, Echoism, Effects of NPD on others, family roles, How NPD MIL affects a marriage, marriage and NPD MIL, narcissistic mother

Event Hijacking

What is it about someone else’s Big Day that brings out the worst attention seeking nonsense in my MIL? I know I’m not the only one with this problem. I’ve read so many stories about other people having weddings and birthdays spoiled by their MIL trying to control everything or creating some drama which is all about her on the very day of the celebration.

Looking back I realise I first came across this when I got engaged to my husband-to-be and she did and said nothing. I’ve come to realise that an inappropriate non-reaction is just as hijacking as a stirring up some drama about herself.

Then there was her appalling behaviour at our wedding. She refused to take part in any pre-wedding social events between the two families because her ex-husband, my FIL, would be there. My parents who were hosting were at a loss as to how to explain to my various aunties and uncles, siblings and family friends why the mother of the groom was a no show. In an attempt to get her to take part in some of the proceedings and feel welcome and included my mother exaggerated some difficulties she was having with the flower arrangements at the church and asked my MIL to help. Well it was years before I heard the end of how disorganised and incompetent my mother was and how MIL had saved the day.

MIL did not speak to me once throughout the entire day, no comment on my dress, no welcome to the family, nothing. She did not attempt to introduce herself to my family and friends, there were about 100 people at this wedding and she spoke to maybe 4-5 people in total all of whom were in her immediate family. During the speeches she had arranged to have someone shove a Father Christmas hat on my head and on my husband’s head while he was talking as the wedding was the week before Christmas. Never mind it had taken 1 hour to do my hair that morning or that embarrassing the bride and groom in front of an entire roomful of people is very wrong. She sat with her two sisters in their own secluded area outside the main hall where the party was all night and didn’t dance or socialise, they all got drunk instead.

Similar things happened at other events large and small. I passed my driving test late in life and everyone sent a card with congratulation, except her. Throughout my first pregnancy she refused to discuss the anticipated baby or share in any excitement in case it died and she should be upset by that. She refused to hold the baby the first time she saw her, complaining how tired and stressed she was from having to drive all the way to see her! Actually refused to hold her first grandchild in order to keep the attention on her not the baby. Mind boggling.

Birthdays and christenings follow the same pattern, she arrived at her granddaughter’s second birthday with a folder full of printed out lists of my husband’s old toys, books and possessions and proceeded to talk him through the list for twenty minutes, ignoring the toddler who’s birthday it was while my parents and siblings sat open mouthed in disbelief. She didn’t even bother to turn up to the second child’s christening and left everyone wondering if she had been injured in an accident throughout the church service. No she was sat in a carpark and decided being in the same room as her ex was too much. This is the mild-mannered, introverted academic she verbally and emotionally abused for years before leaving him. She didn’t call, didn’t text, just screwed up the child’s christening gift and shoved it through our letter box. She then concocted a lie about how it was the fault of the clock in her car telling her the wrong time before weeks later admitting she did it to avoid my FIL.

All these behaviours point towards two things I think. First my MIL seems to want to downplay any attention other people may get by ignoring or minimising another person’s legitimate right to attention around special days and events. She does this by pretending it’s not happening or by ignoring the person on the day. Secondly she creates dramatic and sympathy-seeking situations on other people’s big days to make sure she gets a lot of attention instead. Sometimes her drama is around taking control of things and insisting they be done her way creating friction so she can get attention from disputes, sometimes she plays oh-poor-me, sometimes she deliberately times things to coincide with important days.

A good example of the last case was the night before my first child started school, my husband had a big job interview and I was due back to work for the first time after our second child was born. It was going to be a really stressful few days with a lot of getting used to new routines. She knew this as she had spoken with my husband several times over the proceeding fortnight. The night before she rang up to say she was being wheeled into an operating theatre to have surgery on her ankle which she had broken two weeks before and had said nothing about it until that precise moment. For absolute maximum effect all round.

Why do narcissistic people play these games?

A therapist explained it to me once as a form of need panic. Imagine you feel a bit peckish and go to see what might be available in the fridge for later. The fridge however has nothing but a wilted lettuce leaf and a hard lump of cheese. At this point some people suddenly feel even more hungry. The lack of food, even though they don’t need it right then, sparks concern and a desire to get the food straight away in case it’s not there when you do really need it. Narcissists have a need for emotional feeding, their narcissistic supply which is as ferocious inside them as hunger is to a normal person. And just like hunger it crops up several times a day, all day, everyday. People who are extremely narcissistic need almost every single encounter they have with another person to go their way, they are addicted to the supply of attention and approval.

For a long time I underestimated quite how strong the narcissists need for supply actually is. They not only need it right here, right now but they panic if they anticipate that the need may not be met in the future due to some circumstance like another person’s wedding or birthday. That’s why these events result in worse than normal behaviour from NPD MIL. What seems to go through their head is “but what about me? what about MEEEE!!! I need you to notice me not be distracted by THAT!”. They even get angry if they hear you talking about the event that is not all about them.

The closest I have come to understanding it was watching my 4 year old daughter have a bit of a meltdown and refuse to take part in party games at her older sister’s birthday. All the attention on the other sibling, her friends round for tea, lots of gifts got too much and the little sister burst into tears and flopped down in a corner. That is age appropriate behaviour for a 4 year old but my MIL is in her 70s! But that’s what it is, a need panic tantrum.

How to manage events and limit hijacking

This is what I have learned from dealing with my MIL. Firstly you have to anticipate the reaction. She absolutely will have a problem if anyone is hosting a big event and the more people who will be there or the more significant it is the worse she will be.

I have sat down and brainstormed every way she could cause a problem and then put in place some strategy to deal with it. For example

  1. MIL doesn’t show up when she has RSVP’d to say she would – one phone call and one text message at the start of the event to check if everything is OK. After that another person (family member) not one of those taking part in the main event calls later at a convenient time. If we get no reply then we leave a message saying the police will be contacted to check she isn’t lying in a hospital and then we leave it.
  2. MIL arrives but diverts proceedings and inserts some urgent topic (could be her holiday pictures at a child’s party or whatever) – this is shut down with “not right now, today is about … we’ll discuss that later” and we move on ignoring any subsequent attempts to engage with her.
  3. MIL creates a health or emotional crisis the morning or event (or night before) – the event goes ahead, unless she has actually had a heart attack, we do not let her drama scupper things. We identify a more suitable family member she can offload on and make it clear that we will be proceeding as planned and our attention will be on the event and the guests.
  4. MIL causes problems during an event – we have briefed a family member or friend on how difficult she can be and enlist their help in literally steering MIL away from the main event and it’s participants if necessary, “why don’t I see if I can deal with that MIL…” etc or your can respond with “I can’t help you right now, I have guests to see to”  which is honest and reasonable. She’s an adult and should be taking care of herself.
  5. MIL attempts to organise the event herself – oh no, that’s where boundaries come in. You can throw her a bone if you like, something unimportant that she can sort out to feel special but if it’s your event, you have the say on how everything goes. If you are accepting her money to pay for the event then you need to make clear from the start what exactly she expects in return and that YOU expect to have control over your event even if she offers to pay for it. If you ask for her money then you may have to go along with some of her ideas if they are reasonable and fit with your general intentions. But let’s be clear, she offers money to pay for YOUR wedding or whatever she does so voluntarily as a gift. In no way does this oblige you to do it her way, it is YOUR wedding and she knows that.
  6. MIL ignores an important event – if it is to your face, so to speak, like refusing to hold her grandchild then she can be called out on the spot, “you seem to be ignoring …..   that is not appropriate given the circumstances mother/MIL, something important/special is happening here”. If they ignore by refusing to talk about it or send congratulations or a card then that can be dealt with in a conversation or message, “I noticed you didn’t acknowledge…. that made people feel…. . We will be talking about the birth/graduation/promotion again and would appreciate if you could join in as part of the family”.

 

Underpinning all responses to an attempted hijack is the medium chill setting on how to respond to MIL. Medium chill is when you keep a clear emotional distance from MIL, having little or no expectations of a sympathetic response from her and choosing to keep your own emotions well out of the way, keeping conversation very superficial. I have learned that if I expect her to act up, anticipate and discuss her likely behaviours beforehand and then remain emotionally aloof from her nonsense on the day that it doesn’t anger and distress me like it once did. She really is like a toddler having a hissy fit.

It took quite sometime to make the shift in thinking to this new place. Before I felt hurt, sometimes really personally, deeply hurt that she behaved so callously on days which were very important to me. I did think she was doing it with the intention of conveying her contempt for me personally. It re-opened a long held emotional wound about having my needs and emotions ignored by people, my family of origin. Only by realising how she was triggering old patterns in me and seeing how very immature and needy her behaviour is did I manage to take back the power I was passing to her in these situations. Now I just roll my eyes and pretty much ignore her antics.

So in summary I anticipate and plan for her actions just like I might arrange for my small child’s best friend to come along to her older sister’s birthday or have Granny or a fun uncle on hand to distract her with some one to one attention. I wouldn’t let a child’s tantrum disrupt a party and we can benefit from viewing MIL in the same way.

9 Comments

Filed under Controlling behaviour, Describing narcissism, Effects of NPD on others, Examples of narcissistic behaviour, family roles, Helping your spouse deal with NPD mum, How NPD MIL affects a marriage, Manipulations, narcissistic mother, NPD MIL and grandchildren, strategies for managing NPD MIL

Are Narcissists Evil?

The Case For

Well duh! Of course they are. I mean let’s just pause for a moment and consider all the horrible things they do to you…

narcissistwordle

You only have to read a few articles by people who have had relationships with narcissists or had one in their family to come across headlines like this;

“20 Diversion Tactics Highly Manipulative Narcissists, Sociopaths And Psychopaths Use To Silence You”

“The Secret Language of Narcissists: How Abusers Manipulate their Victims.”

“If You Are the Target of Narcissistic Abuse”

CaRAtYoW0AE2T-G

Read on and the descriptions inside are like the plot of a nasty psychological thriller, the evil doer ramps up their abuse to extract every last morsel of narcissistic supply, while incapable of the slightest consideration or sympathy as they drive the unsuspecting victim round the bend then dumps them callously when they are no longer of any use,

“stronger forces were at work, and had been at work, to keep me numb and silent and weakened” 

there was love bombing, grooming “a calculated and predatory act of maneuvering a person into a more dependent and isolated position by claiming a “special connection” where they are more vulnerable to accepting future abusive behavior.” ~ https://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/10/understanding-the-language-of-narcissistic-abuse/

“Rather than acknowledge their own flaws, imperfections and wrongdoings, malignant narcissists and sociopaths opt to dump their own traits on their unsuspecting suspects in a way that is painful and excessively cruel.”

“Malignant narcissists and sociopaths use word-salad, circular conversations, ad hominem arguments, projection and gaslighting to disorient you and get you off track should you ever disagree with them or challenge them in any way.”

“Deliberately misrepresenting your thoughts and feelings to the point of absurdity.” ~ http://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2016/06/20-diversion-tactics-highly-manipulative-narcissists-sociopaths-and-psychopaths-use-to-silence-you/

“When all else fails, the narcissist resorts to playing the victim card. This is designed to gain sympathy and further control behavior” ~ https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2015/04/eight-mental-abuse-tactics-narcissists-use-on-spouses/

It is all so deliberate, cunning and downright evil. All these headlines and articles make quite clear the narcissists KNOW what they are doing, it is a ploy. They “use”, “manipulate”, “control behaviour” this all suggests the narcissist is consciously planning and plotting for a particular outcome where they emerge on top and to Hell with everyone else. Language like this to describe narcissists is almost universally used by their victims to describe what happened to them.

“Narcissism is an evil that masquerades as good. Like a Pied Piper this master illusionist can lead you to Hell all while making you feel flattered to be chosen to go there. Only when you wake up in Hell do you realise the real evil that existed in his fluted song. By then it’s too late; not only have you fallen victim, but most likely you have paid for the flute, as well.” ~Tigress Luv

badbelievesitsgood

Doesn’t that sum up a narcissist? Someone like your MIL who believes themselves to be a better sort of person to others and is so invested in that belief that they discount all evidence to the contrary with their manipulations, diversions and rages so as to keep their self-image intact.

Evil is seen as separate from sick in our society. When heinous crimes are committed; serial murders, sadistic torture and abuse of defenceless victims, we call the perpetrators evil as we struggle to conceive of any mindset which would lead to such actions. Their behaviour is so far from normal and so deliberate, not the rash or impulsive actions of a mentally unstable person, not sickness but choice. We face the possibility that such people exist in a version of reality which is utterly devoid of the ability to see other people as people at all. Complete absence of empathy and a desire to inflict pain on others for your own enjoyment are prerequisites for evil.

Don’t narcissists have a lack of empathy? Don’t they commit emotional and social abuses against people with impunity? Buying someone a crappy present to show how insignificant they are to you is not rash, not an emotional outburst (i.e. not sick), it is deliberate.

Just as we cannot hold in our minds what sort of person would commit violent, sadistic murders nor can we hold a picture of a person, our MILs maybe, who commits repeated acts of social and emotional cruelty even when told quite clearly how they are hurtful and unacceptable. It makes no sense to a normal person. Normal people don’t act this way, they don’t play games with people by denying they are committing such acts in the first place. Normal people listen, hear you and apologise because their intent was never to harm. How can we help but interpret the behaviour of a narcissist as deliberate and wilful?

Evil in a theological sense is to turn from your God, not just to become worldly and materialistic, invested in pleasures and status of the Earthly realm but to actively pursue acts which you know are wholly contrary to the tenants of your faith with no care for the damage. Thou shall kill, thou shall bear false witness, thou shall steal, thou shall covet.

Narcissism is a love of self and self-image, to a theologian this is to place oneself above God and heretical. Self-idolatry in effect. True religious practice in any form, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sufism, Hinduism, is humility before an Almighty. Humility requires an utter acceptance of your inadequacy in the face of the vastness of the Cosmos and a realisation of your part in this Cosmos as no more or less significant than any other. So are narcissists evil in the religious sense? Dante’s vivid description of the circles of Hell certainly includes levels where people had put themselves and their worldly pursuit of status ahead of their faith.

Violence against others is the 7th circle of Hell and this could include emotional violence not just physical harm, fraud of any kind or false representation including liars, hypocrites and seducers form the 8th circle and the worst, the bottom of the pit are betrayers. People who betray and exploit special relationships within family, to guests, benefactors, or their country are trapped for an eternity of punishment with Lucifer himself chewing Judas (betrayed Jesus Christ to the Romans in return for thirty pieces of silver), Brutus (murders his friend Julius Caesar by literally stabbing him in the back) and Cassius (instigator of the plot to kill Julius Caesar). Narcissists commit all crimes of the lower circles of Hell do they not? They betray their children’s instinctive love by using them to slake their unquenchable thirst for narcissistic supply and approval. They betray their guests (us, their sons- and daughters-in-law) with fakery and fraud before turning to interpersonal violence. They are emotionally and sometimes physically violent, they are frauds and betrayers. They are evil.

Case closed.

 

 

The Case Against

The definition of the word evil is profoundly immoral and wicked. Let’s pick that apart.

Immoral means goes against the established moral code of right and wrong. To deliberately be immoral implies that you have awareness of what is and isn’t moral in the first place. Morality requires that you know what is proper conduct. You have to hold within yourself sufficient awareness of your society and its rules so that you can make a moral decision. Whether your behaviour is right or wrong depends very much on the view of others, of your society’s principles. Without this external measure of acceptable how do you gauge your own morality? This is why we spend so much time teaching our children right and wrong. Immorality is then to choose deliberately to step outside those rules and principles.

Wicked means very bad, corrupt, wrong, black-hearted, sinful. You can have actions which are immoral but not wicked. It is immoral to lie but if a lie is told by and about oneself and harms no one in consequence you would hardly call it wicked. If I said I once won a gymnastic medal at school when actually I didn’t I am being immoral but not very bad, corrupt and black-hearted.

So to be truly evil my immorality must extend to acts which deliberately cause serious harm to others. In order to do this I must be able to distinguish which acts will hurt other people. I have to know when others are hurting and how to provoke this hurt in them.

I have wrestled with this point for some years now since realising my MIL is seriously narcissistic and I have come to a conclusion. I don’t think narcissists are evil, I think they are mentally and emotionally ill.

You can argue that narcissists don’t know that they are being immoral as they don’t have a clear sense of right and wrong, they are psychologically incapable of seeing past the end of their own nose and so are oblivious to the harm they cause others. In their own minds they are very moral and proper. It’s other people who do them harm and falsely accuse them of being hurtful because these other people just don’t understand them. Narcissism is a huge blindspot not a deliberate desire to inflict harm.

In the first half of this post I wrote that complete absence of empathy and a desire to inflict pain on others for your own satisfaction are prerequisites for evil. Narcissists certainly have low or absent empathy, it is one of the traits which define the disorder in the psychiatric profession’s manuals DSM IV and V.

Would you be evil if you felt no empathy but left others alone? I think not. You could feel nothing for other people and yet understand the need for obeying rules and laws, even social rules and customs like exchanging gifts. The android Data in the Star Trek – The Next Generation TV series is an example of a conscious being with no capacity for empathy because they feel nothing at all. Such a person may struggle with intimate relationships (as Data does in the series) but not act exploitatively in a conscious way. Evil involves intentional harm to others.

So I have come to the conclusion that despite what so many blogs and articles by wounded victims suggest most narcissists have little or no intention to hurt you. They are not cunning and Machiavellian villains devoting their time and resources to targeting you. The crushing truth is that they are so wrapped up in themselves they barely see you at all. They are gazing obsessively at themselves and polishing their own self-image. all. the. time. You are an afterthought at best. They are also blind to their obsession, they are unable to fully see that there are other people, another world around them. It simply isn’t as real as they are to themselves. Remember Narcissus in the myth starved to death while staring at his own reflection. They are sick, they are incapable of looking away from themselves.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t hurt you, make no mistake, I am not letting them off the hook. The behaviours they use when interacting with other people can deeply would those people. What I am saying is they have so little awareness of others and such limited insight into themselves it is silly to portray them as out to get you, to control or target you, to wilfully try and abuse you. They are instinctive, it’s like claiming a wasp was deliberately targeting you because it stung you. I’m sorry but you just aren’t that important to them.

So what exactly is going on inside a narcissists head when they are abusive, lie to or manipulate you? Panic. Overwhelming existential panic. Narcissists have two polarities inside them, two extreme positions. One is “I am a special person” the other is “I am an awful person” and there is nothing in between. All narcissistic behaviour is a desperate attempt to shore up the first position by receiving confirmation from the outside of their specialness (in whatever way they think of themselves as special) AND at the same time a desperate attempt to run away from and divert anyone else from noticing the other possible position where they are shameful and defective. Nothing else gets a look in, this is the dominating preoccupation of their life. Trying to maintain their position at one end of this see-saw while refusing to even acknowledge the other end is all consuming and terrifying at the same time.

For example, a narcissist could lie through omission so that you find yourself involved with some plan of theirs which you never agreed to, maybe they invite friends round for a barbecue and expect you to be there helping out but don’t tell you until the night before.

They have done this so some need is met, they can’t ask you for agreement as that means you could say no and the need is not met. This may deprive them of a desperately needed boost of affirmation or approval, and they have to have it, this preoccupies them intensely even if you can’t see that. They will not consciously think “I will not ask them if it’s OK to have a BBQ” no they operate in a habitual way where they have learned since childhood that getting what they need can be achieved through various means and doing things without asking is one of them. This becomes a habit which they do not have to consciously think about.

They will convince themselves that their need actually helps you in some way, to justify it to themselves and to bolster their sense of themselves as a good person. They may even tell you how difficult it has been to organise this thing you never wanted to do for your benefit. And they believe this. Do not underestimate how much they believe this. Narcissism is a continuous state of self-delusional reinforcement of a fantasy (I am special and never wrong)  and horrified retreat from a nightmare (I am awful and hateful). They lie to themselves more than they ever lie to anyone else.

If you react with shock, anger and refusal to cooperate then they can interpret your reaction as stemming from YOUR flaws not their actions. You are ungrateful because organising a barbecue is a nice thing. They are genuinely baffled when you ask to be informed about such plans in good time in future. Your request seems outlandishly fussy, they simply can’t see that you are a real person with your own plans and needs which they should be anticipating and being respectful of. They don’t see you. Not going along happily with their plan cracks their fantasy world and they paste over the cracks by externalising the problem, it’s you not them. Everything with them is fine.

This failure to properly conceive of other people as having as vivid and real an inner world and needs as yourself is a developmental stage that all children pass through. Narcissism has been described as a form of arrested development in that they walk around in an adult body but fail to see the world in an adult way. Your 5 year old child doesn’t realise it is nearly dinner time (even though you have the saucepans bubbling on the stove) and insists that their entire paint set be produced so they can paint a masterpiece on the kitchen table that second. Likewise the narcissist needs to see their grandchild this weekend and you have to supply them because they NEED it.

The mistake people make when dealing with narcissism is to see it as anything other than a very needy child walking around in an adults body. We can ignore a spoilt child and think nothing personal of their tantrums. We obviously don’t expect a reciprocal relationship of equals with such a child and nor should we expect it from a narcissist.

Hence the narcissist cannot be truly evil as they are not truly moral in any sense. They lack the ability to see the moral expectations of our society in the same way a child does. They are so turned inwards they cannot see you, you baffle them. They are needful, grasping creatures, quite desperate really. The terrible harm comes from the fundamental imbalances in any relationship with them. We think we have a relationship with someone capable of reciprocity and we don’t. If you don’t spot this fast you become stuck in their fantasy projection and try to fit yourself in it. That is when the harm of narcissistic abuse kicks in. You try to keep them happy and to make sense of why your relationship with them keeps going wrong.

Finally I think it is soothing in a perverse kind of way for victims of narcissistic abuse, especially when the abuse is in a romantic relationship, to believe they were targeted by a deliberately vicious person. The extreme anger that people feel when they see the narcissist for who they are rather than the false image they project is understandable and it is normal for people to be horrified and attack and blame them. Underlying this anger is anger at oneself and shame at having not seen through the facade any earlier. To interpret the abusive relationship as one where this person deliberately hid themselves with the intention of luring and abusing you keeps you as the hero of your own story. It saves your ego at a time when you are very hurt and betrayed. That is necessary and normal but not true. When the rage and hurt subside what you are left with is the chance for a very honest look at yourself and why you were the supply that this dysfunctional person got so much from.

Why did you keep giving and not see what they were? Often this is rooted in our childhoods. Victims of narcissistic abuse are usually unusual in someway. Unusually empathic, unusually compliant, unusually undemanding. In our relationships with MIL we are caught between our perceptions and feelings that something is wrong and wishing to not upset our partners and their family. We put our feelings down and allow them to get away with too much. The NPD MIL feels so powerful, but this is our partner’s inner child projecting some almost godlike authority on the MIL. She is not evil, all powerful or out to get you. She is desperately paddling like mad under the surface to maintain an image of superiority in ways your partner colludes with. Not evil, but sick and quite vulnerable and pathetic.

You can hurt them very easily once you see it, but then that would be deliberately immoral and wicked wouldn’t it.

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Hot Potato – how to offload troublesome emotions

toonvectors-16560-140

 

Ow! ow! hot hot! Here you have it, catch!

Suddenly you are feeling cross, or anxious or guilty about something and yet you weren’t a minute ago. In fact you were perfectly content a minute ago and then your other half started a seemingly innocuous conversation and there was something in how they said it, in the edge to their tone, the way they phrased things, in what wasn’t said explicitly which has left you infuriated, or worried when you weren’t.

Job done.

You have just been a participant in a game of pass the hot potato.

Or as psychologists call it, projective identification. Let me show you how it is done and then you can spot it in your narc family-in-law and dodge that potato whenever anyone tries to lob it your way.

Basic Projection

Everyone has parts of themselves which they are familiar and comfortable with, these parts are the bits we see in casual acquaintances and could list as character traits in our friends. Then there are parts which emerge on closer inspection, we know the dreams, fears or anxieties of our close family and best friends which they don’t reveal to just anyone. These parts are the delightful discoveries that come with greater emotional intimacy. And then there are parts of ourselves which we may only reveal to a close lover or in a secret diary. But what about the parts we find too hard to acknowledge even to ourselves? What about the emotions that are stirred in us which family or society says we shouldn’t have.

In the movie American Beauty Kevin Spacey plays a man having a mid life crisis who has fantasies about his teenage neighbour. This sort of thing is not what we are supposed to feel, it would be viewed in a very dim light by those of a judgemental nature. Where do these thoughts and feelings go if we struggle to hold them in our minds before pushing them out as unacceptable?

american_beauty_mena_suvari

Freud, Jung and the other early psychoanalysts all agreed that there is no “disappearing” when it comes to emotions and thoughts of this nature. There is a law of conservation of feeling in operation inside us all. What cannot be faced is suppressed, repressed, diverted and deformed out of our conscious awareness, but it is still there. We feel the residual charge of these emotions which we have squished out of sight whenever our buttons are pressed by someone. Realising that you simply do not like that person but you can’t say why exactly is a sign of unconscious feeling around a trait or characteristic that they possess. Jung called all these unconscious, unwelcome parts of ourselves our Shadow. I read a short introduction to this idea, becoming aware of and working with our shadow in the book “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers” by Debbie Ford which is a great book for anyone wanting to investigate their own shadow parts. Here are some ways in which you may see projection in action…

I hate that Mr Blogs, he is so uptight! Nope, you hate the part of yourself that can be uptight as your chilled out hippy dad always sneered dismissively at people less spontaneous than him.

She is such a slut! Nope, you have repressed your own sexuality to fit into what society thinks is right for women and she reminds you of what you won’t allow yourself to do.

You aren’t thinking about our finances! Nope, you are labelling your partner as financially irresponsible because you spent a lot on a new laptop and this doesn’t fit your view of yourself as a conservative spender.

These are examples of projection, where you accuse someone else of a trait, feeling or behaviour which you yourself need to disown. It is a form of blame shifting. Not me! it cries, it’s HIM!

This is common or garden projection, we all do it. We imagine good qualities we fear we don’t have on people we admire (projection) and bad qualities we fear we do have on our enemies (projection) all of which is completely normal. It is an internal process, an interaction I have with myself which may then colour how I interact with another.

There is a more potent kind of projection which takes this one step further and is sufficiently damaging to interpersonal relationships that for many years it was deemed pathological and indicative of a serious character disorder. Introducing projective identification, projections bigger, badder, mofo brother.

Projective Identification

What if instead of accusing someone of having a trait you disowned you were able to manipulate them into actually feeling the emotions you didn’t want AND by watching them live out your unwanted emotion you got relief from those shitty feelings yourself? With the added bonus of being able to criticise the subject of your emotional hot potato game for having those/your feelings in the first place. Woohoo that is a triple whammy jackpot of projection. Ahhhhhhh, sigh and relax as your unconscious mind fucks up those around you so you don’t have to deal with your messy emotions. Look how superior you are to them, those helpless fools grovelling around acting out anger (tut tut) and fear (oh grow up) and shame (well you ARE at fault aren’t you).

If you could write an advert for projective identification it would go like that, but possibly with some very small smallprint on the bottom of the screen which hurriedly mentions the possibility of permanent and irreversible relationship damage and the development of a reputation for emotional abuse.

I’m exaggerating somewhat, projective identification is not always as pathological as originally thought, it was found to be quite common in longterm married partners where part and parcel of the couple bond formed between two people is the managing of difficult emotions between the two partners. In this context, an otherwise functioning, healthy relationship, it works because it goes both ways so each partner benefits from being able to see some of their emotions provoked in and crucially then managed by the other person. It is a way of learning how to manage those feelings you personally struggle with by stimulating them in another and them holding and transforming those feelings into a form you can then take back.

Horrible feelings I can’t deal with –> provocative actions –> those feelings in the partner –> they can deal with it –> containing/holding actions –> I take my transformed feelings back –> I learn how better to deal with horrible feelings

This is a lovely thing, it happens with parents and children, therapists and clients and between spouses. Done fully it leaves both people feeling closer and better understood.

BUT and here’s the big but, it is horribly damaging in relationships where there is no reciprocity. The to-and-fro of this interaction isn’t possible if one partner has a very limited ability to process difficult emotions from others and also has a limited capacity to manage their own feelings or maybe has a large number of emotions which they deem to be unacceptable (they have a limited emotional range) and so find they can’t contain the volume and have to dump on others.

Worse what if you refuse to allow the other to process and return your feelings, what if you point the finger at them and start attacking them for having the feelings you put there?

Worse still what if the emotions you try to transfer onto your partner trigger past trauma so they are now overwhelmed by your feelings in a way they have no hope of coping with?

If this is a regular pattern in a relationship it is abuse, no ifs or buts about it. It is an action which uses the other person’s emotions to manipulate, denigrate, control or harm them. It is abuse.

How does the person with the difficult feelings manage to offload them on another? By clear and identifiable actions. They actually do something or say something knowing (even unconsciously knowing) that it will provoke the other. Consider the example I gave above of projection, you aren’t thinking about our finances! The emotion the person struggles with is guilt at having breached an internal sense of what is reasonable spending and possibly shame from thinking that this somehow makes them a flawed frivolous person.

I feel terrible guilt and shame –> I accuse my partner of spending too much, look aggrieved, mention how hard I work, sag my shoulders, exude a certain hopelessness and plaintively ask why did you do that? –> my partner now feels concern, questions themselves regarding their spending, takes my complaint seriously (after all we are married) and begins to feel bad about their spending –> now they have guilt and I can work on it to exacerbate the feeling into shame. Seeing their reaction allows me to feel self-righteous as I am correcting their silly spending so clearly I must be someone who knows not to be thoughtless with money. I no longer feel bad, my partner feels awful.

Projective Identification and Narcissism

A narcissist has by definition repressed all their feelings of worthlessness, inferiority and shame out of their conscious minds and if for any short time they sense those emotions they react quite dramatically with an outburst of rage at the person or situation which has exposed them consciously to the unmanageable feelings.

It should come as no surprise to realise that projective identification is used repeatedly and frequently by narcissists. If they cannot manage these feelings then someone else must have them. Someone else has to be made to feel worthless, shamed, guilty, a failure, unattractive or whatever it is they are trying to offload.

When your narcissistic MIL makes a dig about your parenting it is so you feel bad and she doesn’t have to.

When she turns her nose up at your new house/haircut/dress is it to make you feel bad so she doesn’t have to.

When she hogs the best seat in the room and dominates the conversations with me-me-me it is so you will feel small and she doesn’t have to.

Do you see?

Once you see it you can fight back. First off take a check on how you are feeling before you meet your MIL. Are you calm today, a bit giggly, kind of chilled out, slightly rushed, irritated or whatever. This is your baseline for measuring any changes as you won’t experience a sudden shift in mood unless provoked by something. Sudden shifts in mood all on their own are generally signs of a mood disorder like bipolar disorder. Then when you are with your MIL notice if you suddenly feel stung by a remark of hers. Once you see it or feel it as that barb strikes pause for a second and sit with that sting. Ask yourself, how do I feel now? Hurt? Belittled? Dismissed? Once you can name the feeling DROP IT LIKE A HOT POTATO.

It’s not your feeling and you don’t have to hold on to it. It’s her feeling she is trying to offload on you. Reject it. Tell yourself mentally this is not my feeling, I am not small/silly/worthless. You don’t actually have to do anything else like give a response. Holding constant in your own emotional state is enough as she will feel from the atmosphere between you that the comment hasn’t stuck. This is the real knack you can develop through practising medium chill with your NPD MIL. If you brace yourself right from the start not to discuss emotive topics and not to rise to any bait just keep it bland and business like she has much less chance of snaring you in this trap.

Projective Identification and Your Spouse

Now your partner has been raised by someone who uses this tactic to manage their emotions rather than model healthy projective identification between an upset child and a loving parent who is able to contain their upset and transform it for them. Your spouse doesn’t know how to do PI correctly. They know how it is used to offload not how it is used to care for another. They are used to squashing down and then expelling their unacceptable feelings and thoughts not managing them themselves. Narcissism in a primary care giver leads to immature or even completely missing emotional coping mechanisms in the adult child. Therefor your spouse will use projective identification on you and may very well be unable to accept your difficult emotions to process in return.

If this is a stuck pattern in your relationship I strongly recommend you see a couples therapist. If your partner struggles to be conscious of their feelings, has a limited range of emotions and shows discomfort when certain emotions are expressed in front of them they should work individually with a therapist to get help with this.

It is wholly unreasonable for you to be expected to carry the burden of your own emotional baggage and difficulties AND process your partners considerable baggage from childhood. That would be a very unbalanced and exploitative relationship. If you can work together to create a safe way to hold each others difficult emotions you will have created an important element of a loving caring relationship. If you are left baring the brunt of someone else’s emotional refuse and become a landfill site for their discarded, despised feelings you will be worn down and your relationship will become damaged by bitter resentment and disappointment.

The absolute key to using PI effectively is to have each partner psychologically robust enough to take on another’s deep distress at one moment and sit calmly and fully present in that feeling, then it can be transformed and taken back. This will never happen with your MIL. You need to spot what she’s doing and refuse to play pass the hot potato.

My therapist told me doing this effectively is really hard, black belt emotional ninja skills, that even therapists have to work on constantly and be aware of as they use it in their sessions to uncover what is going on with their client. Don’t feel like you have to be an instant expert at this. Even if you spot the projection later in  the day, or later that week after it has happened you can still use this awareness. Write about it, talk about it and be more conscious of how it works. Soon you will see it quicker and be able to nip it in the bud.

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Defence Mechanisms

“Ouch”, says your ego as it a feels a burn, deliberate or otherwise. It’s funny how our modern access to the internet and people all over the world lead to a world of butt-hurt on internet comments sections. As an exercise in uncovering the various ways people can wriggle about when they feel they have been criticised it is fascinating.

Some men tend to get very aggressive from the get-go, personally attacking the people disagreeing with them, others fall into snobby intellectualism and suppose they are the expert on everything, some are blatantly sexist (go make me a sandwich). Women tend to be more oh-poor-me, morally superior and judgemental, you’ve just misunderstood me or repeat themselves over and over unable to let it go. We are socially conditioned to respond in certain ways when feeling wounded and defensive, some of these responses are gender specific, some are universal.

Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna, set about categorising various ways in which people defend their egos, their sense of themselves as valuable and worthy people, when a threat to that sense of self-worth is detected. Some of these strategies are healthy and adaptive to getting on with people, some less so and some are downright appalling and cause serious damage to relations unless being used by a tantruming toddler.

I have toyed with the idea of creating a defence mechanism Bingo game to keep myself amused during any visits by the MIL. I could print myself out a card of various possible defensive behaviours and cross them off as the day wears on, extra points for stirring up contentious conversations which deliberately provoke defensive reactions. Then when she has exhausted her repertoire of maladaptive and obnoxious ways of responding I can leap out of my chair shouting “BINGO!” and she’ll look all confused and have no idea why I am wetting myself laughing. Ah yes, I have way to much time on my hands and end up plotting this sort of stuff.

Here are some defence mechanisms listed with the healthy, normal ones at the start and descending down four levels of Hell to the bizarre and psychotic at the end. How many does your disorder mother-in-law use in an average conversation? Which ones get pulled out most often, which are reserved for those moments when she is panicking and feels control is slipping by, which ones are used by your partner? Which ones do you adopt in response to your MIL? Could you use better ones?

Level IV – Mature defences

Found in emotionally healthy adults, socially adaptive and making use of feelings of control or an emphasis on finding pleasure or peace amidst distressing situations.

Acceptance – a person fully accepts reality without attempting to change it, protest or run away (Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference)

Altruism – service to others which feels good

Anticipation – realistically planning for future discomfort, i.e. preparing a plan for how to manage the MIL when she visits

Courage – ability and willingness to confront conflict, fear, pain, obstacles, uncertainty and despair.

Emotional self-regulation – responding to reality in a range of emotional ways which are socially acceptable, modifying the intensity, duration, type and mode of expression of feelings.

Emotional self-sufficiency – independence from the approval or validation of others, freeing yourself from feeling MIL has to like you.

Fantasy – using imagination and day dreaming to posit a more hopeful future (someone getting rejected for a job imagining the day they land their ideal position)

Forgiveness – letting go of resentment, indignation or anger aroused by a perceived offence and no longer demanding recompense or restitution after appropriate grieving and acknowledgement of the hurt.

Gratitude – feeling thankful for the range of people and events in one’s life who don’t cause problems.

Humility – full consideration of one’s own faults and attributes leading to a humble self opinion, you’re not perfect either.

Humour – expressing ideas and feelings in humorous ways to lessen distress.

Identification – modelling one’s self upon the character or behaviour of another (what would Jesus do?).

Mercy – compassionate action when in a powerful position. Believe it or not you are in a powerful position w.r.t. MIL, you control access to the grandchildren and ease of access to her adult child.

Mindfullness – staying conscious of oneself and environment in the present moment, suspending judgment, remaining open, curious and accepting. The opposite of this is dissociating or catastrophising.

Moderation – staying within reasonable limits, exercising self-restraint. Both with your own emotions and with what you are prepared to tolerate from MIL or spouse. This is about boundaries inside and out.

Patience – enduring a difficult or unpleasant circumstance for some time before reacting, God knows we’ve all done this to death!

Respect – willingness to show consideration or appreciation, a feeling of regard towards someone’s qualities, and actions and conduct which reflect that regard.

Sublimation – transforming distressing or unacceptable feelings into a more beneficial product or action, aggression into competitive sport, sexuality in dance, grief into art. Or this blog!

Supression – delaying temporarily an emotional response or need until a more suitable time, a mother squashing her own fear when a child falls from a tree to attend to the child. Not shouting at spouse for siding with their mother but waiting to express your annoyance later when she isn’t around.

Tolerance – deliberately allowing or permitting something which one disapproves of. Your in-laws way of doing Christmas lunch for example.

Level III – Neurotic Defences

Fairly common in adults. Help in the short term to deal with distress but unhelpful if used over the long term, disrupting relationships, work and socialising.

Displacement – shifting an uncomfortable emotion or impulse to a safer target (blaming MIL for all your relationship problems because it’s safer than facing how upset you are with your partner)

Dissociation – temporarily mentally separating from the distress, feeling emotionally numb, out of the body or otherwise not there in an distressing situation (it was like I was watching it happen from outside of myself)

Hypochondria – excessive worry about illness

Intellectualisation – focussing on the rational ideas and intellectual components of a situation so as to avoid the emotional distress, separating emotion from ideas

Isolation – separating out the emotional content of an event so the event can be spoken of in a dispassionate way (describing a grisly car accident with no emotional response).

Rationalisation – making excuses, convincing oneself that no harm was done as you had a good reason (but it wasn’t my intention to hurt so I’m not responsible).

Reaction formation – turning one unconscious and unacceptable thought or feeling into it’s exact opposite, behaving in the opposite way that you really want (a boy struggling with a strong attraction to a girl pulls her pigtails to upset her, you find yourself offering to take MIL on a shopping trip when you first realise how much you hate her).

Regression – temporarily acting in a more childish and dependent way (you totally suck and I hate you!).

Repression – moving a desire or thought that causes you anxiety as you fear punishment for it into the unconscious until you are no longer conscious of the thought or desire but some emotional memory of it lingers (feeling uncomfortable around a rarely seen family member but not remembering what first made you feel that way).

Undoing – trying to undo a threatening or unacceptable thought or feeling by consciously acting in the reverse way to atone or reduce one’s feelings of guilt (being nice to someone you had bad thoughts about).

Social comparison – looking to other people who are seen as worse off in order to distance oneself from similarities with that person/group and to make oneself feel better (well at least I’m not like that Jane Doe).

Withdrawl – avoiding or removing oneself from situations, places and events to stop being reminded of painful thoughts or feelings (I just can’t go back there after what happened). Not the same as planning to avoid situations where you know you will be verbally or emotionally abused (like with MIL), that is sensible.

OK let’s take a breather at this point, before it gets mad, bad and dangerous below. The mature and neurotic defences above are ways people adapt to the occasional awkward or distressing event. The word distressing in this psychoanalytical context doesn’t have to mean reduced to tears sobbing (although it could, loosing your beloved dog in an accident would provoke several of these defences) we could just be talking about how someone tries to play one-upmanship on you in a social conversation, or you became the butt of a joke at work.  BUT and it’s a big but, we are not talking about adaptations and reactions to severe trauma or prolonged abusive scenarios. Nor are we talking about the quite sensible precautions which anyone should take to protect themselves from a known toxic person or situation.

I am not suggesting we should suddenly apply for the Sainthood and start serenely forgiving our MILs, volunteering at the local homeless shelter  and practicing some New Age gratitude practice every morning in an effort to deal with her dysfunction. No no nopety nope. In fact behaving this way would be a defence mechanism, but not the mature ones listed above. This sort of behaviour is a mixture of denial, repression and fantasy. You do not have to forgive people, be endlessly patient or altruistic to be maturely dealing with someone difficult. You can use humour, anticipation and courage when dealing with her, or whatever. And no one expects you to respond with a “mature” defence each and every time. Notice how it says that neurotic defences are helpful in short term acute scenarios.

There is an insidious tendency in self-development books and blogs towards premature forgiveness and gratitude meditations as if it was healthy or even possible for someone to just put aside whatever has wounded them. This is nonsense and has its roots in a bastardisation of the ideas of the Law of Attraction. The healthiest thing to do when wounded is fully feel wounded and acknowledge what is going on inside you. Sit with it, feel it, breathe through it and past it. Premature forgiveness or ignoring hurt and replacing it in your mind with forced thoughts of your blessings is not going to allow you to move beyond those feelings. Grief, disappointment, anger and sadness are normal responses to abusive people. Once you have felt your feelings and fully respected them then you can choose how to respond.

The following two lists of ways to respond are not ones you would want to choose on a regular basis. Bet you’ll never guess where my MIL’s most commonly used reactions lie? Oh you did guess…yeah in these two lists.

Level II – Immature defences

All adults act in these ways occasionally. Habitually acting in these ways makes a person difficult to deal with and the person themselves will find reality difficult to cope with. Taken to an excessive level they are found in mental illnesses like severe depression and personality disorders.

Acting out – an unconscious desire or impulse turned into action which the person isn’t consciously in control of and is unaware of the emotion which triggered it, self-harm is an example (I don’t know why I did that!)

Autistic or Schizoid Fantasy – habitually retreating into fantasy and daydreaming as a way to resolve inner and outer conflicts. This includes retreating into role play and computer games, where the retreat includes non-communication and social isolation.

Idealization – putting someone on a pedestal (my mother is such a good person, she’d never do that)

Introjection – unconsciously taking the qualities and attributes of an idea or person fully into oneself because these qualities help deal with reality (finding yourself speaking with your mother’s voice saying the exact phrase she would say, adopting the behaviour of an aggressive peer thereby reducing threat to oneself. Very common between parents and children who absorb their values)

Passive Aggression – feelings of aggression towards another person expressed in indirect or passive ways (it was an honest mistake! I just forgot to post it)

Projection – attributing one’s own unacceptable and unwanted thoughts and feelings onto another person or group so that the other person/group actually seems to have those thoughts and feelings themselves (I saw you looking at him all flirtatiously – when you were eyeing up an attractive woman moments before). Includes prejudices like misogyny, racism and homophobia, jealousy, hyper vigilance to external dangers and injustice collecting (look at all the ways I’ve been wronged).

Somatization – transformation of uncomfortable feelings into actual physical sensations of pain, sickness and anxiety (I’m not upset about what my mother said, I just have a headache. I feel sick I am so nervous.)

Wishful thinking – acting as if the most pleasing outcome was guaranteed to happen while not paying due attention to facts (oh it’ll be fine – she’s been so much better the last few months).

Level I – Severely pathological defence mechanisms.

These defences are designed to distort and rearrange the external experiences the person is having so the person no longer has to cope with reality. The mind distorts reality into something easier for the person to deal with. These frequently appear irrational or insane to people observing them in adults but they occur as a normal stage of development in children.

Conversion or hysteria – mental or emotional distress transformed into a physical symptom like blindness, deafness, paralysis, numbness.

Delusional Projection – false beliefs about reality and the trustworthiness of people usually of a persecutory nature (e.g. so and so is out to get me, society has set it up so men like me always fail, its a conspiracy of feminazis and the Illumati, people cannot ever be trusted)

Denial – refusal to accept reality because it is too threatening (she is not leaving me), arguing that a threat to the ego doesn’t exist at all (you’re wrong, he is not cheating on me), refusing to see or accept unpleasant aspects of reality (my mother is not narcissistic) despite evidence to the contrary.

Distortion – a gross reshaping of reality to meet the ego’s needs (He didn’t leave me, I let him go because it was better for him, he has such a fragile mental state, I know I have hoarded 20,000 plastic bags but they will be useful one day)

Extreme projection – the blatant denial of a moral or character trait which is instead seen as a problem for some other person or group (Homosexuality is a disgusting sin, says the preacher who is secretly gay.  Seen in children, one child holding a broken object points the finger at another and says “they did it!”)

Splitting – the unconscious splitting off of characteristics of a person or group into “good” and “bad”  because the immature ego can’t hold the whole person/group in their mind in one go. Can also happen within a person who splits off the “good” from the “bad” parts of themselves as they are unable to hold a complete picture of themselves as having both polarities. One side of the polarity is then adopted as true and any evidence supporting the other side is rejected (The teacher can’t be praising me because I am a bad kid. Favouritism in children/grandchildren Little Johnny is an awful liar and thief, Little Jane is so precious and kind).

Well  that’s rather a lot to take in all in one go! Do digest it at your own leisure. It certainly has given me a real insight into how well I am coping with certain situations as I can spot my own less helpful defences more readily now.

Dear old MIL does all of the pathological defences, I think now is the time for one of those more mature responses, a little humour maybe…

denial-300x233

7 Comments

Filed under Denial, emotions, Examples of narcissistic behaviour, Manipulations, marriage and NPD MIL, narcissistic mother, Understanding narcissism

Lies, Damn Lies and Delusion

f7e75240ee1a4527fd0d5d7283095ea3

 

Lie – to speak falsely or utter untruth knowingly, as with intent to deceive

Pathological Lying – long history (maybe lifelong history) of frequent and repeated lying for which no apparent psychological motive or external benefit can be discerned

Confabulation – to fabricate imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory

Delusion – a belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder

 

I posed myself a question in response to my MILs flat out denial that she had a) sent any play money to us at Christmas (see post “So you survived Christmas…”) b) had intended it to be malicious and had in fact c) sent it to our youngest child but had to put all of our names on the parcel because we had made it so difficult for her to send the children more than one gift despite having sent that child more than one gift already. You’ll notice how these answers contradict each other.

The question was “does MIL know she is lying”?

YES! you all shout, but the really scary answer is probably no, she doesn’t.

It creeps me out to write about this because it genuinely is very scary for me to have someone in my social or familial circle who is so out of touch with most people’s version of reality. I am strongly empathic and can in most circumstances easily put myself in another person’s shoes, feel their feelings and see their perspective. Even if I disagree strongly with their views on something I can still see how their life experiences have led them to hold the position they have. Sometimes it is a bit trickier, some people are harder to figure out as they are very reserved and reveal little of their deeper feelings. And then occasionally you meet someone who is a mindfucker.

My definition of a mindfucker, excuse my French, is a person so incomprehensible that trying to put yourself in their shoes actually causes you psychological harm. The MIL is one of them.

My therapist describes it more politely as “off the Bell Curve”. Here is a Bell Curve.

blank bell curve

 

I love the whole Bell Curve thing, I first learnt about it doing my A Level maths course aged 17. Almost all measurable characteristics in nature produce this graph; the length of blades of grass in your lawn, the heights of 4 year old kids, the weights of new born puppies, the number of cakes you have eaten this year and so on. Most people/things cluster symmetrically around an average or mean value in the middle and the numbers of people/things who have significantly more or less of the measured characteristic fall away from this peak values either side. IQ is the classic example of a characteristic which produces a bell shaped curve when measured in people.

If you look at the picture you notice the areas right out at the edges labelled with the purple arrows? Those are the places where the extremes are found, I am actually at the far right of the bell curve for female height as I am 5 foot 10 inches which is taller than the average height for a man in the UK. But that doesn’t make me abnormal, I’m within the “normal” range (i.e. on the bell curve) just not in the “average” range, in the top 2% range instead.

My MILs behavioural responses are off the bell curve, so unusual that they are not found in almost everyone else in the population, beyond the 2%. That is pretty much the definition of a personality disorder.

Lying

So how does that link in with her lying? Let’s review some indisputable facts:

My MIL sent a parcel wrapped in Christmas paper to us at Christmas with a label on it “to husband, FCW, child 1, child 2” inside was play money, plastic coins and fake notes.

She sent each child a gift, some books each and a joint present labelled as such.

We had requested that all family members send each child one gift as otherwise they are deluged in presents

My husband asked her about the play money present as she has previously tried to give us money with strings attached and been cross when it was refused. This gift of play money seemed to say “fuck you, I’ll send money this way then, ha ha”.

This is how she replied, all of this happened in the course of one conversation:

  1. “I didn’t do that”
  2. “I don’t remember sending any such thing to you”
  3. “Well I meant it to be for child 2”
  4. “You made it so difficult for me to send more than one gift to each child”
  5. “I had no choice but to put everyone’s names on it”

I see someone making shit up as she goes along, reaching some vaguely plausible story by the end of the conversation which absolves herself of any wrong doing and (bonus points) manages to make herself a victim of someone else’s unreasonable demands.

She knows at statement 1 that she is being called out for something. She probably hasn’t listened much to the accusation but the tone of voice and content of the questions leads her to go on the defensive and she instinctively denies everything. This is a lie reflex similar to that which small children have who are scared of a punitive parent “I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me”.

Then she has had enough time to start being a bit more clever and tries to deflect criticism by hedging her bets a bit ” I don’t recall doing it” this is deliberate, she knows this is a lie. How come? Because of what she says next “it was for child 2” not “oh yes, goodness me I forgot, that was for child 2”.

Notice also how she doesn’t apologise at all for going against our request for one gift per child. She is on a roll now and has had enough time to conjure up a scenario where she can come out smelling of roses (in her mind). She was the helpless victim of our wicked rule.

Then here’s the scary part, she erases the entire first part of the conversation from her mind and believes the story she has come up with, actually believes it to be the truth. If questioned today on this subject she would repeat the finalised version of this story, that it was for child 2 and we made it so difficult for her to be that generous with our unreasonable demand she felt unable to openly label the gift as such so in desperation put all our names on it. She would deny any recollection of the first part of the conversation or say she was confused and flustered because of the aggressive tone she was questioned with.

She is a liar, there is no doubt in my mind that she knowingly says things she knows are false in order to get herself out of sticky situations. But then something else happens, a layer of bizarre gets iced onto the cake of lie and she can concoct a story where she is the blameless one, clever one, heroic one and she believes it. She reaches the point of believing her own lies.

I thought this was called pathological lying but it’s not. Pathological lying is when you spend your entire life making up random shit about everything for no personal gain, you just can’t separate made up from real. Confabulation is a form of making things up found in people with memory loss who instinctively try to fill in the gap with a story, their brain is trying to help account for an absence. It is a symptom of brain trauma and some neurological conditions. She isn’t doing that either.

No she is lying and then becomes delusional, she believes her lies. The lies can be concretely shown to be lies, real evidence exists to counter them, the first part of the conversation above is an example. How can she say “I didn’t do that” and then say “you gave me no choice but to do that” one of those two statements is a lie at the very least. But still she believes her version and interprets any disagreement as wilful attacks upon her good character.

Lying is normal, we all do it. Social white lies such as “can we have biscuits when we get home?” “no we ran out” when actually the answer is “no I’m worried about all the crap you eat but can’t be arsed to have a fight about this in the school playground” are normal. The number of times a person lies everyday fits a bell curve, some do few, some do lots, most fit in the middle. How many of your lies you believe to be true when pressed also fits a bell curve, with some people easily admitting they are lies, most people grudgingly admitting most lies, some people really resisting admitting their lies and then some tiny percentage of people who say they never lie and always believe them to be true. These people are way off the bell curve. Hello MIL.

This is why I find it a mindfuck, in order for me to follow that train of thought from conscious lie to delusion I have to amputate some really crucial parts of my own mind: the parts where I see other people as just as sharp and astute as I am, the parts where I see the effects of my actions on others, the parts where I have any moral accountability, the parts where I accept I am flawed and can do the wrong thing, the part where I recognise the difference between what is in my head and what is real. Going there is scary for me and the realisation of what my MIL must be capable of if she can do this is horrifying. Worse, what if she isn’t capable of doing anything else, what if this is how she thinks, ALL THE GOD DAMN TIME!

Delusion

This is far from being the only example of my MILs delusional thinking. She invented a story first reported to her divorce lawyer and documented in detail as a result, where her ex-husband grabbed her bum cheek in the queue for service at a restaurant. This was in order to portray him as a really bad person. Next this story was related to me about the second time I meet her and it was an anatomically graphic account of how while sat at a table in the restaurant her shoved his hand forcibly into her lap and indecently assaulted her. That is what was described it to me over afternoon tea, in her garden the second time we met. You see how that conversation isn’t even normal!

Next time she tells the tale her two children were sat opposite her at the table so that is why she was unable to cry out or do anything. Now my husband remembers the trip to the restaurant but has no memory of anything untoward happening. He and his sister were in their mid-late teens at the time so their recollection is pretty good. Notice how the story changed and became more elaborate.

She has delusions about other things as well, she believes she discovered some remarkable chemical law which would have revolutionised the subject. She thinks that the radiation from her mobile phone if left on wakes her 30-40 times a night. She found a painting in a second hand shop and believes it is one of her ancestors and is wearing a necklace she has inherited despite the necklace not matching the picture and her having no evidence that the painting is really her ancestor at all. She believes she has psychic powers and knows the location of a girl abducted in a notorious kidnap case. She believes young waiters in restaurants flirt with her because she is so attractive. She believes she is stronger and more physically capable than she is and has injured herself several times as a result.

Narcissism is so horrible when acted out on other people due to the lack of morals, awareness of others feelings, the lies, the manipulations. But under it all is someone so profoundly disturbed that they are unable to ever accept that they do wrong, their brain cannot compute it. Every single action is designed to protect their desperately fragile self worth and delusion is better than a lie. Delusion says “I am not that person, I didn’t do that wrong thing”, lying says “I know I am but I can make capital out of saying I’m not”.

She really has to believe that she isn’t that person, the whole structure of her personality is set up so as to avoid ever having to consider that possibility even to the extent of denying reality. That is a truly sad and scary place to be. For the first time ever I feel sorry for my MIL.

13 Comments

Filed under Communication problems in NPD, Controlling behaviour, defence mechanism, delusion, Denial, Describing narcissism, diagnosing NPD, Examples of narcissistic behaviour, lies, narcissistic mother, Understanding narcissism

So You Survived Christmas

With apologies to non-christians reading this blog, phew we have survived Christmas, just about, without having to see the MIL.

Because we are low-to-no-contact with the evil MIL Christmas hijacking this year was confined to the presents, as always. It has got so bad that my husband has started opening the presents she sends us before Christmas to check that she has not done the exact opposite of what we have asked and sent the children something wholly unsuitable or vindictive. She likes to send “messages” via her gifts. Like badly trained dogs leave little brown “messages” all over the local public playing field.

A quick recap – MIL sends gifts with strings attached like money with instructions on what to spend it on (here’s a good article on dealing with this http://andthenwesaved.com/accepting-money/#more-10710), she wants you to have certain hobbies (which chime with hers, obviously) or she has a set view of the type of person you are (which is narrow, inaccurate and never changes, obviously) and sends you the items she thinks you should want to fit in with her image of you, she uses the monetary value of gifts to indicate her level of approval with you, or her total lack of empathy means gift buying is bordering on impossible so she gets someone else to tell her what to buy, where to buy it and ideally to just go get it for her so she doesn’t have to bother. All of this comes with long winded sob stories about how incredibly hard it is to find the things she asked you to tell her about.

strings

 

So this year, as we did last year, we asked family to send one present to each child so we are not swamped with toys. She ignored this. Obviously. Not just one book and a toy and a shared gift, no four books, each. And the toy we had to tell her to get and where to buy it. MIL present foray number 1: I know what’s best for your kids.

Then there was the way she has repeatedly tried to get my husband to accept money from her to buy new clothes as she says he looks shabby, and for her to buy the girls all the clothes they might need for spring/summer. We have refused this demeaning and controlling imposition with the implication that we are incapable of providing for ourselves. And that is how she means it, accepting money from her is like opening the door to a vampire. The blood sucking and horror will begin if she gets a foot across the threshold. My husband unwraps the presents she sent and peaks in each one to see and finds a present addressed to all of us. Curious and slightly dreading what’s inside he looks and finds a load of kids toy money wrapped up just to prove she can send us money after all. MIL present volley number 2: ha ha I’ll do whatever I want,  here’s your money.

Lastly is the disparity in the amount of money she spends. One year We all got a small gift and then she included some cheques, £100 for husband, £50 for each of the kids, nothing for me. This year she gave £350 to husband and £35 gift voucher and a plastic box to me. A transparent 10 inch by 8 inch plastic box for storing beads. I do not make jewellery or have any beads that need storing. MIL likes jewellery and beads though. MIL present attack number 3: that’s what I think of you, got the message?

 

Splendidly-Crappy-Gift-copy-680x1024

 

Now I refuse to see her (are you surprised?) but the husband feels obliged to see her so the kids can have some sort of relationship with her. I’m not sure why as in my mind if she is so unpleasant I can’t be around her so why should the children? But you know it’s his feeling that his family should not be excluded because that is unfair to him somehow. This recurring issue of balancing up everything so it is equal, as opposed to right or just or appropriate, is something we are working on. Thus a trip to meet Grandma has been mooted for New Years’ Eve, to meet her half way between her house and ours, somewhere near Bristol (UK). But she is having issues with the weather reports. She won’t drive if it is sunny because the sun on the motorway is too bright, she won’t drive if it is wet and windy as it is too dangerous, she won’t drive in fog, frost, snow…you get the picture. Calm, overcast and mild are the only conditions she is OK with. But not too late as she won’t drive if it’s dark.

I’m not sure what she thinks she gains by being so difficult. She has driven for years, never crashed, has a modern car, the roads are all major roads or motorways, well lit with various service stations. We are talking about 1.5-2 hours driving tops here. I don’t know if she thinks that the husband will relent and say “oh well we’ll drive all the way to see you then” if she complains like this, she will never come out and say what she wants. The more likely scenario is that he gets so pissed off by her antics he cancels the trip.

I am uncomfortable with the children spending time with her. I don’t believe children should have contact with adults who are dangerous, unstable, mean and nasty just because they are blood relatives. Family bonds only mean something if the family members mark that bond, that tie by ensuring the enhanced safety, security and comfort of those they are bonded with. That’s what the bond is – I am one with you, you are precious to me. Precious to MIL is more like Gollum clinging greedily to the One Ring muttering “my precious, my precious”.

 

My_precious_gollum_lord_or_the_rings_oh_yes_mine_all_mine_go_away

 

Anyway please take the opportunity to relive your holiday rants and MIL moments and fill the comments below with the bullshit you’ve experienced over the last week of enforced family get-togethers. And can I just award this medal to anyone who had to have MIL over for Christmas lunch.

 

medal

 

37 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized