It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Poor Little Narcissist…

In March of 2012 I wrote a blog entry entitled “Empathetic Narcissist = Oxymoron.” In reviewing that post recently I came across this line: “Empathy is that quality that allows us to identify with the feelings of another…Narcissists don’t know how to do this—they don’t have the capacity and because of that, they find no value in it.”[1]
In re-reading this line it occurred to me that some will read this and their own natural empathy may lead them to feeling sorry for the narcissist. After all, the narcissist is being deprived of something natural and fundamental and even essential to the building of character. That which most of us take for granted has been denied, either through trauma or the fickleness of nature, to narcissists and some of us are prompted not only feel sorry for them but find the fact of this privation sufficient to give them a pass on their behaviours. This may be our natural inclination but, believe me, to do so is a grave mistake.
While it is true that narcissists lack empathy—it is one of the defining features of narcissism, after all—it is not necessarily true that the narcissist experiences suffering as a result of this lack. Empathy is not part of our survival instinct, selfishness is, because selfishness helps us to hoard resources that guarantee our survival, even at the expense of others. If we had empathy and shared our resources, we might die.
Very young children are naturally very selfish and lacking in empathy. Your infant doesn’t care how sleep-deprived you are, he only cares that his discomfort is relieved. Empathy is supposed to evolve as the child matures and becomes more cognizant of others and more capable of fending for himself. Children are supposed to gradually outgrow this selfishness, to become increasingly aware not only of others but of the needs and feelings of others and eventually to respond to them with emotional resonance. By the time we reach adulthood, if our development has been on track we not only can read and write and have the basic skills necessary for autonomy, we have developed the empathy for others that allows us to function well socially.
Unfortunately not all of us develop that empathy—narcissists are chief among those who lack it. We who have grown up with an ingrained sense of empathy find it difficult to grasp that someone can be without one. It is further difficult to grasp that they don’t miss it at all.
How is this possible? Well, think of it this way: if you had never eaten jellied moose nose[2], would you miss it? You might even think that it was an undesirable thing to eat and be glad you’ve never tasted it and have no wish to ever do so. And because you have never tasted it, you most definitely would not miss it, would you?
Well, narcissists lack empathy. They have never had it, they don’t recognize it when it is directed at them, and when they realize that it can make you very vulnerable, they don’t want it. They like to see it in others because it gives them a way to manipulate those others, which is precisely why they don’t want it for themselves. Narcissists do not miss being empathetic because they have never experienced it—they quite literally do not know what they are missing. But, like you and the jellied moose nose, they aren’t exactly eager to experience it.
So, ask yourself—should I feel sorry for you because you have never tasted jellied moose nose? Should I excuse bad table manners and look the other way when you eat your spaghetti with your hands—both hands—because you, poor thing, have never been able to eat jellied moose nose? If you don’t care about it, don’t want any for yourself, and don’t feel deprived by the lack, why should I feel bad for you because your life—and diet—has been deficient in the jellied remains of a moose’s nose? Wouldn’t I be guilty of wanting it for you more than you want it for yourself? What business, actually, is it of mine?
Is it any different with empathy? If the narcissist doesn’t miss it (because he never had it) and doesn’t want it (because he believes it leaves him open to manipulation), why feel bad for him? Don’t say “I know how I would feel…” because that doesn’t matter—what is germane here is how that narcissist feels. If you think he feels the way you would, that is projecting (which is a narcissistic trait—check yourself for fleas!) and it has absolutely nothing to do with how that narcissist feels.
So, because he lacks empathy, he doesn’t know any better and you should cut him some slack, right?
Nope. Unless he has been living under a rock in a cave in the bowels of an ancient volcano, he knows better because the clues are everywhere. Movies and TV shows often are no more than elaborate morality plays that effectively demonstrate that characters who lack empathy end up negatively. Books, news articles, overheard conversations—all contain the general consensus that people who lack empathy are assholes and idiots, disliked and disrespected.
That means that narcissists know what empathy is and they know that the society expects some degree of it from all of us. The narcissist also knows that he can use the vulnerabilities that empathy exposes to manipulate others—which means that if he develops empathy he will be vulnerable to people like himself. The narcissist well know what empathy is and she knows that it is a powerful means to manipulate and control others, either by manipulating their empathy or feigning her own.
The truth is, you cannot miss something you have never had. You can want it, you can yearn for it, but you can’t miss it. If you are inclined to feel sorry for a narcissist for his lack of empathy, imagine how you would feel if I were to feel sorry for you for your lack of jellied moose nose experience? You might appreciate that I was thinking of you, but if I offered to bring you a nice big plate of it, wouldn’t you quickly decline my offer?
And so it is with the narcissist and empathy—she doesn’t feel bad, she doesn’t suffer from her lack of empathy any more than you feel bad or suffer from your lack of acquaintance with the jellified moose snout. You might think the narcissist is missing out on something beautiful and necessary but the narcissist will have a very different—and quite valid—point of view.
Why is it valid? Because it never works to want something for someone more than they want it for themselves. Because, no matter how much we believe we are right, we don’t have the right to impose our wishes for someone onto them, not even narcissists. They have the same right of self-determination as you and I do, and it is just as sacrosanct, even if it is self-serving and counter-productive. Because we don’t have the right to try to change other adults to suit ourselves, no matter what. But most important, because that narcissist has a perfect right to be a narcissist, to continue being a narcissist, and to even enjoy being a narcissist. We do not have a right try to change them or even to expect them to change.
This can be difficult to accept because their lack of empathy can make life very difficult for us and when something is going wrong in our lives, we have a natural instinct to want to change it. If our narcissistic parent is wreaking havoc in our lives it is natural to wish for that parent to change and stop doing it. We impute the same emotional processes to the narcissist that we, ourselves, enjoy and so we believe that those things that motivate us will motivate them. But we are wrong. You cannot appeal to the empathy of a person who has none and you cannot give empathy to someone who doesn’t want it.
Most of all, you cannot empathize with a feeling that is not there. When you feel bad for the poor narcissist who is devoid of empathy you are not empathizing, you are projecting. You are assuming that the narcissist is feelings the same pangs you are feeling when, in fact, the person is not feeling bereft at all. That is how you believe you would feel if your empathy were to disappear tomorrow and you are projecting onto that narcissist—it is not at all the nothingness that the narcissist is feeling.

1.      Sweet Violet. “Empathetic Narcissist = Oxymoron.” The Narcissist’s Child. (accessed January 19, 2018).
2.      Wisniewski, Laura. “Fresh Eyes: Jellied Moose Nose.” Bozeman Magazine. (accessed January 19, 2018).

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Holiday Hoovering

So, Christmas and Hanukkah are over and the New Year is upon us. How many of you got hoovered?
Hoovering has one major objective: to allow the N to feel like s/he is in control of the relationship. If you have been successfully NC or LC over a period of weeks or longer prior to the holidays, unless your N is a malignant ignoring N, s/he is going to feel that you have taken control of the relationship, something she finds threatening. The malignant ignoring N will have put you out of mind so unless there is a compelling reason to put on the perfect family charade, you will likely be spared any contact. The rest of us are not so lucky.
By now, if your Ns were going to hoover you, it has begun. Most likely you received unanticipated gifts, cards, letters, even phone calls or texts. You may have inadvertently invited such contact by naïvely assuming that she would not take the Christmas card you sent as a sign that all is forgiven and the lines of communication are now fully open again. You may have maintained and defended your NC boundaries but your Ns believe their image is at stake so they have decided to take back control of the relationship by luring your back into their lair the fold.
You may have received just the gift you wanted/needed from them or they may have sent you the same old junk you usually get—Dollar Store and garage sale finds or things they would like for themselves. You may have received something you cannot afford for yourself like a new laptop or tablet or iPhone, or something you simply do not want: a course in Tae Kwon Do or a cruise to a deserted island. Or it could be gifts for your children but nothing for you, or gifts you could never afford for your kids like a battery operated child’s car or a bouncy castle or something outrageously expensive, gifts designed to hoover your kids because kids are easier to manipulate than wary adults and your Ns expect you will come right along with the children.
This is not likely to stop. You may get letters in which they cry about being lonely over the holidays, how they miss their grandbabies, how they miss you. They will paint a dismal picture of the sad lives they have now that you are no longer in it. They will tug at your heartstrings and make you feel guilty for turning your back on this sad, pathetic old woman… Or you may get the letter that rips the flesh off your back as it seeks to excoriate you for your refusal to give them their due. The letter may be blatant and bold or it may be sneaky and passive aggressive, but it feels to you, as you read it, like the attack that it is. Either way, you may get missives from your Ns that are designed to make you feel bad for not allowing your Ns to have their way with you.
If you got blindsided by this kind of crap this year, it was because you didn’t have a plan. The reason you lacked a plan may have been because you didn’t think you needed one—it never occurred to you that your feeling sorry for your N (a fatal weakness they will exploit) might backfire on you. You may have been left scrambling, trying to figure out what to do or how to handle it, on the spur of the moment. Depending on the method your N used to intrude on your holiday cheer, you may have been hurt, outraged or even frightened by their incursion into your peace.
Some Ns will hint at their intentions beforehand by sending messages in advance: invitations to Christmas dinner, hints that you should invite them for a holiday-oriented gathering, even blatantly telling you when they will be showing up at your house—uninvited—to deliver gifts. Other Ns will just send a card with no foreshadowing and pop up at your door uninvited, expecting to be asked in and entertained. Some will send packages with no return addresses—even fake return addresses. Others will send gifts and messages via a third party who is invited—or who is at least not persona non grata—to your home.
Any way you slice it, narcissism takes on a whole new dimension of insensitivity and disrespect during any kind of special occasion, from christenings to funerals, and most especially cultural celebrations. Your Ns friends may think nothing of her not having you over for Sunday dinners, but they most definitely will have something to say if your N’s holiday plans do not include you and your family. Your N doesn’t care about your feelings (if she did, she wouldn’t be an N) but she most certainly cares about her image. When her friends are waxing lyrical about their grandchildren, painting pictures of lavish holiday feasts attended by three or more generations of family, your N is sitting there thinking that you are the reason she is looking bad among her peers. Unless she is an ignoring N, in which case she has told everyone what a bitch you are and she is refusing to pander to you so she has cut you off this season—and how lucky her friends are not to have such difficult and uncaring children—she is going to be feeling that she has to do something so she isn’t left out of the Great and Gracious Grannies Club.
You first need to understand that this is mostly about power. If you have the power to keep her away from you and/or her grandchildren, then in her eyes, you have too much. It means you have the power to make her look bad in front of her frenemies and the rest of the family. It means, to her, that you are in control of her, not the other way around. And this does not set well with any N. Up to the holiday season she can fool herself into thinking she is controlling the silence or she has been able to make it work for her by telling her friends how sad her life is, how lonely she is, all because of you being a bitch.
She has no concept of a relationship in which someone is not in control, so no matter what your real reason for NC or LC, she perceives it as you thinking you are in control of her and she cannot countenance that. Some Ns will pick a fight in order to come out in control (they do not doubt their own power) but others—my guess is most of them—simply ignore your boundaries and do what they want. And if you refuse their invitations despite their manipulations, then they will barge in on you and your events without invitation, even if they have been specifically told to stay away. They will do whatever they can to wrest what they perceive as control of the relationship from you.
So what can you do? You can have a plan. If you have a fair idea of the kinds of things they will do, you can have a plan as to how to handle it. Just make sure that your image in the family is not more important to you than the peace you get from keeping her out of your special occasions because this is one of those “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” situations. Personally, I look at it this way: she is already assassinating my character behind my back over absolutely nothing so I might as well do something to deserve it.
What kind of plan? Well, what is your N likely to do? Here are a few scenarios:
1. Sends cards/letters to your children

Get a PO Box several months before the holidays and put in a mail forwarding notice with the post office. Have all mail forwarded to the PO Box. Intercept and determine what to do with the letters/cards. If they contain money or gift cards, decide whether to give them to the children or donate them to charity.

2. Sends packages to your house
A.      Invest in a custom-made stamp that says “Moved, left no forwarding address". Stamp the packages (and any mail addressed to you or your partner) and sent them back.
B.      Give the contents of the packages to a women’s shelter or other charity
C.      Put the packages in the bin
3. Shows up at your house uninvited
A.      If you answer the door and are surprised by her, close the door. Do not answer again until you are sure she is gone
B.      Tell her to leave and not to come back. If she refuses, call the police.
4. Calls on the phone
A.      Don’t answer
B.      Block her
C.      Tell her to not call again

Narcissists can be very creative and they can come up with all kinds of things that you hadn’t thought of so you have to have a “go-to” response. Mine is basically this: avoid contact. That means do everything you need to do to avoid contact: hang up the phone, close the door, walk the other way. It means never to invite them in, accept an invitation, respond in any way other than to say “leave me alone.”
We talk a lot about setting and enforcing boundaries with our Ns but this is a time that we must set boundaries with ourselves. The N is ruthless and heartless. They will do anything, literally anything, to get what they want and sometimes they only want it because you are withholding it. (That is when you finally capitulate to their heartbroken begging for a chance to see your children and when you give in they spend the time criticising our housekeeping by doing your housework or playing cards with each other and pretty much ignoring you kids.) You need to set boundaries with yourself now, boundaries that say that even if NM really IS heartbroken about not seeing your kids, it is too late. She had her warnings and she refused to respect your boundaries and now it is over and you will no longer allow her to hoover you back into a one-sided, self-serving relationship that gives you stress and anxiety and nothing in compensation for it.
You see, regardless of what your N thinks, the power ultimately rests with you and it always has. She cannot take it away from you, although you can give it to her. Whatever disguise she chooses to use—heartbroken grandma, outraged mother, pitiful old lady, cold, aloof superior—the struggle is really about control—control over you. She will put any face on it that she thinks will work to get you to relinquish control to her and you have to keep your eye on the truth so as not to be distracted by her theatrics, empty promises and meaningless gestures.
Why does she want control of you (even ignoring Ns want this control)? NSupply. If she has control of you, she has control of the NSupply she gets from you and through you. All of her antics, including all forms of hoovering, come down to this one thing: NSupply and control of its sources.
So, the best way to handle hoovering, especially around the holidays when it invariably ramps up, is to not respond and block all avenues of access to you and your family. For some very persistent Ns, it may take a Cease and Desist letter from a lawyer, even a restraining order from the court. But if you are serious about your peace as they about their NSupply, you won’t hesitate.
Set some boundaries for yourself. Start now so that by the time the holidays roll around next year you will be experienced and practiced at protecting yourself and your home and family, you will have heard all of her excuses and stories and complaints and you no longer feel a tug at your heartstrings when she rolls out one of her tear-jerking tales designed to soften your resolve. You are the one in control of your life and she cannot take control without your cooperation. The hoovering is all about her and her image and her NSupply and not in the least about you or your feelings or well-being. Remember that and don’t fall for her tricks. If you successfully resist long enough she will go elsewhere, to those whose resistance is less formidable. Then, and only then, can you have some peace.