Be careful when reading those descriptions of various psychological disorders in the DSM or elsewhere.
Yesterday I revisited my post about “The 10 Personality Disorders” — lists of symptoms and behaviors for the various personality disorders set forth in the DSM-IV. For most people, that can be a dangerous thing to do. We convince ourselves, especially when we’re feeling down, that we have every single disorder on the face of the planet… or so it seems! We recognize in ourselves at least a couple or a few of the traits of each disorder, and they all seem rather entrenched in us, and glaringly obvious. It can be really disconcerting and even scary to read those lists, and face up to our human frailties.
Human frailty is far different, however, than an actual personality disorder. For the past almost two years, I’ve been studying Narcissism and reflecting upon the various ways in which I was treated by members of my family, my ex-husband, my former friend H and several other people.
Last night I was thinking about H, the person responsible for my starting this blog. You can read that story here. As always happens when I read it, during the first part of the story I think about how awful she was and how badly she treated me, and I feel satisfied that I have identified the monster within her and its abuse of me and others. Toward the end of the story, however, I usually start feeling sadness and compassion for her. It never fails.
I believe that is the result of my forgiving nature, and it is also a basic and crucial part of the process of healing. But we need to be careful about forgiveness. With Narcissism, we can forgive but we must not forget. However, in that “not forgetting” we need to put the situation into perspective and approach it with balance. I won’t forget how H treated me, and I can feel compassion for her miserable state, but I’m cautious enough in a healthy way to know that I must avoid her in the future.
I have long suspected that H thinks I have a personality disorder, and I’m pretty sure I know which ones. Projection is a common problem in our society, and with psychological issues in general. I have been careful not to project my own stuff onto H, but carefully consider her actual attitude and behaviors toward me. Journaling is crucial in that process. When writing down just the facts – what actually took place – I was forced to face what I didn’t want to face.
It wasn’t about projection at all. There is a difference between Narcissistic Traits and the actual personality disorder NPD, and FLEAS – clinically known as Invert Narcissism or Co-Narcissism. The victim or experiencer of abuse must educate themselves about the differences between actual narcissism and maladaptive behaviors that arise out of entanglement with a Narcissist.
Recently I talked to B through emails. (B figures into much of the story I wrote for this blog, linked above.) B stated to me that he had told H about my major life changes (I’m on disability for 5 different health issues – none of them psychological, thankyouverymuch and I have moved to another state/region). You see, H has a friend in the state where I now live who’s long been on disability for psychological reasons. I am certain that were H not informed otherwise, she would be convinced that my disability has to do with psychological issues – it doesn’t.
It’s a testament to my intelligence, education, strength and sheer force of will that I’m not more psychologically dysfunctional than I am. Via professional therapy and honest self-examination I’ve learned that my dysfunction is within the normal range in light of the things that have happened to me, and things I allowed or caused to happen. Thanks to being raised by a therapist dad — and going to church every single Sunday of my life which offered solace, historical Christian background, loving fellowship, and learning how to pray, and much later joining a spiritual group where for almost 7 years I trained to do active meditation and movement with a good teacher and guide while living in an urban spiritual commune for 2 of those 7 years — I survived family narcissism, a marriage to a malignant narcissist, and a friendship that turned abusive and highly dysfunctional during its final years (H).
B said in his email “She’s happy for you.” Those words are so insidious.
Of course H would say that! She really believes that she loves me and has my best interests at heart. To be honest, I know that when she’s in “nice” mode, she really does feel those things. It’s when her “other personality” takes over that things get really ugly and complicated (much like it did with my mother, and still does with my brother and my ex-husband).
So… H is happy for me! Well good for her. As a result of reading that, I decided to re-read the entire story I wrote about her over a year ago. It brought me back to some clarity about what really went on. I had a kind of epiphany while reading it. I really “got it” — Narcissists are quite cunning. They’re good actors and they’re good at playing nice when it suits them. H, of course, has her “nice” persona… her “wise” persona — the one that cultivates oh-so-much good will and admiration from her fans, who are mostly women from our former spiritual community and men in that community who still harbor a crush on her. It also keeps her in the formal leadership arm of the spiritual community, in which she is an occasional teacher.
So let her go on convincing herself that she’s happy for me and cares about me. There’s a tiny part of her that does have good will, but I must remember how she really feels about me and how she operates. I will not be sucked back in to that completely chaotic and dysfunctional dynamic. I will not be her Narcissistic Supply ever again.
Here is a very good article about the fake empathy employed by Narcissists: The Narcissist’s Fake Empathy – How to Free Yourself From Its Grip, by Linda Martinez-Lewi, PhD.
About a month ago, right after H learned of my major life changes, I learned that she made a Facebook friend request to a friend of mine. H has herself extremely well-hidden on Facebook, as do I. But how convenient! She now wants to be friends with A. H has always said she’s never felt a connection with A. Suddenly, now that I’ve moved to A’s state, H wants to be her friend on Facebook after 30 years of knowing who she is but never reaching out to her.
I stated to A that I was uncomfortable with a Facebook friendship, but she could suit herself. However, if H wasn’t interested in A during 30 years of being a part of the same spiritual community — and many of the same social friendships that sprang out of that — what’s her real reason for wanting a Facebook friendship with A?
Which brings me to this thought: “I wrote that story about H to cover my butt.” I want people to know what really happened in my friendship with H. Instead of putting more pretty and sweet-tasting frosting on top of rotting garbage — like spiritual people are so often expected to do — I’m telling the truth. I’m doing that as self-therapy, and I’m doing it to help other people, who have begun contacting me to express gratitude for this blog. It really feels great to help other women (and men) who have experienced the same things and are trying to rise up out of the muck and the angst and just.be.happy.
What a concept: just be happy! Just be at peace.
Many of us thought that life just automatically offered happiness and peace, didn’t we?! Or at the very least, that it wouldn’t be so bloody difficult to achieve. Insight and clarity don’t always bring happiness. Like my therapist recently said, we must deal with the neurological shocks to our system — shocks that traumatized us and caused maladaptive attitudes and behaviors. That’s the next stage of healing beyond waking up and getting clear about our abuser(s).
I’ve recently done some one-on-one therapy. It helped tremendously. I had a wonderful, kick-ass therapist who is smart, funny, accessible, effective. At the risk of sounding like I’ve gone into transference: she’s great. 🙂 I made more progress than I have in other therapy sessions. I believe absolutely that therapy works, although I was once convinced that it doesn’t.
For people who are talkative and articulate, talk therapy can be difficult. We can talk all around a problem, never quite getting to the meat of what we’re on about. A good therapist will not allow us to do that. He or she will effectively guide a talkative client to the point where they can actually make some progress.
Trauma therapy is making great advances in the therapy field. Here is a good article about why talk therapy doesn’t work: The King’s True Trauma: Psychology Today King George VI, depicted in the movie The King’s Speech, underwent effective trauma therapy that cured his speech impediment, something that had been caused by childhood trauma.
So yeah, I’ve got a lot of those DSM symptoms – don’t we all?! Instead of fretting, we can laugh about it and say, “yeah, I’m really messed up! Yeah, I need drugs/therapy/rehab/daily therapy…. whatever!”
The bottom line is, life’s hard. Things get crazy. Most of us are just “normies” caught up in a surreal, stressful, brave new world and we’re mucking through the mire as best we can along with everyone else. I would venture to say that these are the scariest, most uncertain times in the history of our planet. We can either look at it as a ride, and deal with it accordingly, or we can allow it to defeat us and go down while shaking our fist.
More and more, I’m looking at it as a ride. We’re all gonna die eventually – some of us sooner than later. Since I’m rapidly approaching the age that a huge demographic in our society now considers an old bat, my perspective has drastically changed. I’ve got maybe 20-25 years left. Maybe even 30. I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s amazing how perspective changes how you feel and how you deal with difficult circumstances and people.
I think I’ve kept my compassion and tolerance. In fact, I know I have. But unlike in the past, I’m far less willing to cut slack to people who aren’t worth it. And I’m far better at identifying those who fit into that category.
Since I’ve reached that perspective, I’ve noticed the quality of female friends I attract is so much better. I have a new friend who is sweet, accessible, not intimidating, not critical, doesn’t gaslight me. She herself is the survivor of a malignant narcissistic marriage partner, and some of that abuse is ongoing. Therefore, she has an understanding of what it’s like to be abused. She understands the difficult process of moving out of that particular trauma. Compared to other recent friendships, some of which I was convinced were wonderful but weren’t, this new friendship takes the prize. I’m so grateful for it.
As we heal, things do get better.
So be careful when you read those Personality Disorder symptom lists. Don’t read them when you’re depressed. Do keep a healthy perspective and a sense of humor about them. The lists exist for a reason, and they can be helpful but most of us don’t have one or more clinically diagnosed personality disorders.
And with Narcissism, the more we’re afraid we have it, the more likely it is that we actually don’t. What we probably have is FLEAS, and we can get rid of those — even though it ain’t nearly as easy as squirting a chemical between our haunches!