Tag Archives: empathy

It’s totally narcissistic to think you’re an empath

Several NPDers I know believed they were empaths prior to self awarenes. I did too.

Here’s some more research to ponder:

According to a recent study published in Personality and Mental Health, narcissists consistently overestimated their emotional intelligence.

Read: Narcissists overestimate their emotional intelligence, attractiveness and social skills. 

TV Narcs: Highlighting the Humor of Narcissism

I found myself watching old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm the other night and it dawned on me: Larry David is sooooo NPD. I always related to the show and to the situations Larry finds himself in. Somehow Larry finds a way to piss off everyone around him and is generally clueless. [Raises hand]

During its original run not only did I not realize he was a narcissist, I hadn’t yet realized I was either. Now watching it again all these years later, it’s so clear. No wonder I related to his guy: He’s low empathy, self-centered, clueless in social situations, he ruins all interpersonal relationships, is easily offended and embarrassed, and often flies into fits of rage.

To some, Larry comes off as “neurotic.” But a recent study found that neuroticism and narcissism are essentially the same thing. Needy Narcissists May Just Be Extreme Neurotics:

In every sample, neuroticism was the biggest predictor of vulnerable narcissism, to the point that Miller tells Science of Us that vulnerable narcissists and people high in neuroticism were “basically identical” in their results. “They were not similar — they were almost exactly the same,” he said in an email. So the study may have uncovered a prime example of the “jangle fallacy,” where the same phenomenon gets two different names and is falsely treated as two different things. Though different literatures have grown around neuroticism and vulnerable narcissism, they may very well be one and the same.

Of course I took to Google to see if anyone else had noticed what a narc Larry is, and came up with an interesting article that compared Larry David to another show about narcissists I quite enjoy, Girls:

Larry David played a version of himself in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” much like Lena Dunham, who plays an exaggerated and incredibly negative version of herself (and people she knows) in “Girls.” These two have much more in common than sharing a comedy series written and created by themselves on the same network. Larry (from here on out we’ll use “Larry” to refer to the character, and “David” to refer to the actor) is essentially the male version of Hannah: both ridiculously selfish, self-loathing, and navigating every aspect of life for his or her own benefit, while disregarding others along the way. It’s also pretty (pretty, pretty, pretty) much known that everyone thinks Larry is a complete asshole.

I love how Larry highlights the humor of life with NPD. I can get so caught in a loop of negativity about my disorder and all the very serious (and not funny) things about it. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to laugh at it, and laugh at myself.

Larry David is my spirit animal.

HBO announced that they are bringing Curb back for a 9th season this year. Can’t wait.

Larry being low empathy

 

Larry hangs up on his wife, who was having a near-death experience, because the cable guy came. “You know, it’s very hard to get those people here!”

Larry’s fits of rage:

I have friends who I can’t stand for like 25 years, I’m still friends with them. Because I stay ’til the end. I go down with the ship.”

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?

Learning to listen when others talk

I have a nasty habit of not listening when others talk. It’s a huge problem that affects not only my personal relationships, but my work performance. There’s nothing worse than being called on in a meeting and not being able to answer intelligently because you’re completely lost.

For me it’s a two pronged problem:

  1. I have trouble keeping my mind from wandering. I’m either rehearsing my response in my head or thinking about my own things.
  2. I don’t care what the other person is talking about and am just putting in my time, waiting until we get back to talking about me.

I have been dealing with #1 by using the mindfulness strategy of gently bringing my mind back to the present when I feel it wandering, without self-judgement. This does help.

For #2, I read somewhere that to increase your empathy you should have at least one conversation a week with someone you don’t know that goes beyond small talk.

I try to allot at least 10 minutes for this, and make a conscious point not to talk about myself in these conversations. If I have something we can relate on I will share, but my rule for these conversations is 70/30 talking about them vs. me.

Simple practice helps a lot. It’s a habit like anything else. I find that when I actually am hearing what the other person is saying, I tend to naturally become more interested and engaged.

I actually enjoy listening to others now, a lot more than I did before. I still have to consciously remind myself a lot though and keep up with the practice, or I slip back into old patterns.

Do you have this problem? What do you do to help with it?

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.

But I’m the victim

Many of us browse support forums created for survivors of narcissistic abuse – places such as r/raisedbynarcissists.

Having grown up in an emotionally abusive environment, with a parent who never loved us is painful and it can take a lifetime to recover from.

As ACoNs (adult children of narcissists), we desperately need the support these well-meaning forums provide. Most notably we need to feel heard, validated, understood and believed. We are craving the empathy we never received from our parents – and we are reaching out to the only other people we feel can understand us: those who have been in our shoes.

I am the child of a narcissistic mother, who scapegoated and emotionally abused me throughout my childhood. My entire adult life I was focused on my own pain and my mother’s narcissism, never realizing I had the same problem.

This is what’s so frustrating about this disorder – the person that has it is unaware they have it. They are the victim. Sound familiar?

This is what’s so frustrating about this disorder – the person that has it is unaware they have it. They are the victim. Sound familiar?

We have been told time and time again that there is no awareness for narcissists. The only option is to get as far away from them as possible. We cannot possibly be narcissists, we think, because we are trying to do better and although we may have a few learned behaviors here and there, we are NOT our parents.

I’m here to call bullshit.

We are not so fragile we cannot hear the truth. I’ve been in these forums, and my fellow narcissistic abuse survivors are in pain and want desperately to be happy — if only they knew what was holding them back.

The idea that narcissists can never become self-aware is one of the most damaging to those who wish to feel and do better, because by simply asking the question am I a narcissist, you are told you cannot possibly be one. And with that continued denial, all opportunity for healing and growth evaporates.

Make no mistake, the disorder is learned behavior. And the vast majority—two thirds—of children of narcissists go on to have NPD themselves.

If you’re the child of a narcissist who has some “learned behaviors” or “fleas”, you may be in denial yourself. Make no mistake, the disorder is learned behavior. And the vast majority— two thirds — of children of narcissists go on to have NPD themselves.

Those of us in forums for narcissistic abuse have been so hurt by our parents, we refuse to even talk to anyone who admits to being a narcissist by banning them from posting.

The irony here is clear:

  1. As the children of NPD parents, statistically, the vast majority of us have NPD ourselves.
  2. Those of us who have become self-aware enough to recognize our disorder are excluded from the group, precisely because we’ve done the healthiest thing possible — recognizing and admitting our narcissism.
  3. Growth opportunities for those left in the group who are questioning their own behaviors dwindle, as those who can offer the insight, empathy and guidance they need most are excluded.
  4. They continue to believe self-awareness is a myth. The narcs remain the “abusers” and they the “victims”. This status quo remains unchallenged.

By excluding those who have taken the healthy step of becoming self-aware, these forums have inadvertently become echo chambers that keep their participants locked in unhealthy cycles. As members, many of us have become precisely what we fear most and we’re none the wiser — we continue living in denial, all the while lamenting how painful it was when our parents did the same.

Those with NPD can absolutely change. But not until we face reality. My only regret is that I didn’t know sooner.

Do you have a good grasp of what NPD feels like to the disordered person? It looks a lot different from the other side. It may even look like you.

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.

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?