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The Child of the Narcissist

(Originally published May 2011)

Sometimes I get ideas in my head and know that I must get up and type; otherwise I will never get to sleep.  Having been one of these children and having recently had very moving conversations with another person who also felt this dread, I knew I must write about it.  As a therapist, I feel responsible for airing out all those things which give us torment, so that we have a place to share, cry, and be heard.  For having a parent who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you do not get the chance to do so.

A child who grows up with a parent who has NPD, has no parent at all.  In fact, they have no self as well.  The child’s life is consumed with pleasing the parent in a way that no other child, not sharing the same type of parent, can understand.  Your childhood revolves around this parent.  The opposite parent must revolve around the NPD spouse.  Your needs and wants must be that of the parent with NPD.

If there is more than one child, one will inevitably be the scapegoat.  You know who you are.  The one who takes the blame for everything because the NPD parent will not.  Someone must be at fault for ruining their life.  Another child will invariably be the rescuer for this parent and they are the prodigal child.  This is the one who does all that was intended, perfectly and in the order presented by this parent.  There can also be a child who will have dependent personality disorder.   This is the one who will need the parent for anything and everything because they are so challenged by life and the NPD parent will gladly be needed for their mercy.  Someone who needs the Narcissist to be at their beck and call, is exactly what they want.  The NPD imagines in their head that their brood should be around them at all times, because you are incapable of living your life without them.  This is the bird that does not kick the chicks out of the nest because it does not want them to fly.

Thus, if the child of the NPD is capable of getting away and growing up once and for all, they are the enemy to this parent.  No one is allowed to leave the NPD’s kingdom unless it is to do their bidding.  Most survivors whom I have known are those who have had to push away this parent.  Yet even still they live with the lifelong feelings of insecurity and the threat of a phone call which could come at any time – lest you forget the NPD parent is still alive.  A call which will put all your time in therapy to shame, as you are ridiculed and punished once more for anything that they happen to make up.

Unfortunately, I do not know of any Narcissistic parent who was capable of going into therapy and there is no medication for this mental illness.  Why should they go to therapy when it is your fault after all?  At the same time, therapists couches are filled with the children of the Narcissist; most especially the scapegoats.  Children who cling to the hope that their problems will be cured so that for once in their life, the NPD parent will love, respect and be able to have a conversation with them.  The bottom line that we all must realize is that the NPD parent will never change.  Only you can and then you have to figure out how to be in the same room with this person, with your head held high.  It is a lesson in reclaiming your power, even though the abuser will never leave your life.

Tips (for the Scapegoat): Find what works for you.  The answer is not the same for everyone.

1. Tell this person not to talk to you unless they can say something nice.  Be strong when setting this boundary.  Don’t get caught up in their sarcastic or overly dramatic response.  They have loose boundaries, so you must set high standards to preserve your own.

2. Don’t expect to talk for more than 5 minute sound bites, because they aren’t listening to you anyway.

3. Try to stay out of their way – if you can, don’t attend functions where they are present (unless you absolutely have to).  You don’t want to boycott your whole family either.

4. Forget trying to discuss your therapy sessions and what you’ve learned.  Remember, they aren’t listening anyway.  Don’t bring up the past, it is pointless because it had nothing to do with them.  They were there as an innocent bystander.

5.  Whenever you start thinking about them in your head, start whistling a happy tune.  If you think, you will begin punishing yourself as you remember all the “bad” things they said you did.  You will take yourself down and beat yourself up emotionally.  If you can whistle, you switch focus in your mind and soon forget what you were thinking. If meditating and their voice comes in, tap your feet, put on music, do something to re-focus and think of something else.  It takes time to re-program your mind.

6. Do get into therapy, tell your therapist about your NPD parent.  Learn to meditate, take exercise classes, eat healthy, drink plenty of water. Pamper yourself with massage and other holistic treatments.  Get so focused on yourself that you look and feel good, which will make you strong.

7. If you fail to do at least #6 let me give you a warning – you will end up finding yourself in abusive relationships whether at the office, the home, or amongst the people who surround you.  You have to reclaim your power or be a doormat, or punching bag forever.

8. For young people and adults – it can be helpful to get to know older people who are in your life and whom you can talk to.  This is like creating a surrogate parent.  Everyone does need a parent.  Young people can talk to guidance counselors, grandparents, aunts/uncles, friends of family, whomever seems to take a healthy interest in you.  Adults you can do the same – get to know those people in the family who might have been staying away from the same person you are having problems with.

If you are reading this and you are still a young person, you have my sympathies.  Do the best you can to follow the tips above and remember – it isn’t you, you are not a bad person.  You may make mistakes – all kids do. If you are reading this and you are an adult, remember that – you are an adult and you are free to make choices in your life.  Don’t let them control you and tell you what to do.  You are not an adult child and you must take responsibility for your life.  Of course whatever you do will be wrong (to them), but you must keep in mind that what you are doing is for you, it is your life and you can’t blame anyone for your adult choices but yourself.  Let them go, move forward and keep your distance.

Over time, you will begin to heal and make a life for yourself.  There will be setbacks now and then when you have to be in their life.  You have a mentally unhealthy parent and this comes with the territory.  The only person you can change is yourself and if you are strong and set your boundaries – you won’t get a parent but they will leave you in peace.

Now you can read Part Two of The Child of the Narcissist

And purchase the CD: The Child of the Narcissist: Guided Meditations for Healing

Now Available on Download too!

CD Cover

Addition 7/28/12: I found a good book that I want to add to this article. “Will I Ever be Good Enough” by Dr. Karyl McBride. Lots of good case studies to think about.

He Never Says He is Sorry, an article I wrote later about being in a relationship with a Narcissist.

Angry Daughter, Narcissistic Mother written on 1/11/14, is a review of the movie August: Osage County with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

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Psychiatrists vs. Psychotherapists; Drugs or Wellness?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/mar/15/psychology-healthcare

This article was written (above) in the Guardian UK and there was another one written prior to this in the NY Times.  I think however the average person who is making the choice between the two is confused about what the article is saying.  I would like to give my take on it here.

A psychiatrist is a doctor.  If you need medication then you would see them for that.  A psychotherapist is a combination of several licenses and degrees, social work, professional counselor and marriage and family therapist.  The latter only requires a master’s degree and therefore cannot prescribe medication.  So a psychotherapists role is to work with a client in a holistic manner by helping them through their crisis in what is known as “talk therapy.” Whereas a psychiatrists role is not really that of a psychotherapists, though the articles are stating that they should be.  I agree with the above article because while it is essential to have a psychiatrist for obvious reasons that some – note that I am saying “some” clients do require psychotropic drugs (or medication for mental illness).  Unfortunately more people are prescribed psychotropics than really need them.  A psychiatrist who is prescribing needs to have more time talking with the client to figure out what they believe the client really needs.  Often doctors will spend approximately 15 minutes sizing you up.  Some will give you about 30 minutes for the first time only.  Psychotherapists are required to size up a client for insurance companies in the first session.  Unfortunately it takes a lot more than one session of 30-50 minutes to figure out an accurate diagnosis.  As a result most professionals are forced to take feedback from others, previous diagnosis from another doctor or psychotherapist and later on they may take the time to change the information provided to the insurance company.  Not all do though because this takes a lot of work to tell them you made a mistake the first time around.

I have experience with adult clients but mostly child clients in foster care.  If there is ever a case for psychiatrists taking advantage of their title and abusing the system of vulnerable people it is in the child welfare system.  Since I mainly dealt with the most difficult cases in foster care, I saw children on more medications than the average adult.  They did not need them.  What they needed was a treatment team designed to work with them and help them to succeed or transition into adulthood.  Instead, they had the psychiatrists listed in the UK article above who listened to para-professionals who had undergraduate degrees or no degrees at all – who had no knowledge of medications or psychology, rather than listen to the experienced professionals who did understand the situation at hand.

Psychiatrists dealing with children in foster care were overwhelmed by the amount of people begging them to give the child drugs to “settle them down.”  Teachers, group home workers, case managers, all who work with severely emotionally disturbed children are overworked and underpaid.  When a new child shows up on their doorstep, they are already at a disadvantage because they are labeled from day one.  If you have the title SED on your IEP, or if you are sent to a group home, you automatically have a bad reputation with the para-professional.   They are without realizing it, looking for you to screw up the minute they meet you.  When a person has filtered glasses on, they tend to make judgements that are not realistic and as I have said unreliable because they are not properly trained in making these decisions.  I worked with other programs where medication was not the main focus and these children were on less medications and did better than the ones who were in the heavily medicated programs.  Why?  Because often medication is not the answer to the problem.  The answer is having a good psychotherapist who understands how to work with mental illness and not allowing anyone in the room with a psychiatrist who is not a psychological professional.  The judges in the county I worked for wouldn’t even allow anyone to review a psychological evaluation unless they were a psychological professional.  The reason being, if you do not have a graduate degree or above in psychology then you are not trained adequately enough in understanding the diagnosis or the information presented on an evaluation.  So you are most certainly not appropriate for deciding whether they should have medication.

How did we get here?  How did we come to a place where para-professionals are deciding the fate of children and whether they should be on medications?  How did we get to a society where the average person is telling their doctor that they need to be on medication?  What happened to good old-fashioned, home-made remedies and holistic thinking?

Television.  Teachers, group home/foster home providers, parents, case managers are sitting behind television sets much too often in an effort to calm themselves down from the end of a long hard-working day.  What is on that television are a bunch of reality shows with a lot of nuts on there who humiliate themselves and do things the average person would only do drunk.  In between these ridiculous programs are advertisements for every medication imaginable.  It is subliminal messages because the brain is not even completely in action during television programs and this has been proven by research.  So while you are watching “reality” television and taking in all the medications being sold to you, somewhere along the line you are also making judgements about yourself and the clients you work with.  The television has succeeded in making you belive you are mentally ill, are having a heart attack, could be in danger of restless legs, might have COPD, and of course the purple pill or the pink one or “just one a month is all you need,” is all you require to feel better and “be happy again.”

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical companies are wining and dining your psychiatrists with fancy vacations, elaborate meals with all you can eat lobster and champagne.  I’ve seen the advertisements at work for the dinners and talked to people who attended them.  I’ve seen the fancy salesmen and women who show up at doctor’s offices with gifts for everyone in the office.  I am also aware of the billing department for every non-profit and for profit in the mental health industry who is clamoring to get paid by insurance.  Mental illness diagnosis pays higher and requires medications if the insurance company is going to buy your argument that the patient is mentally ill.  If you don’t prescribe than you can’t diagnose, plain and simple.  If they don’t require medications than they should have a diagnosis that does not require one.  The lesser the diagnosis, the lower amount of sessions will be paid for.  The business has to survive.

Do you really need medications?  Does your child really need them?  Probably not.  However, now that you are addicted to them you’d be hard pressed to take the step forward in finding out.  I could share quite a few stories of children who I was successful in getting off all the medications, got them in the correct placements and maybe on one medication and who were happier healthier children as a result.  It takes a lot of work: the cooperation of the child welfare system, the judicial system, the placement and the school.  You have to be dedicated and of course you also have to have a child who trusts you and is also not dedicated to be on drugs the rest of their life (which actually I rarely met a child who wanted to be on drugs – except teens who were already addicted to their anti-depressant or other psychotropic which they favored).

With adults, you hold the keys.  You don’t require courtrooms and child welfare systems, teachers and placements.  If you are in an adult placement than you probably do require one or two medications.  The problem though is that as an adult, you don’t have the social worker to protect you like my kids did.  You don’t have all those heavies in the court room who are interested in looking good in regards to your case.  The public is concerned about the welfare of children, they don’t care about that of an adult.  An adult is supposed to know better.  But when you are unwell and require the support of professionals, it is hard to know who to trust.  When you are already sold on the medications you are taking, it is hard to imagine how life would be without them.

As an adult, in order to find out if you are mis-diagnosed, on too much medication, it would require a lot of money to start over again.  You’d have to do a lot of research on finding the right psychiatrist, psychotherapist, medical doctor, and other alternative practitioners who probably won’t be funded by your insurance company.  Why?  Because insurance companies don’t care about preventative maintenance.  They WANT you to take drugs because they are funded by pharmaceutical companies as well.  But if you the adult are already on all this medication than chances are it would be very difficult for you to focus on research.  Your mind is being sent in several directions in order to keep up with all the drugs you are on.  Multiple medications counteract each other and so the brain is so confused and often you see zombie like people.  This is not the type of person who is going to be capable of researching and trying to find the right person who can clean them up and start over. It is quite the conundrum.  It is also a very sad situation that many Americans are facing.  It is part of why we have an obesity problem in this country (they never mention this on the television documentaries that many types of medications cause weight gain).  This is because the commercials in between the journalists talking to you about obesity are medication advertisements.

Face it, we are an addicted country with many people in our population on some type of psychotropic drugs.  Making the brave effort to ditch the drugs (with professional support) is no different from an addict on the streets trying to get off illegal substances.  Addictions are addictions whether they are illegal or legal.  It is these articles that brandish the psychiatrist as none other than a dope dealer which force people to think.  Just because someone has a license or the initials, doesn’t make them ethical or willing to practice legally.  This is the reason why people with a license or those initials must carry malpractice insurance.  There are just too many people violating the trust of the average American each and every day. 

If you have yet to get on medications for some type of mental health diagnosis, research this ahead of time.  Get more than one opinion.  Research alternative practitioners, aka holistic treatment providers and find out what their methods are and what type of results they have.  You can go to any Whole Foods grocers or health food store and talk to them about holistic treatments and unless you buy something, it is free advice.  Try alternative practices first.  Wait until you find professionals in psychotherapy that you really feel is helping you.  Put your television control on mute during the commercials (or try taking up a hobby to relax in the evening rather than TV).  Drugs should be the very, very last resort  and your own well-being the first.  If you know you have a mental illness that is one thing, but then do you really?   Who was the first person to make this decision?  Was it when you were a child?  Take your life seriously, consciously, take care of your mind, body and soul.  It is all you have to live.  Be happy and healthy, stay away from any type of drugs if at all possible.

Addictions and the Family – Don’t be the Fool

After watching Charlie Sheen on CNN last night, I felt I should write something about addictions.  Mr. Sheen’s interview was a disgrace to families everywhere dealing with an addictive relative.  He was disrespectful to every Alcohol and Drug (AOD) professional, the 12 step program and yes, he is in major denial.  Sure some addicts have been able to stay off the wagon on their own for periods of time.  It is pretty rare that a person can be found who did it all alone and gave up the habit forever.  So if you are reading this and are an addict or you are a family member and know someone, don’t buy a word he said.

Addicts are good con artists.  Once a con, always a con.  I’ve known people who were clean for over a decade and still pulling a con one way or another.  Lying comes easy when you are good at it.  In order to score on the streets, in very dangerous neighborhoods, where your life is in danger on a daily basis, you lie for your life.  If you are still alive, than you have become quite good at it.

Since I am not an AOD professional, I want to speak to the family.  There are some things you need to know about your addict.

1. It runs in the family.  Your child or relative is not the first one to start using. It either came from the maternal or paternal side.  Addiction of one thing or another, it is biological.

2. As a family member you need to disappear from the addicts life.  They need to be so stranded and isolated from any form of family until they learn to stand up for themselves.  Of all the successful recovering addicts I have heard from, when there was no one there in their life to con money from, steal from, or depend on, this was when they finally hit bottom and began to recover.  This doesn’t mean you can’t take a phone call, email, or even Skype BUT only if you are strong enough to say NO to money, housing, borrowing, visiting, anything.  If not, you are back to square one.  Don’t be the loser who ends up with no house, car, bankrupt, because you were trying to show your love.  Love does not mean enabling the addict.  No one will respect a family member for allowing an addict to take them to the cleaners.  Even if they are a relative.

3. Join a support group.  There is Al-Anon (this link is for an online web community, they can hook you up with a local group in your city, state).  You won’t feel so alone when you are talking to other relatives who are dealing with the same thing.

4. Recovery Programs – don’t get hooked into paying for recovery programs.  If you pay, they won’t do the work.  They are continuing to con you out of money.  It’s a way of “pulling your chain” so to speak.  If they want to get clean, they have to do it on their own.  This is their adult lesson in life.  It is their lesson forever because once an addict you are always an addict.  The only difference is that when you are not using, you are called a recovering addict but the weakness is still there and the client will still confront it every day of their life until they die.  Unless they worked to accomplish the task of sobriety, they won’t respect it.

5.  Jesus/Mohammed – Just like in prison, suddenly finding the Lord or Allah or whomever is the family belief, it is all a game.  Especially if religion is important in your family and they know it is crucial to winning you back.  If they have religion say, “Good for you, I will see you in church/temple, on Sunday,” or “I guess I will see you at the next religious meeting.”  Don’t offer them a ride, don’t take them home.  Any one on one time you have with them is their time to invest in conning you.  A spiritual journey is one that must be taken alone.  If it is a serious journey, they will find God/Allah or their guru no matter where they are in the world.  They won’t need a ride to get to this place.  If they are working on sobriety, than they will have a sponsor and plenty of people who can give them rides or support through a 12-step program.  If they are behind bars, they will bring the spiritual teacher to them.

The bottom line here is that the fix is all that is important to the addict.  When they see you, family member, all they see is $$$$ for the drug or alcohol that they are using.  This is how important using is to them.  They aren’t thinking love, they are thinking fix.  You are not giving them love, you are hurting them even more by not being strong enough to push them away. The further along they are, the harder it is to crash and come back to reality.  The longer you buy into their beliefs, to anything they say, the longer they will be on the drugs/alcohol.  It isn’t your fault for making them an addict but it is your fault for allowing them to continue, if you are enabling them.

When should you believe an addict?  All of these items below:

1. When you see a complete turnaround from your addict relative and they have at least 2-3 years of sobriety under their belt. Even then you should be wary but as the years climb and they have recovered longer, you will begin to see a difference and will begin to trust a little more.

2. When they are no longer asking and are beginning to give. And I mean they ask for NOTHING.  Take the gifts with a grain of salt.  Don’t get too excited or too hooked into the present.  Say “Thank you, I am proud of you.” but do so with a very stern voice and a tight smile.  You can’t ever let your guard down.  You have to be a strong relative that never goes back to the same vulnerable relative you once were.

3. You do not see them with ANY kind of substance other than coffee and cigarettes.  They are legal and generally what addicts live off of when they get clean.  If they say, “Oh, its just pot and I can’t give up pot.” Or when they say, “Oh, I just have a few beers, at least I am not using heroin anymore.”  This means they are still an addict.  Personally, I feel that even coffee and cigarettes should be weaned off of as well, they are still bad for your health and contribute to personality issues.  It is also an addiction as well.  However, if your addict is only doing coffee and cigarettes, it is different.  They probably won’t lose their job over it.

4. When the addict is working, going to school, living independently, with self or others and is beginning to take responsibility for life.  Again, don’t get hooked on it just smile and say they are doing a great job.

5. When the addict is involved in a 12 step program, AOD professional and psychotherapy.  As I said before, no addict can do this on their own.  AOD professionals concentrate on helping them rebuild their life (they are found at clinics usually but also at Veteran’s Administration or through their insurance company – if they still have one).  The addict needs to make the choice to go through these professionals as it is a way of taking responsibility for the problem.  The psychotherapist is key to unlocking where all this addiction came from, how it effected the client as a child, when their own behaviors began and why.  Sometimes addicts are self-medicating because they have a mental illness.  When a psychotherapist is able to figure this out, the client will be sent to a psychiatrist/psychologist for a medication evaluation, with the understanding that the client is an addict.  It doesn’t mean they will be put on medications but they will be properly assessed and given recommendations.

Addictions is a mental health issue.  Like any other mental illness, it must be treated properly and with advice from experts who have specializations in this field.  I am not just a professional writing about this, but like you, I have a relative in my own family and I have made many of the mistakes above.  My relative got this addiction from the paternal side of their family and unfortunately the maternal side did not know anything about addictions.  We’ve learned from experience, though some of my family still continues to hang on and the relative continues to saddle up to their side, waiting for the right moment to strike.

Take charge and don’t make your family a victim.  This is just as hard for you, as the relative, as it is for the addict.  You have to be the stronger one though and enforce tough love.  Whatever the consequences to your addict relative, it is not your fault (earlier I said it was if you enabled them, now I am talking about something else).   By this I mean, if they end up having overdosed, in jail/prison, taking their life, losing an organ, none of this is your fault.  Addictions come with a price and when you use, you must pay the piper.

If an addict succeeds in finding their path toward recovery, they MUST do it on their own, or they will never respect the process.

PTSD – Denial only makes it worse

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health dysfunction that affects people from around the world, no matter what their background.  It is not genetic and it can occur at any time in your life.

So much has been written about this disorder so I wanted to add my own take on it.  I’ve had personal and professional experience on this topic so I can safely say I have several decades of knowledge.

PTSD was originally understood in Veterans from Vietnam.   This diagnosis was first formed in the late sixties as a result.  From this research we then began to learn that it would also affect any human being who felt their life was in danger, had been abused, or were humiliated or tortured in some brutal fashion.  Having worked with Children’s Protective Services for eight years, I could easily say that all of my clients had some or all of the symptoms of this diagnosis at one point in their life.  Having run an international domestic violence support website for seven years, I can conclude the same results.  Since most of us know someone who fit into one of these three categories – military, abuse, domestic violence, it wouldn’t be too hard to say every one of us knows someone who has suffered PTSD.

You can easily look up all the symptoms online, so I won’t name them one by one.  But how does one deal with such a situation, if they are intimately engaged with it personally or in their household?  First and foremost, the obvious step is to find a psychotherapist who is nearby that you or they can begin working with.  Denying the existence of symptoms that you think you may have, or that others can see, does one no good as pretending something is not there only makes it worse.  Many people dealing with PTSD have turned to self-medication as a way of coping.

The second thing you can do as a supportive person in the family, is to listen to them.  Don’t allow denial but try not to be angry about it either, if the person is unable to face the truth.  Nurturing guidance from a trusted friend or relative will go a long way.  However, if the person is using substances, you don’t want to enable either.  Unfortunately you must remain more detached from an addiction rather than nurturing, because if you don’t, you will go down with them. 

One of the things I have read about with children is that they cope with PTSD symptoms much easier when their family member is supporting them through this. 

There are times though when supporting someone means you have to let go and move away from the person for your own safety.  We have heard about veterans who have been involved in forensic situations such as assault, murder, or destruction of property.  These are instances where symptoms got completely out of hand, there was no supportive services for the person and life became uncontrollable on every level (job, home, relationships, spirituality).  There are statistics that show that many persons involved in crime and are behind bars have once been children in the foster care system.

Mental health support is provided to people in the military and people in foster care.  In fact a great deal of care is placed on making sure this happens.  There is, I think I’d be safe in saying, millions of dollars spent every year.  Yet as the cliché goes, you can take a horse to water… and this is a horrible cliché to use but I can’t think of a better way of starting our thinking process. We can’t blame the victim of PTSD, the system, or ourselves.  Mental health issues of any type would be much worse if there was no support at all.  We see what has happened with the number of homeless people in America by dumping our mentally ill clients out on to the streets after closing state hospitals.  However, people have to want help in order to receive it.  Families need to support their own in a time of crisis.  Society needs to be more open to the concept of getting help when there is a problem.  The topic of mental health should not be a blind eye that we take until the worst possible event happens.  We should never have family members on television, after the fact, stating that they knew something was a little off.

Now after having said all of this, I have probably scared you.  I don’t mean to alarm because PTSD is not something to be afraid of, unless you ignore it.  This case can be made for all mental health issues as well as physical health issues.  If you ignore a tumor, you will most likely die if it gets worse.  If you ignore a toothache you will be in extreme pain and end up losing a tooth.  Its basic common sense but yet there are so many people who die in hospitals because they wait to the last-minute and there are people who hurt others, who have mental health issues, because they went untreated.

As I mentioned, I have had PTSD in my life.  I don’t have it anymore.  There are many people who can say that they have had this disorder, yet with plenty of help and work on our selves, it will and can go away.  The symptoms can disappear.  The more extreme the case of PTSD, based on the event and how it effected the person, the longer it can take to deal with it.  So please note that time heals all wounds (again the cliché) but there is no time limit for doing so.  As a family member or a person afflicted with such a disorder, don’t beat yourself up or them for taking so long to get through this.  With healing there is no clock in our mind, body and soul.

In writing about PTSD, I am hoping to offer this message.  With the right therapist, attention to self in and out of treatment, supportive family members and sometimes even medications, this is not a forever diagnosis.