Tag Archives: aspd

Why Narcissism Is a Profoundly Misunderstood Psychological Disorder

This article discusses the link between NPD and psychopathy, which I always find interesting, because both NPD and ASPD are so prevalent in my family.

But what I really related to was the discussion of fear in NPDers. One of my core issues is constant, never-ending anxiety — essentially fear or worry about future events.

I can spend hours at a time ruminating about an anxiety-inducing issue, trying to plan for every possible outcome. I never want to be caught off guard for fear I will look stupid or face humiliation.

Looking at NPD as a form of fear avoidance makes a lot of sense and really rings home with me personally.

Rooted in ‘Profound Fear’

On their own, psychoanalytic explanations are inadequate and unconvincing. This is where neuroscience can help. Last year, Elsa Ronningstam and Arielle Baskin-Sommers showed that NPD can be linked to fear and decision making processes. Indeed, feelings of fear have been frequently cited as a significant part of NPD pathology, and possibly even a motivating factor in narcissistic personalities.

Ronningstam and Baskin-Sommers say that the fear of dark and negative self-experiences, or even intolerable aspects of one’s identity, “can drive protective self-aggrandizement as well as destructive suicidal behavior enforced by overwhelming feelings of despair.” What’s more, certain events can trigger fears associated with earlier “narcissistic trauma.”

It’s possible, therefore, that NPD is a form of fear avoidance, especially of failure. It’s a “self-regulatory strategy” driven by specific motivations, including achievements, competitiveness, improvement of performance, and perfectionism.

Neurologically speaking, scientists have pinpointed the amygdala — the part of the brain that regulates processes like the detection of emotionally arousing and pertinent stimuli. Other regions, like the nucleus accumbens, hippocampus, and some prefrontal regions, form a neural network involved in the perception of threat, fear learning, and fear expression. Together, these areas act to produce an integrated fear response .

In addition, and relatedly, the hormone cortisol has been implicated in narcissism — at least in males. Cortisol is released in response to stress, which can be triggered by a fear response.

Read the rest of the artice here: http://health.yourdailyideas.com/why-narcissism-is-a-profoundly-misunderstood-psychological-disorder/

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?

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.

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.

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.