Narcissists, Players, Charlatans, Why do we believe them?

Forty years ago, hundreds of people went to their death in a country called Guyana. Back in 1978, I was a teenage girl in high school and two years later wrote my first paper on the topic of “Religious Cults” which would transform my life. On May of 2011, I published “The Child of the Narcissist,” on my blog post and began working with survivors of narcissism in my practice. There are different phases that I see. One is the denial phase which is when the person has not yet let the person go. Second, is the acceptance phase which is when they are in realization stage and feel angry, frustrated, duped, taken, had, and wonder “How could I have been so stupid?” Or the child of a narcissist will say “Can they be helped?,” or “Am I destined to become this way?” Thirdly, I see the healing stage when they begin to set boundaries and take back their power and their life. The third stage is a place that they will be in the rest of their life because you must always be conscious, mindful and awake when you meet someone that seems to have certain qualities.

The people of Jonestown are no different than a woman who meets up with some guy who is playing her. People who fall for a narcissistic type are vulnerable, desperate and yearn to be loved and accepted. These type of people – narcissists/players/charlatans (parents are a different category because you aren’t choosing them, though this could be argued from a metaphysical perspective), are very aware of their power over men and women. They have learned – from the cradle – that they are entitled in some way. This can be from a self-imposed entitlement to protect themselves (by self-soothing) or an entitlement given to them by a parent. I have known and learned of parents who say their child is perfect and will do whatever it takes to protect them. This takes away from a child learning when they make a mistake. It takes away from a child growing and evolving over time. A friend’s father was a criminal attorney in Los Angeles and he once told me that mother’s would take second mortgages out on their homes, sell their cars, jewelry, whatever assets they could give up to pay his fees and get their kids off. My mother told us that if we went to jail we would rot.  When I watched the movie “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones,” I remember noting that he was engaged in animal cruelty as a boy.

When you read a little of Jim Jones biography online, you learn he was reading about leaders at a very young age such as Hitler and Stalin, all the bad guys who believed in creating what they believed was a utopia and that many people fell prey too. Jim Jones would no doubt have had many more followers today with our liberal movement – in a polarized society – because he was very big on racial equality that was not quite so popular in the 60’s and 70’s.  He adopted kids and called them a “rainbow family,” he hung out in the ghettos of the inner city where he embellished them with empathy and support. He was very much into inclusion vs. segregation. Today’s society would be worshipping a guy like him. Social Media takes advantage of people but it also worships people and generally, it is the one who seems to have the most “likes” for fame or infamy. We don’t care who it is, as long as they seem to “do the right thing.” We are more gullible now than we were then because people were much more suspicious at that time. However, those who were desperate and needy and wanting to be loved and accepted would take what they were offered. They were offered a man calling himself a Reverend. At that time, there were many charlatans on Television, though most preyed on White victims who were gullible. I remember watching a glimpse of these things while flipping channels and thinking to myself how dumb these people were.

Players or Narcissists or Sociopaths that women fall prey to are generally just local yokels that have an allure about them. Most people will think Narcissist and talk about CEO’s or Presidents or World Leaders but the vast majority are just everyday people. Many have no money at all. They just talk a good game. I have seen them on the streets of Oakland and I am not just talking about pimps and drug dealers. I have met a couple in my personal life. Now, I just hear about them in my office. Women give up their money, their families, but most of all; their sense of self. These guys are handsome but not necessarily, the woman feels that there is chemistry, often he “blows up their phone,” which makes the woman think he cares.

First, the guy comes on to them like a shy but clever puppy dog. He seems to lap up their words and embellish them with praises or just appear to be listening. He picks up on certain words or sentences that, at first, seem to show he gets them but later it becomes a weapon. How does this guy have such a great memory? Some of these players will wine and dine at first or at least until the check comes and they realized they have forgotten their wallet and make a feeble attempt for an excuse. A very liberal guy I dated once, waited till the bill came to make me aware he had no chivalry because he believed in women’s liberation. There will be jokey texts that are the beginnings of sarcasm but it seems cute and funny at first “Oh, that is just his personality,” they will tell me. Then the guy begins to push away and this is when the game begins. He is playing this game of cat and mouse, building more and more power with the person. I’ve watched my own cats play with a spider (a hopeless tiny thing) until they finally just kill it and then they walk away – they don’t even eat it.

The woman is really trapped when she tries to play his game. She begins to think she understands him. She spends her waking life thinking about him and wondering how she can get him back. In therapy, I hear long stories about how much she knows him, how two can play that game. It is sad to sit with a victim who is clueless. It is sad to listen to them talk for hours and hours about this person and wonder when they are going to get it (don’t think I just sit there though, it takes time to help a person who is in the throes of a player). I will say to them, “Do you think he is in therapy now talking about you?” or “Do you feel he spends this much time thinking about you all day?”

Stonewalling: when the player has given you way more space than you bargained for and you begin to think you are over him yet you spend every moment wondering. This is the crucial part where I try to talk to women about blocking him and moving forward in their life. It is just a hint to them at first, when they pretend they are ready to move forward. In reality, I know they are not going to block him because every day is a possibility. He knows this too. Especially when the woman needs to share something they found online – just a cute little note “That I know he would like.” This lack of impulse control shows they are now capable of ruining their own lives. They share it; get some snarky comment and the woman takes the bait. Now she is being punished and begins to enjoy it in an unconscious way. She will try harder the next time to say something more meaningful. I wrote email after email trying to profess how liberal I was becoming for a guy once. He continued to tell me I wasn’t liberal enough and wasn’t doing enough.

When you try to hint to a woman that “I hope your spouse doesn’t find these messages, [to the other guy/gal]” and they don’t seem to care this is when it is clear that they are going to get hurt. I had a woman who spent years chasing a guy who spent those same years ganging up on her till she ended up with nothing. She was dumped in another state with no transportation or money to get home, not once but twice. When women are trying to heal or become a survivor the anger is now transferred onto the guy. “How could he do something like that when he knew [x,y or z.” It is not part of a “good person’s” mindset to bring harm to someone. Hence the confusion on the victim’s part.

Jim Jones received accolades before he went to Guyana. In 1960, he was appointed to the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission. He was speaking out on radio and Television interviews. By 1977, he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian award. The NAACP and the Urban League lapped up his praises; especially when he used their own words to play them. At that time, he was a savior to the inner city, just as Hitler had been for the Germans or Stalin and Marx had been for those seeking a philosophy that seemed to indicate a better life than what they had. Still today, people seek out the wisdom of Hitler, Stalin and Marx and many other people.  No matter what travesties these people caused in history there are still some people who continue to argue why they were right. Jim Jones had a collection of people by the time he got them on a plane and shipped them over to a little known county. And this was all before social media. Imagine what he could do now.

Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. There is a difference though between your ego and your instincts. One is a gut feeling and the other is YOU. If it is all happening to soon, too quick, too fast, stall and step away. Don’t think about him, think about your life and what is important to you. If this person’s story doesn’t add up, it won’t – no matter how hard you are trying to make it total. When you are spending too much time trying to protect someone from others, you know they are wrong for you. A person who is right for you will just fit easily into your life. You won’t have to explain anything. No matter how alone you are it is much better to wake up by yourself and know the day is yours than to wake up to a text message that gives you a stomach ache for the rest of the day. Being alone and having a life that is yours is much better than having a life of constant agony. Being able to choose what you will do today is better than having someone choose it for you.

When I wrote my paper on Religious Cults, back in 1980, I was 17 years old. I was about to become pregnant and married to an abusive man. I had lived in a narcissistic household that was both emotionally and physically abusive so, I began as an adult with severe PTSD. I spent years in and out of relationships, some I see were narcissistic, some were good men that I wasn’t ready for and some were just not a good fit. In the meantime, I was in years of therapy. I spent years in college and then university. I went to many self-help teachers and absorbed their lectures. It wasn’t until 2012 when my very good friend and spiritual teacher died that I was forced to grow up and face reality; truly on my own for the first time. I had to be my own teacher with no one to depend on. This is when life took on a new meaning for me. This is when I finally got it. I understood integrity to self; more than ever before. I understood boundaries and my responsibility in making the choices I made. It didn’t mean my life became easy, far from it, but it meant that I no longer settled. It meant that I made choices on my own and didn’t fall prey to others wishes or demands. It means that I am alone and without many friends because integrity can be a lonely life – until you meet people of like minds or those who respect you for who you are. But went I look back at the life I have lived before, I wouldn’t choose that one over this, “a lone” life, for anything in the world. Yes, I wish I had figured this out sooner, so I would have had a different life but I didn’t and I accept that this is where I am meant to be. I accept that the people I am here to teach are those who made choices like me (you can’t con someone who has been conned).

The balance of power weighs heavily on my mind, as it has since I got into the field of psychology. I owe a debt of gratitude to John F. Kennedy University for teaching me about countertransference and transference issues that one would face in the professional world. I also owe a debt of gratitude to all the teachers and therapists who helped guide me along the way. The victims of Jim Jones massacre began an eye-opening experience, to myself as a young girl out on a farm in Ohio, that have continued to remain in the back of my mind as I grow and have evolved into the person I am today.

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Group Think or a Polarized Society

The term “polarized” continues to permeate the land and, as I suspected, we would be in a new type of civil war. Many years ago, when I worked for social services I had the insight that soon we would be fighting a new type of civil war. I told my fellow co-workers it would be vastly different from the last one but equally deadly. Here we are, on the heels of the position being filled for the 45th president of the United States. Republicans and Democrats had been at each other’s throat even before then; as we saw in the election for President Bush. At that time, there were claims then that it had been rigged (and liberals would be moving to Canada). Now that we have another Republican who has succeeded, once again the charges of rigging the election have occurred. Only this time it has been taken to a new level. It cannot just be that the person won the election.

The Media has jumped on this bandwagon; of course they always do, and have terrorized the country with their “opinions.” Good journalism is really a testimony to people who actually work on finding the truth and presenting evidence, on both sides, so that people can come to their own opinions. Some newspapers are known for this. Some are known for being sensationalists.

 

“Group Think,” is a psychological phenomenon that is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility. I would add to this that even intelligent, educated folks fall prey to this mindset just as easily as uneducated, naïve people. It happens on juries, though people are cautioned to not be persuaded by others, it can be hard not to; at the end of the day.

So many times this has happened in our history and though people have appeared to be in favor of doing the right thing for the majority of the people, someone (often large amounts of people) always gets killed. When they are killed, it will be argued that sometimes this has to happen in order to create change. This happens even though the ones being killed have no weapons. They probably would in defense, if they knew they were about to be killed but they don’t. Thus by the time people are killed and consequently become saints, it is too late to feel some remorse. The victors end up the enemies or the traitors and then over time, during a period of healing and quiet; people realize what they had done wrong.

 

Another unfortunate issue with “group think,” is that when it is over with, many people who conformed to this position will pretend they never did. It takes guts to take responsibility for your mistakes. By this time, there is too much fear that if they admit, they will be tortured or punished in some way. And many times they are.

How do we heal from such trying times? A holistic minded person would not conform but take a step back and view all the angles. They would reach into their history books for research on other such occasions and try to compare and contrast. They would look at the long term consequences of the decisions, (or orders) being expected and think for themselves. They would trust their instincts rather than following their ego.

It is important to have respect for the person in charge, whether you like them or not. Our country is based on a democratic mindset which means that sometimes Republicans will be in power and sometimes Democrats. Many of us would like to see more than two choices but at the moment; we can at least be glad there is more than one. I doubt anyone can say they have liked every single president because the world is not about you and what you want. I have found that for the most part, in our history, we have flip-flopped so obviously that you can always predict who will win the presidential race. This time it was the Republicans turn. Eventually it will be the Democrats turn. Instead of acting like gang leaders and forming red and blue teams, it would behoove the opposite side to focus on what went wrong and begin planning a strategy going forward. Generally this is what was done in the past.

It would also be important to figure out how to work with the person in charge. More happens with sugar than vinegar, as the saying goes. People are so angry right now, one side because they lost and the other side because their power is put into question. People stop being friends with those who don’t think like them, which causes some to conform. This is either out of fear of isolation or fear of being killed (metaphorically or realistically). It is a scary time now and not because of the person in the White House but because of the uprising all around him. It makes our country look very weak and of course vulnerable. When this is the case, it is so easy to take advantage. This is what concerns me right now. We are sitting ducks, due to our polarization. No one seems interested in ending the feud and trying to find balance. Meanwhile, both teams think they have the most power and that people are listening to them. They are blind, deaf and dumb. But they are Right!

Life is a rip off when you expect to get what you want. Life works when you choose what you got. Actually, what you got is what you chose. To move on, choose it. Werner Erhard

 

 

Voice to Voice or Skin to Skin: Ritual of Connection

I have always loved Nicole Kidman and her ability to portray so many different types of people. She is a lot like Penelope Cruz, another favorite of mine; in that neither are afraid of experimenting and both have been involved in productions from different countries. This week I was reading an article on the Huffington Post, where she was being interviewed about her marriage which is celebrating its twelth anniversary. She mentioned that she and Keith [Urban] do not text to talk to one another, because of all the misunderstandings that were obvious to them from the onset. As she went on, she noted that they have a phrase “Voice to Voice or Skin to Skin,” is their only way of communication with each other. I thought this sounded very sweet and touching and something I wanted to share with the couples that I work with.

I have been taking continuing education with the Gottman couples trainings and use this method when working with my couples. We talk about Turning Towards Each Other, rather than away from one another when communicating is taking place. Voice to voice, you may not look at each other (except as Nicole noted when they do Facetime) but you are clearly hearing and participating in that moment. Of course, it is possible to Stonewall (and be on your computer at the same time) but then your partner would pick up on this very easily. When you are texting to someone it is very anti-social and disrespectful of someone (this is me not the Gottman trainings talking). The person is not there on the other end at the exact moment that you send the text. You can’t feel them, hear them, see them (other than a photo), or even sense them. You can misinterpret them and I have found that it is easy for my client’s to be stalked by their partners in this way. Usually this is noted when they tell me that he “blew up my phone.” When I first heard this, I have to confess, I thought maybe their battery had died from too much usage on the phone. But kidding aside, this is not an intimate form of communication. It is a cop out, when it comes to communication.

If you want your relationship to last, you can’t take it for granted and so you must value this investment and continue to work on it. The most important thing I have found is building an “Emotional Connection,” with your partner because A. Women are turned on by this and aren’t likely to stray, B. You begin to know each other more deeply, which causes you to feel you can trust and depend on the other person, and C. You are developing a “We” instead of an “I.” The last one always gets my goat. If I hear one partner saying “I am going away this weekend for vacation,” I will say “Aren’t you taken your wife/husband?” naturally they will say “Well, yeah,” so I say then I think you meant to say “We are going away…” and talk to them about the importance of respect in a relationship.

Look at the difference between Nicole Kidman’s marriage to Tom and now to Keith. I went through my young adult years with the first two (I don’t know much about Keith Urban) and always remembered how sad and detached Nicole and Tom looked in photos. I don’t think I ever saw them smile – together. Sure, Tom always had that Hollywood smile whenever taking photos and he pushed it out there even when he was next to Nicole on the carpet (though it never seemed quite as authentic as his Risky Business or Top Gun smile). Nicole never once, that I recall, ever really had more then a grin on her face. It was because of this that I was not at all surprised when they got a divorce. Now, I don’t think I have seen one photo of her and Keith, where they don’t look like they’ve just had “Skin to Skin” right before they walked out onto the carpet. I’ve heard Keith Urban interviewed saying that he feels like she is still his girlfriend after twelve years. This tells me that they keep their relationship fresh and are invested in a quality relationship. I once read Nicole stating in an interview that she thought it was romantic to see a cemetery plot with the couple buried next to each other and imagining what a delightful marriage they must have had. It seems morbid in a way but it shows the depth that she was hoping for in a man. Someone she would be with until the end. I don’t think there will be any question whether these two will last forever.

What type of play are your creating in your relationship? How are you keeping the marriage alive or exciting? Maybe you aren’t worth millions and globetrotting around the world (though this makes it way more difficult than balancing a budget and raising a couple of kids), you actually have an easier opportunity to make your relationship last. What can you do for fun? Riding bikes as a family (or couple), hiking together, praying together, cooking together, taking a bath together (as a couple of course), etc… These are what we call Rituals of Connection (or Creating Shared Meaning), one of the “The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work,” by Dr. Gottman. Rituals are those sacred moments in your family’s life that are created by the two of you for your relationship and for your kids. Having a motto such as “Voice to Voice or Skin to Skin” is a Ritual of Connection. It is an intimate boundary that this couple has created that they won’t steer away from because it has kept them together for twelve years.

Texting is not intimate and it was created for emergencies, not for relationships. There was a time when we did not have cellular technology, and even a time we didn’t have pagers (or telephones). We have taken advantage of texting and it has caused our world to become anti-social. People are out in the real world less and less and when they are there, they are on their phones. Another thing that gets my goat is seeing people at a natural park and they have their heads down, staring at their phones or are taking some darn “selfie” because they are not capable of “stopping to smell the roses.” Life is a challenge which you must undertake and if you make the choice to have someone by your side, respect them, love them, nourish them and for heaven sakes, communicate with them [LIVE]!

 

Stop and smell the roses,
taste the nectar of sweet.
Peel back the petals,
tickle your feet!

Take a walk amongst the flowers,
place blue bonnets in your hair,
Sing songs of he love’s me not,
two step with the air!

Stop and smell the roses,
Spend some time,
Tend to your bushes,
Pay no mind.

As you walk amongst the flowers,
peer down at your feet.
There’s no time to smell the roses
when you’re six feet deep. 

Hershe Moore

 

The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive – Stephen Fry

This is such a deeply, insightful documentary about the struggles a person goes through with Bi-Polar. It will go down a more tragic path as the film continues walking through these dark corridors into the psyche of various persons with this diagnosis. In between you hear from various psycho-professionals who treat this disorder. When he says “We do love our manic periods,” this is something I have heard many times from various clients or people I have known. In fact, this is the infamous stage when these people often do not believe they need medication because they are feeling themselves again. This is normal for a Bi-polar and one of the symptoms – not wanting to take their “meds.” It is normal because they don’t want to feel abnormal, which is what the medications cause them to feel.

It is important that he added the genetic aspect to this mental illness. Evidently the DNA researchers he went to and the brain scans don’t show a link from that perspective. However, research does seem to show that it runs in the family. I see this all the time with people and in fact, if they tell me they have it (from reading something online and w/o a diagnosis) but seem to have no family mental illness, I become suspicious. Generally, I will ask people if they ever had a “Crazy Aunt Sally,” or a family member who disappeared for awhile or who was known to be a little off. This is how I can find a possible mental illness connection. In the past, people might have been locked up or family would have joked about it (to avoid discussing the reality). I ask this with all my clients when doing a family history, not just people who’ve been reading about diagnoses online. Most people think “mood swings” mean they are Bi-Polar and generally these are people in their young twenties who are going through a difficult period in early adult hood or even teenagers who are frustrated with their family life.

I was pretty shocked to hear Stephen Fry say, at the end, that he hasn’t been on medications since his first diagnosis many years prior to making this film. Apparently, the end of Part 1 made him realize he should re-think this. What I think is very important is to have a psychological evaluation if you believe your child has some serious mental health issues to find a diagnosis. Then, I think it is important to re-test and get a new psychological evaluation when that same person is an adult. This is because it is often difficult to be sure about childhood mental illness (sometimes psychological professionals have a “go to” diagnosis) and because you test differently as an adult and you are a little more aware of yourself and your symptoms.  If you DO have a mental illness, you should have a psychiatrist that prescribes and monitors your medications (NOT a primary care physician). A psychiatrist specializes in mental illness, a PCP does not. This is why they are called a “general” practitioner. This also can prohibit being wrongly diagnosed and going through an even longer series of trials and tribulations with medications. I have heard stories of a family doctor asking five or six questions and then labeling the person with a diagnosis. A psychological evaluation is generally three sessions and ends up with a 13 page report based on the conclusions from the tests that were run. The “psych eval” as I call it, includes input from your psychotherapist, family, and other support people involved in the child or adults life. Another reason to go to a psychiatrist is that sometimes they will have psychotherapists on staff who partner with them. If not, it is best that you find a psychotherapist who specializes in your mental illness.

 

Stephen Fry has also made a Part II of this documentary, also available on YouTube and I have also seen a “Ten Years Later” after the making of this film.