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May 23 09 4:32 PM

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The Destructive Narcissistic Parent creates a child that only exists to be an extension of her self. It's about secret things. It's about body language. It's about disapproving glances. It's about vocal tone. It's very intimate. And it's very powerful. It's part of who the child is.


Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers

1. Everything she does is deniable. There is always a facile excuse or an explanation. Cruelties are couched in loving terms. Aggressive and hostile acts are paraded as thoughtfulness. Selfish manipulations are presented as gifts. Criticism and slander is slyly disguised as concern. She only wants what is best for you. She only wants to help you.

She rarely says right out that she thinks you’re inadequate. Instead, any time that you tell her you’ve done something good, she counters with something your sibling did that was better or she simply ignores you or she hears you out without saying anything, then in a short time does something cruel to you so you understand not to get above yourself. She will carefully separate cause (your joy in your accomplishment) from effect (refusing to let you borrow the car to go to the awards ceremony) by enough time that someone who didn’t live through her abuse would never believe the connection.

Many of her putdowns are simply by comparison. She’ll talk about how wonderful someone else is or what a wonderful job they did on something you’ve also done or how highly she thinks of them. The contrast is left up to you. She has let you know that you’re no good without saying a word. She’ll spoil your pleasure in something by simply congratulating you for it in an angry, envious voice that conveys how unhappy she is, again, completely deniably. It is impossible to confront someone over their tone of voice, their demeanor or they way they look at you, but once your narcissistic mother has you trained, she can promise terrible punishment without a word. As a result, you’re always afraid, always in the wrong, and can never exactly put your finger on why.

Because her abusiveness is part of a lifelong campaign of control and because she is careful to rationalize her abuse, it is extremely difficult to explain to other people what is so bad about her. She’s also careful about when and how she engages in her abuses. She’s very secretive, a characteristic of almost all abusers (“Don’t wash our dirty laundry in public!”) and will punish you for telling anyone else what she’s done. The times and locations of her worst abuses are carefully chosen so that no one who might intervene will hear or see her bad behavior, and she will seem like a completely different person in public. She’ll slam you to other people, but will always embed her devaluing nuggets of snide gossip in protestations of concern, love and understanding (“I feel so sorry for poor Cynthia. She always seems to have such a hard time, but I just don’t know what I can do for her!”) As a consequence the children of narcissists universally report that no one believes them (“I have to tell you that she always talks about YOU in the most caring way!). Unfortunately therapists, given the deniable actions of the narcissist and eager to defend a fellow parent, will often jump to the narcissist’s defense as well, reinforcing your sense of isolation and helplessness (“I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that!”)

2. She violates your boundaries. You feel like an extension of her. Your property is given away without your consent, sometimes in front of you. Your food is eaten off your plate or given to others off your plate. Your property may be repossessed and no reason given other than that it was never yours. Your time is committed without consulting you, and opinions purported to be yours are expressed for you. (She LOVES going to the fair! He would never want anything like that. She wouldn’t like kumquats.) You are discussed in your presence as though you are not there. She keeps tabs on your bodily functions and humiliates you by divulging the information she gleans, especially when it can be used to demonstrate her devotion and highlight her martyrdom to your needs (“Mike had that problem with frequent urination too, only his was much worse. I was so worried about him!”) You have never known what it is like to have privacy in the bathroom or in your bedroom, and she goes through your things regularly. She asks nosy questions, snoops into your email/letters/diary/conversations. She will want to dig into your feelings, particularly painful ones and is always looking for negative information on you which can be used against you. She does things against your expressed wishes frequently. All of this is done without seeming embarrassment or thought.

Any attempt at autonomy on your part is strongly resisted. Normal rites of passage (learning to shave, wearing makeup, dating) are grudgingly allowed only if you insist, and you’re punished for your insistence (“Since you’re old enough to date, I think you’re old enough to pay for your own clothes!”) If you demand age-appropriate clothing, grooming, control over your own life, or rights, you are difficult and she ridicules your “independence.” 

3. She favoritizes. Narcissistic mothers commonly choose one (sometimes more) child to be the golden child and one (sometimes more) to be the scapegoat. The narcissist identifies with the golden child and provides privileges to him or her as long as the golden child does just as she wants. The golden child has to be cared for assiduously by everyone in the family. The scapegoat has no needs and instead gets to do the caring. The golden child can do nothing wrong. The scapegoat is always at fault. This creates divisions between the children, one of whom has a large investment in the mother being wise and wonderful, and the other(s) who hate her. That division will be fostered by the narcissist with lies and with blatantly unfair and favoritizing behavior. The golden child will defend the mother and indirectly perpetuate the abuse by finding reasons to blame the scapegoat for the mother’s actions. The golden child may also directly take on the narcissistic mother’s tasks by physically abusing the scapegoat so the narcissistic mother doesn’t have to do that herself.

4. She undermines.  Your accomplishments are acknowledged only to the extent that she can take credit for them. Any success or accomplishment for which she cannot take credit is ignored or diminished. Any time you are to be center stage and there is no opportunity for her to be the center of attention, she will try to prevent the occasion altogether, or she doesn’t come, or she leaves early, or she acts like it’s no big deal, or she steals the spotlight or she slips in little wounding comments about how much better someone else did or how what you did wasn’t as much as you could have done or as you think it is.  She undermines you by picking fights with you or being especially unpleasant just before you have to make a major effort. She acts put out if she has to do anything to support your opportunities or will outright refuse to do even small things in support of you. She will be nasty to you about things that are peripherally connected with your successes so that you find your joy in what you’ve done is tarnished, without her ever saying anything directly about it. No matter what your success, she has to take you down a peg about it.

5. She demeans, criticizes and denigrates. She lets you know in all sorts of little ways that she thinks less of you than she does of your siblings or of other people in general. If you complain about mistreatment by someone else, she will take that person’s side even if she doesn’t know them at all. She doesn’t care about those people or the justice of your complaints. She just wants to let you know that you’re never right.

She will deliver generalized barbs that are almost impossible to rebut (always in a loving, caring tone): “You were always difficult” “You can be very difficult to love” “You never seemed to be able to finish anything” “You were very hard to live with” “You’re always causing trouble” “No one could put up with the things you do.” She will deliver slams in a sidelong way - for example she’ll complain about how “no one” loves her, does anything for her, or cares about her, or she’ll complain that “everyone” is so selfish, when you’re the only person in the room. As always, this combines criticism with deniability.

She will slip little comments into conversation that she really enjoyed something she did with someone else - something she did with you too, but didn’t like as much. She’ll let you know that her relationship with some other person you both know is wonderful in a way your relationship with her isn’t - the carefully unspoken message being that you don’t matter much to her.

She minimizes, discounts or ignores your opinions and experiences. Your insights are met with condescension, denials and accusations (“I think you read too much!”) and she will brush off your information even on subjects on which you are an acknowledged expert. Whatever you say is met with smirks and amused sounding or exaggerated exclamations (“Uh hunh!” “You don’t say!” “Really!”). She’ll then make it clear that she didn’t listen to a word you said.

6. She makes you look crazy. If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you have “a very vivid imagination” (this is a phrase commonly used by abusers of all sorts to invalidate your experience of their abuse) that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She will claim not to remember even very memorable events, flatly denying they ever happened, nor will she ever acknowledge any possibility that she might have forgotten. This is an extremely aggressive and exceptionally infuriating tactic called “gaslighting,” common to abusers of all kinds. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up without any confidence in your intuition, your memory or your powers of reasoning. This makes you a much better victim for the abuser.

Narcissists gaslight routinely. The narcissist will either insinuate or will tell you outright that you’re unstable, otherwise you wouldn’t believe such ridiculous things or be so uncooperative. You’re oversensitive. You’re imagining things. You’re hysterical. You’re completely unreasonable. You’re over-reacting, like you always do. She’ll talk to you when you’ve calmed down and aren’t so irrational. She may even characterize you as being neurotic or psychotic.

Once she’s constructed these fantasies of your emotional pathologies, she’ll tell others about them, as always, presenting her smears as expressions of concern and declaring her own helpless victimhood. She didn’t do anything. She has no idea why you’re so irrationally angry with her. You’ve hurt her terribly. She thinks you may need psychotherapy. She loves you very much and would do anything to make you happy, but she just doesn’t know what to do. You keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you.

She has simultaneously absolved herself of any responsibility for your obvious antipathy towards her, implied that it’s something fundamentally wrong with you that makes you angry with her, and undermined your credibility with her listeners. She plays the role of the doting mother so perfectly that no one will believe you.

7. She’s envious.  Any time you get something nice she’s angry and envious and her envy will be apparent when she admires whatever it is. She’ll try to get it from you, spoil it for you, or get the same or better for herself. She’s always working on ways to get what other people have. The envy of narcissistic mothers often includes competing sexually with their daughters or daughters-in-law. They’ll attempt to forbid their daughters to wear makeup, to groom themselves in an age-appropriate way or to date. They will criticize the appearance of their daughters and daughters-in-law. This envy extends to relationships. Narcissistic mothers infamously attempt to damage their children’s marriages and interfere in the upbringing of their grandchildren.

8. She’s a liar in too many ways to count. Any time she talks about something that has emotional significance for her, it’s a fair bet that she’s lying. Lying is one way that she creates conflict in the relationships and lives of those around her - she’ll lie to them about what other people have said, what they’ve done, or how they feel. She’ll lie about her relationship with them, about your behavior or about your situation in order to inflate herself and to undermine your credibility.

The narcissist is very careful about how she lies. To outsiders she’ll lie thoughtfully and deliberately, always in a way that can be covered up if she’s confronted with her lie. She spins what you said rather than makes something up wholesale. She puts dishonest interpretations on things you actually did. If she’s recently done something particularly egregious she may engage in preventative lying: she lies in advance to discount what you might say before you even say it. Then when you talk about what she did you’ll be cut off with “I already know all about it…your mother told me... (self-justifications and lies).” Because she is so careful about her deniability, it may be very hard to catch her in her lies and the more gullible of her friends may never realize how dishonest she is.

To you, she’ll lie blatantly. She will claim to be unable to remember bad things she has done, even if she did one of them recently and even if it was something very memorable. Of course, if you try to jog her memory by recounting the circumstances “You have a very vivid imagination” or “That was so long ago. Why do you have to dredge up your old grudges?” Your conversations with her are full of casual brush-offs and diversionary lies and she doesn’t respect you enough to bother making it sound good. For example she’ll start with a self-serving lie: “If I don’t take you as a dependent on my taxes I’ll lose three thousand dollars!” You refute her lie with an obvious truth: “No, three thousand dollars is the amount of the dependent exemption. You’ll only lose about eight hundred dollars.” Her response: “Isn’t that what I said?” You are now in a game with only one rule: You can’t win.

On the rare occasions she is forced to acknowledge some bad behavior, she will couch the admission deniably. She “guesses” that “maybe” she “might have” done something wrong. The wrongdoing is always heavily spun and trimmed to make it sound better. The words “I guess,”  “maybe,” and  might have” are in and of themselves lies because she knows exactly what she did - no guessing, no might haves, no maybes.

9. She has to be the center of attention all the time. This need is a defining trait of narcissists and particularly of narcissistic mothers for whom their children exist to be sources of attention and adoration.  Narcissistic mothers love to be waited on and often pepper their children with little requests. “While you’re up…” or its equivalent is one of their favorite phrases. You couldn’t just be assigned a chore at the beginning of the week or of the day, instead, you had to do it on demand, preferably at a time that was inconvenient for you, or you had to “help” her do it, fetching and carrying for her while she made up to herself for the menial work she had to do as your mother by glorying in your attentions.

A narcissistic mother may create odd occasions at which she can be the center of attention, such as memorials for someone close to her who died long ago, or major celebrations of small personal milestones. She may love to entertain so she can be the life of her own party. She will try to steal the spotlight or will try to spoil any occasion where someone else is the center of attention, particularly the child she has cast as the scapegoat.  She often invites herself along where she isn’t welcome. If she visits you or you visit her, you are required to spend all your time with her. Entertaining herself is unthinkable. She has always pouted, manipulated or raged if you tried to do anything without her, didn’t want to entertain her, refused to wait on her, stymied her plans for a drama or otherwise deprived her of attention.

Older narcissistic mothers often use the natural limitations of aging to manipulate dramas, often by neglecting their health or by doing things they know will make them ill. This gives them the opportunity to cash in on the investment they made when they trained you to wait on them as a child. Then they call you (or better still, get the neighbor or the nursing home administrator to call you) demanding your immediate attendance. You are to rush to her side, pat her hand, weep over her pain and listen sympathetically to her unending complaints about how hard and awful it is. (“Never get old!”) It’s almost never the case that you can actually do anything useful, and the causes of her disability may have been completely avoidable, but you’ve been put in an extremely difficult position. If you don’t provide the audience and attention she’s manipulating to get, you look extremely bad to everyone else and may even have legal culpability. (Narcissistic behaviors commonly accompany Alzheimer’s disease, so this behavior may also occur in perfectly normal mothers as they age.)

10. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain. This exceptionally sick and bizarre behavior is so common among narcissistic mothers that their children often call them “emotional vampires.” Some of this emotional feeding comes in the form of pure sadism. She does and says things just to be wounding or she engages in tormenting teasing or she needles you about things you’re sensitive about, all the while a smile plays over her lips. She may have taken you to scary movies or told you horrifying stories, then mocked you for being a baby when you cried. She will slip a wounding comment into conversation and smile delightedly into your hurt face. You can hear the laughter in her voice as she pressures you or says distressing things to you. Later she’ll gloat over how much she upset you, gaily telling other people that you’re so much fun to tease, and recruiting others to share in her amusement. . She enjoys her cruelties and makes no effort to disguise that. She wants you to know that your pain entertains her.  She may also bring up subjects that are painful for you and probe you about them, all the while watching you carefully. This is emotional vampirism in its purest form. She’s feeding emotionally off your pain.

A peculiar form of this emotional vampirism combines attention-seeking behavior with a demand that the audience suffer. Since narcissistic mothers often play the martyr this may take the form of wrenching, self-pitying dramas which she carefully produces, and in which she is the star performer. She sobs and wails that no one loves her and everyone is so selfish, and she doesn’t want to live, she wants to die! She wants to die! She will not seem to care how much the manipulation of their emotions and the self-pity repels other people. One weird behavior that is very common to narcissists: her dramas may also center around the tragedies of other people, often relating how much she suffered by association as she cries over the horrible murder of someone she wouldn’t recognize if they had passed her on the street.

11. She’s selfish and willful. She always makes sure she has the best of everything. She insists on having her own way all the time and she will ruthlessly, manipulatively pursue it, even if what she wants isn’t worth all the effort she’s putting into it and even if that effort goes far beyond normal behavior. She will make a huge effort to get something you denied her, even if it was entirely your right to do so and even if her demand was selfish and unreasonable. If you tell her she cannot bring her friends to your party she will show up with them anyway, and she will have told them that they were invited so that you either have to give in, or be the bad guy to these poor dupes on your doorstep. If you tell her she can’t come over to your house tonight she’ll call your spouse and try get him or her to agree that she can, and to not say anything to you about it because it’s a “surprise.”  She has to show you that you can’t tell her “no.” 

 One near-universal characteristic of narcissists: because they are so selfish and self-centered, they are very bad gift givers. They’ll give you hand-me-downs or market things for themselves as gifts for you (“I thought I’d give you my old bicycle and buy myself a new one!” “I know how much you love Italian food, so I’m going to take you to my favorite restaurant for your birthday!”) New gifts are often obviously cheap and are usually things that don’t suit you or that you can’t use or are a quid pro quo: if you buy her the gift she wants, she will buy you an item of your choice. She’ll make it clear that it pains her to give you anything. She may buy you a gift and get the identical item for herself, or take you shopping for a gift and get herself something nice at the same time to make herself feel better.

12. She’s self-absorbed. Her feelings, needs and wants are very important; yours are insignificant to the point that her least whim takes precedence over your most basic needs. Her problems deserve your immediate and full attention; yours are brushed aside. Her wishes always take precedence; if she does something for you, she reminds you constantly of her munificence in doing so and will often try to extract some sort of payment. She will complain constantly, even though your situation may be much worse than hers. If you point that out, she will effortlessly, thoughtlessly brush it aside as of no importance (It’s easy for you…/It’s different for you…).

13. She is insanely defensive and is extremely sensitive to any criticism. If you criticize her or defy her she will explode with fury, threaten, storm, rage, destroy and may become violent, beating, confining, putting her child outdoors in bad weather or otherwise engaging in classic physical abuse. It’s easy to provoke her wrath because she takes everything personally and any attitude short of constant emotional and physical availability is perceived as a slight. If you’re short with her because you’re exhausted and depressed, she has to have it out with you over your “hostility.” If a toddler shouts “I hate you” at her she gets angry and punitive. If you refuse her nosy request to let her read the letter you got she shouts about how unappreciative you are and how hard she has it. She has no sense of perspective or separation and she can’t let anything go. Because the narcissistic mother is so extremely defensive she is completely resistant to change. Narcissists infamously cannot be helped and if anything, change for the worse.

14. She terrorized. All abusers use fear to control their victims, and your narcissistic mother used it ruthlessly to train you. Narcissists teach you to beware their wrath even when they aren’t present. The only alternative is constant placation. If you give her everything she wants all the time, you might be spared. If you don’t, the punishments will come. Even adult children of narcissists still feel that carefully inculcated fear. Your narcissistic mother can turn it on with a silence or a look that tells the child in you she’s thinking about how she’s going to get even.

Not all narcissists abuse physically, but most do, often in subtle, deniable ways.  It allows them to vent their rage at your failure to be the solution to their internal havoc and simultaneously to teach you to fear them. You may not have been beaten, but you were almost certainly left to endure physical pain when a normal mother would have made an effort to relieve your misery. This deniable form of battery allows her to store up her rage and dole out the punishment at a later time when she’s worked out an airtight rationale for her abuse, so she never risks exposure. You were left hungry because “you eat too much.”  (Someone asked her if she was pregnant. She isn’t). You always went to school with stomach flu because “you don’t have a fever. You’re just trying to get out of school.” (She resents having to take care of you. You have a lot of nerve getting sick and adding to her burdens.) She refuses to look at your bloody heels and instead the shoes that wore those blisters on your heels are put back on your feet and you’re sent to the store in them because “You wanted those shoes. Now you can wear them.”  (You said the ones she wanted to get you were ugly. She liked them because they were just like what she wore 30 years ago). The dentist was told not to give you Novocaine when he drilled your tooth because “he has to learn to take better care of his teeth.” (She has to pay for a filling and she’s furious at having to spend money on you.) Unlike psychopaths, narcissists do understand right, wrong, and consequences, so they are not ordinarily criminal. She beat you, but not to the point where you went to the hospital. She left you standing out in the cold until you were miserable, but not until you had hypothermia. She put you in the basement in the dark with no clothes on, but she only left you there for two hours. 

Narcissistic mothers also abuse by loosing others on you or by failing to protect you when a normal mother would have. Sometimes the narcissist’s golden child will be encouraged to abuse the scapegoat. Narcissists also abuse by exposing you to violence. If one of your siblings got beaten, she made sure you saw. She effortlessly put the fear of Mom into you, without even touching you.

15. She’s infantile and petty. Narcissistic mothers are often simply childish. If you refuse to let her manipulate you into doing something, she will cry that you don’t love her because if you loved her you would do as she wanted. If you hurt her feelings she will aggressively whine to you that you’ll be sorry when she’s dead that you didn’t treat her better. Anytime she feels hard-done-by, she pouts, whines and gives the silent treatment. When you were a child, she would justify things she did to you by pointing out something that you did that she felt was comparable, as though the childish behavior of a child was justification for the childish behavior of an adult. “Getting even” is a large part of her dealings with you. Anytime you fail to give her the deference, attention or service she feels she deserves, or you thwart her wishes, she has to show you.

16. She’s aggressive and shameless. She doesn’t ask. She demands. She makes outrageous requests and she’ll take anything she wants if she thinks she can get away with it. Her demands of her children are posed in a very aggressive way, as are her criticisms. She won’t take no for an answer, pushing and arm-twisting and manipulating to get you to give in.

17. She “parentifies.” She shed her responsibilities to you as soon as she was able, leaving you to take care of yourself as best you could. She denied you medical care, adequate clothing, necessary transportation or basic comforts that she would never have considered giving up herself. She never gave you a birthday party or let you have sleepovers. Your friends were never welcome in her house. She didn’t like to drive you anywhere, so you turned down invitations because you had no way to get there. She wouldn’t buy your school pictures even if she could easily have afforded it. You had a niggardly clothing allowance or she bought you the cheapest clothing she could without embarrassing herself. As soon as you got a job, every request for school supplies, clothing or toiletries was met with “Now that you’re making money, why don’t you pay for that yourself?”

She also gave you tasks that were rightfully hers and should not have been placed on a child. You may have been a primary caregiver for young siblings or an incapacitated parent. You may have had responsibility for excessive household tasks. Above all, you were always her emotional caregiver which is one reason any defection from that role caused such enormous eruptions of rage. You were never allowed to be needy or have bad feelings or problems. Those experiences were only for her, and you were responsible for making it right for her. From the time you were very young she would randomly lash out at you any time she was stressed or angry with your father or felt that life was unfair to her, because it made her feel better to hurt you. You were often punished out of the blue, for manufactured offenses. As you got older she directly placed responsibility for her welfare and her emotions on you, weeping on your shoulder and unloading on you any time something went awry for her.

18.  She’s exploitative. She will manipulate to get work, money, or objects she envies out of other people for nothing. This includes her children, of course. If she set up a bank account for you, she was trustee on the account with the right to withdraw money. As you put money into it, she took it out. She may have stolen your identity. She took you as a dependent on her income taxes so you couldn’t file independently without exposing her to criminal penalties. If she made an agreement with you, it was violated the minute it no longer served her needs. If you brought it up demanding she adhere to the agreement, she brushed you off and later punished you so you would know not to defy her again.

Sometimes the narcissist will exploit a child to absorb punishment that would have been hers from an abusive partner. The husband comes home in a drunken rage, and the mother immediately complains about the child’s bad behavior so the rage is vented on to the child. Sometimes the narcissistic mother simply uses the child to keep a sick marriage intact because the alternative is being divorced or having to go to work. The child is sexually molested but the mother never notices, or worse, calls the child a liar when she tells the mother about the molestation.

19. She projects. This sounds a little like psycho-babble, but it is something that narcissists all do. Projection means that she will put her own bad behavior, character and traits on you so she can deny them in herself and punish you. This can be very difficult to see if you have traits that she can project on to. An eating-disordered woman who obsesses over her daughter’s weight is projecting. The daughter may not realize it because she has probably internalized an absurdly thin vision of women’s weight and so accepts her mother’s projection. When the narcissist tells the daughter that she eats too much, needs to exercise more, or has to wear extra-large size clothes, the daughter believes it, even if it isn’t true. However, she will sometimes project even though it makes no sense at all. This happens when she feels shamed and needs to put it on her scapegoat child and the projection therefore comes across as being an attack out of the blue.  For example: She makes an outrageous request, and you casually refuse to let her have her way. She’s enraged by your refusal and snarls at you that you’ll talk about it when you’ve calmed down and are no longer hysterical.

You aren’t hysterical at all; she is, but your refusal has made her feel the shame that should have stopped her from making shameless demands in the first place. That’s intolerable. She can transfer that shame to you and rationalize away your response: you only refused her because you’re so unreasonable. Having done that she can reassert her shamelessness and indulge her childish willfulness by turning an unequivocal refusal into a subject for further discussion. You’ll talk about it again “later” - probably when she’s worn you down with histrionics, pouting and the silent treatment so you’re more inclined to do what she wants.

20. She is never wrong about anything. No matter what she’s done, she won’t ever genuinely apologize for anything. Instead, any time she feels she is being made to apologize she will sulk and pout, issue an insulting apology or negate the apology she has just made with justifications, qualifications or self pity: “I’m sorry you felt that I humiliated you” “I’m sorry if I made you feel bad” “If I did that it was wrong” “I’m sorry, but I there’s nothing I can do about it” “I’m sorry I made you feel clumsy, stupid and disgusting” “I’m sorry but it was just a joke. You’re so over-sensitive” “I’m sorry that my own child feels she has to upset me and make me feel bad.” The last insulting apology is also an example of projection.

21. Sometimes she seems to have no awareness that other people even have feelings, and yet she is brilliantly sensitive to other people’s emotions. Every child of a narcissist recognizes this contradiction because narcissistic mothers do possess the ability to exercise empathy, and in abundance. Sometimes this ability also leads them to identify emotionally with people who are suffering and to express caring for them. When caring about another’s suffering interferes with something the narcissist wants, though, the caring vanishes. When a narcissistic mother wants validation, when she feels like eliciting some emotional pain, when something she wants hurts someone else, the empathy is turned off as though it never existed.

From the perspective of ability, narcissists are extremely empathetic; indeed they have a gift of telling what other people are feeling and thinking. Their skill at discerning and guiding the emotions of other people is the basis of many characteristically narcissistic interactions. Narcissists are very socially adept which is why no one ever believes their children when they complain of their mothers. They know just how to make everyone think that they’re delightful. Narcissistic mothers are exceptional manipulators, and manipulators must be extremely aware, on a moment-by-moment basis, of the emotions of their targets.  If you don’t know what people are feeling, you can’t push their buttons. Their exceptional sensitivity to the feelings of others is also the wellspring of their pleasure in inflicting emotional pain through dramas and no-win scenarios. Narcissistic mothers enjoy inflicting emotional pain and they do it very well because they know just what their target children are feeling. That exquisite sensitivity is the reason they don’t need to batter. They can inflict agony without lifting a finger, so why risk exposure and waste effort with beatings when they can elicit the same emotions with words alone?

What narcissistic mothers lack is concern for the consequences of their actions, a behavior that seems rooted in profound selfishness, rather than in the absence of empathy. Mothers with NPD are certainly capable of feeling for others: they’re always feeling for the people with whom their scapegoat has conflicts. They feel for their fellow narcissists. They feel for people who have validated and praised them. They even feel for their child when it doesn’t cost them anything to do so. They just don’t feel for their child when they’re abusing him. They don’t feel anything that interferes with their absorption in their own wants and needs. Because they scour their environment for validation of their own abusiveness, they defend their fellow abusers, so they don’t have any empathy for the victims of those abusers, as the following story shows:

A four-year-old had come to school with a hand print on her face, which had been inflicted as the result of a slap by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. As a mandated reporter my mother had called the authorities, but she told me that she could understand why the boyfriend had hit the child: she was so annoying. Then she said in a dramatic tone dripping with sympathy “You should have seen the parents. They were so ashamed!” In outrage I said “What difference does that make to the child?” Her mouth dropped open and I realized she not only didn’t care at all about that poor little girl…it would never have occurred to her to care.


This story shows the misplaced empathy of the abuser for other abusers. There was no empathy in Chris’s mother for the actual victim. Instead it was reserved for the woman who let her boyfriend batter her child. Chris’s mother identified with the abuser, a mother like herself, afflicted with a child who didn’t meet her needs. Her empathy actually attributed virtues to her fellow abuser and faults to the victim that weren’t merited in reality. Someone who hits a small child hard enough to leave a handprint, then sends them to school, isn’t ashamed, and the personality of a four-year-old is not the fault of the child!

The selfish empathy demonstrated by narcissistic mothers contrasts with the genuine empathy shown by normal people. Sometimes a normal person will give up something they really want for themselves because they come to recognize that it will hurt another person. A narcissistic mother will relentlessly go after something she wants even if it isn’t worth the pain she has to inflict to get it.

22. She engineers “no-win” situations that leave you violated and angry and not sure why you feel that way. In the classic “no-win” scenario, the narcissist’s child is subtly manipulated into a corner and then presented with a demand that the child do something degrading, humiliating or painful in order to please the narcissist. Any response other than compliance triggers retaliation.

These sadistic scenes are a defining characteristic of the narcissist. As so often with narcissistic behavior, the payoff for your mother is the elicitation of painful emotions. Whether you subject yourself to her degradation or you fight back and provoke punishment from the narcissist, you will experience a sense of entrapment and fear, and those emotions are very satisfying to her. Her pleasure is augmented by the pain she elicits by undermining, insulting and demeaning you and, as the scene winds down, by blaming you for the entire event.

These scenes are set up very stealthily; so much so that the children of narcissists rarely realize that a trap has been laid before it’s sprung. As always, the narcissist maintains deniability, but the consistencies between scenes betray their deliberate nature.  Although the narcissist plays the scene as though it was spontaneous, it never is. It is scripted and premeditated and the stage is set well in advance. If a scene plays out away from home, you can be sure that the mother is in charge of transportation so that the child doesn’t have the option of walking away. If the scene is staged at home, it’s almost always in the mother’s home, not the child’s home, and engineered so that once again, it’s extremely difficult for the child to walk away.  The narcissist commonly arranges things so she is alone with her victim, but she may also use the presence of a young child or complicit spouse to ensure that her target doesn’t react angrily.

Often the worst part of these scenes for the child is the awareness of how much his mother enjoys his distress; the children of narcissistic mothers often describe their mother’s “little smile” and air of pleasure as she plays out the no-win scenario. When confronted, some narcissistic mothers will even defend their behavior by saying they were “just having fun.” There is no betrayal more wounding than knowing your own mother is reveling in the pain she purposely caused, nor any emotion more delicious to your narcissistic mother than your sense of shock and misery at your knowledge that she is hurting you deliberately and for fun.

In the following story, an adult daughter is manipulated into a no-win situation. If she does not want to provoke retaliation from her narcissistic mother, she must accept and express gratitude for a gift that was clearly meant as an insult:

A few days before Christmas, my mother walked into the room where I was sitting carrying a pair of old, worn tennis shoes - the kind with the rubber soles and canvas uppers. She said “I know you asked for a pair of running shoes for Christmas. I thought I could give you these and get myself a new pair instead.” My mother was a clothes horse, and always had many pairs of new running shoes in her closet. What’s more, her feet are bigger and narrower than mine, so there’s no way her shoes would have fit me, but I was too shocked and angry to think of that. I said “I don’t want your cast-offs!” and she looked very satisfied and pleased and said “Fine” and walked away. That year I got no gift for Christmas, even though I had bought her something from her wish list, and even though my brother and sister got gifts from her.

 I did get a letter after I got home that started “I’m sorry you felt that I offered you “cast-offs” and went on to describe how good her intentions were, how she thought I would be happy to let her do something nice for herself, and how hard she had it as the mother of an “unappreciative” child like me. This wasn’t the first time either. The preceding year she had tried to give me an old, rusty bicycle for Christmas with the stipulation that she would then get herself a new one.

                                                                                      - Chris

This story illustrates an absolutely classic no-win scenario. Although Chris did not realize it at the time, her mother had manipulated her into a corner. Chris had traveled to her mother’s house for Christmas and it was late at night. As a graduate student, Chris was perpetually short on funds, and going to a hotel, even if she could find one at that hour, was out of the question. None of the rest of the family was there yet, so Chris and her mother were alone in the house. There had been no argument or tension, and the attack by her mother came out of the blue.

Chris’s mother proposed something very insulting: she would give Chris her own worn shoes, which didn’t fit Chris and, for which gift Chris was to be “appreciative.”  You would have to be very aware and self-possessed to respond calmly to such a demeaning suggestion, and Chris, tired, shocked, and angry, blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Chris’s mother got exactly what she wanted: a good feed on Chris’s hurt and anger, and an excuse to punish Chris with exclusion and withholding and later with a letter filled with guilt-inducing remonstrations.

In reality Chris’s mother never planned on giving Chris a Christmas gift. She was angry that Chris had made herself unavailable for abuse by going to graduate school in another state, and she wanted to punish Chris for her defection. So she manipulated a no-win scenario in which she could simultaneously insult Chris and turn Chris’s predictably angry response into an opportunity for punishment and narcissistic venting. In her letter, she projected her own hostility and selfishness on to Chris, blamed Chris for her own bad behavior, and depicted herself as a martyr, all the while maintaining complete deniability about the deliberate nature of the original interaction.

23. She blames. She’ll blame you for everything that isn’t right in her life or for what other people do or for whatever has happened. Always, she’ll blame you for her abuse. You made her do it. If only you weren’t so difficult. You upset her so much that she can’t think straight. Things were hard for her and your backtalk pushed her over the brink. This blaming is often so subtle that all you know is that you thought you were wronged and now you feel guilty. Your brother beats you and her response is to bemoan how uncivilized children are. Your boyfriend dumped you, but she can understand - after all, she herself has seen how difficult you are to love. She’ll do something egregiously exploitative to you, and when confronted will screech at you that she can’t believe you were so selfish as to upset her over such a trivial thing. She’ll also blame you for your reaction to her selfish, cruel and exploitative behavior. She can’t believe you are so petty, so small, and so childish as to object to her giving your favorite dress to her friend. She thought you would be happy to let her do something nice for someone else. 

Narcissists are masters of multitasking as this example shows. Simultaneously your narcissistic mother is 1) Lying. She knows what she did was wrong and she knows your reaction is reasonable. 2) Manipulating. She’s making you look like the bad guy for objecting to her cruelties. 3) Being selfish. She doesn’t mind making you feel horrible as long as she gets her own way. 4) Blaming. She did something wrong, but it’s all your fault. 5) Projecting. Her petty, small and childish behavior has become yours. 6) Putting on a self-pitying drama. She’s a martyr who believed the best of you, and you’ve let her down. 7) Parentifying. You’re responsible for her feelings, she has no responsibility for yours.

24. She destroys your relationships. Narcissistic mothers are like tornadoes: wherever they touch down families are torn apart and wounds are inflicted. Unless the father has control over the narcissist and holds the family together, adult siblings in families with narcissistic mothers characteristically have painful relationships. Typically all communication between siblings is superficial and driven by duty, or they may never talk to each other at all. In part, these women foster dissension between their children because they enjoy the control it gives them. If those children don’t communicate except through the mother, she can decide what everyone hears. Narcissists also love the excitement and drama they create by interfering in their children’s lives. Watching people’s lives explode is better than soap operas, especially when you don’t have any empathy for their misery.

The narcissist nurtures anger, contempt and envy - the most corrosive emotions - to drive her children apart. While her children are still living at home, any child who stands up to the narcissist guarantees punishment for the rest. In her zest for revenge, the narcissist purposefully turns the siblings’ anger on the dissenter by including everyone in her retaliation. (“I can see that nobody here loves me! Well I’ll just take these Christmas presents back to the store. None of you would want anything I got you anyway!”) The other children, long trained by the narcissist to give in, are furious with the troublemaking child, instead of with the narcissist who actually deserves their anger.

The narcissist also uses favoritism and gossip to poison her childrens’ relationships. The scapegoat sees the mother as a creature of caprice and cruelty. As is typical of the privileged, the other children don’t see her unfairness and they excuse her abuses. Indeed, they are often recruited by the narcissist to adopt her contemptuous and entitled attitude towards the scapegoat and with her tacit or explicit permission, will inflict further abuse. The scapegoat predictably responds with fury and equal contempt.  After her children move on with adult lives, the narcissist makes sure to keep each apprised of the doings of the others, passing on the most discreditable and juicy gossip (as always, disguised as “concern”) about the other children, again, in a way that engenders contempt rather than compassion.

Having been raised by a narcissist, her children are predisposed to be envious, and she takes full advantage of the opportunity that presents. She may never praise you to your face, but she will likely crow about your victories to the very sibling who is not doing well.  She’ll tell you about the generosity she displayed towards that child, leaving you wondering why you got left out and irrationally angry at the favored child rather than at the narcissist who told you about it.

The end result is a family in which almost all communication is triangular. The narcissist, the spider in the middle of the family web, sensitively monitors all the children for information she can use to retain her unchallenged control over the family. She then passes that on to the others, creating the resentments that prevent them from communicating directly and freely with each other. The result is that the only communication between the children is through the narcissist, exactly the way she wants it.

25. As a last resort she goes pathetic. When she’s confronted with unavoidable consequences for her own bad behavior, including your anger, she will melt into a soggy puddle of weepy helplessness. It’s all her fault. She can’t do anything right. She feels so bad. What she doesn’t do: own the responsibility for her bad conduct and make it right. Instead, as always, it’s all about her, and her helpless self-pitying weepiness dumps the responsibility for her consequences AND for her unhappiness about it on you. As so often with narcissists, it is also a manipulative behavior. If you fail to excuse her bad behavior and make her feel better, YOU are the bad person for being cold, heartless and unfeeling when your poor mother feels so awful.

© 2007 All rights reserved

NOTE: Geocities is being phased out and I cannot find the author to ask permission and i didnt want to lose this very relevant page. So Im C&Ping it here, for all to see and read. It fits Kate to a T.


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May 23 09 5:55 PM

Please include examples of your toxic/narcissistic parent’s behavior if you can. These questions assume only one parent was genuinely narcissistic, even if the other was an enabler. If both your parents were toxic/narcissistic, please answer questions for both.

1. Your age:

2. Your gender:

3. Your profession:

4. Which parent(s) is/are toxic/narcissistic:

5. If only one parent is narcissistic, was the other parent an enabler?

6. Do you have any communication with your toxic/narcissistic parent?

7. If so, in what ways do you communicate with them?

8. How old is your parent?

9. What are your dominant emotions towards your toxic parent?

10. Did your parent violate your privacy? If so, how? (Examples: Walking in on you using the bathroom, walking in on you changing clothes, insisting on keeping tabs on your body functions, going through your possessions).

11. Did your parent repossess, throw out or give away your possessions without your permission or against your will?

12. Did your parent tell other people embarrassing information about you?

13. Did either of your parents engage in sexual behavior with you?

14. Did your parent ask nosy questions? Of what kind?

15. When did your parent blame you?

16. What did you do that made your parent angriest?

17. What did they do when they were angry?

18. How did your toxic parents handle disagreements with you?

19. What did they do when they didn’t get their way?

20. What was it like when you were with one of your toxic parents in the company of their peers?

21. Did your toxic parents play favorites? If so, which of your siblings was the favorite?

22. What is the favorite’s life like?

23. Was your toxic parent secretive? If so, in what way?

24. What phrases do you associate with your parent? For example: “Nobody loves me! Nobody cares about me!” “You’ll never be any good!” “You are SO SELFISH!” “How could you upset me like that?” “I wish you had never been born!” “What did I do to deserve such a heartless child?” “You always think you’re better than me, but I know about you!” “You were always very difficult.” “I’m sorry you felt that I hurt you.” etc.

25. Does your toxic parent give you gifts that you like?

26. Does your toxic parent engage in triangular communication (involving a third party)? For example, if you upset your mother, does she get your father to call you and tell you how bad she feels?

27. Did your toxic parent have a special tone of voice or facial expression that you associate with particular types of behavior? Could you always tell what she was doing by the way she looked or sounded?

28. Did your toxic parent drop “bombshells?” For example, would your father casually mention that he was going to move the whole family across country in a week, or did your mother say that she was going to sell the car you drove, without mention of how that would affect you?

29. Does your parent have an obvious psychiatric disorder (besides Narcissistic Personality Disorder) such as an addiction or compulsion or depression?

30. Does your toxic parent enjoy being the center of attention? How does he/she feel when the attention is taken away?

31. How did she/he respond to your being the center of attention?

32. Was your parent stingy or generous with you?

33. Was your toxic parent supportive of your education or other goals?

34. When your toxic parent was tormenting you, what was her emotional state? Was she typically angry? Happy? Solemn?

35. Did she ever seem to enjoy hurting your feelings?

36. Did she ever say hurtful things out of the blue, for no obvious reason?

37. Did you ever feel you had to lie to make your parent feel better? For example, did you lie about your own difficulties to make them seem like your fault rather than theirs?

38. When your toxic parent was tormenting you, who was allowed to watch, or were you typically alone?

39. How did your toxic parent respond to being defied?

40. If your parent made an agreement with you, did they honor it?

41. Is your toxic parent a liar? What is her/his response to being caught in a lie? Is he/she a good liar?

42. Is it hard to describe his/her abuse to other people?

43. Other than your spouse, what is the reaction of people you have told about your toxic parent? Are they supportive or disbelieving?

44. If you have had therapy, what was the reaction of your therapist to your stories about your parent?

45. Did your toxic parent whine, complain or cry about how hard she/he had it? How did you feel when he/she did that?

46. Did your toxic parent put on dramas, where everyone was required to observe her/his pain and pity her?

47. Did your toxic parent complain about his/her health a lot?

48. What was your toxic parent’s response to you getting sick?

49. Did your parent require you to care for your siblings or a sick parent?

50. It is typical of narcissists that they require emotional “feeds.” Can you describe any behavior of your parent(s) in which they extorted emotional pain from you against your will?

51. Does your parent deny reality when that reality doesn’t suit him/her?

52. Did your parent often needle you, insult you, put you down or denigrate you? Did they enjoy doing that?

53. Did your parent take your opinions seriously or ever change their minds based on something you said?

54. Did your toxic parents ever apologize to you convincingly and sincerely? If not, what were their apologies like?

55. Did your toxic parent ever tell you or imply to you or other people that you were neurotic, unstable or crazy? Did she/he accuse you of making things up or did she tell you that you were imagining things?

56. Did your toxic parent tell you that you were oversensitive?

57. Does your toxic parent engage in vicious gossip about you? Have you heard that they said untrue and demeaning things to other people about you?

58. Does your toxic parent exploit? Have they ever stolen your identity, taken money from your accounts, used your credit cards, illegally taken you as a dependent on their income taxes, or otherwise used you? Do they exploit other people?

59. Do you regard your toxic parent as an honest person generally?

60. Does your toxic parent “tease” you or other people? For example, will they lead on a salesperson to make them think they will buy something, and then walk away, just for fun?

61. Does your parent appear to be envious? Do they make envious remarks about what other people have, or tear down people who have things they don’t have?

62. Do you feel that your toxic parent is weird, bizarre, strange or not normal? In what way?

63. Does your toxic parent like you to wait on him/her? Do they hand you things to put away, when they could put them away themselves as easily? Do they frequently want you to “help” them with tasks that are more efficiently done by one person?

64. Did your toxic parent expect you to fulfill their dreams? For example, become a pianist, a football star, or an academic star?

65. Does your toxic parent ask you for details about painful experiences you have had?

66. Is your toxic parent jealous of your relationship with your other parent?

67. Do you feel like your toxic parent has a double standard? Does he/she insist on the best of everything for him/herself, but feel that much less is plenty for you? Does she /he demand absolute quiet while he/she’s sleeping, but start making lots of noise the minute she/he wakes up? Does she refuse to wear anything but new clothes, and give you the hand-me-downs?

68. Did your toxic parent beat you or any of your siblings with fists or objects, or slap you anywhere other than on the bottom?

69. Did your toxic parent make you stand outside without warm clothing, or bundle you up on a hot day, or make you sit or stand in uncomfortable poses, or otherwise cause you physical pain?

70. Did your toxic parent allow a favored sibling to physically or sexually abuse you?

71. Does your toxic parent say things that strike you as childish?

72. Does your toxic parent make demands of you?

73. How much responsibility did your toxic parent take in helping you to choose a college, a major or a career? Were you supported and advised, or mostly left to figure it out on your own?

74. Did your parent teach you how to groom yourself appropriate and how to behave?

75. Did your parent ever punish you when you had done nothing, perhaps with an obviously manufactured excuse?

76. Did your parent ever accuse you of things that made no sense at all? If so, what?

77. Has your parent tried to come between you and your spouse in any way?

78. Did your parent brag about himself/herself a lot?

79. Did your parent tell lies to make him/herself seem more important?

80. What was the most unforgivable thing your parent did to you?

81. Did your parent often place you in “no-win” situations, so no matter what you did, you would feel inadequate?

82. Was your parent controlling about your time, your friends, food or anything else?

83. Do you often overeat? Are you significantly overweight?

84. What question should I have asked you that I didn’t?


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Nov 13 11 5:35 PM

Personality Traits of Parents And Developmental Needs of Children in High-Conflict Families
© Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D.
Many families do not fit patterns of domestic violence, yet they experience a high degree of conflict. Many high-conflict families may experience intermittent outbursts of anger or violence. Even when they do not exhibit violent patterns, these families are so conflicted that they routinely go back to court to solve should be relatively simple problems. They may have problems scheduling holidays and vacations; they may argue during exchanges; they cannot communicate about child-related issues or decide on day-care providers; they disagree on the times and places for exchanging the children and argue about who will attend parent-teacher conferences, arrange and pay for health care, or attend the child's extra-curricular activities; and they may disagree on activities for their children.
In many ways, it appears that the life of the child must stop while the arguments between the parents continue. For many of these families, every issue becomes a potential source of conflict. Sometimes this is related to the history of the relationship and the power dynamics between the parents. Sometimes one parent will not let go of the conflict because this keeps them "together" in their relationship (albeit a destructive one).
This article focuses on the way in which conflict is driven by each parent's respective personality traits, the lack of a system for resolving conflicts, or both. Decisions may get made by the more forceful parent when one parent "gives in" to the other. Sometimes, no rational decision gets made, such as when one parent takes the child to the pediatrician and the other does the same after the exchange because they don't trust each other to communicate medical information to each other. In such situations, children may see two pediatricians when one will do and no therapist when one is needed. Teachers become frustrated with the lack of cooperation toward the child's schooling. I have seen many instances in which children are enrolled in two different kindergartens because parents cannot plan adequately together for their child's education. Such parents have not learned to implement a system for communication, problem solving, and decision-making. They do things the same way that they have for years. Often one parent does give in. Sadly, this may be the healthier parent. While this article is designed to give an overview on the dynamics of high-conflict families and appropriate interventions, I refer readers to Johnston & Roseby's book In the Name of the Child (Free Press, 1997) for a more in-depth understanding of high-conflict parents and the impact on children.
Research on high-conflict families (Johnston [1988, 1993, 1994] and Johnston & Roseby [1997]) reveals a continuum of problems and a variety of factors which contribute to the problems. Some families are mildly entrenched in conflict and can benefit from guidance and structured recommendations. The more difficult of these families may seem to make little progress, even with rather extensive intervention (e.g. therapy and case management). Some parents have personality traits which exacerbate conflicts, perhaps exaggerating or being quite rigid. In the next section, I will focus on the way in which the parent's respective personality traits contribute to the degree and nature of the conflict.
The Nature of Personality Disturbances
Over the past twenty years, a growing body of literature has developed on personality styles, in particular Narcissistic and Borderline styles. Millon (1996) not only focused on the disorders themselves, but those personality traits and features which impact upon relationships, rather than the individual. He has grouped personality disorders into four types. Many custody evaluators observe that most high-conflict families have one or both parents who exhibit either narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, histrionic, paranoid, or borderline features. They may have parents who become rigid in their perception of the other and tend to deal with things in their extremes. Many parents are polarized, viewing themselves as all good and the other as all bad. These parents focus on the traits within the other parent that reinforce this perception, and they approach each new conflict as verification of just how difficult the other parent is. These parents experience chronic externalization of blame, possessing little insight into their own role in the conflicts. They usually have little empathy for the impact of this conflict on their children. They routinely feel self-justified, believing that their actions are best for their children. No matter how much the helping professionals try to keep the focus on the child, these parents remain focused on the conflict.
While these parents tend to be motivated by a diverse set of emotions, I believe that most of them take this rather rigid position out of fear, often the overwhelming fear that if they let down their defenses, they will be taken advantage of. Many parents say, "If I just give in this one time, she will always take advantage of me," or "if I give him an inch, he'll take a mile." Many parents fear being controlled by the other parent. For the more disturbed of these parents, giving in may represent a fear of annihilation or loss of self. This rigidity assures conflict. Because these families routinely go back to court, they are also afraid that any relaxing of their position might give the other parent an advantage in court. gets lost in the conflict is the needs of the children. Another source of the fear is that winning or losing is so integrally tied to self esteem. Narcissistic parents fear losing custody and control, lest they feel abandoned and depressed. Borderline parents must win in order to contain their internal chaos and rage. While losing might mean different things to each parent (e.g. shame, loss, abandonment, rage, etc.) the key ingredient is how unbearable such a loss is to each parent. Other difficult parents may be irresponsible, over-reactive, and rigid. Parents with these personality traits often have high-conflict marriages and divorces.
Judges and attorneys express their extreme frustration with these families. I have heard judges refer to these families as "our frequent fliers," adding that, even though they may only number ten percent of the families, they require ninety percent of the court's resources. They might come back to court several times a year, and just it appears that a settlement has been reached, a new issue will arise. Lacking a reasonable dispute resolution mechanism, these parents feel justified in taking the other to court and letting "the judge settle it." Each issue is perceived as a new opportunity for victory, and feared as potential loss. These characterological personality dynamics, along with each parent's righteous self-justification and fear, create the high degree of conflict, and the perpetuation of the court battle.
At the same time, away from the conflict, many of these parents seem concerned for their children's needs and feelings and are capable of good parenting skills. They may be nurturing and set reasonable limits with their children. They are frequently involved in their child's day-to-day activities, participate in school work, and provide encouragement to their children. Many of these parents can be loving, spontaneous, and supportive to their children, even when they are cold, rigid, angry, and fearful toward the other parent. In the abstract, they understand the value of the child's relationship with the other parent, and they may even recognize that the conflict is problematic for their children. Despite this acknowledgment, it is difficult for them to relax their rigid positions and attitudes toward the other parent and extricate their child (and themselves) from the conflict.
For many high-conflict families, it seems that the parents' characterological personality dynamics get manifested in a relationship disorder with the other parent. They may be able to manage some of their chronic traits, including their narcissism, over-reaction, rigidity, and anger, in some of their other relationships. They may be pleasant to co-workers, showing few pathological traits in their work environment. With their children, they may not personalize experiences or show signs of narcissistic injury.
In contrast, the history of the conflict, the emotions of the divorce, and the fear of letting go bring out the worst in these parents with each other. It appears that the couple's relationship has been unable to withstand the previous love, the loss of that love, and the rejection and hurt that followed. In the newly formed divorce relationship, dysfunctional personality traits flourish, while in other relationships, including with the children, healthier personality traits may abound. For the less disturbed of these parents, the pathological personality traits may only surface in the context of the conflictual relationship between the parents. Each parent's negative individual traits clash and the conflicts continue. Left unchecked, these families return to court year after year to solve might appear to the neutral observer to be the most minor of issues.
These families require strategies and interventions that assist them in taking care of their children and reducing their conflict. These strategies can include some or all of the following:
1. Neutral Decision-Making (Special Master)
In a variety of jurisdictions, including Northern California (Special Masters), Maricopa County, Arizona (Family Court Advisors), Boulder, Colorado (case managers or binding arbitrators), and New Mexico ("wise persons"), courts have begun to use attorneys and mental health practitioners as neutral decision-makers to assist families in such day-to-day disputes. While these families frequently return to court, the court system is incapable of handling the types or frequency of problems that these families bring. Instead, they require the assistance of a decision-maker who acts on behalf of the children. This person is empowered by the family and the court to act on behalf of the children and resolve conflicts in an expeditious manner. If neither parent has control, both can relax their fear of being taken advantage of by the other. While each parent may periodically become frustrated with the decisions of the neutral decision-maker, each parent usually trusts that person more than the other parent.
It appears that there are three primary benefits for this role. These include helping families more quickly resolve their differences, unclogging the courts from some of their most difficult families, and helping families with very young children manage the nuances of integrating changing developmental needs of the child into their parenting plan. The major task of the Special Master is to make decisions that help a family stay out of court and keep their children out of the middle of the conflict. Special Masters need to be decisive. Just as young children often have difficulty sharing, divorced parents often have difficulty sharing their children. While the Special Master needs to understand the parents' position and feelings, it is more important for the Special Master to make decisions that are in the child's interest, without taking a lot of time.
2. Parallel Parenting
A second intervention involves parallel parenting. Psychologists describe young children who play next to each other, but interact very little with each other to be in "parallel play". In the same way, parents who parent their children at different times, but who have little or no direct interaction, are engaged in parallel parenting. This occurs when they engage in the same tasks, as long as they have little or no contact with one another.
While much of the divorce literature focuses on co-parenting, in which parents communicate and work with one another to raise their children in a cooperative fashion, high-conflict families fail miserably at this task. Each parent usually thinks his/her style is the only way to parent and is often quite critical of the other. Interactions stimulate the conflict, reducing benefits to the children.
The goal of parallel parenting is to reduce the level of conflict and make sure that the tasks of parenting are accomplished by one or both parents. It is important for parents, in conjunction with the courts and/or neutral decision-maker to specify which parent is responsible for various parenting tasks. Parents need to develop a plan that identifies how each parent will participate in the child's extracurricular activities, help with school work, take care of medical needs, etc. Plans are developed to insure that parents communicate with each other with less conflict. Fax machines and/or e-mail may be used when the conflict is high. Each parent is encouraged to develop his/her separate routine and structure. With such a plan, for example, the child will not be exposed to both parents attending the same field trip and making things miserable with their conflict.
To help these parents disengage and then learn to work together, it can be helpful for the neutral decision-maker to meet with the parents periodically and develop a schedule of the child's activities and each parent's participation in those activities. The Special Master can focus on the process of parallel parenting and help parents to disengage from conflict. Together, they can develop routines for the child and help coordinate a similar routine in each household, schedule times for phone calls between children and the other parent and assist each parent in doing those tasks that each parent does best. With this process, there are no winners or losers, and the child benefits from separate and parallel interaction with both parents, reducing the extent to which children are exposed to conflict. Once a neutral decision-maker is in place, and the process of parallel parenting is assured, parents can detach from each other and reduce the intensity of their conflict.
3. Structured Recommendations
A third important intervention for these families is providing structured recommendations. For high-conflict families, a lack of specificity promotes parental conflict, and conflict breeds insecurity for the children. Attorneys should recommend and the court needs to adopt specific and concrete plans to assist parents in fulfilling the tasks of parallel parenting and reducing the likelihood that they remain engaged in conflict. The more specific these plans are, the more parents can understand the rules and avoid conflict.
These parents need a lengthy and detailed parenting plan, giving less room for each parent to manipulate or feel manipulated by the other. The rules are quite clear. In the event of a dispute, it will be relatively easy for the Special Master to resolve. The recommendation should also include a provision that the neutral decision-maker can make adjustments or modifications in the event of certain situations, such as a family emergency, a special longer vacation, the children's summer schedule, or the needs of one or more family members.
Typically, flexibility is not workable for these high-conflict families without a dispute resolution mechanism such as a neutral decision-maker since flexibility is a breeding ground for new conflict. Parents can feel more comfortable with a structured recommendation if it can be adjusted in the event a specific need arises. For some families, the level of conflict does not get resolved for years. Neither parent trusts the neutral decision-maker, and the use of a neutral decision-maker only provides one more opportunity for engaging in conflict and battles over power and control. Those families will require a very structured court order that leaves little room for dispute, and potential sanctions from the court in the event that either parent violates the order. Those families will have no room for flexibility, unless mutually agreed-upon. In contrast, many high-conflict parents do trust the neutral decision-maker, benefit from a clear and precise order, and are encouraged by parallel parenting. They neutralize their balance of power and reduce the likelihood for conflict to erupt in front of the children. Because the neutral decision-maker can make decisions (e.g., whether or not the child will participate in Little League and how each parent can participate with the child) in a timely way, the child's life is less likely to be halted or disrupted by the conflict.
Developmental Needs of Children
Infants and Toddlers (0 - 3 years)
During this stage, the foundations of basic trust and relationships are formed. In the first year of life, children develop initial attachment(s), a necessary precursor for the development of basic trust. By the end of the first year, receptive language skills are developing and the infant's personality is starting to form. Once a predictable, secure relationship with a primary attachment figure has been secured, the infant begins to separate from that primary parent to form his/her own personality. This process is often referred to as "separation-individuation". During the toddler years, children begin developing autonomy and experimenting with separation, starting to assert themselves. Their emotions are quite volatile. By age three, if all goes well, emotions settle down, language skills are intact, and they are likely to be toilet trained. They are ready for a burst of psychological growth which will take place over the next three years.
Children in this age group require predictability, consistency, and routine. When a divorce occurs during this time, there is a loss which the child cannot understand. This can be pronounced if there is a major disruption in the consistency of the existing primary attachment relationship(s). Symptoms may include regression, problems with feeding, sleeping, self-soothing, and irritability. Some of these children become depressed and withdrawn, especially because they cannot express their loss in words. Separation anxiety for children in this age group can become exaggerated. If one or both parents becomes depressed, which is quite common, basic care may be diminished.
Children at this age are at risk for more serious regression or developmental delays if the basic care giving is lacking due to depressed or disturbed parents. It is not uncommon for young, possibly immature adults (aged 18 - 25) to have babies. Sometimes they never lived together, or they may have separated during the first two years of the child's life. The developmental needs of the children may become impacted by the maturity level of the parents. Rather than the idea of "one psychological parent", or a "primary parent", recent research supports that children can have a hierarchy of attachment figures, all of whom have importance for children in their post-divorce adjustment. Some children do have one primary parent that has attended to the majority of day-to-day needs. Other children may have two or three adults (2 parents and a day-care provider) who have attended to day-to-day needs. Children in this age group need a parenting plan reflecting the following:
  • The child's relationship with a primary parent is of major importance during these first three years of life.
  • Children up to 18 months old need stability and security in the primary attachment relationship(s).
  • Children can develop within normal limits when separated from the primary parent to be with the other parent. This will be affected by the extent to which each parent has been directly involved in the child's life.
  • The attachment(s), parenting skills, and environment are important. Frequent, shorter visits may be ideal. Overnights may need to be limited in the first year of life if there has been one primary parent.
  • With increased capacity for memory and cognition, many children in the group from 18 - 36 months who have had one primary attachment may begin to tolerate and benefit from overnight time with the other parent.
  • It may be difficult to develop a relatively equal parenting plan for children in this age group since there may be too many transitions and disruptions to the primary attachments.
  • The children who do best with relatively equal parenting plans seem to be those children with an easy temperament who have parents that are supportive of one another and exchange their child with little conflict. Children who have disorganized or anxious attachments may need one primary parent. Other key factors are similar routines in each household, relative stability of the transitions, and parents who can communicate about the child and his/her developmental, medical, and emotional needs. This communication must allow the parents to be sufficiently responsive to the child and his/her needs. These parents need to have the capacity to help each other understand the infant, work together to develop routines that are familiar to the infant, collaborate on soothing techniques, help each other as language emerges, and reassure each other in their respective parenting techniques. Such parents must be flexible in their response to the child's changing needs. Such a pattern is used in healthy intact families and if it is used in a separated family, the shared parenting plan will be natural for the child and his/her development.
  • When parents are in significant high-conflict, very young children appear to benefit the most from schedules that resemble their pre-separation patterns of contact with each parent. While neither parent needs to be considered the primary parent, the child needs predictability in his/her environment until the conflict can settle down.
Preschoolers (3 - 5 years)
During this stage, the child is developing a better ability to understand language, relationships, and feelings. Children of this age are making significant progress in their cognitive skills and peer relationships. Sex role identification is developing. If the separation-individuation process has been healthy, children of this age can be expected to expand their horizons, go to preschool and make friendships. These children are often delightful, learning to manage their feelings and being inquisitive about everything. If attachments and care-giving are secure, these children will be ready to venture off to kindergarten with good self esteem and confidence.
On the other hand, preschoolers are at risk for fairly serious regression when attachments are anxious and they do not understand the conflicts of their parents. They may become easily confused and do not understand is occurring around them. Developmental delays and regression in toileting, sleeping and feeding are common. They may experience irritability and clinging behavior. Some children become depressed and withdrawn. Nightmares may become more pronounced. Self confidence may suffer and there can be increases in aggressive and anxious behaviors. Many of the children in this age group worry about their parents and may try to act "perfect". They may do this out of fear or they may be unconsciously taking care of their parents. We may be seeing the early signs of parentified behavior, in which they care emotionally for their parents, ignoring their own needs. A certain amount of this behavior is normal during the early stages of divorce, but when such behaviors are many, or extend for more than a year, this could reflect a more serious adjustment problem for the child.
These children need parenting plans consistent with the following:
  • Continued focus on predictability, routine and structure for the child.
  • Children aged three and older can certainly tolerate overnight contact with each parent.
  • Discipline and routine needs to be consistent in each parent's home.
  • Parents will need to share information about the child and his/her eating, sleeping, toileting, medical, and social / emotional functioning.
  • Children need freedom from direct exposure to parental conflict. If the parents continue to be in conflict, parents might consider using neutral sites (e.g. school or day-care) for transitions and neutral decision-makers.
  • Children in this age group often benefit from longer blocks of time with each parent that enables them to be settled in routines at each home. Many of these children do not do well with frequent transitions.
  • In this age group, parents need to put their needs secondary to the child's. While the non-custodial parent may want longer blocks of time with their younger child, many children of this age still need a primary home. This is dependent on the quality of attachments, whether parents are consistent and relatively free of conflict, and whether the child is experiencing significant vulnerability and stress.
  • There may be situations in which each parent has some pathology or parenting flaws, but each offers the child something the other does not. In those cases, it is important to have a parenting plan that maximizes each parent's strengths while minimizing the extent to which the child is exposed to the pathology.
School - Aged Children (6 - 12 years)
This is an age in which children thrive on structure and routine. Peer relationships are growing, and they are learning to master social rules. Creativity continues to grow and these children are adept at making up games with unique rules. Rules are important as these children focus on fairness in their life. Socialization and being part of a group are important to children of this age. They are learning to better understand and express their feelings and master cognitive and academic skills. They can be quite silly at times and still prefer to play much of the time. They are learning skills in such areas as academics, sports, music, dance, art, etc. Self esteem grows when they function well in school, on the playground, and in the family. It is not uncommon for children of this age to have different relationships with each parent, preferring mom for some things and dad for others.
Divorce brings many challenges to children of this age. Younger school-aged children tend to feel the loss of the family and may experience sadness and crying, often longing for the return of the family unit. Older children in this age-range may be likely to experience anger and use alignment to mobilize self-esteem. Children of this age often feel directly responsible for the divorce, especially if they perceive that conflict focused on them. These children may exhibit multiple symptoms, including tantrums, regression, sleep problems, acting out, behavioral and academic problems in school, withdrawal or aggression with peers, and depression. This is a population that believes in fairness, and wants to please their parents. They feel overwhelmed by their parent's conflict and usually try to fix it, yet they are ill equipped to do so. When a parent is depressed, these children are at risk for parentified behavior in which they emotionally care for that parent.
In extreme high-conflict families, this population may present as asymptomatic on the surface, but feel overwhelmed and vulnerable underneath. These children are at risk for emotional splitting in which one parent is "all-good" and the other is "all-bad". They often feel stuck by the loyalty conflicts and may become emotionally constricted, worrying about their parents. Alignments which were natural in the pre-divorce family become highlighted, increasing their risk of alienation. These children have difficulty maintaining a strong internalized self-image as a result of the conflict. The may become overwhelmed and disorganized, struggling with the different emotions and behaviors of each parent.
It is not uncommon for children to hear one parent blame the other or hear different explanations from each parent for things which they experience. For example, when one parent says, "I don't know why your mother doesn't call you when you're here. She probably doesn't care much for you," and the other parent says, "I called you three times last night, why didn't you call back? Doesn't your dad give you the messages?" this is quite confusing to children, who do not know which parent to believe.
These children need a parenting plan which encompasses the following concepts:
  • A structured and consistent time-share that assures access to each parent, when indicated. Optimal parenting plans range from 35 - 65 % of time with either parent (and thus a primary home) to 50/50 joint physical custody in which the child is with each parent about ½ of the time. While children often express a wish for equal time with their parents, this may simply be to keep things fair.
  • While joint physical custody may be best in a given situation, I believe it requires a degree of consistency and a willingness for the parents to resolve their conflicts away from the child. It also requires the parents to share all of the tasks of parenting and help the child and each other transfer the child's things (school supplies, athletic equipment, etc.) from one house to the other without conflict.
  • The time-share needs to promote each parent's strengths, while giving each parent time alone to recover from the divorce on his/her own.
  • Exchanges need to minimize the extent to which the child is exposed to the conflict. School or other neutral places are excellent transition places between mom's house and dad's house.
  • The parents need a plan for conflict resolution that keeps the children out of the middle. Children should not be messengers or spies for their parents. Communication needs to be by and through the parents, with the aid of a neutral professional when required.
  • To the extent the parents can do it, there should be a plan for co-parenting. For those parents in which the conflict is more extreme, a pattern of parallel parenting and detachment from each other will be optimal.
For those families in which the co-parenting relationship is relatively free of conflict, the children have a strong attachment to each parent and are adjusting well and both parents are relatively equal in their attachments, some form of joint physical custody is often ideal.
However, given the potential for children being caught up in the middle of the conflict, and given the risk of alignment and alienation in children of this age, such a plan will not always work. Instead, when the child is exposed to too much conflict, when the child is not managing his/her stress very well, when the routines in each parent's home are significantly different, or when one or both parents struggles to empathize with the child and maintain healthy parent-child boundaries, the child is likely to need a primary home, with blocks of time in the other parent's home to assure continuity and growth of each parent-child relationship..
Adolescents (13 - 17 years)
The major task of the adolescent is developing greater independence and autonomy from the family. Their separation-individuation process is similar to that of the two-year-old. There can be a tendency to act with oppositional and negative behaviors. Just as with the toddler, adolescents express some resistance and rebelliousness while forming their identity. Healthy adolescents function well in school, have self confidence, and strong peer relationships. They learn to talk with their parents about life goals and they begin to plan for driving, working, and college or vocational school. As a group, adolescents tend to be somewhat moody and reactive in their emotions. They may feel overwhelmed by pressure from their peers, use poor judgement, and be socially insecure. Their ideas, values, and goals are in a state of turmoil and may change considerably over their junior high and high school years. However, these years can be exciting ones as teens grow into productive and idealistic individuals.
However, with this considerable internal adjustment, this is a population at potential risk. This is true for adolescents of intact families as well as with families of divorce. When a divorce occurs at this age, teens worry about the loss of their family life. They tend to feel a blend of responsibility and guilt, and anger for the way it has affected them. Children of this age tend to be self-centered naturally, and the divorce becomes a disruption to them. They may avoid both their parents, especially if the parents are burdening them with loyalty conflicts and adult problems. When there is a pattern of high-conflict, children in this age-group are at risk for persistent academic failure, depression, suicide, delinquency, promiscuity, or substance abuse. With their ability to see things more abstractly, they become much more aware of their parents' flaws. This may lead to a more rapid destruction of their idealized view of their parents, resulting in anxiety and anger. This anger may take a fairly self-righteous stance and adolescents may resist contact with the parent whose flaws have been significantly exposed.
Some adolescents want little or nothing to do with one of his/her parents. This must be understood completely. Sometimes, it is the result of alienation by one parent; sometimes, it is the result of frustration with the conflict; sometimes it relates to the moral indignation of the parent's divorce-related behavior; and sometimes, it is the result of legitimate frustration that has built over a long relationship of pain. When an older adolescent (15 - 17) is adamant about how he/she wants the parenting plan to be, this must be seriously considered. Courts do not want to set up a situation which may encourage an adolescent to rebel (any more than he/she would anyway).
Adolescents need parenting plans which reflect the following:
  • A time-share plan which incorporates a range of possibilities. Many adolescents prefer one primary home, in large part to avoid confusion for their friends. For many of these teens, they will want weekends or evenings with the other parent. Some will prefer a balanced, 50/50 plan with their parents. Much of this will depend on the prior history of the relationships with each parent and the availability of the parents to meet their needs. At times, adolescents use one parent's home to get a break from the other. More than anything, adolescents will often want a say in the parenting plan.
  • Adolescents may require a different schedule than siblings. This can depend on a number of variables, including the adolescent's wishes.
  • A statement about the need for any possible support services such as therapy, substance abuse counseling, tutoring, or other such needs.
  • To the extent this is relevant, statements about the need for the parents to manage their conflicts away from the teen and maintain healthier boundaries with them. To the extent that one or both parents is confiding adult issues to the teen, this should be discouraged.
  • In cases of severe high-conflict, the teen's autonomy and detachment from both parents may be critical. The adolescent may need to find other appropriate supportive adults may also be indicated. These teens may require someone to monitor and assess the ongoing risks.
Children's Reactions to Parental Conflict
The extent of children's reactions is dependent on many variables, including:
  • the age of the child,
  • the intensity and chronicity of the conflict,
  • the degree of violence or fear of violence associated with the conflict,
  • the degree and length of time in to which the child has been exposed to all of the conflict or just fragments of it, and
  • the psychological health of the child.
In general, a history of aggression and conflict in the family has been strongly and consistently associated with emotional, behavior, and social problems in children. While children from these families have more adjustment problems than normally expected, the range for individuals is broad. Kline, Johnston, & Tschann (1991) and Johnston (1994) suggest that a good parent-child relationship can buffer children from interparental conflict. Individual characteristics of the child (e.g. a more adaptable temperament or better coping skills) may help the child be more resilient to the conflict. Johnston (1994) found that "an association between joint custody / frequent access and poorer child adjustment appears to be confined to divorces that are termed 'high-conflict'."
Very young children may be partially protected from the negative effects of conflict because they do not fully appreciate the conflict experience, but even they are susceptible to emotional distress, somatic complaints and regression in their development. Older pre-school children may be more likely to understand the conflicts and the feelings of their parents. Their reactions may include regression, confusion, sadness, low-self esteem and fear. They may avoid peer relationships and withdraw from their care-givers.
School-aged children are much more likely to have a range of reactions, starting with guilt. Children of this age often feel responsible for the conflicts of their parents. They show a greater frequency of externalizing (aggressive or delinquent) and internalizing (withdrawn or anxious) behaviors. This is a group that is highly susceptible to school problems, regression, and poor self esteem (Johnston, Kline, & Tschann [1989]). When there is violence associated with the high-conflict, boys in particular are at risk for delinquent acting out.
Adolescents who have been exposed to conflict and violence tend to be aggressive and have multiple behavior problems, including truancy, problems with authority, and revenge-seeking behaviors. They are at risk for drug abuse, promiscuity, social alienation, delinquency, and school failure. They may attach to destructive peer groups and gangs as a substitute for the family. Internalizing adolescents may feel suicidal, emotionally constricted, and numb to the pain that they feel.

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Apr 16 12 2:11 PM

7 Signs of narcissistic control-freaks

By Ben | February 5, 2009
Narcissistic control-freaks rule!  They think.
Some narcissistic personalities are so over the top that it’s easy to detect them.  You’ll follow your gut reaction and get away as fast as you can.
But watch out.  If you’re not careful, stealthy narcissists will take over your life – at home, in relationships, at work.  Are you sure you can detect the stealthy ones?
Seven warning signs of bullying, controlling narcissists are:
  1. They think they know best about everything.  They know what’s best for you; just ask them.  They give you advice and make your life miserable if you don’t do what they say.  They point out all your mistakes and failings.  They’re spouses, relatives or friends who could direct your life better than you can.  They’re yelling, threatening, demeaning bosses.  Their absolute certainty seduces you into self-doubt and self-bullying.  You become unsure of your own judgment and wisdom so you might as well follow theirs.
  2. Their excitement is contagious and sweeps you along.  Whether it’s for a new product, career, love interest or activity, it’s the best and greatest – even if it’s the opposite of what they thought 10 minutes ago.  You should jump on board if you know what’s good for you.
  3. They think they don’t have anything to learn.  They’re new employees or interns who know everything and don’t need to learn from people who are already doing their jobs well.  They’re nit-picking, micro-managers.  They’re children or teenagers who won’t practice or learn, who won’t do anything the way other people say is best.  They insist on doing it their way, even though they fail repeatedly.  They won’t listen; especially when they’re failing.
  4. They’re more important than you are.  Actually, they’re more important than the rest of the world.  Their feelings are so intense that you’re too polite or afraid to upset them by trying to make your feelings or opinions matter.  Their feelings get hurt easily and are powerful justifications for anger, retaliation and revenge.  Their jealousies, issues and concerns (not yours) become the focus of all interactions.  Their desires – for promotions, toys they want, relationships they want, enemies they want to get – are the most important things and they’re entitled to get what they want.  They’re controlling, stealth-bullying husbands.  Your time – actually, your whole life – should be devoted to their needs (wants, whims).
  5. Everyone is a pawn in their game.  You have value only as long as you can help them or worship them.  They’re selfish, arrogant, demanding teenagers, spouses or dates who think they should be catered to or waited on.  Anyone who doesn’t help or who gets in the way becomes the enemy.  You’re afraid that if you disagree or distance yourself, they’ll strike back at you.
  6. Their excuses, excuse.  Their reasons are always correct and are enough to justify what they do.  If you don’t agree, you simply don’t understand or you’re evil.  Their jealousies, anger and hatred are not bad characteristics – like other people’s jealousy, anger and hatred.  Self-deluded narcissists (aren’t they all, by definition) think they’re merely feeling, thinking and doing what any normal person would feel, think and do.  They’re saints in their own minds.  You’d better agree or else.
  7. Their rules, rule.  They know how the world should be and how people should act.  They’re allowed to do anything they want – to take, attack or strike back in any way they want – but everyone else should be bound by their rules.  If your feelings are hurt by what they’ve said or done, it’s your fault and your problem.  They are virtuous and righteous.  They’re great debaters or they simply talk so loud and long that you give in.
In order to thrive, we all need some of these characteristics some of the time.  Narcissists have them all and they won’t give them up.  They’d rather dominate than succeed or have relationships that bring out the greatest in everyone.
Take a look at yourself: What attracts you to someone who is sure they’re important, they’re right and your life would be better if you do what they say or if you serve them?
Kind-hearted therapy-junkies in families or in the workplace think they can convert these selfish, self-absorbed bullies by loving them enough, by appeasing them or by educating them.  Forget it.
You’re never going to change them.  They’re bullying, control-freaks.  Get the coaching you need to get away as fast as you can.  You don’t need their direction.  Don’t ask for or even allow them to give their opinions.  Make your own mistakes and create your own successes.
Ignore your self-bullying; that little voice that doesn’t like you, that tells you that narcissists might be right.  If you don’t trust your own guts you’ll get sucked in, just like you would into a black hole.
As I show in my books and CDs of case studies, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks,” “Bullies Below the Radar” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” bullies, including narcissistic personalities, are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same.  That’s why we can find methods to stop most of them.  If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey.  Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.

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