A few years’ ago, God did me a very big favor. Every time I was around someone with a very complicated inner landscape, my eyes would go funny.
The first few times it happened, I freaked out and started panicking that I’d developed some horrible disease that was going to leave my partially sighted, God-forbid, or worse. But then, after this had been going on for a few months, and after I’d been talking to God about it a lot, I suddenly got the insight that my eyes would only go funny around particular people, or in particular circumstances.
One of those people was my husband, so figuring out what was going on become a big imperative.
After many more months of pondering it, praying on it, thinking about it, I managed to narrow down ‘funny eye syndrome’ a bit more, and to realize that it would happen whenever I was around people who were suppressing strong, negative emotions.
By suppressing, I don’t mean that they knew what they were feeling, consciously, and were gritting their teeth, or keeping a stiff upper lip, although clearly that also would sometimes occur.
I mean that these negative emotions were so buried, so hidden - even from the person themselves! - that they had absolutely no idea what sort of tremendously powerful emotional vibes they were actually sending out into the atmosphere.
That was being soaked up by yours truly and making my eyes go funny.
Releasing the pressure
Over time, I figured out that the single best way to cure my funny eyes was by helping the person I was talking with to really acknowledge their deeper, nearly always extremely negative, true feelings.
This is so much easier said than done, as most people who make my eyes go funny are suffering from something called alexithymia, or an inability to really describe or get a handle on their feelings. This usually happens because a kid isn’t really ‘seen’ in their childhood by an emotionally-absent parent.
So when they get upset, or scared, or anxious, or concerned, there is no caring adult around to notice what’s going on with them, and to give them the word, the label, they need to shrink their huge feeling down into language, and make it manageable.
So then, these individuals grow up, and a fuzzy sense of frustration (that they would never think to label ‘anger’) is really the only feeling that can or will admit to experiencing.
But if you could rip the scab off that ‘frustration’, then a whole bunch of seething, immature, enormous negative emotions would come bubbling out. If that sounds like a scary prospect, you are now starting to understand why so many people who find it hard to relate to their negative emotions are so scared of anyone getting anywhere near close enough to prise off the ‘frustration’ lid.
Because a volcano is lurking underneath.
Sadly for me, or luckily for me, depending on how you look at it, pretending that nothing was really happening underneath got very, very hard when my eyes would suddenly go completely weird mid-conversation.
Someone would be telling me what they had for breakfast, or about their upcoming trip to the US to visit family, or about their kid’s new school, or they’re new job - and whammo, my eyes would de-focus and I’d be left squinting around, completely perplexed as to what was going on and thinking big thoughts about serious vitamin deficiencies.
Until I figured this out.
Which is when I realized that God had actually given me a secret back route into instantly figuring where the emotional body was buried, so to speak. Because a person can swear until they’re blue in the face that they’ve made their peace with so-and-so, or don’t care about such-and-such, or completely past whatever it is - but if my eyes have gone funny, I know they are lying.
Especially to themselves.
This is useful with husbands, but not so useful with everyone else
Now, with husbands this is actually a pretty wonderful, helpful thing, as thanks to the funny eyes, we’ve got to the bottom of so many issues that we probably never would have, otherwise.
But with other people? Well, it’s made things pretty complicated. And it’s a big part of the reason I got so anti-social for a while, because for the life of me I couldn’t work out how I was meant to be reacting when someone would be telling me about their wonderful family celebration, or how much they really wanted to just settle down with someone (when the exact opposite was true) while my ‘funny eyes’ would erupt off the Richter scale.
If a person isn’t telling themselves the truth about a particular situation, woe betide the person who is dumb enough to try to step in and deliver the message the other person is trying so hard to ignore and avoid.
I learnt the hard way that you can’t fix people with ‘the truth’, and if you try, you are only going to get your head completely blown off. And you probably deserve it.
So, for a long stretch of time it’s been easier to keep things superficial with most people for most of the time, because in 2018, so many people are dealing with huge negative emotions that they’re repressing, without even realizing what’s going on.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Because I have the feeling that the more you start to get in touch with your own real self, and the more you try to work through your own enormous, deeply-buried negative feelings, the more you’ll also start to notice how certain people, certain conversations, set you off, too.
Maybe, your eyes won’t go funny, but you might find your breathing goes a bit weird, or that your heart starts beating too fast, or you suddenly feel horribly hot and suffocated, or weak and faint, or your hands suddenly go ice-cold.
Pay attention to those clues that God is sending you, especially if they’re popping up around a spouse or a kid.
Because those people, you probably can help, if you take a deep breath and prepare yourself mentally to face down an internal volcano of huge, suppressed feelings.
But everyone else, you probably can’t.
So the best bet is then just to smile and nod politely, and quickly change the subject.
As the orthodox Jewish world seems to be hurtling towards encouraging more and more orthodox women and girls to start posting more pictures of themselves online and in other publications, I thought it would be timely to take a look at the links even the non-Jewish world is starting to flag up between so-called ‘selfie’ culture and a whole host of emotional issues and problems.
Let’s start with some scientific studies examining the huge impact ‘selfies’ is already having on young women’s self-esteem and body image.
Back in 2014, a Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and The Priory Hospital, started sounding the alarm that about the alarming link between the rise of ‘selfie culture’ and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Dr Veale said:
“Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites.”
In 2016, researcher Katia Mifsud undertook a study for the University of Malta which found that respondents with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) were:
Before we continue, here’s a definition of what ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder’ actually is:
Body dysmorphic disorder: A psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive preoccupation with imagined defects in physical appearance. It is classified as an anxiety disorder, and it is believed to be a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also known as somatoform disorder and dysmorphophobia.
As posting pictures online and ‘selfies’ has become de rigeur in the non-Jewish world, more and more people are falling prey to Body Dysmorphic Disorder, caught up in the overwhelming focus on ‘externals’ and ‘how they look’ instead of who they really are, as a person.
Is this really something we want to be promoting in the orthodox Jewish world for Jewish women and girls, under the banner of ‘progress and equality’?
Even the non-Jewish world is starting to realize there is a huge selfie-induced problem with people posting too many images of themselves online, and becoming overly-obsessed with their external appearance. This comes from the official BDD website:
Body Dysmorphic Disorder affects 1.7% to 2.4% of the general population — about 1 in 50 people. This means that more than 5 million people to about 7.5 million people in the United States alone have BDD. BDD is about as common as obsessive-compulsive disorder and more common than disorders such as anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia.
Again, we take all psych stats and statements with a huge pinch of salt, but we can still clearly see that there is a huge problem that's developed around BDD, and it's of fairly recent origin.
Let’s go back to the scientific studies, to see what else they are telling us about how social media is promoting some very unhealthy emotional attitudes to how people relate to themselves.
Dr Giuseppe Riva recently published a study called: ‘Risk and maintenance factors for young women’s DSM-5 eating disorders’. This study found that:
Self-objectification (thinking about and monitoring the body’s appearance from an external observer’s perspective) was the largest contributor to both Eating Disorder onset and maintenance.
To put this into plainer English, the more a young woman was focused on how her body appeared to other people, the higher her chances of developing an Eating Disorder in the first place, and also for her Eating Disorder-ed behavior to continue. In other comments that he made to VICE magazine (horrible name, but actually a really good article), Dr Riva explained how social media is promoting the problem of ‘self-objectification’. He said:
"This is particularly true for Snapchat and Instagram, which provide a mirror-like vision of young women, which is also altered and shared. This behavior supports the vision that a social body—self-objectified—is more relevant than the real felt body."
In case you don’t know how Instagram and Snapchat actually work (I didn’t until I started researching all this stuff) both apps let users retouch their snaps and selfies with a variety of filters. Spots and birthmarks can be erased, wrinkles retouched, even the shape of the face altered, to give your selfie that ‘perfect’ appearance.
Apparently, things are getting so bad with these apps that many users now refuse to have any picture taken that they can’t ‘retouch’ and make ‘perfect’ - which brings us on to the next mental illness selfies can feed in to: narcissism.
I’ve written so much about narcissism, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NDP) on spiritualselfhelp.org and in other places. The bottom line is that it’s learned behavior and can be unlearned (with an awful lot of effort, prayer and understanding of what’s really causing it and how.)
But there is no question that social media encourages people to behave in a very narrow-minded, self-aggrandising and un-empathetic way, all of which can fuel the fire of narcissistic traits, and turn the latent narcissistic ‘tendencies’ that we all have, to a greater of lesser degree, into a real problem.
This comes from an excellent article on the RAWHIDE website (which sadly has pictures of women in it, so I can’t link to their excellent infographic), but here’s their take on what they call ‘social media narcissism;”
Social media narcissism may be displayed through many of the following traits:
Again, this is an over-simplification of the real reasons why people want to post pictures of themselves online, and compulsively get attention from strangers and other people they don’t know based on how they look.
But the point is this: the whole social media / selfie culture that encourages both men and women to obsess over appearance instead of being concerned by substance, and that glorifies people’s looks over their personalities, abilities and deeds is clearly leading to some huge spikes in emotional and mental issues, including:
So why oh why would the orthodox Jewish world want to encourage our teens and women to start doing more of this stuff, and to start putting more emphasis on having pictures of themselves posted up all over the place?
The mind boggles.
Before we continue with our discussion about C-PTSD, I just wanted to talk a little about the phenomenon of ‘projection’, which will help you understand one of the most puzzling aspects of dealing with emotionally disturbed individuals.
On some level of another, emotional disturbance occurs when a person isn’t acknowledging the truth of who they really are, how they really behave, and what they really think.
Now, this characterizes all of us from time to time. All of us have things we’re in denial about, or facets of our personalities that we’d rather not acknowledge, or things we do that we try to play down or minimize. That’s human nature.
The more emotionally and spiritually ‘transparent’ we are, the better our emotional and mental health usually is - and vice versa. By the time you get into the murky area of things like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Anti-social Behavior Disorder (AsBD), Disassociative Identity Disorder and schizophrenia, for example, that healthy ‘transparency’ has become so opaque it’s literally led to a breakdown in the affected person’s grasp of reality.
When a person can’t honestly accept and acknowledge facets of their own personalities, thoughts and behaviours, they start PROJECTING these things on to other people - which can be completely head-wrecking, until you understand what’s really happening
Here’s an example: a restaurant in Hawaii put up a notice saying no “Trump fascists” would be served on its premises. That restaurant owner is acting in precisely the ‘fascist’ way they’re accusing Trump supporters of doing - which is classic projection.
Multi-billionaire George Soros accusing Trump of being a ‘wannabe dictator’ is also a classic case of projection. Now, I’m not saying that projection and emotional disturbance only happens by liberals and left-wingers, because it’s a problem that crops up all over the place. But what I have noticed is that there an awful lot of ‘projection’ stories hitting the headlines in the wake of Trump’s win, as one emotionally-disturbed celeb after another is using Trump’s win to vent their own emotional issues.
Of course, projection also happens much closer to home, too. If you want to know what an emotionally-ill person really thinks about themselves, pay close attention to all the insults and put-downs they start shooting your way, especially those that are completely off the mark, seem completely out of context or are just plain bizarre.
Say, you’re a gourmet chef and someone starts ranting at you that you couldn’t even make a decent piece of toast. The chances of that statement being true about a gourmet chef are practically nil, so you know you’re dealing with a pure piece of projection. But the projection can be much harder to spot if you’re being accused of a problem you really do have yourself.
For example, if you’re being accused of not doing enough ‘soul-searching’ by someone with zero interest in spiritual issues, that’s obviously projection, but it could also still have a crumb of truth in it. Some effort will need to be made to figure out how much of that statement is pure projection, and how much is actually relevant.
Another point to make about projection is that whatever we’re accusing other of doing (at least directly, to their faces) is nearly always an indication of something we ourselves need to work on.
The more I’ve been trying to work through my own issues like arrogance and anger, for example, the less those traits are disturbing me when I see them in others, and the less likely I am to comment on them in a critical way.
God created the whole world as one big mirror, to show us what we ourselves need to work on and fix. Any trait or behavior you see in someone else that hits a nerve is something you yourself need to deal with, and work on. If it’s not agitating you, it’s not your problem in the same way, even if it’s still objectively nasty, bad and mean behavior.
You could write a whole book on this subject, but I’ll stop there.
In the meantime, here’s some rough rules of thumb for dealing with projection:
I personally now almost enjoy my abusive correspondence (almost….) as each fresh batch of emails gives me a clearer picture of their state of mind, which is sometimes even entertaining (almost…)
The last thing to say about projection is that God is still hiding messages for us inside all the projected statements from the emotionally-disturbed people we know, but it’s very rarely the ‘face value’ message of what we’re being told.
I’ve been reading a book by Pete Walker called: Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving, and it’s giving me a lot of food for thought for how C-PTSD actually looks and feels in real-life. The book introduced me to the ‘Fawn’ variant of the stress response, which I vaguely knew about, but hadn’t managed to pin down into anything approaching a coherent description.
The following has been inspired by Pete Walker’s book, and I hope it will help you start to work out what ‘stress response’ is your most dominant way of responding to life’s difficult challenges, stresses and people.
Once again, when people experience a lot of trauma or absentee parenting, especially in childhood, it can hard-wire their brains to react to stress (or things that are incorrectly perceived as ‘stressful’ or threatening) in a detrimental, ‘abnormal’ way, even as adults.
Secular psychiatry has tried to label most of these ‘abnormal’ responses to stress as all the mental illnesses and emotional disorders listed in the DSM, and likes to tell people that their brains are basically ‘broken’ due to genes or biology, and can’t be fixed.
But that’s simply not true! The brain is plastic, and these learned responses to environmental triggers can be unlearned, and replaced with much healthier reactions, thoughts and beliefs. But the first part of the process is to recognize: 1) What caused the initial problems and 2) How you are now reacting (or over-reacting) as a result of the traumatic experiences or emotional neglect you experienced in your formative years.
So read on, to find out what’s your dominant C-PTSD-inspired reaction to stressful triggers, situations and people.
PLEASE NOTE: Most people have one or two dominant ‘stress’ responses that they typically fall back into as their main mode of reacting to stressful triggers and situations, or perceived threats. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also have some of the other stress-reactions, some of the time.
Is typically characterized by:
HOW THESE FOUR Fs AFFECT US IN THE FACE OF PERCEIVED THREAT OR STRESS
Your main stress response mode was set as a child. Once you realized that fighting / running away / numbing the pain / keeping danger away by keeping others happy seemed to work best in your particular circumstance, that become your default stress response.
BUT - emotional health requires an admixture of all four responses in the face of perceived threat or danger.
Sometimes, instead of fighting we need to back off and let go of our grudge, in order to resolve a situation. Sometimes, instead of spacing out and blanking, we need to gird our loins and DO something about the problem we’re facing. Sometimes, instead of giving in to other people’s demands, we need to stand our ground and police our boundaries. Still other times, we need to take a time-out from the rat race and stop being so busy doing, to sit quietly and contemplate our needs and feelings.
The other thing to say at this stage is that when someone has C-PTSD, their stress responses are typically extreme. They will be triggered by far more stimuli, they will feel far more overwhelming and intense, and they will continue for much, much longer than is ‘normal’ or healthy, sometimes lasting for weeks or even months.
But remember, all of this can be fixed, once you understand what’s really going on.
While there is always SO much more to say about the subject of personality disorders, both on what causes it (trauma…), what heals it (primarily, a strong connection to God and the more spiritual dimension to life), and the terrible pain and suffering it can cause others (leading to more trauma, mental illness and personality disorders…) this last word on the topic, for now, is the key to really ‘leaving the cult’ of narcissistic personality disorder once and for all.
So what is this magic formula for emancipation?
In a nutshell, cultivating the strong belief that: you are not a victim.
Now, I don’t write these words lightly. There’s a stage every ex ‘cult’ member goes through where it’s actually good and healthy and part of the healing process to recognize the wrongs that were done to you, and the emotionally-ill mind games you were trapped in, and all the guilt trips, and destructive criticisms and blame games you were made the scapegoat for.
You can’t leave the cult if you don’t acknowledge just how bad cult behavior, and cult thinking really actually is. If you try to short-cut this part of the process, you’ll end up excusing things you shouldn’t, and justifying all sorts of evil attitudes and cruel actions, and then as soon as you whitewash those things, you’ll inevitably carry on doing them yourself. That’s human nature.
So stage one is definitely to recognize just how bad things were around your NPD relatives (and others), and to acknowledge and validate your own, very real, pain and suffering.
And depending on how bad things were, and how badly your own life was messed up as a result, that stage can often take a pretty long time - even years - to properly process and digest.
But that angry, raging, furious place you have to pass through in order to leave the cult is NOT the place to stay, long-term.
Because here’s a little secret you should know about people with personality disorders and other mental illnesses: Every single one of them justifies their crazy, horrible, selfish and destructive behavior, and has a million excuses why it’s ‘OK’ for them to do it.
Every single mentally ill person out there feels like a victim - of life, of their parents, of circumstances, of horrible siblings, of racists, of anti-semites, of nasty neighbours, mean classmates, grasping employers, lazy colleagues, unreliable friends, the tax man, the other guy….
The list goes on and on.
And the way ‘victim think’ works is that as soon as your evil inclination has convinced you that you’re a victim, it’s a piece of cake to convince you that you DESERVE to treat others horribly, and to be treated specially, and not have to take anybody else into account in your mad rush to get what you need and want, because life owes you big for all the suffering you’ve already been through.
This state of mind is present in all mental illnesses, to one degree or another, but has pride of place in Narcissistic Personality Disorder-ed people. Every single narcissist out there, whether they admit it or not, feels like a victim, and that any ‘bad behaviour’ you could ever ascribe to them is only and ever in response to being victimized by others.
To put things another way, staying in a place of perpetual victimhood paves the way to developing full-blown mental illnesses like NPD, and that’s really not where you want to end up.
So how to resolve this feeling of being a perpetual victim? Again, I should state upfront this is a process, and often a long one. It’s not straightforward, it’s not linear, and there’s often a lot of going forward just to fall back again. That’s life, in all it’s imperfection. But it IS still possible to see some big changes and movements very quickly, by doing some or all of the following suggestions:
But I want to leave you with this: The main reason God put you through all this terrible, horrible stuff with your NPD relatives is because He wanted to give you a reason - a big, unmissable reason - to get back in touch with your soul, and with Him.
If your life hadn’t been so hard and challenging and painful up until now, maybe you’d live your time out in a completely superficial bubble of materiality. God doesn’t want that for you. He wants you to dig deep, and to start asking some hard questions about what life is really for, and why it’s so hard.
There’s really one solution to the problem of NPD people, and that’s get God involved in the process, ASAP. If you do that, sooner or later, the clouds will part, and you will find the way out to true happiness, acceptance and peace of mind.
One of the most frustrating and damaging aspects of being in a relationship with an NPD person is that you can’t get closure on any of the things that are bothering you or upsetting you about the relationship.
You can often find yourself locked in a kind of mental ‘tug of war’, where you feel you’re being constantly pulled out of your own version of reality, and of truth, over to seeing things from the NPD person’s warped perspective of what’s really going on. (I.E, you’re to blame for everything, and they are perfect.)
The main reason this happens is because NPD people can’t accept that they are wrong, flawed or imperfect. They can’t take responsibility for their own negative actions, thoughts and behaviours, and they have to see themselves as the ‘victim’ of circumstances.
And not infrequently, you can have overlapping personality disorders, with NPD and BPD habits, for example, present in the same person. When a person is simply unable to accept, under any circumstances, that they have done something wrong or hurtful, or acted incorrectly, that’s the single biggest signpost I know of flagging a potential NPD problem.
I think NPD people were probably unfairly blamed, criticized, shamed, punished and eviscerated so much as children - by the NPD people in their own lives - that the thought of taking responsibility for anything they do as adults, even the really bad things, simply overwhelms the brain too much, leading to their mentally-ill behavior. (Again, I’ll describe the science describing how the brain reacts in another post, God willing.)
But for now, we’re still looking at how YOU can disentangle yourself from these very emotionally disturbing relationships and people, without having to go for the ‘no contact’ nuclear option. One of the single best ways of defusing the emotional fall-out from dealing with these people is visualisations.
Visualisations allow your brain to process all the upset, hurt, anger, fear etc that is part and parcel of dealing with emotionally-abusive people, so that all that negative energy doesn’t get ‘stuck’ in your own physiology and soul, where it can start disrupting your own emotional and physical health, if its left to accumulate.
The following visualization, called ‘The River’, will help you to stop playing emotional ‘tug of war’ with the NPD people in your life, where you’re endlessly reliving their last comments, and the last ‘confrontation’ you had with them, because you’re trying to re-establish and re-assert your own truth in the face of all their lies and evasions. It’s helped me a lot, and I hope it’ll help you, too.
THE RIVER VISUALISATION
As with all visualisations, it’s best to do this when you are alone, sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, and where you feel safe - i.e., no-one is going to barge in on you, or interrupt your experience. Also, turn your mobile phone off!
As I mentioned in the last post, my personal view of going ‘no-contact’ with personality disorder-ed family members is that unless they are literally a threat to your life (and sometimes, things really can and do get that bad), you should go the ‘least possible amount of contact’ route instead.
If you take that route, you don’t have to make any big announcements telling them why you’re stepping things down so much and not answering their calls / attending their events / responding to every Facebook post.
Narcissists can’t hear the truth anyway, so you’re wasting your breath. And worse, if you try to tell them that their behavior is affecting you in a negative way, they will (ironically…) start treating you even worse, accusing YOU of all the things you’re suggesting they’re doing to you.
That’s just how it is with NDP people.
So what can you do instead? In a nutshell, you have to learn to ‘play their game’ a little bit and simply ignore anything they say that you don’t want to respond to, or your feel is a lie. (I know, that’s usually most things.)
This will leave you with a few very superficial topics - the weather and the news are often big hits, or alternatively the latest shopping bargains or celebrity gossip, depending on what type of NPD person you’re dealing with - but these superficial topics are the ‘safe space’ where the narcissist can still show off, opiniate, put other people down etc - but it won’t be you on the receiving end of all the criticism.
Keep your true feelings and your true emotions away from the NPD people, because they can’t handle ‘real’ and they can’t deal with ‘truth’. Every time you break these rules, you will pay for it dearly even if you have the very best intention of trying to air things out in order to ‘fix’ them.
Again, take a look at this post on acceptance, because while it’s taking you a couple of minutes to read this post, it could well take a few years before you really integrate what I’m describing into your handling of NPD people, especially those who are very close family members.
The feeling of being let down, having your feelings invalidated and blamed for ‘everything’ that’s going wrong in the relationship with an NPD person can be completely overwhelming. While you’re struggling to accept that there is literally ‘no one to talk to’ on the other side of the equation, you will probably feel enormously angry, vengeful, hurt and disappointed.
The single best way of dealing with all these negative emotions, that still need to be expressed, validated and then let go of in some way, is by talking to God about it all (click HERE to download a free book I wrote about how to do this, called The How, What and Why of Talking to God).
As part of your talking to God sessions, I highly recommend incorporating a few visualisations to help acknowledge and then release all these highly distressing feelings. The part of the brain responsible for the fight / flight / freeze response doesn’t differentiate between a real experience and an imagined one. (Which is why you can scare the pants off yourself by watching a horror movie, or reading a scary novel, or even just listening to the news.)
So when you say whatever you want to say to the NPD person as part of a purely mental visualization, and take whatever actions you feel you need to defend yourself (in your head…) - the brain considers the whole experience as ‘real’. As far as your brain is concerned, you just defended yourself, validated yourself, protected yourself, asserted yourself - whatever it is you need to do to stop feeling so helpless and like a victim, vis a vis the NPD person or people in your life.
So in the next post, I’ll share one a very powerful visualization for dealing with NPD people, called ‘The River’.
Up until now, I’ve been sharing a more or less ‘standard’ view of Narcissistic Personality Disorder-ed people, how they act, what they say, and the sorts of things they do, particularly to their non-NPD family members.
Here’s where I’m going to depart from the usual secular description of dealing NPD, to bring God firmly into the picture. Why am I doing this? Because the only way to truly deal with NPD people, and the only way to leave the cult with your mental health intact, is by accessing and acknowledging the spiritual dimension to the problem.
Many secular NPD experts will recommend going ‘no contact’ with emotionally-abusive NPD people. This is often the best approach when it comes to dealing with acquaintances, friends, distant relatives, or other people it’s fairly easy to cut out of your life and not have anything to do with.
But when it comes to close relatives, and especially parents and siblings, then the ‘no contact’ approach doesn’t really work. As mentioned, NPD people create ‘cults’ around them in their families, so if you go ‘no contact’ against the cult leader, who is usually a parent (or both parents), by default you’ll end up losing contact with the rest of your family, too, who will either:
Another reason why no contact generally doesn’t work for close family members is because of the often overwhelming feelings of guilt. Again, NPD people, and family cults generally, excel at instilling guilt and shame in people as a way of controlling them.
Until and unless you do the work of uprooting all those toxic feelings of guilt and shame that are already inside you, going no contact will usually make you feel too bad about yourself, and play into the narcissist’s picture of how ‘bad’ you are, to be of much help in actually healing the problem.
An additional reason no contact often can’t work is because your children and spouse - who haven’t grown up traumatized by the emotional abuse - often can’t understand why you’re cutting poor old grannie and grandpa out of your life, and will also start to blame you for your actions.
Explaining how bad NPD behavior is to others who haven’t experienced it for themselves is almost impossible. You generally just sound like you’re making a big deal out of things, being oversensitive, or making trouble for no real reason.
So what can you do to get out of this terrible bind?
Here’s where believing in God, and understanding that everything that’s going on in your life is tailor-made for you, comes in.
Spiritually-speaking, the whole world is a mirror. For as long as you have NPD people in your life, and no obvious route of being able to completely and happily avoid them and ignore them, that’s because God is using them to show you something about yourself that you still need to work on.
Sometimes, it’s a straight ‘mirroring’ experience. For example, NPD people are routinely angry and abusive. The more anger you still have inside of yourself, that you haven’t yet managed to uproot (particularly if you’re someone who tends to ignore and deny your own negative emotions) - the more God is going to put these angry NPD people in your face. NPD people excel at sparking off every negative emotion known to man. Whatever your particular ‘negative emotion hot button’ is, they’ll find a way of pressing it.
So the first thing to do is to work on your own negative character traits, particularly anything that appears on the list (below) of personality disorder-ed traits. The less bad habits and behaviors you yourself have, the less God will surround you with the crazies.
But sometimes, things really aren’t that straightforward. Sometimes, even if you’ve worked on your own character for years, and dealt with most of your issues, God will still send some horribly abusive NPD into your life to tell you a bunch of hateful things about yourself.
But even here, the spiritual principle that these people are simply delivering messages in someway still holds. For example, if an NPD person calls you a ‘parasite’, that doesn’t mean that you are. But God is using that person to highlight some aspect of your life where you’re maybe scared to act more independently, or where you consider yourself to be very lowly in your own eyes.
God wants you to move forward in some way, or to start to lift your head up a little higher and to believe in yourself, so He arranges for some NPD person in your life to call you a ‘parasite’, for example, in the hopes of sparking off the soul-searching that’s going to lead you to a much, much better place.
This subject requires a lot more clarification, as the devil is always in the details when dealing with NPD people. They excel in building their huge, soul-destroying lies around a 1% of truth, so we have to be extremely careful when we start searching for ‘the message’ in all their abusive words and behavior to understand that the message is NEVER that we’re bad / awful / unforgivable / horrendous / disgusting / terrible people.
God never writes people off like that, only mentally-ill NPD people do. God also doesn’t diss the totality of a person. By God, the discussion is always and only about actions and individual traits, not global descriptions of how ‘bad’ and ‘mentally ill’ and ‘loathsome’ a person might be.
God doesn’t label! He also only sees the good in us, and understands how difficult it is to stand up to our evil inclinations and choose to do the right thing. So the message is only ever about a trait, behavior or belief that needs changing in some way, and is NEVER about how ‘awful’ we are.
can't tolerate being questioned, challenged or disagreed with
As with all cults, if you only had the cult-leader themselves to deal with, it theoretically wouldn’t be that hard for a lot of people to eventually shrug off their brainwashing, and return to being a fully productive, alive and emotionally-healthy member of the human race.
What gives cults their power - from the ‘big’ cult players like the Moonies and Scientologists right down to the small mom-and-pop family cults that we’re talking about in these posts - is the other cult members.
Going against one person, however scary, is doable if you have a bunch of like-minded people on your side. There really is strength in numbers. But here is where we hit a huge problem for the people who want to leave the ‘mini cults’ that develop in a narcissist’s family: if you leave the cult and stop seeing your parent as ‘perfect’, then it’s not only your parent who’s going to come after you; it could be your whole brainwashed family.
Remember, the parent is perfect. That’s the main and central tenet, or belief, of the personality-disordered cults that build up around narcissist parents. As soon as you challenge that belief, you become the cult’s Public Enemy One, and your sister, your brother, your dad, your aunty - pretty much everyone you know who is also part of the cult - is going to come after you, to try to get you to admit that you’re completely wrong about the cult leader.
This next bit sounds counter-intuitive, but the easier ‘cult members’ to deal with are the obviously poisonous and nasty ones. They are the ones that write you emails telling you that unlike the cult leader, you’re a bigoted maggot, and an evil and cruel person. They also like to threaten you with all sorts of consequences for disobeying the cult leader, like dying a lonely, miserable death because you’ve isolated yourself from all the people who ‘really love you’ by leaving the cult.
As it’s pretty obvious that you’re dealing with an unhinged, mentally-ill lunatic, it’s much easier to reassure yourself that you’re really not the problem, here (although this still takes some practice, as malignant narcissists excel in identifying your weak spots, and zoning in on them with their eviscerating comments. If you secretly fear you’re a bad mother, for example, that will be the area they zone in on, as they tell you ‘you’re incapable of raising your children’ and other pleasantries like that.)
By far the more difficult characters are the two-faced cult members who pretend to be on your side, while all the time working overtime for the cult leader. These are the ones who keep persuading you to go against your best interests, or keep telling you to get back in touch, or try to guilt you out of leaving the cult by making it clear that ‘mom is about to have a BIG operation!!!’ and other manipulative moves like that.
They’ll ‘explain’ how the cult leader, or other cult member only said those disgustingly awful things because you started it! You made them do it! You suggested the cult leader wasn’t perfect and broke the cult’s sacred commandment! It’s all your fault that things are such a shambles because you have a Jekyll-and-Hyde character, and you’re mentally ill, and everyone else in the cult thinks that mom is THE BEST MOM EVER! So clearly, you are the only one at fault and the only one to blame for the family not being perfect.
Because the more two-faced cult members are great actors, they can make it seem that they really get your complaints, and your pain, and your hurt, while still turning it all around on to you and deflecting the problem away from the cult leader. “You’re just saying things to make it seem like mom is bad,” they’ll explain. “You set dad up and got him to act like a raging animal, when really he’s always so kind hearted,” they’ll tell you. “Unlike you, I know that mom only cut you out of the will because she has your best interests at heart, and if you weren’t so greedy and selfish you would understand that, too.”
The two-faced ones are much, much harder to deal with, because part of you hopes that once you lay everything out for them clearly, they’ll also come around to a more realistic view of what’s going on in the family-cum-cult.
A BROAD RULE OF THUMB FOR DEALING WITH OTHER CULT MEMBERS
Here’s a broad rule of thumb for dealing with other family members who are in the cult:
Any family member who is a narcissist themselves will be 100% committed to preserving and protecting the cult of perfection. They will abuse, cajole, lie, manipulate, threaten, attack and evade the truth at all costs.
When a family member is in the cult, but not a narcissist themselves, they will experience some severe cognitive dissonance around you, and do their best to steer the topic away from your ‘subversive’ views, and troubling heretical statements about the cult leaders not being as perfect as they seem. But they will not attack and abuse you in defence of the cult leaders.
When a family member is not in the cult, and not a narcissist - they’ll be so relieved to finally hear someone else telling the truth about what’s really going on! But it can take years for non-narcissist cult members to get to this stage, if it happens at all.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at how best to deal with abusive family members who are trying to stop you from ‘leaving the cult’.
When people have a ‘Cluster B’ personality disorder like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) they have an overwhelming need to be seen as perfect and whiter-than-white. They also siphon off other people’s attention and energy with one shameless manipulation after another; cannot empathise with or ‘see’ anybody else’s viewpoints or needs; and will lie shamelessly to cover up their own failings and flaws.
When the parents in a family have NPD, the family unit tends to function like a sort of ‘mini-cult’.
Remember that the main (but by no means only…) ‘issue’ for people with NPD is maintaining an external appearance of complete perfection. That means they can’t acknowledge any mistakes, bad behavior, bad character traits or anything else that will mar the appearance of perfection to the outside world.
Of course, narcissists are probably some of the most poisonous, toxic people to be around, particularly for their kids, as they’re full of anger, spite, vengeance, soul-destroying put downs, hatred and other types of emotionally abusive behavior.
For as long as you’re towing the narcissist’s line and not challenging them, the true extent of their mental illness isn’t obvious. It’s only when you start to challenge the picture of perfection that they’re painting for you (and everyone else) that the narcissist’s mask really comes off, and you get to see the scary monster lurking underneath.
Because narcissists can never admit to anyone, especially themselves, that their poisonous behavior and attitudes to others are the cause of so many of the difficulties occurring in their relationships, they fall back on two things to shore up their appearance of perfection:
It’s hard to appreciate just how big the lies get when you start challenging the narcissist’s false picture of perfection, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Here’s a few examples to give you a flavor:
They’ll send you an email telling you that you’re nothing but a parasite, an evil person, and mentally ill - all the while claiming they have no idea ‘where all the hatred is coming from’ or why you want them to apologise for their awful treatment of you, because they’ve never done anything horrible to you, or said anything bad to you.
And yes, you’ll get both of these statements sandwiched together in the same email.
You get accused of all the terrible things they’re doing. So they’ll cut a child out of their will for daring to suggest they aren’t perfect, and in the same breath lecture that child that they still have so much to learn about unselfish giving that doesn’t expect anything in return.
And if the child reacts in any way other than being grateful for the narcissist’s timeless advice, they’ll be accused of being ‘mentally-ill’ and told to GET HELP!!! for failing to appreciate how AMAZING, kind and loving their parent really is.
Anything you say (or email) that doesn’t fit in with the narcissist’s view of themselves as perfect and infallible will be routinely characterized as ‘horrendous’, ‘disgusting’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘hateful’ - even if it contains nothing more offensive than asking for an apology for the hurt caused by the narcissist’s behavior, or pointing out the inconsistencies in what they’re saying.
Anything they say (or email) is always perfect, full stop. And this is true even if they’re saying the most soul-eviscerating criticisms, lies and insults.
If you try to point any of this rank hypocrisy out to them, you will be blamed for [whatever it is the narcissist is actually doing themselves]. I.e.: ‘destroying the family’, ‘acting like Jekyll and Hyde’, ‘emotionally-blackmailing’, ‘being completely unbalanced’, ‘causing nothing but pain and shame to the family’, etc etc.
Again, it’s hard to do this topic real justice in a few lines. Those unfortunate people who have experienced the deceit, warped logic and ‘projected blame’ that comes with narcissists know only too well what I’m talking about. And those that haven’t (or haven’t acknowledged what’s really going on with these people) are probably scratching their heads and pondering how on earth people could lie in such a blatant, brazen way and expect to get away with it.
But they can, they do, and that’s a big part of a narcissist’s mentally-ill behavior.
Which brings me on to the next subject: because you can’t get a narcissist to admit any ‘truth’, however obvious, that doesn’t accord with their self-image of being perfect, sooner or later you have to make a choice with enormous ramifications for your relationship with the narcissist:
So why do people continue to go with Choice 2, even when it causes them to disconnect from their souls and their own true selves? To put it very simply, when you are being raised by narcissists - the effective ‘cult leaders’ - you can’t go against them. If you try, you will be mercilessly tormented and punished until you fall back into line, and go back to believing that the narcissist parent is only ever completely perfect, and you are the one causing all the problems.
So Choice 2 is the ‘default’ option that nearly every child of a narcissist parent has to struggle very hard to escape from.
Children of narcissists undergo a sort of self-induced ‘brain-washing’ process where they literally jettison their own subjective sense of self, and disconnect from what they really feel and what they really know in order to ‘fit’ into the fantasy world created by the narcissist parent. It’s almost impossible for a child to go against their narcissist parent, as the parent is the one defining reality for that child.
Which is how you end up with a whole family of individuals, children and grandchildren, who are effectively part of a brainwashed cult that the narcissist has built up around them, with a central belief that ‘the narcissist is perfect, and can do no wrong.’
We’ll continue this discussion in the next post, where we look at the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ that occurs amongst the children of narcissists.
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