Learning it’s not about me: Priceless

As my boundaries grow stronger, I’m better able to deflect the negativity of others. Before, I absorbed it, and radiated it back to those closest to me. Oh what a joy I was to be around.

Now, when someone lashes out at me, it feels like a warning: back up, this is not someone you want to be bothered with. Back then, it was a challenge: who can be more of an asshole. My money’s on me. Sure you want to test the theory?

God, I was so negative.

I can see my own past behavior in these people, and I get a glimpse of how sick I’ve really been. It’s like they are holding up a mirror reflecting back to me my past self. That’s how I came off to the world. No wonder no one liked me.

It’s because I took everything so personally. Realizing not everything is about me? Priceless.

When people say narcissists “think everything is about them”, I never connected with that. They make it sound so enjoyable.

It’s a curse. It’s exhausting to be worried about what everyone thinks of you all the time. Ironically, I honestly feel more selfish now, not considering what everyone else thinks about everything I do. Probably because I was trained to think everyone else’s thoughts, feelings and opinions were more important than my own. But it’s so freeing not to have your self esteem hanging on it.

Here’s how I thought: Of course it was about me – maybe  they didn’t like me, didn’t respect me, didn’t recognize my authority/intelligence/good taste/talent/expertise or had some grand secret plot to ruin my day for reasons unknown.

But maybe it’s just not. If it’s really not about me, it doesn’t affect my mood. I also then have no reason to be mean to that person. In fact, maybe I’ll even be nicer, since they seem to be having a bad day.

When I don’t take things personally, I’m much friendlier. I think, wow, that guy seems to be in a bad mood, hope it’s nothing serious like his mother dying.

Seriously. Had you thought of that? I never had, and if I’m being totally honestly, I really didn’t care what was going on with that random guy. I just need what I need from you, so please make it happen.

And one of the most amazing parts of depersonalizing other people’s actions — it cuts down on the obsessing. If it’s not about me, I have less to obsess over.  My mind feels so much clearer and I can better focus on important things like my kids.

When you stop personalizing other people’s actions, you become happier. You’re also more pleasant to be around and people respond well to that.

Empathy and boundaries – two things I’m learning. In this instance they’re kind of working together.

The cat conundrum

Being self-aware, I sometimes seriously wonder how I have any friends left at all and want to call each one and thank them for sticking it out with me. I actually did that not too long ago with my best friend.

I asked her why she remained friends with me when so many others didn’t. She had to think about it for a really long time. She didn’t have an answer for me for a few weeks.

She said deep down she knew I was genuinely a good person. I think it also helped that her mom is NPD too – but not high enough up on the spectrum so that my friend became disordered herself or has a really bad relationship with her. So, she kind of gets it.

She is kind of low empathy too though. I think that helped us bond. She can say stuff to me that she can’t say to anyone else, like how she secretly wishes her cat would die already. I can relate. I’ve had my own cat for nearly 10 years and it’s getting tedious.

Ten years ago, a cat was a great idea for me! And I “loved” that cat! Until I had kids. Then the cat became another chore – one that woke up the baby I worked so hard to put down. So now, not so much. Also, I felt like I only had so much room in my heart for love and now that I had a child, the cat didn’t cut it anymore. This was a big fear of mine when my second child was born too. How would I divide what little love I had between the two of them? I can see now how some narcs unwittingly scapegoat one child and overvalue the other.

But alas, I’m stuck. The kids would wonder what happened if the cat disappeared one day or we gave her away. That can’t be a good lesson to teach them: when those we “love” get boring or require too much back from us, we just dump them. I’m supposed to love my cat.

As I’m writing this, I literally just realized I idealized and devalued the cat, now I’m ready for the discard. Didn’t really think I did that. Wow, guess I do.

No, I pretty much have to keep faking it until she naturally dies. Damn it.

Not only that, but I really do need to be nicer to her. The kids have picked up on my disdain and I really want them to develop true feelings of love for animals. I really don’t want my kids to end up like me.

The good thing is that the more I try to be empathetic toward the cat the easier it gets. I’m not joking! I think, how does it make her feel that no one ever pets her? That every time she tries to get close to us we push her away and tell her she’s annoying? I put myself in the cat’s proverbial shoes. Then I feel more compelled to give her some affection. Baby steps.

I asked my therapist about this too. Sometimes I have to do that – get a reality check from someone else: exactly how abnormal is this thought?

She said her cat annoys her too and they kind of also just tolerate it (relief), but she doesn’t necessarily want it to die (oops). I guess I took that one a step too far.

My deeper concern is, why don’t I love my cat? It scares me. I sometimes wonder if I actually love anyone or anything at all. This is what low empathy feels like.

That’s why I sometimes visit r/sociopath. That group attracts lots of low empathy types, not just those with ASPD, but people with autism, etc. I never knew this was a problem for them too.

Sociopaths also really understand what makes people tick. People generally really like them because they know how to make others feel good (when they want to). And being as clueless as I have been about that, I learn a lot from them about human nature and how to fit in better socially.

Anyway, these folks recognize they have no or low empathy, whereas most narcissists don’t. It can be kind of refreshing just to talk to other people who understand that feeling.

At least until my empathy grows to a point where I don’t feel this way anymore. And it is growing. It’s just taking time.

Reality Check: Narcissists don’t commit suicide

Reality Check takes statements about those with NPD from across the Internet and gives a narcissist’s perspective on their validity.

“Narcissists DO NOT try to commit suicide. When you love yourself as much as a narcissist does, suicide is not an option.”

This seems overly broad to me. Quite frankly I was shocked this seemed to come from an actual psychologist’s website. Looking further into his bio though, the school he attended is questionable and has since closed its doors. So there’s that.

I’ve definitely felt suicidal before. Once. Did I do it? No. But it certainly wasn’t because I “love myself” that much.

Narcissism doesn’t feel like self-love. It feels like I’m protecting myself from my insecurities. And I’m way more insecure and depressive than the average non-NPD person.

We seek approval precisely because we don’t have very much self-love. At least not in the normal sense. We are super hard on ourselves inside. We need others to validate us constantly and consistently, or we feel worthless. Literally.

Additionally, there is some evidence that NPDers are actually at a higher risk for suicide. For example, “a 15-year follow up study of patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital in New York showed that patients with NPD or narcissistic traits were significantly more likely to die from suicide compared to individuals without NPD or narcissistic traits (Stone 1989).”

Reality Check: I’ve seen no definitive studies on whether narcissists commit suicide at a higher or lower rate than their neuro-typical counterparts. But his reasoning is certainly flawed.

Submit questions for Reality Check via the contact page. Please include a link to the original statement.

Why we inflict our pain on others and how to change

As a child I was scapegoated by my mother. Everything was somehow my fault.

She would pick and pick at me until she hit a nerve, then I would explode. After I got upset, she would calm down dramatically. In fact, more than acting “calm”, she seemed to have an inner peace about her now that I was upset: contentment. She looked downright pleased.

Since I had blown up, she could then shift any wrongdoing away from herself and blame me for my poor reaction. In turn, she used this as proof to others (smear campaigns) that I was an “angry”, “out of control” child.

This set of behaviors I believe, played more of a role in my development of NPD than any other. It’s the reason I expect my feelings to be rejected, that others have the worst intentions for me, and why I assume people won’t like me before they even meet me. She taught me early on that I was inherently flawed and unloveable.

While I don’t excuse her behavior, since becoming aware of my own NPD I am able to empathize with how she must have been feeling at the time. That’s in part because I have seen myself do the same thing to those closest to me.

And even though I knew what I was doing was wrong at the time, I didn’t consider myself to be evil or see my behavior as manipulative because in my mind, my actions weren’t about hurting the other person, they were about getting what I so badly needed: empathy.

Those of us who grew up without empathy often don’t realize we are missing it. The people who should have cared the most for us never showed us empathy and we don’t know what it looks or feels like. But we still crave it.

What’s going on in my mind when I act this behavior out? I’m usually feeling angry, frustrated or hurt, and I assume no one will care. So, rather than show vulnerability—which always ended up hurting me more as a child—I attempt to FORCE the other person to share my feelings. Once they seem to be as upset as me, I immediately feel better.

It’s never my intention to outright abuse someone else. It’s an inner cry for love and compassion. But my learned behaviors do exactly the opposite—they keep those who want to show me empathy at a distance and perpetuate my inner narrative that no one cares about my feelings.

When you feel this way, remember, this is an inner plea for love and empathy.

What can you do if you find yourself feeling this way?

  1. Show some self-compassion. Be kind to yourself, remember you’re not perfect, and you don’t have to be. It’s OK to feel the way you’re feeling. Just keep trying to do better.
  2. Don’t assume you won’t get the empathy you need if you ask. Your friends/partner are not your parent. Give them a chance to show you compassion.
  3. Be vulnerable. Share how you feel and why in a calm, non-confrontational, non-blaming tone. This is incredibly hard to do at first, so take baby steps.
  4. Ask for their understanding and kindness. More specifically, ask for their empathy. Ask them to put themselves in your shoes and then explain why you feel the way you do. Be straight forward with what you need. I find taking turns letting the other person talk uninterrupted until they go silent, helps dramatically. Many narcissists marry or gravitate toward other ACoNs (adult children of narcissists), who may also not have the emotional intelligence or experience to instinctively know what you need or how to give it. Work on it together.
  5. Make a mental note of how you felt when you needed empathy, and try giving that same thing to your partner the next time they are upset.

Do you ever perpetuate this behavior? How do you deal with it? 

Do you know what your triggers are?

One of my anger triggers is cleaning. I have such negative, painful connections to cleaning from my childhood that my first few years on my own as an adult, I pretty much refused to clean at all. That was almost 20 years ago.

Still today, even if I volunteer to clean the house and start out enthusiastically, by the time I get deep into it I’m usually feeling angry and resentful.

At work my triggers are different. They revolve around gaining approval. These cause a different reaction in me: nervousness, anxiety, embarrassment, fear. With my kids, it’s guilt.

These are the times—when I recognize I am starting to feel negative and getting worked up—that I need to stop myself and recognize that my behavior is off. When I don’t, I usually regret it: I may pick a fight, or blow up in a fit of rage.

You’ll know something has triggered you, when you find yourself getting angry, anxious, embarrassed or otherwise negative for reasons you don’t fully understand. You may feel yourself generating lists in your head of all the things your partner has done recently to upset you, or looking for someone to blame.

The first thing to remember is self-compassion. You are not perfect. You are human. You will make mistakes and have to keep trying. You can’t change a lifetime’s worth of behaviors overnight, but at least you’re trying.

Second, ask your friends, partners, or whomever you are closest to for help.  We have a natural inclination to want to do things on our own – no one was ever there for us and we learned early on that we could only rely on ourselves.

But we are no longer children living as captives to an abuser. The reality is that others do care and want to help us, and deep down we want to be able to receive their help. Without this vulnerability, we cannot build relationships where we are truly bonded to someone else — and we wind up hurting those who actually love us and pushing them away.

If you feel one of these negative spells coming on, what can you do?

  • Do not act on your feelings immediately.
  • Warn your spouse. Talk about this beforehand and come up with a plan for the next time it happens – how each of you will handle the situation. Then stick to it. If you tried your best and you failed, don’t give up. Try again. It will come easier next time.
  • Ask for the space you need to gain the necessary insight into your behavior. Take a time out or create a physical boundary between you, until you calm down (i.e. leave the house for a few hours).
  • Don’t give the “silent treatment” or otherwise indicate that your feelings are the fault of someone else withe your words, body language or actions. Instead, explain to your partner what you’re doing (taking time to think things through) and give a time frame for when you think you’ll be ready to discuss. Especially in the beginning, you may need some flexibility on time frames, which can be difficult to balance with your partner’s right/need to discuss their own feelings. If it’s taking you longer than expected, communicate that calmly and respectfully to your partner, and let them know you haven’t forgotten about it. Ask for an extension if needed.
  • Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume they meant to hurt you. At work if I receive an email I don’t like the tone of, I step away for a half hour. When I come back to it, I read it again, but this time I imagine the sender reading the email to me in the nicest possible voice/tone/delivery and see if I’m still upset. Respond based on the best possible interpretation of their message rather than the worst.
  • Do not let yourself talk about it until you’ve had a chance to think about what your deeper motivations were for getting upset and how you can handle these feelings going forward.
  • Apologize. You lose nothing by apologizing. It doesn’t make you weak to admit you didn’t get something right, it makes you a good partner. Apologizing makes us vulnerable, and we fear vulnerability, so we avoid it. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is one of the keys to your healing.
  • Practice this over and over until it becomes your new normal.

What to say to get the space you need: Calmly, “When [XYZ] happened earlier, something made me very upset and I don’t fully understand what/why. I need some time to think about why it upset me so much, so that I can address it constructively. I need [insert time frame here] to mull it over and then I promise we can discuss it. It would help a lot if we can agree to shelve this until then.”

Just saying this to your partner may be an uncomfortable level of vulnerability for you. If you can’t say it to them face-to-face, send a text, write an email, leave a sticky note. Just make sure they get the message.

This is as much an exercise in setting healthy boundaries, as it is in behavior modification. Use your time to dig as deep as you can into the root cause of what upset you.  I still struggle with each of these, but it gets just a little easier each time I try.

For help understanding your insecurities and triggers, see Who’s Pulling Your Strings?: How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life. Most of our insecurities can be summed up into a handful of larger issues. For example, approval seeking or fear of abandonment. This book explains it well and offers practical advice for addressing them.

For those of us who are just becoming more self-aware and introspective, this process can take a week or two. But as you better learn your insecurities, patterns and motivations, and the more you practice changing your behavior, it will come easier and much quicker – hours as opposed to weeks.

Do you know what your triggers are? What do you do to stop yourself from acting on them? 

Becoming Self-Aware: My Story

From the Narcissists’ Perspective: Why Don’t People Like Me?

I thought I knew everything about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I considered myself somewhat of an expert having read innumerable books, blogs, web lit, having watched YouTube videos ad nauseum and through active participation in multiple online forums for children of narcissists. I grew up with a narcissistic mother who scapegoated me from my earliest memories, and a father I later realized is a sociopath.

Narcissistic Abuse

Early on, my focus was on healing from narcissist abuse, like learning to manage the narcissists in my life, establishing boundaries, and navigating going no contact. I was the victim.

At my core, I knew I was a good person, but I could never understand why people seemed not to like me — why every relationship I had seemed to go wrong. This lifelong pattern of rejection coupled with the emotional abuse of my family of origin pointed to one answer – I am un-likeable and un-loveable.

It’s not a thought that was at the constant forefront of my mind. It was buried deep enough to inform all aspects of my life and behavior in ways I didn’t understand, but after an emotional injury it would bubble to the surface causing bouts of depression and crippling loneliness.

A Narcissist is Made

I told myself I was strong – stronger than others because I’d been through hell and I was still here. Still succeeding at school and work. Still adding value to the world. And through all that, I’ve done it alone with no help from the world which treated me like garbage. I learned not to need or rely on anyone else. I resolved to know my own value and not let the world tell me I was worthless. If no one else liked me, I resolved to like myself.

I developed a hard shell. Growing up my mother scapegoated me, and in order to successfully do that she smeared me to anyone who would listen—making herself the victim. In turn, people disliked me before they ever met me. I didn’t realize that until years later. Instead from a very young age, I internalized the messages I got from the world and assumed people wouldn’t like me. At the first sign someone didn’t, I wouldn’t hesitate to confront them, in an explosive rage if need be. My thoughts were, who are you to tell me I’m worthless? I’m smart, I have value, I won’t let you tell me I don’t – in fact I’m probably better than you in a lot of ways.

I strived for perfection in order to prove that value—to the world and to myself. I refused to show weakness or to fail.  And to make sure people understood that I was actually a good/fun/worthwhile/smart person, I would let them know and remind them how amazing I was. There’s no way they couldn’t like me if they understood how special I was inside, so I made sure to put all my best qualities on display and draw others’ attention to it.

Having not grown up with it, I craved approval. I would become obsessed with understanding others’ opinions of me and trying to change their minds if it seemed they didn’t like me. I experienced anger when I couldn’t understand why I was so disliked. When someone showed me positive attention—when someone liked me—I liked them back hard and we formed fast and furious relationships that always seemed to fall apart within months for reasons I could not understand.

Becoming Self-Aware

There was so much I didn’t realize. So many years lost. It’s painful how un-self-aware I was for so long. At 34 I fell into a deep depression and sought therapy. We spent almost a year working through my feelings of inadequacy, the pain of my childhood, putting into perspective the times I felt truly hurt or abandoned. Many of my painful experiences of abandonment or rejection stemmed from encounters with other Cluster B personalities — mostly other narcissists and sociopaths. Why was I drawn to these people throughout my life and why were they drawn to me? How was I so easily manipulated by them? Why had I allowed myself to be victimized all these years?

It never occurred to me that I was my own biggest problem. At least not on the level I needed to, to understand it. There were so many layers of self-protection. Every time a relationship went wrong, I obsessed over why. But there was one thing I never considered: how my behavior made other people feel. I had very low empathy for others.

I couldn’t see past my own pain and emotions. Furthermore, I hadn’t grown up with empathy. No one had ever cared about my feelings. Really, no one in my household cared about anyone other than themselves. So in addition to never having experienced it, I had never seen it practiced, or learned how to be empathetic. I didn’t even realize I was missing empathy. In fact, I thought I was an extremely empathetic person, never realizing I was confusing sympathy for empathy. How can you miss color if you’ve only ever seen black and white?

At 35 I was diagnosed with NPD.  At first I didn’t even believe my therapist because I’d always read narcissists are incapable of seeing their own faults and behaviors and they certainly cannot change. Yes, I act like my mother sometimes, and I admit I may have “fleas”, but I don’t have the disorder, I thought. I don’t knowingly manipulate others or conduct smear campaigns, etc. My mom is that way, but I’m not.  I was changing and growing. I was looking at my own behaviors – where they stemmed from, what my triggers were, taking responsibility for my actions– and I was making better choices about how to be there for others, most importantly, learning to practice empathy.

But when I went back and looked at all those same books, websites, and forums – through the lens of how others may see my behavior, as opposed to the lens of the abuse survivor, it started to make sense. When I reread the DSM thinking of myself, instead of my mother, I was hit like a ton of bricks.

Learning to Change

I went in search of tools to help me heal myself, to be a better person. I searched for others like me who realized they have the disorder and want to grow. But there was nothing. The vast majority of material is aimed at dealing with narcissists – but almost nothing for the narcissist who has become self-aware and wants to do better.

Articles and books with titles like “How to get revenge on a narcissist” hit particularly hard now that I was on the other side of it, because I never knowingly or intentionally hurt others – in my mind I was a misunderstood, hurt little girl, discarded and rejected by the world, who was only protecting and standing up for myself because no one else ever did.

But seeing that others saw my behavior as abusive and toxic, my lifetime of failed relationships suddenly made sense. I realized I was the person people were going “no contact” with. Furthermore, I was now the narcissistic parent. It stung.

I thought about reaching out to other narcissistic abuse survivors on forums, for support, realizing this must be somewhat common (What had they tried? What worked? What advice could they give for getting over this?). After all, research shows two-thirds of children with a narcissistic parent have NPD. But sadly, now that I realized I was a narcissist, the rules on the support forums and boards were clear – no narcissists allowed.

Ironically, once I understood how NPD looks and feels from the other side, it became immediately and painfully obvious that a large slice of the people on these forums are narcissists themselves. They are painfully unaware but know that something is “off” with them emotionally, recognize they are different from others but don’t understand exactly how, struggle through bouts of depression, question why all their relationships seem to fall apart, want desperately to recover from their childhood abuse — to finally be happy and feel love — but have no idea that they themselves have the disorder. That’s why I created this site.

It’s a myth that narcissist can never seek help, gain self awareness, or that we cannot change or grow. It is a spectrum disorder, so there are people like my mother for whom that’s true. I believe she is too far gone and will never be able to face any other reality than her own. But there are also people like me, who are simply unaware of our personality disorder—deeply hurt, sad, lonely people who desperately want to change when we learn what has been causing this immense pain and turmoil our entire lives.

We are out there. And there are more of us than we may realize given the statistics. I suspect many of my fellow narcissistic abuse survivors are in the same boat as me without realizing it. If you think you have “fleas”, you may be one of these people.

We too deserve love, the support of others who understand and insight from those who’ve been where we are. I hope my experience helps others on similar journeys.

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Recovery from NPD

August Blair

freelance writer, blogger, and social media manager

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