Tag Archives: abuse

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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Protecting Yourself from Manipulation

Narcissists are known for “playing the victim”. But could it be that narcissists are actually victimized more by others? Narcissists — even those with narcissistic traits or “fleas” — are easy targets because we are incredibly easy to manipulate. Just show us approval. Because we never had it growing up, we soak it up.

Furthermore, our trouble with interpersonal relationships means that after we’ve been victimized, it’s likely no one will believe us and/or care. That’s because we haven’t built up the close personal relationships people rely on in these types of situations—meanwhile, our manipulators have. Sadly, if we were scapegoated as children, this victimization feels normal for us.

The question was posed to the sociopaths of Reddit, “are narcissists more susceptible to mirroring and manipulation?” Here’s what they said:

Yes…it also makes them more predictable.

Having stemmed from personal suffering, their drive is stronger.

…it’s just fun to fuck with them.

Narcissists are incredibly easy to manipulate because their needs are quite simple… you will have them wrapped around your finger. The narcissist will jump through hoops to earn your approval…

Absolutely, there is no one easier to manipulate…You bring them stupid, cheap trinkets you know they’d like…food: trifles, truffles and gourmet, home-cooked goodies. One you’re clearly on the narcissist’s side…RUN. These days the kids call it ghosting. Get out of there.

Do you have a history of being taken advantage of?

We are told that narcissists are manipulative – and many are. After all, being “interpersonally exploitive” is sixth on the DSM’s list of behaviors that define NPD.

But not all narcissists are overtly manipulative – or even any more manipulative than the average person. To meet the criteria for NPD, you have to exhibit only five of the nine behaviors, not every single one.

Personally, I was always terrible at manipulation. Sure I knew what buttons to press with those closest to me, but in general, I didn’t listen to others enough to gather the necessary information, or to develop a strong understanding of what makes those around me “tick”.  I was too busy talking about myself.

As a narcissist, or someone with narcissistic traits or “fleas”, you are among the easiest targets for manipulation yourself. This is true for multiple reasons:

  1. We are approval seeking and respond immediately and positively to flattery and approval – even, and sometimes especially, from people we don’t like or who have shown us little respect.
  2. We talk too much about ourselves, which gives manipulators lots to work with for purposes of gathering personal information and mirroring. Because we have weak boundaries, we overshare this personal information more so than the average person.
  3. Without realizing it, we put our insecurities on display. A narcissist who feels insecure about their intelligence for example, will talk about how smart they are. By attempting to conceal our shame we are inadvertently drawing attention to it and handing over to a manipulator the keys to our psyche. Manipulators and con-artists call this a “tell.”
  4. We are extremely susceptible to mirroring and behavioral mimicry. Humans by nature generally respond well to being mimicked, but narcissists even more so – it confirms that we are everything we are hoping others see us as. Remember, in the original Greek Mythology, narcissus fell in love with the mirror image of himself.

As the story goes, Narcissus disdained those who loved him. The aptly named, Nemesis, noticed Narcissus’ fatal flaw and lured him to a pool, where he saw himself and fell in love not realizing it was his own image. Upon realizing he had fallen in love with his own reflection, he died out of grief for having fallen in love with someone that did not exist outside of himself. Those who are good at mirroring can manipulate a narcissist quickly and easily by reflecting us back to us.

We tend to think of that story as Narcissus being in love with his own physical image, but your “image” also includes your thoughts, feelings, sense of humor, insecurities, likes and dislikes, fears and hopes. When manipulators mirror us back to us, we feel like we have finally met our best friend or soul mate.

We may as well be walking around with big red targets on our backs – and to those who are highly manipulative, we are. This sets us up for further abuse or to be used as abusers (flying monkeys) by others.

In her book, Who’s Pulling Your Strings, Harriet Braiker, outlines seven areas of vulnerability that make us receptive to the tactics of manipulators. Among them are several that apply to narcissists, the most glaring of these vulnerabilities, or “buttons” as she calls them, is approval addiction – a willingness to do anything to avoid criticism, rejection and abandonment.

How do we prevent ourselves from being manipulated? The most effective way is by fixing your insecurities, which will require exploring your inner motivations, confronting painful experiences and working hard to change your thought patterns and triggers, usually with therapy. You absolutely must do this, but it takes time.

Thankfully, there are some more immediate things you can do to prevent yourself from being manipulated while you work on your vulnerabilities.

Braiker explains how to control your vulnerabilities, including learning how to “desensitize your fuse”, journaling to explore your triggers, and reversing what she refers to as our “soft target thinking.” She relies in part on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which has been shown helpful to those with NPD and Borderline Personality Disorder.

In part II we will discuss some other behavioral changes narcissists can take to stop manipulators in their tracks.

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?