Category Archives: Diary of a Narc

A Narcissist Does Group Therapy

For the last few months, I’ve been doing DBT kind of on my own. I bought the green book, The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, which I’ve been working from. Also, my therapist and I dedicate the last 10 minutes of every session to DBT, mostly practicing “wise mind.”

But I wanted to accelerate my learning, so I asked my therapist to suggest a DBT group for me. She came back with a group led by a woman who focuses on DBT through “art therapy.” Last night was the first meeting and I was so excited that I even arrived on time.

It’s a small, all-women group of four, plus Marsha, the therapist. As we sat there waiting for the group to start, we began introducing ourselves and saying what we do for a living. I quickly got up to speed on who everyone is and why they were there.

First up was Suzanne, who lives with extreme anxiety. Her whole body seemed to shiver with nervousness every time she talked. Even her voice quivered. When she held up a piece of paper, it shook uncontrollably.

Next was Sam. Sam initially seemed to be OK, speaking amongst just us participants, but when the group started and Marsha asked her to introduce herself, she completely shut down. Her eyes looked down in avoidance and she gave clipped one-word answers. She looked like a child being scolded after getting caught with her hand in the cookie jar. The sudden shift was jarring and awkward.

Introducing Teresa

computer hackerThen, there’s Teresa. My guess is Teresa is Borderline. I may have even considered her for a covert narc, but I already got the scoop from Marsha that I’m the only NPD in the group. (I’d expect nothing less.)

I immediately sized Teresa up as the most likely person in the group for me to be friends with. First of all, when I mentioned what I do, she was familiar with my work, she had seen it before and even cited some back to me. Brownie points for Teresa!

She seemed about my age, attractive, well spoken, and smart. Socially we seemed to hit it off pretty quickly during small talk. So Teresa already had my attention. Finally, it was Teresa’s turn to share what she does for a living. Turns out Teresa is… a forensic hacker! [Record screeches to a stop]

Holy shit, a hacker? Teresa’s stock with me just skyrocketed. How badass! I feel myself immediately warming to Teresa. I resize-up her outfit, her hair, the way she talks, and I’m thinking… yeah, me and Teresa could totally be friends!

Let the (art) healing begin

Marsha starts us off with some mindfulness, then she asks us to begin painting. While we are painting, she tells us to be mindful of the thoughts in our heads.

I smile, but internally I’m rolling my eyes. Quite honestly I feel a little silly doing this – a bunch of grown women with emotional problems sitting around a table doing art like we’re five – but I’m trying to go with the flow. Do something new and out of the box for me. I follow Marsha’s advice and acknowledge my feelings without judgement, gently bringing my attention back to the experience of painting.

It takes me a minute to get started. I need to rock this painting – really establish myself as the leader of the pack here. Everything I do should really be a masterpiece. But I don’t have any idea of what I want to draw. I let my eyes glance over…Sam and Suzanne are no competition. Seriously, are you guys even trying?

I look over at Teresa’s. Her painting is…good! Probably still not going to be as good as mine, but she’s hanging tough. Respect, Teresa. Your cool points with me keep accumulating.

Guess I’ll take the lead…

group therapyEvery time Marsha asks a question and looks around the room, no one wants to answer. So, it appears to be up to me, the narcissist, to get the ball rolling. Of course.

Once or twice is cool, but I really hope this isn’t my “role” now. The emerging pattern is that I go first, Teresa chimes in after – usually with something totally relatable to me – followed by Suzanne. Sam must be coaxed by Marsha to contribute.

Marsha asks us to talk about what emotions we felt while painting. What thoughts did we acknowledge? True to form, the table is quiet. Ok… guess I’ll go first. Again.

“I really wanted my painting to be the best. I had trouble just being in the moment because I was too focused on the final product, not the act of creating the art.” Marsha is happy with my contribution. Teresa laughs in a friendly, we totally relate, kind of way. Sam looks at me awkwardly and tells me she likes my hair. Ummm, thanks!

The elephant in the room

elephant in the room

We begin reviewing the list of things we will touch upon in the class. One reads, “Addressing the elephant in the room.” Oh shit…there’s going to be some elephant in the room situations? This could get interesting! I have one: why can’t Sam talk when called upon, but when we are supposed to mindfully be doing art, she can’t be quiet?

Does anyone have trouble with that, Marsha asks. The others nod an enthusiastic yes. I chime in, “Oh, I have no problem addressing the elephant in the room. My problem is how I address it.” More kudos from Marsha for my stellar contributions. So far, I’m winning at group therapy.

The thought crosses my mind: what’s the elephant in the room when it comes to me? But I really don’t like that thought, so I quickly dismiss it and mindfully get back to my work. Funny how I ruminate over everything else though, isn’t it?

Take-aways from my first group session

I’ll tell you one thing I immediately took from the group – however socially awkward I felt before, I really need to stop being so down on myself about it. Seeing Suzanne and Sam in action let me know I really am not that socially awkward. At all. In fact, I’m basically a rock star.

Although this thought initially feels very narc-y it’s actually a DBT principle – comparing yourself to others who are less fortunate. So, I remind myself not to feel bad about it. It certainly helped me put some things into perspective.

In fact, in other good news: Outgoing Yara is back! I haven’t seen her in damn near a year, and boy did I miss her. Outgoing Yara is one of my “selves.” Instead of looking at them now as “false selves,” I have decided to look at them as different facets of my core personality. None of them necessarily “false,” all of them part of the real Yara.

But while some personalities – like Cluster B Girl – I really hope to get rid of or drastically diminish, Outgoing Yara is one of my faves. She’s pretty, smart, well-put together, confident, friendly, competent. The whole package. I definitely want to keep her around.

I did have to remind myself to have empathy with Suzanne and Sam, while listening to them talk and watching them interact. It was a conscious effort, but one I’m glad I put in. I give props to all the women there, for stepping outside their comfort zone and trying to improve.

Although I am concerned about the art, I will say I started to get into it. It may be good for me to learn to create for fun, instead of competing constantly with others. The exercises really drew to my attention how competitive I am at all times, even when not appropriate or helpful.

Also, the fact that I feel silly doing the art makes me think I should keep going, because I need to focus less on how silly I think I “look” or how others may perceive what I’m doing.

Finally, the point of doing the art is to remain mindful during, which I really need lots of practice in, as the mindfulness is key to addressing my almost constant dissociating. So, maybe it’s not so dumb after all.

Soulmates in another lifetime

best friends.jpg

Finally, Teresa’s OK in my book. We related on basically everything, like twin flames. Marsha told us at the start we can’t be friends though—at least not until the group ends. She said it can interfere with group dynamics, which makes total sense.

I can tell you though, just two years ago had I been in this situation, me and Teresa would have been immediate best friends. Inseparable within weeks. This is it folks: the beginning stages of idealization.

In the past, I’d be unwittingly love-bombing her as my new BFF. Highlighting everything I like about her, while ignoring anything that didn’t fit with the image I created for her in my head.

It’s probably a good thing that Marsha laid down the law. Disappointing though, because it’s not very often at all that I find someone I can relate to so well – and Teresa was hitting on all cylinders.

But for now I’ll just mindfully acknowledge that feeling and bring my attention back to focus on the therapy. I’ll get to know Teresa better, and if, by the end of the group we are still cool, maybe then we can become friends.

Narcissism and Masochism: The Origins of Eternal Victimhood

In my last post, How to make yourself fall out of love, I mentioned my tendency to devalue those who treat me well and idealize those who treat me poorly. It’s something I’ve done over and over again throughout my life with little awareness.

But after writing that line, it stuck with me all week. I wondered why that was.

If I feel hurt, I will express rage. I may attempt to counter-control, counter-manipulate or straight up fight. But inside, there’s this nagging feeling that says I must deserve this. I am lower than. My opinions count less. My feelings count less.

Having no empathy means having none for myself either.

I think the person doing this to me is better. I obsess over why they would hurt me. Why I’m unworthy of their love or respect.  I want to understand them, and understand why I didn’t measure up. I assume their feelings are valid, but question my own and search constantly for outside validation that tells me I am not defective. Only no amount of outside validation is ever enough.

Am I stupid? Am I ugly? Fat? Wrong? Do I have terrible taste in music? Not interesting enough? What is it? Why was I unworthy? What could I have done differently to make them love me?

Why do I do this to myself? What am I, some sort of masochist?

Well, apparently, yes. And apparently, all narcissists are. In my search, I found this abstract of a larger piece, Narcissism and masochism. The narcissistic-masochistic character:

“Developmentally and clinically, narcissistic and masochistic pathology are so intertwined that their theoretic and clinical unraveling requires specific attention to their linkage and the predictable forms of response to interpretation.

It is therefore useful to think of the narcissistic-masochistic character as a clinical entity. In this condition, pathologic narcissistic tendencies are unconscious vehicles for attaining masochistic disappointment and masochistic injuries are an affirmation of distorted narcissistic fantasies.”

The eternal victimhood of narcissists suddenly makes so much sense.

I have been getting narcissistic supply from ruminating and obsessing over past hurts. I replay the pain over and over again, dissecting every aspect of it. Going over every detail with a fine tooth comb, looking for anything I may have missed that could explain how I failed. Rinse and repeat.

I search for any slight—real or perceived—to latch on to and continue the dynamic, if only in my head.

I initially had trouble understanding the Borderline urge to self-harm. But I self-harm emotionally, by obsessing over past hurts and humiliations, and by devaluing myself.

No one remains to hurt me, so now I do it myself. With memories and a never ending series of questions I will never get answers to.

It won’t hurt anymore if I’d just stop caring. But I can’t stop myself from caring. In this way I’ve become my own abuser. The pain would have been long over by now, only I won’t let it be.

Sexually my fantasies often revolve around degradation and situations where I am controlled, humiliated, used, and where consent straddles the line. This is not an all-the-time thing for me. But every so often I play out these fantasies in my head and am satisfied by the  mistreatment.

Self-compassion is one of the first things my therapist began suggesting to me when I started therapy. It’s something I try to remind myself of, but it’s the hardest thing for me to do. Harder than any of the DBT skills I’ve learned so far. Harder than learning to feel empathy for others.

Aiden reminds me often. He says, “Are you being kind to yourself today?” That always makes me smile and reminds me to give myself some credit. I guess hearing that someone else thinks I am worthy of compassion is still more powerful than me telling myself.

I hope that’s not always the case.

I have noticed that the more emotionally connected I feel to Aiden, the less I fantasize sexually about being hurt.

I am learning to allow myself to be pleasured. Actual intimacy. It takes a level of vulnerability that before now, I’ve never allowed myself to experience. It’s like an entire erotic world has been opened up to me, that I guess I never believed I had a right to.

Maybe feeling more connected to myself emotionally can help me stop the emotional turmoil I put myself through.

Realizing You’re the Abuser

Shit has been really getting dire around here. Supply has been low and I’m hitting a wall. For months now I’ve been dealing with strong emotions and painful childhood memories, and trying hard to fight off emotional numbness and dissociations.

At the same time, I’ve been trying to restrict my access to unhealthy or attention-seeking forms of “supply” as I try to force myself to learn to rely on myself to regulate my own self-worth. Not. Easy.

Prolonged numbness + dissociation = rage

I’ve tried just about everything I can think of to pull myself out of this emotional wasteland I’m in. But nothing has had a strong enough impact to pull me out of it completely, or to permanently make it stop. Everything seems like a short term, temporary fix, before it’s back to the boredom and numbness.

I know it can’t last forever, but at this point I’m getting desperate. And angry.

What does that mean? I’m so desperate to feel again I’ll do anything. Positive supply isn’t coming quick enough and in abundance – so I’ve resorted to fucking shit up.  In other words: let’s stir the pot and see what bubbles to the surface.

What’s been pissing me off recently that I can bring up now and start a fight about? Who’s on my shit list that can I text something snide to, just to see how they respond? Let’s go online and troll someone obnoxious. At this point, all bets are off. Anger feels better than boredom. It’s that dire.

For the record, I am not proud of this. I’m actually quite ashamed.

I absolutely hate that I am doing this and really want to stop. These feelings are a reminder to me that self-awareness alone is not enough. Not by a long shot. But it is helpful. I thought about it last night and realized I’m essentially throwing a temper tantrum to get attention. The same thing I did as a child when nothing else worked. (Insight)

Discovering my multiple personalities

multiple-personalities-dissociationI’ve heard NPD compared to a dissociative  disorder. Sometimes I can’t seem to control which personality comes out, or turn it off. This is a prime example.

This week “Cluster B Girl” is out and she’s a royal narc. She don’t give a fuck. When Cluster B Girl is up, I see myself raging and doing other self-destructive behaviors that I know I’ll later regret.

Internally I am thinking, stop it! Why are you doing this—this behavior is not going to get you want you want, in fact just the opposite! Shut up before you make things worse. Face palm. But the words are flying out of my mouth like someone else is speaking them.

I have a front row seat, but I’m not really participating. Except the rage—I feel that full force.

Realizing I’m the abuser

The other night my husband, Aidan, did something stupid to piss me off. Add that to the pile of other stuff I’m dealing with and I exploded. I had a glass of red wine in my hand and I couldn’t help myself—I just chucked it at him.

I regretted it the second I flicked my wrist. Red wine all over the walls and the ceiling. Lesson learned: red wine stains wall paint on impact and it doesn’t come out. Now I’m going to have to repaint. As if I needed this.

I’m taking responsibility and I’m going to paint it myself, without asking for any help. In the past, I would have found a way to make this Aiden’s fault and somehow force him to do it.

That thought did cross my mind, but this time it disturbed me. It felt cruel. And degrading. This may have been the first time I ever realized how my behavior actually is “abusive” or how controlling and mean I can be.

Furthermore, why did I care about the wall more than Aiden’s feelings? Probably because the wall would affect me (having to look at it, fix it, embarrassment if people came over, etc.), whereas his feelings I could just ignore. Another eye opening and disturbing thought.

Weed really helps me when I’m raging like this. If I smoke, I can calm myself down enough to consider his perspective. We had a long conversation about everything and I made it a point to listen and empathize with him. And apologize.

Forgetting I’m unlovable

broken-heart-unloveableI got pretty down on myself and started thinking about everything that’s wrong with me, all the ways I fail as a wife and a mother, all the problems I have from my shitty childhood that I can’t get over, and started feeling like all hope is lost. Maybe my mom was right. I’m just an inherently flawed, unlovable, bad person. Why would anyone love me? Look how I act and treat people. I’m stuck in this never ending pit of nothingness. Now I’ve ruined all hope, by raging and hurting anyone who has tried to help me.

But, Aiden made some great points that immediately helped me turn around my thinking. He pointed out several positive long-lasting changes I’ve made, even through this period of dysphoria. The arc of my emotional growth is long, but it bends toward change.

Hearing him say he’s proud of me, despite my setbacks, gave me an enormous sense of pride and encouraged me to want to keep going. I want to try harder to live up to it, and keep making him proud. He didn’t give up on me, even though I may have deserved it.

We were able to connect and today I feel much calmer and a lot less angry. I really needed that with him.

I know it seems counter-intuitive, but when I’m raging, one thing he can do to actually help calm me down is to show me empathy. He also has been doing a great job of encouraging me to have self-compassion too, which is also incredibly helpful.

Introspection = new insights

woman personality puzzle.jpgOK, so here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. Holidays and days of celebration are fucking brutal for me—apparently even silly little holidays like Valentine’s Day. I haven’t figured out exactly how yet, but I need to prepare better.
  2. I do seek negative supply, when I’m desperate. It’s definitely not my first choice, but apparently, if I’m that hard up for attention, I’ll take it over nothing.
  3. Holy shit, I am controlling. Like…. Really controlling. Things will go my way, or I will reign down terror on you, until you not only capitulate, but fucking thank me for making you do it — then apologize for ever having not listened to me in the first place. Only, after I’ve demanded all this, I look at you as weak and lose respect for you. Wow. Of all my new insights into my personality so far, this is the ugliest I’ve had to face. This says, yes Yara, you are abusive. Now that I realize this, there is no getting around it. I have to keep working toward change. This is not OK.
  4. I have to keep consciously practicing the DBT more and making it a point to stop myself when I’m acting out, no matter how hard it is. I’ve been doing things here and there, incorporating stuff where I can. But I need to start making this a part of my every day and staying on track.

Self realization is necessary for growth

I’m not always like this. My control issues seem to flare up badly when I feel I’ve lost control of my life on a larger scale. In this case I’ve lost control of my mood. If I can keep my moods more stable, I am sure I can reduce this. I just need to keep working at it. I haven’t been this way in a while, where it was more commonplace before. Aiden pointed that out too. That’s positive.

As much as all of this sucks, it has to happen. Prior to waking up, I didn’t see any of this. I believed I was the victim. I had no insight into my own behaviors and motivations—or other people’s perceptions.

Now, experiencing the full range of all of my moods and cycles, it’s like all things are being revealed. I may need to go through a few to figure things out, but Aiden helped me feel hopeful. Change is slow, but it is happening.

Learning to empathize

couple listening with empathy.jpg

When we talked, Aiden also shared with me how things have impacted him recently. Essentially he’s finding it difficult to keep up with the amount of supply I need recently. He said I’ve been more irritable and needy than usual and he’s finding it hard to maintain his calm (which then causes me to react in kind).

I really don’t know what to do about this. I was able to empathize with him—I understand how hard it is to give me what I’m asking for. And he has needs too. But I just don’t know how else to handle it all without seeking outside supply. At least right now until I’m back to “normal.”

Treatment for NPD = doubt, frustration

This is why NPDs need our own treatment. Preferably something that combines DBT and another method like schema at once. I’m doing DBT (originally designed for Borderlines), which is great for identifying patterns and helping change behaviors. But until I get rid of these deeper-seated issues with something like schema therapy, I may always be cycling back and forth between these extreme highs and lows. I need to learn how to regulate my own self-esteem, so I don’t need supply. But I also need to learn to care about other people and change my behavior.

So I am waiting until I’ve learned all my DBT, then finding a new therapist and starting something else from scratch. Not only that, but no one knows for sure that any of this will even work.

Sometimes I feel like we are making it up as we go along. Throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. There are no concrete answers for NPD yet.

It’s frustrating and it’s a long process to stick with for people who already have trouble sticking with things long term. I’m used to learning something almost immediately, rocking the shit out of it, getting bored and moving on. But this takes serious long term commitment, which I’ve never done before.

You have to want this change more than anything you’ve ever wanted. It is not easy. No wonder why so many of us just give up.

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No: Narcissists don’t like “Empaths”

There’s this idea going around that’s pretty widely accepted in the “narcissistic abuse” community that narcissists are drawn to “empaths.”

Empaths are supposed to be so highly empathetic toward others they can almost read other people’s minds. Apparently narcissists love empaths because we feed off that raw empathy, which we are so lacking in.

Ironically, before realizing I was a narcissist myself, I considered myself to be a highly empathetic person and possibly even one of these empaths. Turns out I have very low empathy. Yet, I’ve heard this same sentiment among other self-aware narcissists too – all believing we were highly empathetic prior to waking up. How is that possible?

My guess is that it’s cognitive empathy at play. There are different types of empathy: cognitive and emotional/affective.

Affective empathy is an automatic drive to respond appropriately to another’s emotions. It allows you to put yourself in another person’s shoes and actually feel their feelings with them. When they are sad, you feel their sadness with them. When they are happy, you share their happiness too.

Cognitive empathy is knowing how another person feels and what they might be thinking. It is also referred to as “perspective-taking”. Cognitive empathy can help in a negotiation or in motivating people.

Narcissists are low on emotional empathy, but actually very skilled at using cognitive empathy. I can “read” a person’s emotional state very quickly and then relate that back to their underlying feelings and motivations. I pick up on subtleties, nuances, voice inflections, physical movements. This can come across as me being very emotionally attuned, almost like a mind reader. And I could always feel sympathy or compassion for that person, which I had confused for affective empathy.

Until recently, I never realized there were two types of empathy. I never grew up with affective empathy – I didn’t experience or witness it at home as a child so I quite literally did not realize I was missing it. My cognitive empathy was off the charts though.

When it comes to narcissists being attracted to highly empathetic people, my experience has been quite the opposite. I tend to be attracted to other low empathy types. In my case, this is usually paths (ASPD) or other NPDers. You can’t get much more low empathy than thatI also had a strong, almost reflexive disdain for emotional weakness.

At the time I never realized this, and wondered why I always found myself the “victim” to these types of personalities. Looking back, I see how comfortable I actually felt with them, in part precisely because we could be low empathy together and not feel judged or out of place. Additionally, because we are generally more skilled in hiding our own emotions, other Cluster Bs were more interesting and even mysterious to me — they presented more of a challenge.

In my experience Cluster B’s are drawn to each other and can act as codependents to one another. In fact, the most common pairing for a narcissist is a borderline personality. The common parings are BPD/NPD and BPD/ASPD. I’d say this has to be followed by NPD/NPD and NPD/ASPD, although I haven’t found the statistics yet to back this up.

This is for all sorts of reasons, but primarily, we feel comfortable with each other. Plus “normal” people can’t stay with any of us Cluster B’s too long before jumping ship. Media tends to get this right sometimes, for example, shows such as House of Cards (NPD/ASPD couple), The Sopranos (BPD/NPD mom/ASPD dad) or even the black comedy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (“the gang”: three narcissists and a sociopath).

I’ve also asked around about this in my Cluster B support groups, which are primarily filled with other NPDs, BPDs and ASPDs. The overwhelming consensus was that we are all generally attracted to other Cluster B’s. We tend to view each other as partners in crime — someone else we can take on the world with. Anecdotal evidence backs this up as well. 

Quite frankly, people who exude lots of empathy have always made me uncomfortable. First, I have never gotten used to having anyone really support me or care about my feelings. Vulnerability is extremely hard for me. So when someone shows me a high level of empathy, I clam up and become incredibly uncomfortable. Like, I have to get out of here pronto, level discomfort.

I have a friend who is very empathetic. Once we had just come from hanging out and she was dropping me off at my house. We sat in the car talking. I started sharing with her how I had recently had two back-to-back miscarriages and was very depressed about it, worrying if I would ever have a full term pregnancy again. As I spoke, her eyes welled up with tears and by the time I finished she was full on crying. She seemed more upset about it than I was!

Far from being comforted, I felt trapped and panicked. On an intellectual level I appreciated her concern for me but I didn’t know what to say or do. I looked at her like she was some type of alien whose actions were completely foreign to me – because they were. I remember thinking, great, I just wanted to get this off my chest, now she’s crying and I have to deal with this. And I never know how to respond when others cry or show vulnerability around me.

It was so incredibly uncomfortable for me, I had a hard time not registering my shock and confusion. I clammed up and struggled to continue with the conversation. She never said anything to me about it, but I don’t think I pulled it off. I definitely registered a flash of confusion on her face as well. It was weird. I made an excuse to get the hell out of her car. 

Based on the evidence, my own experience, and the anecdotal stuff I’ve gathered from other awake Cluster B’s, I can’t imagine any narcissist purposely choosing or seeking to be around highly empathetic people. That’s just not how it works.

For those of you with Cluster B personality disorders, who do you find you’re most attracted to?

Dysphoria, Dissociation, Anhedonia, Oh My

I’ve had a tough week. I dissociated for most of the week and am just now (thankfully, hopefully?) coming back to reality.

When I get like this, my weekends blend into my week days. My days into my nights. I have to look at the calendar several times a day to remember what day it is. Still I have trouble. Today I looked up and it was Thursday. I’ve done nothing with my week and it’s nearly over.

Each day, the hours go by and before I know it, the kids are home and I’m struggling to get through dinner and bedtime. Struggling to pull it together enough to be at least somewhat present for them. I smile and play with the baby. I try to make conversation with my oldest, showing interest in his day. But I’m on “autopilot” – how I describe my dissociations. It’s like I’m seeing the conversations happening, but I don’t feel like I’m part of them. I feel disconnected from reality, like I’m floating inside my own head watching the world take place around me, but not participating. The next day I remember it as if it was a dream.

All day yesterday I walked by several piles of laundry I meant to take care of and didn’t realize they were there until the evening. I simply didn’t see them. I’m completely checked out.

Next week I’ll get some stuff done, I tell myself every week. I’m going on two months of this now and starting to really get concerned. It’s affecting every aspect of my life, including my work. I’m falling behind and it’s only a matter of time before someone notices I’ve produced virtually nothing in weeks.

I’ve always had periods of “depression.” Cyclical ups and downs throughout the years. This is the first bought I’ve had since becoming aware of my NPD, so this time it looks different to me. I’m aware of aspects I wasn’t aware of before. In the past, this would be the time I’d be searching for new “supply.” A new hobby, interest, friend, something exciting, anything to take my mind off the boredom. But I’m trying to learn not to rely on that anymore, and instead rely on myself.

Feelings wheel

Really, more than a depression, it’s an emotional numbness. I don’t feel necessarily “sad”, just numb. And incredibly bored. Nothing interests me. TV, music, talking to friends, the usual stuff that can put me in a better mood or capture my interest, does nothing for me. I feel like I’m constantly just going through the motions.

I’ve been thinking about what I can do to pull out of this. Right now I’m focused on stopping the dissociating. Figure I can’t do anything else until I can get back into my own body. I’m just starting DBT and mindfulness. At this point I’m throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.  Here’s some of what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Downloaded a mindfulness app to my phone. Trying to incorporate short meditations into my daily activities, so I’ll actually do them.
  • Bought a DBT workbook and started it. My therapist’s pace is a little too slow and I need these skills now. Of the skills I thought may be immediately helpful, today I’ve been trying Opposite Action. I feel numb, bored, unmotivated. So, this morning I tried forcing myself to get up and do something. I started a load of laundry, I did a task for work, I am writing this blog post.
  • Get some exercise, sunlight and fresh air — maybe go for a walk or work out.  
  • Giving myself credit for what I do. Yesterday I made my bed. That’s an improvement over the day before. Look at that as an accomplishment, rather than focusing on all the stuff I didn’t get done.
  • Self-compassion. As my husband says, “be nice to yourself.”
  • I went for an aromatherapy massage and did my best to stay in the moment, feeling the touch, smelling the smells.
  • I think I need to do a better job of keeping occupied, especially since I work from home. I am going to make myself a list of things I want to get done each day, or maybe a schedule to try to stay focused on keeping busy.
  • I read you should focus on experiencing each of your senses to bring you back from a dissociation.
    My little forest in a jar.

    Whenever I picture a peaceful place, it’s always the woods. Something is so comforting to me about the sounds, the smell, the natural stillness. Yesterday I stumbled upon a small “fairy terrarium” in the grocery store. I bought it to keep at my desk. I thought maybe when I’m feeling disconnected that looking at it, opening it up and smelling the earthy smell, may help me be more mindful and present. Like a little forest in a jar.

  • In the movie “Inception”, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb, carries a “totem” with him to help him stay grounded and differentiate between reality and dreams. I thought about finding myself a totem for similar reasons. Something I can carry, preferably something very interesting to look at that I can hold in my hand and visually focus on, to help bring me back to the present moment.
  • I read that stating facts out loud, can be helpful for dissociation. “My name is Yara and I’m 36 years old.”
  • Trying to figure out what’s causing the numbness. My therapist gave me a handout last week with primary and secondary emotions. Anger, hatred, numbness are listed as “secondary emotions” that are protective and keep you from experiencing the primary emotion they are masking. What is my primary emotion? I found this feelings wheel (above).
  • My friend, LuckyOtter, suggested I try visualizing my feelings. Try to observe the empty feeling as if it’s an object. Figure out where it’s centered in the body, try to name the feelings it contains, see if a memory is being triggered, and examine it without judgement.

I’d love to hear any other ideas for getting over periods of dissociating and dysphoria. What works for you?

Growing up with a TV Family: Not the one everyone thought

Growing up, everyone thought my dad was the BEST. It was the 80’s and all my friends compared him to everyone’s favorite TV dad, Bill Cosby. Even I thought he was very much like that…in public. He was funny, smart, charming, fun, handsome.

In private, my dad was much more like Tony Soprano. In fact, the Sopranos is one of the best overall descriptions of my family life growing up. Not from a mafia perspective, but based on the personalities — or rather the personality disorders — of the characters.

One of the most familiar and recognizable characters to me, is Livia Soprano, Tony’s mother, who is described as having either Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder — or maybe even a mix of the two. This scene below is an apt description of what life with my mother was like. Word for word, down to the, “I gave my life to my children on a silver platter.” In fact, I relate a lot to the scenes of Tony’s childhood growing up with a narcissistic mother and ASPD father.

After watching the Sopranos, it was clear to me somebody in the writer’s room had some personal experience. It was all just too spot on. Turns out I was right. David Chase, who produced and wrote The Sopranos, says Livia’s character is based on his own mother.

“Chase claims his father was an angry man who belittled him constantly as a child and his mother was a ‘passive-aggressive drama queen’ and a ‘nervous woman who dominated any situation she was in by being so needy and always on the verge of hysteria. You walked on eggshells.’ One of his characters on the HBO original series The Sopranos, Livia Soprano, is based on his mother. Chase struggled with panic attacks and severe depression as a teenager, something he still deals with today.”

I haven’t watched the Sopranos in years, but it may be time to watch again, this time with a fresh, better informed perspective.  I only wish they went a little more into detail on Tony’s relationship with his kids and how his sociopathy affected them. In many ways, it’s overlooked in the show, although we do see some splitting between his son AJ (who does demonstrate some behavioral problems as a child) and his golden child daughter, Meadow.

Another piece of the puzzle: My father the sociopath

Over the past year, I’ve made discovery after discovery about why I am the way I am. It’s like I’m on a scavenger hunt for clues. There have been five or six times I thought the picture was finally complete, only to find another piece to the puzzle. Just when I thought I was finally done, this week I got another one. A big one. I feel like this time I may have finally come full circle.

My mother is a narcissist. For years, she has been the primary focus of my recovery from childhood emotional abuse. My dad, well, he was dad. Every time I’d go to a therapist and they’d ask me, “where was your father during all this?” I never really had an answer. He was there. That’s about all I had. But she was the enemy!

I always looked at him as more of a codependent. My mother was the certifiable one. Poor dad, he had to put up with her, just like we did.

Last week I wrote a post about the history of Cluster B’s in my family, or more precisely the history of narcissists and sociopaths. I went back and forth about what dad was – I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on it. But as my therapy has progressed and I’ve become healtheir, I realized more and more that he was seriously off too. It’s like my inner compass was being realigned.

I figured maybe dad was a covert narcissist himself. After all, he too thinks he’s perfect. He too has fits of rage. He too looks down on people. He’s manipulative. He allowed my mother to scapegoat me and took part, or at the very least he never stopped it. The list goes on. He’s just way more undercover with it all than her, I was coming to realize.

As I become healthier, I sometimes recognize that certain behaviors I thought were normal, are most decidedly not. Last week, for some reason I thought about my shoplifting habit and for the first time considered that it A. may not be normal and B. may be a function of my personality disorder. So I googled, “how common is shoplifting?” My guess? Maybe 80% of people do it. You can imagine my shock when I found the stat: only one in 11. One in 11?! That’s less than 10 percent! WTF?

Is stealing a byproduct of my NPD, I wondered? My mother doesn’t steal. The DSM outlines 9 behaviors of NPD, the closest I could get to this was, “Has a sense of entitlement”. But it still didn’t feel quite right. I mean, honestly it felt a little more along the lines of breaking the law and disregard for others.

It’s like one of those eye tricks, where all the letters in a word are out of place except the first and the last, but your eye skips over it and is still able read it perfectly. My eye just consistently skipped over my dad—now I realize that was probably by design.

The thing is, quite a few of my learned behaviors felt more ASPD than NPD. I’m not a sociopath though, I know that for sure and confirmed it with my therapist. So, where did I get these behaviors from? The answer was so obvious, it’s incredible I only saw it now. Maybe I needed to believe that at least one parent was more normal.

And everyone loves my dad.

It’s like one of those eye tricks, where all the letters in a word are out of place except the first and the last, but your eye skips over it and is still able read it perfectly. My eye just consistently skipped over my dad—now I realize that was probably by design.

The most important life lesson my dad consistently drilled into my head was, “Do whatever you want, just don’t be dumb enough to get caught.”

After having being diagnosed with NPD, I learned that you can’t trust the information you find on most of the sites dealing with the maligned Cluster B’s. So I took directly to the DSM, the book therapists use to make official diagnoses. In order to be diagnosed with Anti-Social Personality Disorder, a person must meet three of the seven criteria:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest. Check.
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure. Check.
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead. Sometimes.
  4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults. Check.  
  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others. Sometimes.
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations. Check.
  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another. Check. Just, check.

At least five out of seven—with at least a few examples I can remember of all seven. What. The. Fuck. I then took to the Internet.

“They may have an inflated and arrogant self-appraisal… and may be excessively opinionated, self-assured, or cocky.” YES!

“Tend to be charismatic, attractive, and very good at obtaining sympathy from others; for example, describing themselves as the victim of injustice. Some studies suggest that the average intelligence…is higher than the norm… possess a superficial charm, they can be thoughtful and cunning, and have an intuitive ability to rapidly observe and analyze others.” YES, YES, YES!

“Obsessively concerned with what they think of as their ‘good reputation’. They think they have a following of adoring fans who judge them on their great goodness and benevolence and plain old fashioned ‘coolness’.” OMG, YES!

My dad was terribly abused as a child. I’ve only ever gotten bits and pieces of stories, in hushed tones. In fact, talking about it is one of the few times I’ve seen my mother show empathy. So, it must have been bad. From what I’ve heard, and what I’ve seen, my grandfather was likely ASPD, as is my aunt, my dad’s sister.

As a kid, I knew my father’s spots for his drugs and his money. He had stacks of thousand dollar bills hidden away. I don’t know where they came from, but I don’t think it was from working a 9-5. Or maybe it was just some of the money he “stole from himself” so he didn’t have to pay the taxes on it. I was taught this was a totally normal thing for a business owner to do. Duh.

He put himself through college by selling drugs and one of our closest family friends met him through being a client. He always seemed to have a side hustle.

He hated working for people (they’re all morons), so he’d get a job selling cars and really excel at it because he could “talk people into anything”. But then he’d quit to start his own business. Every few years it was a new career, a new plan, a new business, a new job. He is smarter than everyone and always has the best ideas, according to him.

He used coke and weed and had several DUIs, despite that having a license was a prerequisite for his delivery job at the time.

He always had interesting and exciting stories about stuff he did that skirted the law or times he almost got caught, but got away with it. Sometimes they were about him hurting people – like the time he broke that guy’s collar bone. Awesome!

I’ve never seen rage like when he would “blow up”. It almost wasn’t human. As a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, I channeled his rage during my own blow ups, but I could never out do him. Challenge him and you’d regret it – he didn’t hit me, but it was terrifying. He seemed to like knowing how scary he could be to us. You definitely wanted to stay on his good side.

I learned early on that to get people in line, a little rage goes a long way. His litmus test for gauging danger was this: If someone was trying to fuck with me, I should go crazy on them until they back down. “But if they act crazier than you, get the hell out of there—because that means they’re really crazy.”

He always had a hobby, usually something thrill-seeking like motorcycles or learning to fly small planes.

He had no friends, except for the occasional old acquaintance he’d meet up with every few years or so. But he didn’t seem to care. He hates people, although he takes great pride in being a “people person” because everyone loves him. How stupid they all are–he can out-con them all. Morons. One of his most treasured skills? Being able to tell people to their face they are idiots without them realizing it.

In high school he was the most liked, the class president, the sports champ, the leader of the drama club, and of course, the most eligible, attractive bachelor that every girl in school was dying to be with. You name it, he ruled it. Once, as gift, I tracked down a copy of his old year book and it was all true. The woman in the front office remembered him (clearly still smitten) and gave me one of the school’s only copies to give to him (of course).

He always had interesting and exciting stories about stuff he did that skirted the law or times he almost got caught, but got away with it. Sometimes they were about him hurting people – like the time he broke that guy’s collar bone (awesome!). Another he told over and over growing up was about a dentist who hurt him while working on his teeth. He attacked the guy and threatened to cut off his gums with the scalpel, but the guy wouldn’t open his mouth so he threatened to cut off his lips. He then dangled him out the window of a high rise. “Your mother was screaming, begging me not to let go! You should have seen her face.” Hilarious!

As teenagers, he knew me and my sister were having sex and didn’t care, even after I got pregnant at 16 by a guy I look back on and realize was probably a sociopath himself. (Turns out I have a life-long pattern of attracting them.) I got “grounded” but essentially my dad’s response was to tell me I needed to be sneakier. (Remember, the #1 rule is don’t get caught. You’re fucking up, Yara!)

As a teenager, my punishment was often losing the rights to my car—but he was honestly delighted if I somehow figured a way to outsmart him and sneak out anyway. That kind of stuff made him proud. Honestly, I think he enjoyed the cat-and-mouse aspect of it. He was bored and he needed someone to play with.

I always wished my father was the protective type I saw on TV, who drilled the guys when they came over to pick me up, because they were taking out his precious little girl. But honestly, he just didn’t seem to care.

Years later, I learned he had had affair after affair, and once my mother walked in on him having sex with a woman who worked for him, on the job. How’s that for impulsivity? As he gets older (in his 60s) he has taken to soliciting prostitutes, because my mother won’t have sex with him anymore –a detail he’s unfortunately shared with me many times.

He was controlling. I remember he would wash his work shirts, and I was responsible for ironing each one properly and hanging them out for him. It felt more like a wifely duty. It never sat right with me, felt somehow incestuous. If it wasn’t done to his standards, he’d be angry and I’d be forced to do them all again instead of playing.

He was controlling of both me and my mother, and insisted I have a ridiculously high level of responsibility from a young age. My sister is almost 7 years younger than me, so there’s about 10 years she simply has no knowledge of – those were his meaner years. The roles seemed to reverse after she came along. She was daddy’s little girl. And he used her to make both me and my mother jealous.

By about 12, I was responsible for taking public transportation across the city after school to pick up my sister from kindergarten and take care of her until my parents got home from work. I took care of her during the summers too. I cooked dinner and cleaned the dishes most nights while they all enjoyed themselves. I never once remember anyone doing things like checking my homework – stuff like that was my responsibility.

I was forced to be the adult when I should have been just being a kid. To me, that’s the biggest tragedy of my childhood—the one that makes me the saddest.

I remember he would wash his work shirts, and I was responsible for ironing each one properly and hanging them out for him. It felt more like a wifely duty. It never sat right with me, felt somehow incestuous. If it wasn’t done to his standards, he’d be angry and I’d be forced to do them all again instead of playing.

Yet despite all that, he had his own personal code, and thus considered himself an upstanding person for following it. Society’s rules: moronic. His were the only rules worth following.

Everyone outside the family thinks he’s the Greatest. Guy. Ever. He’s charming. Friendly. Likeable. I guess this is the sociopathic “mask” we hear so much about. I used to tell my friends that if they only knew how he was behind closed doors they’d be shocked. True to form, no one believed it.

None of this seemed weird to me. In fact, it’s so common place to us that when I brought it up to my sister earlier this week, she argued that dangling someone out of a window is kinda justified if the person really pissed you off.

I thought everyone’s dad was secretly like this – at least the ones who weren’t total squares. But hey, most people are idiots anyway. With a narcissist mother and a sociopath father, I’d say my opinion of others was pretty shitty. Suddenly it all makes sense.

Everyone outside the family thinks he’s the Greatest. Guy. Ever. He’s charming. Friendly. Likeable. I guess this is the sociopathic “mask” we hear so much about. I used to tell my friends that if they only knew how he was behind closed doors they’d be shocked. True to form, no one believed it.

The thing is, it wasn’t all bad. I have more happy memories with my dad than my mom. Now I wonder if that’s because he slowly corroded her happiness and sanity over the years. But in a lot of ways he was a good father. Like I said, he had his own personal code and part of that code was being there for us if we really needed him. You don’t abandon family. He always kept his word and was extremely reliable to us kids in that way.

He seemed to genuinely experience happiness and seemed to genuinely enjoy making us happy. Of my spotty childhood memories, I remember feeling more “love” from him than my mother. Every year he’d plan a “father-daughter” day for us, where we’d go do something fun – an amusement park, camping, etc. When I got older, he made sure I had a reliable car and taught me how to work on it so I wouldn’t have to rely on men to do it for me. I get my common sense from him, and my hustler’s mentality. I trust myself to always find my way out of any situation and I get that from him.

But, he’s poisoned our relationship with our mother. I finally see that he’s been scapegoating her to us all these years—and it worked. Up until this week, I thought my father was largely an innocent codependent, a fellow victim of her.

Google “raising kids with a sociopath” and you’ll find site after site that say things like, the “sociopath may use the child as a pawn in an ongoing battle to torment or control you.” Ongoing battle is exactly how I’d describe my parent’s relationship.

To this day he STILL tries to use us kids as pawns against her—except now he has grandkids that love him more than her too, so he’s got even more firepower to make her feel like shit.

But because she’s so un-self-aware in her narcissism, she’s an easy mark. She is selfish. He at least makes an effort and she doesn’t. Unlike him, she doesn’t recognize that relationships are at least in part reciprocal, so she gives nothing, but expects everything in return. Now that I’m self-aware in my own narcissism, I realize that although her behavior is hurtful, it’s not intentional.

This newfound knowledge leaves me in a really tough spot. So many questions. So much to think about. My relationship with my mother has deteriorated to the point we are not talking. But now that I’m seeing my dad’s role in it, and simultaneously learning to feel empathy, I can’t help but really feel for her. Forty years with a sociopath has to do a number on your psyche. Her narcissism has gotten worse over the years, and I’m sure that had everything to do with my dad. She definitely wasn’t this bad when I was a kid—I remember him being more of the problem. Why did I never remember that until now?

Was his plan all along to make sure when he dies, she’s left with nothing – no relationship with either daughter? When he goes, we go with him? His final fuck you, from the grave. How incredibly mean. And sad.

A few years ago, my mother told my husband that my sister, my father and I, have been “plotting against me for a very long time!” It sounded like the rantings of a mad woman – and this is why she’s so easy to scapegoat. It’s why I was so easy to scapegoat – because I acted just like her. We were easy to paint with the “crazy” brush. I could either feel somewhat accepted, by hanging with the cool kids (dad and sister), or be miserable over there with my mother. What would any child choose?

She’s right. It’s at the point where neither my sister nor I want anything to do with her, meanwhile my dad’s health is getting worse and worse. Is he self-aware? Was his plan all along to make sure when he dies, she’s left with nothing – no relationship with either daughter? When he goes, we go with him? His final fuck you, from the grave. How incredibly mean. And sad.

Part of me wants to call my mom and tell her I love her. I can empathize now and I know how much pain she must be in. It hurts to feel her pain. She is so fragile, so broken, feels so worthless inside that she is afraid even the slightest criticism will break her. When your self-worth is that low, you feel like you can’t give a single ounce of it up, or you may just evaporate into nothingness. Or be left to rot away like trash in a gutter. I know that feeling. It’s heartbreaking that that’s the only thing she’s ever known.

But at the same time, my newfound knowledge doesn’t make her any less toxic. And the other part of me just wants to just run far the hell away from both of them. And never look back.

Four generations of Cluster Bs: The cycle ends with me

Where does NPD come from? First and foremost it’s learned behavior. Research is showing there’s a genetic component too. People are born with a genetic predisposition (nature), and based on how they are raised (nurture), the NPD comes alive.

During recovery, right before my diagnosis, I had already learned that I was low on empathy. I had very shallow relationships with everyone in my life, including my family. When my grandparents died, I honestly didn’t care. Sure I put on a front, because that’s what others wanted to see from me. But inside, I didn’t feel much. We didn’t have much of a relationship.

I started exploring why I didn’t have a relationship with them – or anyone else in my family. Was it my own lack of empathy? In part. But as I delved deeper, I started to realize that on both sides, there are nothing but Cluster B’s.

I have a memory of my grandfather bouncing me on his knee. I must have been 8 or 9. He was smiling, but what I remember most was the blank look in his eyes. It’s the same look people describe sociopaths as having. That empty, blank “lobotomy” stare. It’s such an uneventful memory, I always wondered why my mind kept going back to it until recently, when I started to put the pieces together.

He was a serial philanderer. He beat his wife and terribly abused my father. Didn’t have much to say to us. But he was incredibly charming. I remember one of the lessons he taught my father, which my dad then taught me, “Do whatever you want, just make sure you’re smart enough not to get caught.” He raised four kids, here’s how they turned out:

My father: I am torn as to what he is. I want to say a codependent, or enabler to my Nmom, because she’s the lead narc in my family. But it’s more than that. Honestly, he feels more like an inverted or covert narcissist himself. He can’t take criticism, or he blows up into a fit of rage. He’s terribly insecure and defensive and will attack over any perceived injury. He thinks his ideas and everything he does are better than everyone else, who are all pretty stupid. He is manipulative, using splitting and triangulation often. He manipulates my mother into taking the fall for everything, but behind the scenes he’s setting her up. Low on empathy. He’s also incredibly charming to others outside the family. The thing is he genuinely seems to love his grandkids and sometimes (very seldom) he can recognize his own faults and has apologized me for hurting me – once. My mother can’t even do that.
EDIT: Since originally publishing this blog post, I have come to learn my father is a sociopath.

Aunt #1: Narcissist. She was a professional therapist, which is common for NPDers. She was manipulative, condescending, mean, clearly had a superiority complex. She cared nothing for us, but on her death bed, loved to see us all around her bed. One final source of supply. Her daughter from her first marriage was scapegoated and I believe is also a narcissist, while her son from her second marriage could do little wrong.

Aunt #2: Sociopath. Once, as a child while watching me, she let her daughter chase me and my sister around the house with a baseball bat while we screamed in terror, afraid she would bash our heads in. I had to be around 12, my sister, 5. My aunt watched, and laughed with genuine enjoyment. I ran, panicked, to the phone to call my parents. She walked over calmly and hung it up with a smirk on her face and tempered rage in her voice. She was 6’2” and towered over me. There’s some evidence she let her husband sexually abuse their daughter, who I believe is also ASPD. When my grandmother died, my aunt conducted a smear campaign throughout the town, alleging my father killed her, so she could try to claim the rights to his inheritance.

On my mother’s side, I never knew my grandmother, she died while I was young. But according to my father, she was just like my mom. The stories I hear of my great grandmother sound strikingly similar as well. She used splitting often and liberally. My mother talks of how she would come to town to visit and only visit her one child’s house, never stepping foot in the other’s – even though they lived right across the street. One was the scapegoat, the other was the golden child. My aunt on my mother’s side, also likely NPD.

In my family, no one talks. Brothers hate sisters. Cousins were pitted against each other from the start. I have to get all the way to second cousins before I find someone that is most likely “normal” and they mostly want nothing to do with us.

I think about this often when I beat myself up for my behavior. It’s no wonder I am the way I am. Did I really have a choice? I can count at least four generations of Cluster B’s, before I get to my own children (generation 5). Who knows how far back it goes?

Cluster B behavior was all I have ever known. How could I know how terribly abnormal it all was, if it was all I had never seen from day one? If every single family member I knew was either a sociopath or a narc? If i never felt genuine love or empathy from a single person in my life? I thought everyone secretly didn’t care if their grandparents died, and were just putting on a mask. I honestly did.

I count my lucky stars every day that I have been able to see my own behavior for what it is. I am choosing happiness. I am doing what at least four generations of my family haven’t been able to do. That makes me incredibly proud.

Recently, just prior to my self-awareness, I started to notice behavior in my son, similar to my own as a child. Red flags went up immediately and we got into family therapy. In fact, seeing his behavior, I marched into my therapist’s office and all but demanded a diagnosis. I needed to know the truth if I was going to stop it from being passed on.  Already, we are starting to see his behavior turn around.

I’ve resolved, the cycle ends with me. I may have lived the first half of my life as a mentally ill person, but for the second half, I choose healthiness and happiness.

I will NOT pass this on to my children – or at least I will do everything humanly possible to turn things around. I will change my behavior, no matter how hard it is. I will support my kids and show them empathy. I will share every detail of my personality disorder with them, as they grow, so they know it’s not their fault.

I hope with every fiber of my being that the damage I’ve done before I knew how sick I was, can still be undone. I pray I haven’t ruined my son. I would never forgive myself if he had to live the rest of his life feeling the way I’ve felt.

Hello, My Name is Yara, and I’m a Crack Addict for Approval

What happens when you become self-aware? For one, you start questioning your own sanity.

I look back and I cringe at things I’ve done in the past. At the time, my behavior made perfect sense to me. I was totally justified.

But as a healthier person seeing it through another lens, it’s embarrassing. I can’t believe I walked around acting the way I did – I overshared to the point of embarrassment, I showed no empathy for others, I (unknowingly) used people, I had no control over my temper, I was condescending and rude. Finally, I was easily manipulated because all it took was a little flattery, ego stroking, or approval and I was putty in a manipulator’s hands.

The anger is what I remember the most. I was always angry – or always looking for a reason to be. I wore all my insecurities on my sleeve. I was a caricature of a person.

Knowing that, today if I feel offended or manipulated – even if the manipulation is resulting in a good feeling—I find myself wondering, what part of this is real and what part is my disorder?

I wonder, is this person doing this on purpose? Do they mean to hurt or offend me? Are they pretending to like me to get something from me? Are they manipulating me? My rational mind tells me, probably not. This is your disorder talking, it is probably not even about you. Stop making everything about you!

But there’s always the possibility that I am actually being manipulated or mistreated. What then?

Because I now recognize I’ve been so completely detached from reality for so long, I have trouble separating fact from the fiction I have a habit of creating in my head.  Not being able to tell real from fake is disorienting. My inner compass is broken. I can’t trust myself.

Recently, I’ve been trying to break the cycle. Yesterday, after dealing with a highly manipulative person, I found myself questioning the interaction. I went over the conversation in my head again and again, picking apart what they said, what they were trying to get from me, how they were trying to make me feel, how it did make me feel.

That last one is the key: How did it make me feel?  In the end, it doesn’t matter if the other person is trying to manipulate me, because with strong boundaries I can protect myself. What matters is why I feel manipulated and what the root cause of that insecurity is.

The answer was what it almost always is for me—approval. This person was offering me approval and I soaked it right up. Despite my self-awareness. Despite working so hard on changing my behaviors and addressing my triggers. Despite that they have shown me little respect in the past.

Did they do it on purpose? Maybe. Does it matter? It shouldn’t. I’m working on not letting it.

Step one: Mindfulness. Stop letting my mind wander back to the interaction (obsessing). Every time it does, gently bring my focus back to the present.

Step two: Awareness of my feelings. Acknowledging, valuing and respecting my own feelings. Whether the person is actively trying to manipulate me or not, I know I don’t like how I feel. Being aware also helps me to be more vigilant in monitoring my own responses and protecting my boundaries.

Step three: Self-compassion. Not beating myself up for failing to have the perfect response, for soaking up the supply like a crack addict. I’m not a total failure. All hope is not lost. I’ve come a long way and I’m still working on it. Look at the positives: At least I realized what I was doing, albeit a little late. After all, before I wouldn’t have realized it at all. Next time I will do even better.

Step four: Self introspection. What are the root causes of my need for approval? How can I get those needs met in a healthy way?

Step five: Planning. How will I respond to situations like this in the future? Do I need to adjust my boundaries? How can I better recognize this stuff before acting next time?

What upsets me most about my need for supply is how vulnerable it makes me feel. Not to people like my husband, who loves me, but to others who haven’t earned that vulnerability from me. Brene Brown says, “You share with people who’ve earned the right to hear your story…It’s an honor to hold space for me when I’m in shame.”

But my need for approval, which stems from my childhood shame, is written all over me from my body language to my reactions. It’s as though I’m broadcasting my shame for the world to see. Until I can get it under control, I feel raw and exposed, out of control.

They say narcissists have addictive tendencies. My need for approval is my biggest addiction and I sometimes feel like a slave to it. Will I always have this addiction? Will I always be a narcissist, the way people in AA are always alcoholics even if they haven’t had a drink in 20 years? Will I have to fight against this for the rest of my life?

What a sad and terrifying thought.

I want to kick my habits now. But I know it takes time. And practice.

I want to be normal.

Hobbies are Grade-A supply

Throughout my life, I have gone through periods where I get obsessively excited about something and it takes center stage in my life, usually hobbies or learning new skills.

I will throw myself into learning every possible thing about it. This usually follows a period of dysphoria and extreme boredom. I’ve had love affairs with pottery, refinishing furniture, cake decorating, politics, party planning, and the list goes on.

I once learned to make my own beauty products. I enjoyed it so much I started an Etsy shop to sell them. It took a while for it to get off the ground. Not only did I have to make the products, but I had to design the packaging, network with other shop owners, advertise on social media, research new and interesting trends in the market.

It became a full time job (figuratively). But I loved it and it was paying off. I was finally growing my customer base and starting to establish a real following and reputation. I had repeat customers that really liked my products and bought them over and over again.

And that’s when the inevitable happened: I got bored. It no longer provided the excitement it once did. It just became another responsibility. A chore. I closed the store one day without much notice and never reopened it, leaving my customers in the lurch.

I treated my love affair with my hobbies like so many cluster B’s treat relationships – idealize, devalue, discard. Once I master a new skill or a hobby, it’s no longer exciting to me. I’ve conquered it. It no longer captivates my interest. The feedback (supply) I get isn’t as valuable.

And then I’d be back on the prowl for a new hobby. Something I could throw myself into again.

During these off periods between hobbies, I’d feel boredom and long for something new to capture my interest, trying thing after thing. But I could never tell what it would be until the very moment I’d stumble upon something that would ignite that spark in me again.

I think the initial enthusiasm I feel for my hobbies is similar to the love-bombing we do in relationships: You’re genuinely over-the-moon excited about this new person you’ve found this rare spark with, you want to learn everything about them and be with them all the time. They captivate you. Until they don’t. And you’re genuinely sad because you had such high hopes that this one would work out long term.

Before starting recovery, I never realized that these hobbies were a source of supply. Mastering something new so quickly and effectively told me I was smart, capable, creative and superior to others who couldn’t pick things up as quickly and easily as I could. It made me feel special and unique. Sharing my hobbies with people and having them like it told me I was valuable and worthwhile and offered gratification when they gave me approval. Adding yet another skill to my list made me a more interesting person – it gave me something to impress others with at parties.

And there’s a genuine upside to it. I am good at a lot of random, interesting skills and hobbies. And that really does make me a more well-rounded, interesting person, which is pretty cool. I never know when I’ll get to use these old skills again in surprising ways.

And when this idealizing happens to align with my career – as it did for me during college and immediately after – I wildly excelled professionally. This enthusiasm translates into an intense drive to succeed, which can be a great thing. After all, some level of narcissism is healthy and required for those who become the very best at what they do.

The problem is that I would become completely self-absorbed during these times. My love affairs with hobbies left no room for anything else – namely my family which would be put on the back burner or shut out completely.

The best way I can describe my state of mind during these periods is that it is akin to anxiety. I became anxious and obsessive. My mind felt cloudy – the only thing I could see clearly was my new interest, while everything else fell into the periphery. I had trouble focusing and controlling my thoughts.

It also left me jumping from thing to thing without any stability. I felt erratic. While I’d learn a lot about a bunch of different things, I’d never really attain that “expert” status – I didn’t stick around long enough. I always wished I could find something I loved that could continuously make me happy long-term.

As I continue in my recovery I often come across something that makes me feel in an old and familiar way. When I’m feeling like the “old me” I try to stop myself and think about what I’m doing, how I’m feeling and what I think the root cause of this feeling or behavior is.

The more I learn about my disorder and my own personal motivations behind my repeat behaviors, these things become easier to recognize and deal with.

Just recently I realized I have been doing it with this very blog. Being able to recognize that early on, identify a pattern and pinpoint my motivations makes me feel like I’m making real progress. I had never put all this together until now.

And that’s a major step I don’t want to downplay. But to continue to grow, I have to learn how to actually balance my interests with the rest of my life – and enjoy something without making it the focus of my entire world or a source of supply.