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The children of narcissist - I am one
August 17, 2005
4:39 am
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garfield9547
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The Children of Narcissists
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Many say that narcissists' children are likely to marry narcissists. While I see where this idea comes from and have seen it happen myself, I have not observed any "co-dependence." That's a fancy word for being a glutton for punishment.

The truth is more complicated than that. Also, let us not forget that we are talking about normal people. Yes, they typically are meek, too patient, and have low self-esteem. But that does not make them sick in the head. They are also typically strong. Unlike the personality-disordered, they are not machines. They each respond to the influence of parental narcissism in his or her own way.

In fact, I bet research would find that the normal children of narcissists are more likely to never marry. This might depend on whether the narcissistic parent was father, mother, or both and on whether the child is a man or a woman.

I can hear those gears in your head grinding. Does this mean that they are likely to be homosexual? Considering all the Freudian permutations that could be at work, that doesn't seem far out to me. But I don't know of any homosexual children of narcissists. I know of one frigid narcissistic daughter of a narcissist, and I will bet the farm on another. But, I have seen nothing in the normal children of narcissists that hinted at anything but typical heterosexuality. Unless you subscribe to the bigoted myths that all married people are heterosexual, that all single people are frigid or homosexual, and that homosexuality is some mental disease.

There are, however, some other things it is pretty safe to say about the normal children of narcissists.

One is that they are likely to tolerate narcissists. When you grow up with things, you have no way of knowing that they are abnormal. You think that some people "are just like that." You're trained to tolerate it, because to do anything but is a sin. You're even brainwashed into thinking it's your fault. You have no way of knowing that everybody's home is not like yours, that you are growing up in a home headed by somebody who belongs in psyche ward.

If you are a Baby-Boomer, you didn't even get a clue from TV. You grew up watching Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver. Father's role reinforced your narcissistic father's superiority and infallibility by virtue of his age, size, and sex. But since TV fathers came from a different planet than yours, the threshold for suspension of your disbelief was much higher than for other people. Too high. So these shows were not at all realistic to you, and you were fully unaware that the family life portrayed on TV is pie-in-the-sky fiction, meant to idealize rather than portray family life. Therefore, even TV gave you no clue that other families were different, that your daddy sucked and that you had every right to what you craved. TV today is a little better at portraying normal family life, but not much.

Yet tolerance of narcissists is not knuckling under to them. Let's clear up the sloppy thinking that equates the two.

Nobody knows better than the normal children of narcissists that, to survive as a person, you must never let anyone own you. They protect their right to private ownership of themselves, because they know the consequences of letting others make their personal and private choices for them. Such as what to think, how to feel, what to say. They know that letting anybody treat your head as his property, to furnish as he pleases, is moral prostitution that destroys your integrity. They also know that, like any partier who takes over somebody else's house, he is probably going to trash it.

And so, though narcissists ballistically violate every right to privacy they see, thinking their own privacy extends to the outer limits of deep space, the normal children of narcissists are keenly aware of the borders of personal privacy and have fortified them. For example, one narcissist I know of ordered an employee to take the rest of the day off. This was a dirty trick that had successfully gotten other employees to falsely incriminate themselves by obeying the order. But when he tried to thus make up the mind of a narcissist's daughter, he hit a brick wall. She replied, "You can send me home if you want, and if you do I'll go. But you can't order me to take the day off. And I choose not to take the rest of the day off."

Note the willing obedience up to a sharply drawn line she would not let him cross. How do the children of narcissists get so clear about their boundaries and so solid in defense of them?

By surviving a childhood like the story of The Three Little Piggies and the Big Bad Wolf. Each little piggy's house is his person, the private property of his body and mind. Our deepest instincts compel us to not let the Big Bad Wolf just barge in as if he owns the place. Why? Because doing that to another's body is sexual rape, and doing that to another's mind is moral rape, and even little children feel violated by either act. But, unlike the other little piggies, the narcissist's child has learned that when you say no, the Big Bad Wolf huffs and puffs and tries to blow your little house down. So, this little piggy built his of brick.

Note that this is true strength, backbone, integrity, moral purity. It is not the phony strength people of swollen self-esteem think they have. To the contrary, you find it in the modest. Note also that this is responsibility for oneself claimed, not avoided. In other words, the normal children of narcissists are often more grown up than many other people are.

Another thing it is safe to say about the children of narcissists is that, from birth, they have had their self-esteem relentlessly assailed. Abused feelings are tender, sensitive feelings. As easily injured as burned skin. That is just a fact of life, not a moral fault.

So, the children of narcissists are quite sensitive to criticism. It causes them real pain, because it inflames old wounds. To avoid this pain, they are conscientious and try hard to be liked. Since they aim to please, so long as you respect their boundaries, you can easily get them to do anything they do not think is wrong or foolish. Yet they have been trained to feel that something's wrong with them if some intolerant person just can't stand them being the way they are, looking the way they look, feeling the way they feel, or thinking what they think. All this manifests itself as low self-esteem and marks them as sensitive.

Vicious attacks on sensitive feelings and low self-esteem draw far more blood than they would otherwise. So, the normal children of narcissists might as well go around wearing a target with the word VULNERABLE emblazoned on it. On seeing it, every bully in town thinks, "There is somebody I can really hurt" = "somebody I can be really powerful on."

Thus, narcissistic abuse in the home dooms them to life as a target for every bully they encounter. This is one reason why the children of narcissists do marry narcissists — not because they seek narcissistic mates, but because narcissists spot and target them as vulnerable prey. The wolf puts on sheep's clothing and sweeps her off her feet, idealizing her and showering her with affection. Till the honeymoon is over. Then Dr. Jekyll's mask comes off. She was no more likely to fall for this con artist than anybody else. Probably less likely, in fact. But narcissists target the kind of people the normal children of narcissists are.

Often a narcissistic parent targets one child, the most sensitive/vulnerable, to take the brunt of his vaunting abuse. Watching this puts the others through worse hell than his abuse of themselves does. It makes them hate bullying with such passion that they become protective. Hence, they often become altruists. They are unlikely to join everybody else in kissing up to a bully by sicking on whomever he is terrorizing them by making an example of. If the targeted child in their home takes it out on the rest of the world by becoming a narcissist himself, his brothers and sisters feel so sorry for him that they make excuses for him and take his abuse far too long.

Another thing it is safe to say about the children of narcissists is that they have a different view of marriage than other people. For example, the narcissistic son of a narcissistic mother may show no interest in marriage till she is about to die. Then he seeks a replacement for her. The narcissistic daughter of a narcissist may choose to remain single because she "wants no one to own her."

Of course, other factors that vary over time influence marital choices. For instance, half a century ago, being an "old maid" was almost unbearably shameful and made one a social outcast, excluded from social events and the community of friendships that married couples can take part in. It also meant that one would never make a decent living, achieve social stature, or own a home. Though equal rights and the high divorce rate has made society less hostile to the unmarried over time, to this day many employers don't want bachelors.

The normal children of narcissists are nonetheless more careful about marrying than other people are. They have seen nothing in marriage that anyone would want. They dream about "true love," and like most of us, find nothing that fits its description in the movies. They do very much want to avoid the suspicious and critical view society takes of the unmarried, and they want very much to fit in. They also want children. But, the daughters of a narcissistic father, for example, have seen nothing mirrored in their father's eyes for a man to love. So, they doubt professions of love and fear that a lover just wants a wife. They live in fear of a life like their mother's. This ambivalence and caution, through sheer lack of luck, sometimes lead to never finding somebody they trust enough to marry.

Sad? Yes, but not nearly as sad as women who need a man, who view themselves as worth only what they are worth to some man, and who surrender their self-respect to get one. The absence of cupidity is not a vice.

Yet another thing it is safe to say about the normal children of narcissists is that they have probably picked up bad habits in interacting with others. Outwardly, some of these bad habits appear narcissistic. Yet it is easy to tell the difference between a narcissist and a normal person. How? By simply asking him to stop it. The normal child of a narcissist will stop it. (A normal person who is not the child of a narcissist may not be so good about stopping it.) But a narcissist will do it all the more.

This section shows why you should not jump to conclusions about people. There are many more normal children of narcissists than narcissists. So, run that little test of asking him to stop it before you make any judgments.

These behaviors persist through young adulthood. They gradually disappear after the child leaves home, as he gets used to normal people and how things work in the real world.

For example, the child of a narcissist may impolitely enter a room talking to interrupt the extant conversation. He hasn't been taught that this is bad manners. To the contrary, his (dominant) narcissistic parent did that twenty times a day. Also, he has found it so hard to get attention that he feels he must hijack it.

The difference between him and a narcissist, however, is easily demonstrated. If you ask him to stop it, he takes the message deeply to heart. In fact, you will find yourself trying to make him feel less bad about it. His behavior will change. A narcissist's never does. To contrary, if you ask a narcissist to stop doing something, he does it all the more.

Again for example, the only humor he was exposed in his unhappy home was the unfunniness of sarcasm. Life with a narcissist left even his normal parent with nothing to laugh about, except — you guessed it — sarcasm. But again, if you ask him to stop it, he takes the message deeply to heart. Again you find yourself trying to make him feel less bad about it. Again his behavior changes. Whereas a narcissist's never does.

When the child of a narcissist leaves home, it takes a while for his own, natural sense of humor to germinate and grow in a new environment that is not hostile to it. The good news is that, by the time they reach their thirties, the normal children of narcissists often display a sense of humor more witty and charming than that of most other people. Perhaps because they themselves appreciate it so much.

Again for example, the child of a narcissist may not accept praise or compliments gracefully. He is unused to them! Like anything extraordinary in our world, this extraordinary event throws him off balance. He has never learned to simply say, "Thank you."

Like a narcissist, he may protest that he doesn't deserve it. But his reason for doing so is the opposite of a narcissist's. It's not because he feels it would humiliate him to say "Thank you." It's because this praise or compliment conflicts with a long history of judgments against him as being inadequate. He may suspect flattery. This goes with what I said above about the daughters of male narcissists doubting professions of love.

Here again, the difference between him and a narcissist is easily demonstrated. If the other party takes the bull by the horns in the direct approach and responds with, "Why don't you just say 'Thank you?'" or "I am not flattering you. I really mean it" the child of a narcissist ponders his behavior and changes it. A narcissist never does.

The normal parent can do much to ease her child's adaptation to the real world by watching for such behaviors and teaching him to cope with these situations in interactions with normal people. It is as easy as saying, "When somebody compliments you, just say 'Thank you.'"

Garfield - from http://www.operationdoubles.com

August 17, 2005
4:42 am
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garfield9547
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Hi everybody

This article helped me allot on my way in recovery.
Brynnie - This was the article that I have been looking for you.
Enjoy

Garfield

August 18, 2005
11:15 am
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bluewater
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What you've written about the normal child of the N. Is the most accurate description of myself that I have ever read.

Funny thing is,the thought never crossed my mind that one of my parents is a N.

I married a N, two of my children show tendencies, I'm currently investigating the possibility of at least one sister being N. My maternal grandfather was full blown, but I hadn't considered my parents.

Is it possible to be exactly like the above description without having a N parent?

If not, is it important for me to figure out which one?

Could they both be N. Do N's marry
eachother?

My son is just like me. He's fourteen, could this already be a result of early years with his dad?

August 18, 2005
12:06 pm
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Hi Bluewater

They say we tend to marry our mothers emotionally. Think of your mother and also father. Look at why you married the guy you did.
I struggle with emotions. Totally dead.
My firstborn has definately been effected by me in her first 3 years. After that I had a change of heart and therapy. I can still see alsthough this is 8 years ago that I need to help her with her emotions. Her sister is 2 years younger but more mature emotionally. I am on my way out and would definately post you again on this. Tomorrow. Hi also look at your previous mother in law and you. EMOTIONALLY if there is something the same about you. Hard to realise,

Garfield

August 19, 2005
2:09 am
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garfield9547
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Hi Bluewater

I do know they say the traits of normal child of a N and that of a alcoholic parents (those children) are very simmilar.
How do you see your mother? What defines her for you? And your father. Do you have a lot of contact with them?

Garfield

August 19, 2005
6:10 am
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bluewater
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When I was a child my mother was emotionally detatched. I remember once when I was about three or four she colored with me. We laid on the living room floor, I colored the picture on the right, she colored a bird on the left.

That's the only intimate interaction I can recall until I was about thirteen when she had a "make up demonstration" and the salesperson used me as a model. I was looking at the results in the mirror and she came up behind me and told me how nice it looked.

When I was little the interaction we had consisted of washing, dressing and feeding.( all three excessively)

When I got older our communication revolved around her telling me the work I had to do in the home and flying into a rage when it wasn't done right, or critisizing my appearance (brush your hair, sit up straight, lose weight, that doesn't match etc..) I remember trying to talk to her while she did dishes or cooked but she seemed disinterested or annoyed by my presence.

I got good grades and my siblings didn't. On report card day, she'd look at all of them, hand mine back to me and say "good"(monotone no eye contact) then she'd spend the next half hour screaming at my siblings.

She chose my college,( I got a scholarship but wasn't allowed to take it because the school was too far from home)

She planned my wedding (I wasn't allowed to invite my friends because it cost too much, but hers were there)
To this day she dictates the happenings of the family. I have gone my own way emotionally but she and my dad live very close.

When I had children she came out of the wood work with a sudden and strange exadurated interest in my life. I remember commenting to my husband that I never realized she was not attentive to me until I had children and she began to take interest in them.
Recently one of my sisters got married across country. As I have a family of five it seemed impractical for all of us to go. I told her we would not be going and she made comments for weeks along the lines of "let me know what you decide..." as though I hadn't yet communicated my decision.
Eventually she made the travel arrangements and we ended up going much to our inconvenience. That was the eye opener for me.Because it caused such disruption in the lives of my children. (they all missed very important end of school activities, eighth grade graduation, dances, finals, honors banquet etc...)
I spoke up about it , that was in June. We've had a few similar instances since and now the extendeds are involved, (sister and aunt.) My sister has taken it upon herself to inform me of my charactor faults frequently and without grace.

She and my mother have been discussing me at lengths and pretending not too, until I began to notice details that they both knew and I had only shared the info with one.
I confronted them both.They denied it and later my mother admitted that she'd lied, she had talked to sis about the issues that we were trying to resolve but according to her she had "set boundaries and told sis she didn't want details."

I find myself feeling suspicious of both of them as though I am an unsuspecting object of calculated attack. Aunt, mom and sis have been calling me more these past two months than in ten years.I can't help but think that they are collecting amo for their gossip sessions and/or scheming to manipulate prevention of my "escape" from their twisted family system.
For generations our family has run in a communal parenting mode, aunts, grandparents uncles everyone is right and just in asserting authority over the week, whether they are children or passive adults.
When I explain my side they ignore my voice and the outcome is as they desired.

Over the last three years I have come out from under the domain of a narcissistc spouse and an extreme religious group, now I am finally becoming the person I always hid from others, I've lost forty pounds and acheived success and acknowledgementin my field.When I told my mother of my first acheivment she had no comment then proceeded to tell me of the many acheivments of her other offspring.
When my sister was the subject of a magazine article she bought copies and passed them out to every one she knows.
I got a job writing for a magazine she never mentioned my work. So as not to brag I didn't either. After nine months I began to talk about the various articles I'd written she casually commented as if reciting a to do list "I'll have to subscribe to that"
My mom has six kids of her five daughters I am the quiet do gooder. the others are much like her.The sixth is a son.
She broke her leg on tuesday. It was a bad break she was in great pain and vommiting all day from the narcotics. My aunt called me and said we need you to take care of your mother and I did gladly.

My other sibling (in their thirties) are still cared for by her and dad.

I cared for my sick grand father. Sister was no where to be found because she said hospitals creep her out. When He died I asked for nothing( I needed a dining room set and had been shopping for one. Common family knowledge.)

My fridge broke coincedently the next week. So i asked my mom for his. She said "sure but we're not emptying the house yet." When they got around to emptying the house sis who could not stand hospitals got his expensive mahogony dining room set.
I asked for the fridge and mom said "Oh I gave it to the neighbor because she was nice to grandpop"
The list of like instances goes on. I usually let things go but what's getting to me these days is the attack on my character.

If i defend myself with one of the above stories or any other petty example to prove i am not the meddling controlling selfish greedy sabatoging extortioist that I've been called, I am told i am pittying myself and I think the world is out to get me.

When i say I need my distance from them they freak out yet when I associate with them they either ignore or critisize me.

I thought I was crazy because I didn't realize anyone else could be so off the mark I thought I must be reading the situation wrong.But all the info I've learned over the passed few days on the Narcissist and family is helping greatly.

August 19, 2005
9:26 am
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garfield9547
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Hi Bluewater

Your mother is definately a big N. I will explain everything. It is now 3.25 here in the afternoon. We get the internet very cheap over weekends, but from 7 at night until 7 Onday morning. I will e-mail in say 3.5 hours. Thanks for the post

Garfield

August 19, 2005
11:20 am
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revelation
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Hello All,

I too am the daughter of an N mother. She has slightly mellowed in her old age, but my god, did she put me through hell as a child and especially as a teenager.

I am mostly healed from the hurt now, through many years of self-help, counselling groups etc I have come to terms with the way she treated us as have my siblings. Its the learned behaviour that I am struggling with now. I am codependent, I have attended therapy sessions for this, what I have found, was that my Dad was also to blame as he tended to use me as a shield against her. I found this article very useful. I believe that my learning curve is far from over, I am engaged to be married to a lovely man, who also had quite a difficult childhood. We both really really want to erase the mistakes our parents made by raising our own children in a loving home. I believe this will be the only way to break the cycle.

Thanks for sharing your stories.

Rev.

August 19, 2005
12:18 pm
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sdesigns
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Gosh, Garfield, thank you for posting that. It brought things up that I had never thought about and explains so much. I had never been able to quite figure out my mother but this cleared up so many things. My mother's behavior is quite like Bluewater's. She has always treated me as if she resents me, no compliments, and would deny me things to be hurtful.

I too have few memories of intimacy w/ her. I have a memory of her once complimenting me on something I had drawn as a child, she asked if I had traced it, and when I said no, she said it was good. I always had exceptional grades, was an overachiever and still would not get praise from her.

When my maternal grandmothers sister died (my great aunt) my mother gave her cedar chest to my yoounger sister. I was hurt by that.
So when my maternal grandmother died I thought she would give me her cedar chest. When I asked about it she said she was giving it to my father. Huh? What in the world would he want it for? She was just being mean and hurtful. My grandmother told me before she died that she wanted me to have her wedding ring. My mother refused to give it to me. In fact when my grandmother died, no one even called me to tell me. I now have little desire to have any family heirlooms. They have no value to me.

I have never married and my feelings match those as described in the article. I never had children as I was afraid I would treat them as she treated me and I knew that was wrong.

This is giving me much to think about but it helps me to understand so much. thank you again so much for posting this. SD

August 19, 2005
12:28 pm
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revelation
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Hi SD,

I think someone could probably write a book about N's and there gift-giving habits (or lack of).
There are a lot of gift-giving stories I have about my mum, and they seem to sum her up, more than any other incidents do.

The most recent occurance of this bizarre behaviour, was a few months ago, when my aunt (My mothers sister, who she didn't speak to for years) was dying in hospital, my lovely aunt was in agony, going through the final stages of ovarian cancer, we all knew that she wouldn't be leaving the hospital this time. My mother went to visit her, my aunts family allowed this under the circumstances as they felt my aunt would like to see my mother before she died. Mum appears up at the hospital, with a gift, a sparkly necklace and some dangly earrings for my aunt. Turn out they were an unwanted gift she had lying around her bedroom. and she gives this wholly inappropriate gift to an incapacitated frail woman with great flourish. she seems to swing from thoughtless and indifferent, to grand gestures, it puzzles me, but it sums up her life really.

August 19, 2005
1:51 pm
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Hi Bluewater, Sdesigns and Revelations

I am so glad you all found something for yourself in the thread I posted.
I am also active on the N site of Sam Vaknin. Msn.com They have a support group. The one is general, stay or leave and N relatives. If any of you would go to N relatives and read the thread's you would be amazed. Almost everybody had a N mother. I had a N father and a immature enmeshed mother. I had to be her mother.
They say if your mother is the N it can be devastating. No compliments and denying
Every girl needs to mirror from her mother to grow emotionally to know how to be a women.
If your mother say resents you (the one that gave birth to you) you would resent yourself. No compliments, you would not be able to except a compliment from others in a natural mature way. The list goes on and on.
I have been working very hard on myself to get my emotions back that was stolen from me in childhood.
Being treated as an object by my father, same as bluewater with the 'make-up demonstration'
We are not seen for who we are.
There are so many kinds of N's.
The psychologist cannot belive that I ever got married. My biggest challenge in life is to raise my kids emotionally healthy. I am very critical on myself. I think I married to get out of THE HOUSE OF HELL.
Garfield

August 19, 2005
2:05 pm
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Hi Blue, SD, Rev & Gar,

Living with N. is treatable. I do not know if my mother is N. officially. But she is very difficult person to live with (unemotional, unaffirming, critical, does not forgive easily). I or we had to tolerate her behavior throughout all my/our life.

A great grief has been lifted off my back the moment I forgave my mom. It was not easy, I managed to do it thru God's grace. Hence, it is treatable!!! Big Rainbow Smile:)

((Hugs & Kisses to U ALL))~RAS~

August 19, 2005
2:49 pm
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garfield9547
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Something interesting - Sam Vaknin Site

He does not require – nor does he seek – his parents' or his siblings' love, or to be loved by his children. He casts them as the audience in the theatre of his inflated grandiosity. He wishes to impress them, shock them, threaten them, infuse them with awe, inspire them, attract their attention, subjugate them, or manipulate them.

He emulates and simulates an entire range of emotions and employs every means to achieve these effects. He lies (narcissists are pathological liars – their very self is a false one). He acts the pitiful, or, its opposite, the resilient and reliable. He stuns and shines with outstanding intellectual, or physical capacities and achievements, or behaviour patterns appreciated by the members of the family. When confronted with (younger) siblings or with his own children, the narcissist is likely to go through three phases:

At first, he perceives his offspring or siblings as a threat to his Narcissistic Supply, such as the attention of his spouse, or mother, as the case may be. They intrude on his turf and invade the Pathological Narcissistic Space. The narcissist does his best to belittle them, hurt (even physically) and humiliate them and then, when these reactions prove ineffective or counter productive, he retreats into an imaginary world of omnipotence. A period of emotional absence and detachment ensues.

His aggression having failed to elicit Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist proceeds to indulge himself in daydreaming, delusions of grandeur, planning of future coups, nostalgia and hurt (the Lost Paradise Syndrome). The narcissist reacts this way to the birth of his children or to the introduction of new foci of attention to the family cell (even to a new pet!).

Whoever the narcissist perceives to be in competition for scarce Narcissistic Supply is relegated to the role of the enemy. Where the uninhibited expression of the aggression and hostility aroused by this predicament is illegitimate or impossible – the narcissist prefers to stay away. Rather than attack his offspring or siblings, he sometimes immediately disconnects, detaches himself emotionally, becomes cold and uninterested, or directs transformed anger at his mate or at his parents (the more "legitimate" targets).
Garfield

August 19, 2005
3:27 pm
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revelation
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Hi,

I was very active on Sam's site for some time, since 2003 actually on and off, however, the last time I was on the site, Sam was away and there was a lot of trouble, some accusations were made of multiple posters, and I think my screen name got included, not sure why, I think because I was Irish, and so was another ex-poster who had apparently caused some trouble. So, I stopped posting there, as I felt that some of the posters were extremely hostile and were paranoid that I was a fake poster.

My screen name was "mamasgirl" by the way.

xx,
Rev.

August 19, 2005
3:47 pm
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Hi Revelation

Sorry to here about this. It must have been terrible.
I am at this stage of my life trying to get away from it. It is as if i am addicted to the site.
Also it has opened the world to me as to what was wrong in my family.

Garfield

August 19, 2005
4:01 pm
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garfield9547
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Emotional abuse

The attorney and author Andrew Vachss has devoted his life to protecting children. We asked Vachss, an expert on the subject of child abuse, to examine perhaps one of its most complex and widespread forms—emotional abuse: What it is, what it does to children, what can be done about it. Vachss' latest novel, "Down in the Zero," just published by Knopf, depicts emotional abuse at its most monstrous.

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I'm a lawyer with an unusual specialty. My clients are all children—damaged, hurting children who have been sexually assaulted, physically abused, starved, ignored, abandoned and every other lousy thing one human can do to another. People who know what I do always ask: "What is the worst case you ever handled?" When you're in a business where a baby who dies early may be the luckiest child in the family, there's no easy answer. But I have thought about it—I think about it every day. My answer is that, of all the many forms of child abuse, emotional abuse may be the cruelest and longest-lasting of all.

Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child's self-concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.

Emotional abuse can be as deliberate as a gunshot: "You're fat. You're stupid. You're ugly."

Emotional abuse can be as random as the fallout from a nuclear explosion. In matrimonial battles, for example, the children all too often become the battlefield. I remember a young boy, barely into his teens, absently rubbing the fresh scars on his wrists. "It was the only way to make them all happy," he said. His mother and father were locked in a bitter divorce battle, and each was demanding total loyalty and commitment from the child.

Emotional abuse can be active. Vicious belittling: "You'll never be the success your brother was." Deliberate humiliation: "You're so stupid. I'm ashamed you're my son."

It also can be passive, the emotional equivalent of child neglect—a sin of omission, true, but one no less destructive.

And it may be a combination of the two, which increases the negative effects geometrically.

Emotional abuse can be verbal or behavioral, active or passive, frequent or occasional. Regardless, it is often as painful as physical assault. And, with rare exceptions, the pain lasts much longer. A parent's love is so important to a child that withholding it can cause a "failure to thrive" condition similar to that of children who have been denied adequate nutrition.

Even the natural solace of siblings is denied to those victims of emotional abuse who have been designated as the family's "target child." The other children are quick to imitate their parents. Instead of learning the qualities every child will need as an adult—empathy, nurturing and protectiveness—they learn the viciousness of a pecking order. And so the cycle continues.

But whether as a deliberate target or an innocent bystander, the emotionally abused child inevitably struggles to "explain" the conduct of his abusers—and ends up struggling for survival in a quicksand of self-blame.

Emotional abuse is both the most pervasive and the least understood form of child maltreatment. Its victims are often dismissed simply because their wounds are not visible. In an era in which fresh disclosures of unspeakable child abuse are everyday fare, the pain and torment of those who experience "only" emotional abuse is often trivialized. We understand and accept that victims of physical or sexual abuse need both time and specialized treatment to heal. But when it comes to emotional abuse, we are more likely to believe the victims will "just get over it" when they become adults.

That assumption is dangerously wrong. Emotional abuse scars the heart and damages the soul. Like cancer, it does its most deadly work internally. And, like cancer, it can metastasize if untreated.

When it comes to damage, there is no real difference between physical, sexual and emotional abuse. All that distinguishes one from the other is the abuser's choice of weapons. I remember a woman, a grandmother whose abusers had long since died, telling me that time had not conquered her pain. "It wasn't just the incest," she said quietly. "It was that he didn't love me. If he loved me, he couldn't have done that to me."

But emotional abuse is unique because it is designed to make the victim feel guilty. Emotional abuse is repetitive and eventually cumulative behavior—very easy to imitate—and some victims later perpetuate the cycle with their own children. Although most victims courageously reject that response, their lives often are marked by a deep, pervasive sadness, a severely damaged self-concept and an inability to truly engage and bond with others.

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We must renounce the lie that emotional abuse is good for children because it prepares them for a hard life in a tough world. I've met some individuals who were prepared for a hard life that way—I met them while they were doing life.
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Emotionally abused children grow up with significantly altered perceptions so that they "see" behaviors—their own and others'—through a filter of distortion. Many emotionally abused children engage in a lifelong drive for the approval (which they translate as "love") of others. So eager are they for love—and so convinced that they don't deserve it—that they are prime candidates for abuse within intimate relationships.

The emotionally abused child can be heard inside every battered woman who insists: "It was my fault, really. I just seem to provoke him somehow."

And the almost-inevitable failure of adult relationships reinforces that sense of unworthiness, compounding the felony, reverberating throughout the victim's life.

Emotional abuse conditions the child to expect abuse in later life. Emotional abuse is a time bomb, but its effects are rarely visible, because the emotionally abused tend to implode, turning the anger against themselves. And when someone is outwardly successful in most areas of life, who looks within to see the hidden wounds?

Members of a therapy group may range widely in age, social class, ethnicity and occupation, but all display some form of self-destructive conduct: obesity, drug addiction, anorexia, bulimia, domestic violence, child abuse, attempted suicide, self-mutilation, depression and fits of rage. What brought them into treatment was their symptoms. But until they address the one thing that they have in common—a childhood of emotional abuse—true recovery is impossible.

One of the goals of any child-protective effort is to "break the cycle" of abuse. We should not delude ourselves that we are winning this battle simply because so few victims of emotional abuse become abusers themselves. Some emotionally abused children are programmed to fail so effectively that a part of their own personality "self-parents" by belittling and humiliating themselves.

The pain does not stop with adulthood. Indeed, for some, it worsens. I remember a young woman, an accomplished professional, charming and friendly, well-liked by all who knew her. She told me she would never have children. "I'd always be afraid I would act like them," she said.

Unlike other forms of child abuse, emotional abuse is rarely denied by those who practice it. In fact, many actively defend their psychological brutality, asserting that a childhood of emotional abuse helped their children to "toughen up." It is not enough for us to renounce the perverted notion that beating children produces good citizens—we must also renounce the lie that emotional abuse is good for children because it prepares them for a hard life in a tough world. I've met some individuals who were prepared for a hard life that way—I met them while they were doing life
Garfield

August 19, 2005
4:28 pm
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sdesigns
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Hi Garfield: Once again, thank you for this additional post. It is so relevant to me. It is hard to love myself and think of myself as lovable when as a child you I was told and shown that I was not. As an adult I understand the concept but it is hard to change the feellings I have about myself. I am seeing the light though. I can't believe how these 2 posts of yours have opened my eyes. Much to think about. Thanks again. SD

August 19, 2005
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When my paternal grandmother died, my parents gave my younger sister her weding ring. My sister wasn't even born when my grandmother died. Many years later when I had the nerve to mention it, my parents gave me a chocolate set for Xmas that had been my grandmothers to supposedly make up for it. I have never taken it out of the box.

Also my maternal grandmother and great aunt both had diamond earrings that my mother had always said she was going to give to my sister and myself. I never brought it up in all these years, but once a friend of my sister told me that my sister had hocked some diamond earrings that my mother gave her. I was shocked. My mother gave them to my sister and not to me, and now my sister has pawned off family heirlooms.

It is all very sad that my mother does such things. I just can't let it bother me anymore.

August 19, 2005
4:51 pm
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Hi Bluewater

i am responding to your post earlier.
Washing, dressing and feeding (excessively) All these are external thing. They try to change us and to make us perfect in their world. The message we get is that we are not excepted the way we are. She must always change this because she was not satified. If we are not clean, beautiful etc this may cause them to look bad.So when she CHANGED you in the make-up demonstration she said you looked good. So you would only feel good about yourself if you are changed. Being an object.
Critisizing your appearance, losing weight, brush your hair. This says so much as well. She did not except you for who you are. She was forever trying to change you. How unloved you must have felt. Forever trying to please this mother.Look at her uncontrolled rage. She is projecting on you and the other siblings.
Have you read the article rage, shame and the death of love? On yahoo. Very good.

Your mother is a control freak. She neads to control everybody around her. Your college, wedding etc.
Her friends were there not yours.
INSANE - Just whats important to her her her.
So, she faked emtoions for your children. They are good at this. It is good that you then with this saw her for what she is.
See how controlling she is with your sisters wedding.
Is your sister older or younger than you?
Divorcing your ex N husband and extreme religious group. Did you know that BIG N love church because is acts as a mother figure to them. There they get all the supply the need as well from the members that fall in love with there masks.
You tell your mother of your achievements and she goes straight back to her her her and siblings. N N N N N N N
ALL ABOUT ME ME ME ME ME

Look at your sister and the magazine. She needs everybody to adore her and to praise her. She even buys the magazines for them. SHOOO
You talk about SIX siblings. Your mother broke her leg and they cal YOU. Why?? What about the others.???
The neighbor got the frigde? Insane.

This is to inflict pain. Get away so that you can heal. Keep on writing and reply when you can

Love
Garfield

August 19, 2005
4:58 pm
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Hi Sdesigns

I so wish there was more information on the habits of N when it comes to gifts.
My N grandmother did the same with her children.
She gave her valuebles to strangers, but not to her own.
The also seem to pick on one child and LOVE the other.
They say the firstborn gets allot of the rage. Then the second or middle child sees that. They then go all along with this mother and even become her as to avoid the rage.
Garfield

August 19, 2005
5:08 pm
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Hi Sdesigns - something interesting

Parentification (Learning As A Child How To Not Be Yourself)

People who develop panic attacks were often denied their childhoods. Yes, they were children. But often, they were required to be something else -- usually, adults and parents. This comes about from having to be the one who always helps out - the "strong one". In other words, the person to whom everyone looks in a crisis. Often, the future agoraphobic was the oldest child in the family. Or, there was some other reason she became "parentified": Having to take care of ill or alcoholic parents is a common example. Another is being expected to care for much younger or disabled brothers or sisters. Or, being the homemaker while the mother or father in a single parent family went to work.

The parentified child learns to put aside what she wants to do in favor of what she is required to do. In other words, she develops a "must-oriented" way of living and behaving. She learns to do what she must, not what she wants. She makes responsibility her first priority. Many people even learn to take a kind of pleasure in this. After all, it feels pretty good to have everyone looking to you for help and direction -- especially in a crisis.

Unfortunately, the cost of being the strong one is that one is obviously not allowed to be "the weak one". Or, "the irresponsible one". Or, "the helpless or overwhelmed one". Certainly not the "playful and carefree one". So the price of always being the strong one is learning very well how to put aside being what you are in favor of being what somebody says you should be. During childhood, this costs us the experience of being children -- of having a childhood. It also engrains in us the habit of ignoring what we want and paying attention to what we feel we should do. Ultimately, we have ignored what we want so often that we barely even know what it is.

Another way that pre-agoraphobic children learn to care for others (and not be themselves) is being required by their parents to meet excessively high expectations. Having to always be on the Honor Roll at school is one example. Or having to excel at a particular sport. Pretty soon, the child learns that she "just isn't good enough" unless she takes care of her parents' needs in this or that way. (Of course, what is happening here is that the parent does not feel good herself and is looking to compensate for this by having a showpiece child.)

This situation is a trap for the child. Even if she is actually capable of doing Honor Roll level work, academic performance may just not be her interest. She has no choice, however, because she knows that she will have failed her parents if she does not perform to their expectations. So, she is stuck. And if she does not have the mental equipment to get the A's, she is in an even more impossible bind. Bottom line? She learns that who she is (being not that good at school or being uninterested in academics) is not acceptable. She is unacceptable to her parents and worse yet, since she wants them to be happy with her, she is unacceptable to herself. And here begins a lifetime habit of rejecting who she is or what she wants in favor of what others want her to be. She becomes "a professional doormat" - allowing others to walk all over her because she knows she is no good and the least she can do is try to please others who supposedly are.

This is also the reason that agoraphobics are the best people to have around in an emergency. They are prepared, calm and ready to meet whatever need presents itself. Just as they did as parentified children, they are ready to take care of all eventualities. This is why most agoraphobics have developed their own Emergency Kits without reading these articles. They are ready. For anything.

I can think of no finer example of this than what happened at the Second Annual Phobia Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference was attended by many hundreds of phobic people as well as many hundreds of counselors. It was held in a large, high-rise hotel. On the second day, after I had presented my paper on the sixth floor, I entered a full elevator to go back to the general meeting on the main floor. The elevator contained many agoraphobics and perhaps one or two professionals. Believe it or not, while the elevator was going down, the worst nightmare of any agoraphobic occurred: all the power in the building went out! We were stuck in a dark elevator between floors with no idea how long we would be there! Surely, there would be many people having panic attacks -- right? Wrong! A number of people just dug into their bags and pulled out flashlights, food, bandages and pretty much anything else one could need in that situation.

We were stuck for some 20 minutes. Then the power came on and the elevator brought us down to the first floor. Everyone was laughing and joking about whether this had been planned by someone. But there were no panic attacks. Naturally. The situation was what everyone had trained for all their lives!

This is why I have always said that in an emergency, I would want to be with no one so much as an agoraphobic.
Garfield

August 19, 2005
6:13 pm
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Garfield: I can't tell you what an interesting day this has been, reading this thread. I am the first child so what you said hit home. I had thought that since was mother was adopted she somehow resented me for knowing who my parents were. I am also relieved to hear that this is a characteristic and not just my own mean mother. I've copied and saved these posts. This has been just wonderful learning these things. I'm going to check out that website later too. Thanks!! SD

August 20, 2005
1:37 am
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Hi Sdesigns

It is a wondergul Saturday morning here in my part of the world.
Today i am going out to the nursery to buy plants. I love it.
Enjoy your day.

G

August 20, 2005
1:47 am
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lost and found
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garfield, where in the world is your corner. i am in south georgia. everybody here is tired of plants, heat,and humidity. i am not even looking at plants right now. the heat index here is going to be 110 tomorrow. aaaauuuggghhh!!!!!!

August 20, 2005
1:52 am
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Hi lost and found

I am from Kwazulu Natal in South Africa. Fantastic weather. We do not know what is going on this year, but we have not had winter as yet.

G

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