Margie was devastated when her mother passed away. Her mom was diagnosed with cancer one month and then gone by the next. She had a close relationship with her mom and frequently leaned on her for support in her marriage, parenting her kids, and balancing family and work. The loss left a huge hole in her heart that she tried to grieve but couldn’t.
The day of her mom’s funeral, her husband complained about being sick and asked Margie to go to the pharmacy for him. His “sickness” prevented him from helping her get the kids ready, straighten up the house, and answer phone calls from relatives. The one day she wanted to spend celebrating her mom was overshadowed by his neediness and refusal to assist her. When friends would express remorse for Margie’s loss, her husband would interrupt and talk about how much he was going to miss her. She tried to get away from her husband but she would find her and talk about how bad he was feeling. There was no show of empathy for her.
Years later, during a counseling session, Margie’s therapist pointed out that she had not yet grieved her mother. Within months of losing her mom, her husband got a job change and moved the family from Margie’s childhood neighborhood. Margie was thrust into doing all the arrangements for the move, finding a new place, transferring school records, and establishing their new residence. After that, there was one thing after another that keep Margie from taking the time to grieve. Worse yet, every time she tried, her husband would make things about him. It wasn’t until counseling that Margie realized just how narcissistic he was.
While the narcissism alone was difficult to manage, Margie had not realized how he had prevented her from grieving. Looking back over their marriage, there were other times when Margie had significant emotional responses such as joy, anger, excitement, fear, contentment, and sadness but she never felt the freedom to express herself. As a result, she shut down emotionally and appeared in therapy with a flat affect. How does this happen?
The Narcissism Mask. At the heart of every narcissist is deep-rooted insecurity. Their grandiosity, superiority, arrogance, and selfishness make up the mask the narcissist puts on to hide their pain or fear. This mask makes the narcissist look perfect, charming, engaging, and even entertaining. But it is a façade and they will do whatever it takes to protect it including lying, deceiving, manipulating, and taking advantage of others. However, their insecurity prevents them from caring for their mask alone. Therefore, they need help from others to keep the mask in place. The only help they want is daily attention, affirmation, adoration, and affection. This feeds their ego, protects the insecurity, and solidifies the mask.
The Narcissistic Threat. Any event, circumstance, trauma, or even abuse that could detract the narcissist from getting their feeding is a threat. When their spouse has arranged a gathering of their friends, the narcissist will often throw temper tantrums just before leaving. Knowing they will not be the center of attention at the event, they draw attention to themselves prior to the event. Even though the narcissist has a wonderful time at the event and finds ways to absorb attention, they still repeat this pattern the next time. This is especially true when the event is about their spouses such as a funeral, awards ceremony, or office function.
The Narcissistic Cycle. Any attempts to call the narcissist’s attention towards their selfish behavior will be met with quick abuse such as a verbal assault of name calling – “You’re a …”, a threat of abandonment – “Fine, you can go without me”, or the silent treatment – “I’m not going to say anything.” When their spouse fights back, the narcissist becomes the victim and guilts the spouse into apologizing, acquiescing, and accepting responsibility for the narcissist’s behavior. This is sometimes repeated numerous times before an event. It is an abusive pattern designed to remind the spouse that no matter what happens during the event, it is still all about the narcissist.
The Result. The spouse shuts down. After numerous cycles before, during, and after an event, the spouse concludes that it is better to not express any emotion or even tell their spouse about achievements or successes. Because the narcissist treats all events with the same resistance, drama, and abuse cycle, the spouse stops engaging. This is where the marriage begins to fall apart as the spouse becomes a shell of their former selves. The narcissist has successfully molded a mask for the spouse to wear so they too can share in the façade. Having someone join them in mask wearing is comforting at first but ultimately becomes a new source of jealousy. And so it all begins again with another cycle.
Margie finally got it. She started seeing the cycle, ignoring his threats, calling out his abuse, and refusing to accept his responsibility. More importantly, she began the grieving process of her mom’s death, from the move out of her childhood neighborhood, and from the realization that her husband was narcissistic. It took some time to process all of this but as she did, she got stronger and stronger. Eventually, her strength became unattractive to her husband who moved onto a new relationship and then filed for divorce.
At a family gathering, Susie’s 2-year-old son was happily running around until her mother-in-law pulled out her cane and tripped him. Susie looked on in horror as the grandmother laughed while her son cried from the fall. Then the grandmother yelled at the boy for crying, calling him a crybaby. Susie swept up her son and took him away.
Later her husband asked what happened. Apparently, his mother reported that Susie was being overprotective of their son, she was coddling him, and even gave the mother an evil eye for no reason. Susie’s husband listened to a ten-minute rant from his mother about the multiple faults of Susie before he broke away. When Susie explained what really happened, her husband decided that it was time to act.
As a child, Susie’s husband endured emotional, mental, and sometimes physical abuse from his narcissistic mother. He spent many years in therapy and thought that due to her age and deteriorating physical condition, she would not be a threat to his son. But he was wrong. The tripping of his son followed by the laughter and belittlement was all too familiar. This was not a pattern that he wanted to pass down to another generation.
Susie and her husband decided on new boundaries to keep his mother from repeating her abusive patterns with their children. Here is what they decided.
After a period, these new boundaries became habits for Susie’s family. They did not want to eliminate contact with the grandmother because the grandfather by default would be punished as well. Rather, they set firm boundaries and openly discussed the narcissism between them so the attacks had little to no effect.
It wasn’t until Tabitha had dinner at a friend’s house as a teenager that she realized there was something odd about how her family handled food. At her friend’s, there was food with a variety of healthy and even some unhealthy snacks. Her mother didn’t have a lock on the “special food” so no one could have access. Their mealtime was engaging and fun with everyone participating in the conversation. There were no snide remarks about eating too much or being forced to eat seconds. It was an enjoyable experience.
But it wasn’t until years later, when Tabitha realized that her mother was narcissistic. Still, she didn’t make the connection between narcissism and food until she had her own family meals. And then, it struck her: her mother’s narcissism translated into an unhealthy obsession with food. This explained so much about Tabitha’s own anxious journey with food. The unhealthy food rules she grew up with were an extension of her mother’s controlling and manipulative behavior. Here’s how.
It’s not hard to see how Tabitha came to view food as a weapon of control from her mom. She used food to manipulate others, demand attention, dominate her family, and justify her selfishness. Now as a mom herself, Tabitha made a concerted effort not to repeat any of the unhealthy patterns of food preparation and consumption.
No matter what the profession, if a boss has this personality combination, they are terrifying. The Dark Tetrad is composed of four parts: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. Sadism is the addition to the Dark Triad which has narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. For either condition, this means a person possesses the characteristics of all of these personalities.
The Dark Tetrad shares two major characteristics: extreme selfishness and a lack of empathy for others. This combination affords the ability to cause harm and abuse others in a variety of ways without any regard for the feelings, safety, or morality of the victims. As bosses, they are focused on dominance and power often using aggression, manipulation, exploitation, and vindictiveness. All behavior is justified if it grants them what they want, including criminal acts.
Narcissism. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a DSM-V diagnosis. Generally speaking, they are superior, grandiose, demanding, prideful, boastful, arrogant, and self-centered. They need and expect constant admiration, attention, and affection. They can be abusive when threatened or their needs aren’t being met. The disorder is both inherited and developed in childhood.
Machiavellianism. Prince Machiavelli wrote the Italian book The Prince in the 1500s. It outlines a political philosophy on how rulers are to govern their subjects. Machiavellianism is the adaptation of this philosophy into a personality and as such is a personality construct not a disorder. Therefore, it is not inherited; rather it is a learned behavioral pattern. Machiavellians are manipulative, exploitative of others, cynical, deceptive and believe it is better to be feared than loved. Unlike Narcissists, they do not make exaggerated claims about their significance or accomplishments. Unlike Psychopaths and Sadists, they are too calculating to risk vengeful or cruel behavior unless there is a specific gain.
Psychopathy. Psychopaths are under the Anti-Social Personality Disorder umbrella listed in the DSM-V along with Sociopaths and Sadists. A psychopath has the ability to create an entire persona in direct contrast to who they really are. They are very calculating, callous, without a conscience, pathological liars, remorse-free, and dangerous. Their personality is both inherited and developed through a traumatic and abusive childhood. Psychopaths, unlike Machiavellians and Narcissists, can instantly read the emotions of others and calculate how to use it to their advantage without any emotional response. They have no problem hurting others, but it is always for a purpose, unlike Sadists.
Sadism. Sadists are a part of Anti-Social Personality Disorder now. In the past, they had a separate diagnosis under the old DSM formats. The name Sadism comes from Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) a French philosopher and writer. His works combined philosophy with sexual fantasies and violent behavior. Sadists are individuals who crave cruelty. It is not clear whether this behavior is inherited, developed or learned. Not all sadism is sexual or involves killing, rather it is about inflicting pain on others that Sadists find exciting or pleasurable. Unlike Psychopaths, they are not as calculating about the abusive behavior, instead, it is all self-pleasuring.
Identifying. Jonason and Webster devised a quick scale called the Dirty Dozen which can help to spot a Triad boss. Each item is rated on a 7-point scale as it applies to the person.
The higher the score, the more likely the person is a Triad. Unfortunately, there is no scale yet to measure the Tetrad, as Sadists can be difficult to spot.
The bottom line is: a boss with these characteristics can and will make work hellish. It is better to work in a lesser occupation than to put up with the abuse on a daily basis.
Megan and Ryan decided to go to marriage counseling after their last fight resulted in the police being called. After being married for 7 years, the marriage was falling apart, and Ryan now had a police record for domestic violence as a result.
The conflict did not start with Ryan hitting his wife, as the arrest record portrayed. Rather Megan was aggressive towards him – throwing things, hitting him, and physically blocking his only exit. In an effort to defended himself and get away from her, he shoved her. But when the police arrived they saw a 6’ tall man, Ryan, and a 5’ tall woman, Megan, so he was arrested.
Desperate to make his marriage work, Ryan reached out for help from a therapist. Megan was more than happy to go to a therapist now that Ryan had a police record as she believed that inoculated her from any wrongdoing. But it wasn’t too long into the session that the therapist identified Megan as a narcissist and Ryan as a co-dependent.
Narcissists and people pleasers are strangely drawn towards each other. While opposites do attract, the bond between these personalities is strong as each unknowingly meets the dysfunctional needs of the other. Here is how:
Distorted perception. Narcissists think of themselves first and very little of others while people pleasers think of others and very little of themselves. Both, however, believe that their way of perceiving is correct. It is not. The neglect of others (narcissism) is selfish and causes unnecessary distance, confrontation and lack of intimacy. The neglect of self (people pleasing) creates unwanted exhaustion, increased anxiety and contributes to a lack of intimacy. Without a balance of self and others, a person cannot be fully intimate.
Driven to rescue. Narcissists and people pleasers love to rescue others however, they do it for very different reasons. Narcissists gain a sense of superiority from saving others because they were able to solve something the other person could not do on their own. In exchange for the help, narcissists demand unending loyalty. People pleasers gain a natural high from the same act as they love to feel needed. This strokes their ego and impression of self as a selfless person. In exchange, people pleasers expect friendship.
Craving admiration. This is the key to both personalities: the need to be admired by others. Narcissists believe they should be adored because of their expertise, superiority, beauty, intelligence, or accomplishments. It does not matter if they have achieved anything special, narcissists believe they are above others and deserve constant admiration. The term “people pleasers” defines the essential need for satisfying others and seeking their approval. Without admiration, people pleasers and narcissists become starved usually resulting in an emotional explosion.
Misguided affection. Affection is not intimacy. Sex is not intimacy. Affection is not sex. However, narcissists and people pleasers are unable to make these distinctions. They see all three as the same thing. Affection is showing tenderness, kindness, and gentleness towards another person. Sex is a physical act which is designed to bring pleasure to both parties. Intimacy is a deep connection between two people where they are equally transparent with one another. Narcissists and people pleasers crave affection but are frequently willing to settle for sex. Often the sex is one way: narcissists seek to satisfy themselves and aren’t concerned with pleasing others. People pleasers want to satisfy the other person and sacrifice themselves. Neither are comfortable being transparent with another person.
Need for control. Both parties have control issues. Narcissists control through demands, manipulation, and abuse. They are often very aggressive about insisting on their own way and expecting others to fall in line because they said so. Controlling others feeds their self-righteous ego. Because people pleasers cannot be seen as aggressive or assertive, they often use others to control through guilt trips, excessive kindness or passive-aggressive behavior. They are masters at concealing the need to control through niceness. They must control others to feed the desire to be liked by everyone.
A pattern of unforgiveness. Narcissists won’t ask for forgiveness instead they expect others to make excuses for their poor behavior. They also don’t grant forgiveness to others, even for the same offense, and instead, tend to be very vindictive. People pleasers grant forgiveness without being asked and ask for forgiveness even when it is not their fault. However, they are unwilling to forgive themselves for similar offenses. This unequal scale for both the narcissist and people pleaser stem from a belief that they are different than everyone else. The narcissist believes they are better and the people pleaser believes they not worthy.
Exposing these areas for Megan and Ryan took considerable time and effort. Both were highly resistant at first because at some level, their dysfunctional relationship worked for both of them. But to achieve the level of healing that they desired in their marriage, this dysfunction needed to be revealed, processed, and eliminated. Once it was done, they discovered a new functional attraction to one another that was far healthier than the trauma bond of before.
There is hardly a day that doesn’t go by in my counseling practice where someone brings up the concept of parental alienation. The problem is that the term is frequently misused. For some, it is a catch phrase used to describe any and all poor parent/child relationships. After all, it is far easier to blame the ex-spouse for the child’s poor behavior than it is to look at one’s self. This article is an attempt to clear up some confusion and answer some basic questions about alienation.
What is parental alienation? Parental alienation occurs when one parent encourages their child to unfairly reject the other parent. The child might display signs of unwarranted fear, hostility, and/or disrespect toward one parent while displaying signs of loyalty, unconditional trust, and/or empathy towards the other. The contrast in behavior, emotional responses, and thoughts towards each parent are dichotomous. The child may or may not be able to communicate logical reasoning for the difference.
What are the variations of alienation? There are three primary ways alienation occurs from the parent’s perspective: naively, actively, and obsessively.
What about the child? Children who are the innocent victims of parental alienation fall into two categories: oblivious and hostage. The oblivious child is unaware of the alienation efforts by the one parent and even when it is brought to light, still defends the parent. However, the hostage child is more aware of the deception but feels powerless to do anything about it. Even when confronted, the child defends the parent, although it is not a believable defense. The hostage child also shows other behavioral problems which often manifest at a school where the child feels freer to release some of the pressure of home.
What parental alienation is not. Having looked at the definition of parental alienation and the different types of parents and children involved, there are some occasions which may appear to be parental alienation, but they are not. The two categories discussed below are child-induced alienation and reverse parental alienation.
What is child-induced alienation? In this case, the child feels unsafe around one parent due to something they have witnessed or experienced. This is usually a traumatic event, abuse (physical, mental, emotional, verbal, sexual, spiritual, or financial), neglect, abandonment, and/or substance usage. The child makes a conscious choice to avoid said parent due to some dysfunctional action on the parent’s part. Even when the “safe parent” encourages the child to engage with the other parent, the child refuses. The child wants no part of the unsafe parent and refuses all efforts to bond or attach to the parent.
What is reverse parental alienation? The parent in an effort to enact revenge on the other parent tries to convince the child of the other parent’s incompetence while also treating the child poorly either through neglect, over-parenting, unfair punishment, and/or abusive behavior. In this case, the parent intends to alienate the other parent. However, it backfires, and they are alienated by the child instead. The child becomes wise to the parent’s methods and often mimics the very same tactics with the parent. This quickly escalates into a hostile home environment in which the child is frequently solely blamed, only reinforcing the child’s growing hatred for the parent. Meanwhile, the other parent doesn’t have to say or do anything because their ex is doing all of the work unproductively.
What can be done? As soon as any of these behaviors are detected in a child, they should be seen by a therapist who understands parental alienation and is comfortable working with both parents in the process. Parental alienation in the obsessive sense is harmful to the child in a long-term situation because it causes the child to trust only the perception of the one parent and not trust the other parent – or worse yet, not trust themselves. This is very damaging to a child who will eventually need to be able to rely on their own instincts in dangerous and fearful situations.
I hope that this article clears up some confusion while generating enough concern that a parent seeks out a neutral party such as a therapist to evaluate the child. Ultimately, it is all about the child and their health and helping to create and maintain the most nurturing environment possible.
As the holidays approached, Heather began to worry about the next encounter with her in-laws. Last Thanksgiving was a complete disaster. After spending days getting their new house ready for the visit, her narcissistic mother-in-law walked in the house and announced, “It’s not that bad.” Heather tried to brush it off, but the comments kept coming.
“Let me help you fix the table,” she said next. Then she proceeded to reorganize the silverware, napkins, and other accessories. She grabbed the flower arrangement that was carefully done and took it apart, changing the vase and rearranging the flowers. “You aren’t going to do the gravy that way, are you?” was the next attack.
Heather tried to swallow the comments but eventually, her mother-in-law wore her down. Finding peace felt impossible. Another couple of comments later, Heather exploded. Now her mother-in-law turned the tables on her and played the victim blaming Heather for ruining the dinner. The rest of the family chimed in until Heather retreated to her room.
Even her husband wasn’t helpful either. His mother had done the comments outside of his ear so when he confronted his mom, she lied about it. Once again, Heather felt alone and isolated during a family holiday. Ironically, this is precisely what her mother-in-law wanted. For her to remain the center of attention, she felt the need to take Heather down and take over control. All the more reason why Heather wanted to do something different this year.
Here are five suggestions for surviving the next family event:
While it may seem like this is a lot of work, and it is in the beginning, in the end, it is worth the effort. Thinking long-term commitment rather than short-term alliance maintains a healthy perspective and a hopeful outcome.
As a science teacher in a public high school, Amanda was well liked by her students. Not only was she young, beautiful, and a good communicator, but she also had a way of interacting with the students that was a bit different yet very effective. Everyone loved her – teachers, administrators, students, and parents – which, in many ways, made her feel like she was above following the rules.
Then one day, when a parent accused her of improper texting with their teen son, some of her comments were found to be sexually suggestive in nature. Even though Amanda was able to explain communicating with the student through a text to administration (she lied and said it was part of the curriculum), which somewhat satisfied the concerned parent, still Amanda was out for blood. Behind the scenes, she went after the administrator that confronted her by spreading untrue gossip just to watch him squirm. And as for the parents, she intentionally engaged in an improper relationship with their son just to get back at them.
What on earth would make someone do this or participate in other, similar behaviors? Ever wonder how a person was able to earn trust so quickly and then exploit it for their own benefit? Perhaps they were someone who stole money, took over a business, or openly violated ethical conduct codes. One day they were considered as a best friend and now for no apparent reason, they purposefully go out of their way make themselves your enemy. And even after the betrayal, it is hard to imagine that this person is anything less than what they initially presented. How were they able to be so deceptive?
Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) is the technical definition for sociopathic and psychopathic behavior. Imagine ASPD as a spectrum where there is evidence of subtle to extreme versions of the behavioral dysfunction. Sociopaths are generally thought of as a milder type than psychopaths. This makes them harder to recognize in the average work environment. So how do they do it?
At any point in the game, this can be stopped. But it usually takes an outsider looking in on the situation to bring about clarity. Sociopaths should be taken seriously and treated as potentially dangerous. If you believe you, or someone you’re close to, may be facing a situation with a sociopath similar to the one described, do not hesitate to seek help.
What is Stockholm Syndrome? Usually the term is reserved for hostage situations referencing a bank robbery that occurred in 1973 in Stockholm Sweden. After spending 6 days in a bank vault, the four hostages refused to testify against their captors and instead raised money for their defense. The term refers to the trauma bond developed between the captor and the hostages in which the hostages feel positive feelings such as empathy for the person that is causing them harm. This allows the captor to not feel remorse for their actions as the hostages don’t hold them responsible.
What are some other examples? One of the most famous cases of Stockholm Syndrome is the kidnapping of Patty Hearst in 1974 who denounced her family name and sided with her kidnappers in assisting them to rob banks. She was given a prison sentence that was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton. Another example is Jaycee Dugard who was kidnapped at age 11 in 1991 and held hostage for 18 years bearing 2 children by her abuser. In her book, she explains the syndrome and how she formed a bond with both of her captors over the years.
Are there fewer extreme examples? Absolutely. A person currently living in an abusive situation often has this condition. This is the reason why many people don’t leave their abuser but instead, continue to hold onto the relationship. In the case of Bailey, she wanted to believe that her father was telling the truth so much that she accepted his assessment of her mental well-being as being crazy when she was not. Her desire to have a relationship with her father meant that she was ignorant of the different types of abuse, justified his abuse in therapy as the result of his childhood abuse and minimized any impact. The result was she honestly believed that she was the problem and not him.
How do you recover? The recovery process requires identification and awareness. This is one of the few times when googling a disorder is helpful. Hearing and seeing examples of other victims brings awareness at another level. It is often easier to see the problem in someone else’s story before identifying it in yours. Once an understanding has been established, rewriting the abuse needs to occur. This is time-consuming and should be done under the guidance of a therapist. A person with Stockholm Syndrome already has a hard time perceiving things correctly and needs professional assistance until a new, more accurate perception is developed.
How do you help someone with this? It is essential to develop a bond of trust that is based on empathy and not judgment. Those looking at the scenario from the outside in are often highly judgmental and critical of the victim’s behavior. The victim is already overloaded with feelings of inadequacy, shame, and guilt that are disproportionately attributed to their actions and not the abusers. To overcome this, they need unconditional love and acceptance and a ton of patience.
After addressing the Stockholm syndrome, Bailey finally began to do better. She no longer allowed her father’s abuse to impact her. Moving out of the house helped and in a short period she was thriving. Without getting the proper help, she might have never been able to achieve this. Be sure that if you or anyone else is experiencing this syndrome or something like it they seek out professional assistance.
The moment Brian first really understood the term Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a light bulb went off in his brain. He spent most of his life thinking he was crazy, lazy, and stupid – three words his father often said about him to other family members and friends. His father also severely and harshly disciplined him, set-up unnecessary competitions in which his dad was the winner, never apologized, showed no empathy even when Brian was hurt, and treated everyone like they were inferior.
For years, Brian struggle with insecurity, anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy. After his business failed, Brain decided it was time to rethink his life, so he began therapy. It didn’t take too long before the therapist identified narcissistic characteristics in his father. Suddenly, everything became clear that the very issues he struggled to overcome were a direct result of having a narcissistic parent.
But knowing this information and healing from it are two different matters. The lack of self-esteem, obsessive thinking, minimization of abuse, excessive anxiety, fear-based reactions, and heightened survival instincts are common among adult children of narcissists. The distorted perception of reality a narcissistic parent imposes on a child has damaging consequences on the adult at work and home. By addressing the impact of narcissism, a person finds relief. Here are the seven steps:
After completing these steps, Brian found it easier to identify other narcissists at work, home, or in the community. No longer did the narcissistic behavior trigger Brian and escalate his anxiety, frustration, or depression unnecessarily. Instead, Brian was able to remain calm and as a result, the other narcissistic person was disarmed because their behavior no longer had an intimidating effect.
Christine reviews the tips and techniques for coping with an adult narcissist child.
Christine introduces the concept of "NAG" with a story of her own client, Sam. She unpacks the symptoms and the 6 stages of NAG which all need to be faced and understood.
Chistine makes suggestions -
What You Can Do If Your Teen Seems Narcissistic
Christine talks about "shame-based" parenting.
Christine explores the challenges facing parents of narcissistic children, and how to cope.
On this edition, Christine unpacks the Passive-Aggressive Personality Traits - they are much like a personality disorder and often show up similar to narcissism
Christine covers trauma bonds, what they are, how to identify them, and how they can effect us in a relationship with a narcissist.
Christine visits with her colleague Nate Webster to discuss dating apps and narcissists, the relationship between this social technology and the behavior of them, and what to watch out for if you are using these apps to find a mate.
Narcissists use shame to control people around them. It is a very real form of emotional abuse. By recognizing these tactics (there are 11 different examples) you will be better equipped to manage through these tactics.
How does a narcissist control you? Christine covers the 5 ways, the tactics they use in a relationship to smear you - understanding these tactics can help you out-maneuver the narcissist.
Hidden shame can show up in the strangest ways, and at unexpected times in any relationship. Christine shares how an individual might lie to cover up their own hidden shame, bury the truth in an effort to protect themselves.
In this ongoing series, Christine Hammond reveals the toxic ways that narcissists can be abusive in relationships and how you can protect yourself from these tactics.