Tag Archive | Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

A Narcissistic Family: Lies, Lies, and More Lies

Meet the Valour family, (names changed to protect the victims). There is the Narcissistic Mother, aka the martyr, the chameleon, the adaptor over the years as it suits her. There is the Father or the placator (someone who gives in to the demands of the Narcissist to keep the peace). He, however, is the one who doled out the physical punishment to his stepchildren. There are five children total, one son from a previous marriage who was rarely in the home. There are two daughters (Jenny and Joan) who are stepchildren to the father and then came two sons (Ronny and Frankie) from the Narcissistic Mother.

Jenny was the oldest and ended up being abused the most. She suffered physical abuse from the stepfather and emotional abuse from the mother. She never knew whether she was coming or going, with so many mixed messages growing up. She was beautiful but not as smart as other people’s children, which she was often told. She was old enough to hear “TMI” that her mother enjoyed confiding in her but not old enough to make decisions for herself. She ended up with Severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and got pregnant as a teenager. She married an abusive male from the wrong side of the tracks and got divorced a couple of years later. Her child was given to her Narcissistic mother to raise, because the father of the child disappeared and the courts determined Jenny would end up on welfare.  Jenny’s story is the most compelling here because she became the proverbial “black sheep” of the family and it is her life that will be betrayed to others as the decades went on.

Joan was Special Needs or Borderline Intellectual Functioning. She wasn’t abused as much because the family felt sorry for her. She would become the placator (child) and spent most of her life living with her parents – because she was told by her mother that she couldn’t live in the world by herself. She ended up with a child out of wedlock because she was desperate to have a baby. That baby grew up to have a child out of wedlock as well. As the placator, Joan tells lies to suit her mother or herself and this deflects any responsibility onto herself. She presents as a narcissist because she has no self-awareness.

Ronny ended up the family hero and went on to retire from the military. He exhibits in narcissistic ways because he was entitled as a child. Nothing he can do is wrong in the family’s eyes so he is unable to empathize or take criticism from others.  He is perfect and assumes the world revolves around him when people are with him. That is what he learned growing up. He is a very caring person but very detached from the family. He raised several children but his wife sought to compete for his attention and thus kept the children from Jenny and keeps tight rings around all of them now so that they are one great big enmeshed family. Joan is allowed entrance but only because she continues to elicit sympathy from everyone. Jenny lived most of the time in another state, as well, so the children did not see her much and gifts were given to them (as far as she knows) but there was never acknowledgement so she ceased to send them. She is not sure if the gift giving ever attempted to create a relationship or not.

Frankie died early on as a child so he is the saint in the family. No one ever talks about him because it is too uncomfortable to confront one’s emotions. It is as if he never existed. Jenny tries to create a space for him but the family changes the subject. The father died a decade after his son, and when this happened, the high standards that were expected in the family ceased to exist. This is because the Narcissistic mother focuses too much attention on getting attention from her descendants. Rather than being the mother she once was, who also expected these standards, as it might make her look bad, she allows lowered standards to appear cool and modern.

Thus the family has become like every other family in America with very low standards. The second generation of girls have tattoos all over their bodies. At family events, people show up in whatever they feel like wearing. The third generation toddlers have mohawks and pink hair. One family is raised in filthy conditions. Their parents feed them  daily amounts of sugar through soda and candy to pacify them. This is because their parents raise them like toys and are afraid to set standards. The latter family is Jenny’s child and grandchildren, whom Jenny’s mother raised.

The mother enjoys taking comfort in harming her daughter Jenny. She loves to hear negative things said about her and Jenny’s bitterness and anger have become much darker and deeper over the years. While Jenny has tried to do therapy and create a better life for herself, she feels she has never really found happiness. Her child (whom her mother raised) became a drug addict like his father. He had multiple children from various women, two of which he never sees or has anything to do with.  While he finally did become a “dry drunk,” which means clean but without a mental health support system, his life continues to be a mess.

The lies are the denial that goes requited generation after generation. The matriarch or the Narcissist, who perpetuates the lies, with gossip and tales to feed to the others about her favorite target: Jenny. This has trained the others to feel it is acceptable to lie about Jenny or create stories about what she is like. As they see this anger and frustration coming from Jenny whenever she is at family events, she continues to feed into their beliefs about her created by the Narcissist. Jenny was the scapegoat from the time she began to find her sense of self, as a teenager, and this coat of arms has never been removed. This web of deception in this family will never change unless the descendants begin to question things. Why should they though when the Narcissist adores them and praises their every move.

Family gatherings in the Valour family consist of everyone, but Jenny, adoring themselves and being adored by the Narcissist. No one is honest, is allowed to have opinions, but generally they don’t speak up about their beliefs – if they have one – because they have learned to appease one another.

The Valour family has no courage, no self-awareness, and no empathy. They have empathy for others in their desire to look like good people but not amongst their own kin. They have all ceased to individuate from the mother, with the exception of Jenny who has been outcast. In order to keep her sanity, she continues to try and develop a stronger sense of self but struggles with this daily. She made the mistake of returning home, assuming she was stronger and more prepared but ultimately finds herself collapsing each time she tries to develop some connection with her nieces and nephews or grandchildren. Every attempt she makes is thwarted by their mothers who have developed a bond with the Narcissist in order to be accepted by their own partners.

This type of family is not an exception. I learn about very similar stories of families like this month after month in my office. Either it is the mother or the father who can be the Narcissistic parent. I am often surprised to hear just how far the Narcissists will go, as I learn different ploys these parents will use to take advantage of their children. Some go as far as sexually abusing their children, because they can. I have heard of a parent who put their kids in another house down the street, so they could have their own life (without a parent in the other house and often without enough money to live on). Anything they can get away with, the Narcissistic parent will. Social services have been called out in many of these stories I have heard about. However, as Narcissism is not well understood and many social services staff are not clinically trained (at the master’s level), they are fooled by the Narcissist and close the case. In Jenny’s child’s story, the house is not filthy enough to remove and the unhealthy food is not a reason to remove either. As long as a child eats (even if it is McDonalds everyday), they are eating. As long as the house does not have feces on the floor, needles lying around, and maggots in the food, it is not considered a reason to remove. Having worked in social services for eight years, I know that my standards and the standards of most of us are not a reason to judge others for their stupidity.

There are always the same roles within the Narcissistic family. The spouse placates his/her spouse to keep the peace and generally is the most miserable emotionally (because they have no spouse).  Often the placating spouse stays with the Narcissistic partner because they become too weak from the emotional entrapment. Next there is the prime scapegoat (there can be more than one), the hero (often the opposite sex of the Narcissistic parent), and the child who placates the parent who is the Narcissist and is generally the sidekick of the placating parent.

If you were raised like Jenny, in this type of family, it is important to get support from a therapist who understands Narcissism. Unfortunately, not many do because there are not many trainings on this topic. Most people assume the Narcissist is the CEO or the egotistical person. There is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the Narcissist but why would they go into therapy when there is nothing wrong with them – the fault lies with the scapegoat. I have known people who went to family therapy with the Narcissist and the therapist became fooled as well and the children were blamed. I have also known where the Narcissist was brought into the room – so the therapist could meet them and became emotionally trapped by this person causing them to deflect from their own client.

It is a tricky situation to be in when you are a therapist. You have to be able to know it, smell it, hear it, taste it, (metaphorically) when you see it. Narcissists have a similar language that they use (I hear certain phrases over and over again). It is always emotional abuse to the victim and as I mentioned earlier can sometimes include physical and sexual abuse and even torture. Thus there needs to be more trainings available to social workers and therapist who are practicing in social services, the medical field, in private practice or for counseling centers (both at the academic and community level). The client will often present as bewildered and confused; who know something wasn’t quite right with their parent. With their Narcissistic partner they will think that they (the client) was at fault and will constantly be apologizing when explaining their relationship. We, as clinicians, must always listen and believe and trust the path the client is walking down. We have to look for the things they cannot see and ask questions to understand more. Most of all, we have to normalize their pain. It isn’t important that you meet the Narcissist. If you can feel (your instincts are saying) that this looks like one, it probably is. Never diagnose the person who is not in the room but you can state “This sounds like…” and help the person to get resources to better understand what you are seeing. If the person is a Narcissist, the client will identify with this when they read articles on this topic. They will also be able to better explain to you, as the clinician, their symptoms from learning more about it.

A terribly misunderstood topic, that needs to be more widely understood; so that we can help to identify and bring healing to our clients.

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Support for Partners of Vets, Desperately Needed

The film, “Thank you for Your Service,” is an outstanding movie. It is informative and directed more like a documentary rather than a blockbuster film with special effects and big names. This is essential to make it raw and to create an illusion that you are in the midst of someone’s private life. And you are because even though these are all actors, they are portraying real people and these events did happen.

So I would like to use this film as a spring board into the issue of support for partners of vets, which is not the intention of this film; though it is there begging to be the subtitle. All of this film caused me to be at the edge of my seat because the male soldiers were so emotionally unstable; I felt afraid of what they were going to do next. The ending hit with a bomb as the main soldier told the story of how a woman’s husband was killed. Yet what stuck with me the most was this line, which says so much about women today “Would you like a blow job,” she says thinking this will comfort her husband. He isn’t communicating with her and this is all she can think of. This comment and the woman’s fixation on sex (to get him to talk) during the entire movie is just one of the reasons it is imperative to have support for partners of vets.

Back in the early 80’s, my then husband was a sailor enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was about to be deployed on a West-Pac (aka tour of the Western Pacific) for six months. The families were brought in for a meeting prior to their departure to help couples understand what to expect, or what was normal. They told us about the departure, a little bit about what was going to happen and when we should expect the men to return. They also talked to us about relationships and sending letters, and about the fact that the Captain’s wife would be our ombudsman, available to us while the men were gone. This woman, whose name I cannot recall, met with the ladies during the six months on at least a monthly basis. We got together to chat, have coffee, discuss the letters we were receiving, any news we might need to know and ask questions about our housing, our money or any other issues of concern. It helped to build comradery, alleviate isolation and perhaps depression, but also to develop respect for the military and our spouses.

As I work with the military now, as a contracted civilian psychotherapist, not one single person has understood what an ombudsmen is nor do they recall such intimate gatherings taking place as I assumed was typical. There are yellow ribbon ceremonies that take place months after a return from deployment. At these presentations it is nicknamed “death by power point,” which means there isn’t a lot of concentration on what is being said. The meeting I attended with my ex-husband in the 80’s was approximately 30 people with our Captain speaking to us directly. The ceremonies today can be anywhere from 70-300 and sometimes even more than this. My psychotherapy table is the least visited booth on the breaks. Once the ceremony is over, people race to get out the door first. It is very sad to me because this is too little, too late and I feel as if it is nothing more than a checkbox being ticked; rather than attention to the mental health needs of men and women both soldiers and their partners. When I talk to people about this, the only thing I ever hear is “it would cost too much money.” This essentially means a person’s life is not worth it. What we see in the movie noted above is the main character being told by the VA that he won’t be able to see a mental health person for a number of weeks. He responds that he could be dead [by suicide] by then.

Going back to the issue of partners in the military, the point is that women today have no self-respect (nor do men) and look at themselves as sexual objects rather than partners and team players. What can we expect though when we live in a sexualized society where people are overly focused on what your sex type is and are confused about what gender they want to be? Where women believe that a date means you need to have your breasts hanging out, heavy make-up and six inch heels rather than a time to dress like a woman with the intention of getting to know the man in front of you.

Many children today are raised by single parents and sometimes they don’t even know their father or their paternal family. Often I see that they are pacified by technology. The teen girls and young adult women I talk to don’t use birth control and so many are desperate to trap the guy with a baby. Others use feeble excuses as to why they don’t use protection such as the doctor said they couldn’t get pregnant or it has been so long without a pregnancy they thought they couldn’t. These guys are happy to become “gamers” today and the girls stand idly by wondering why they won’t pay attention to them. They don’t need a war to ignore.

Since everywhere a woman turns she is being portrayed as a sex object, in the media and society, what else is there for her to think? Parents are not educating their children on sexuality nor are they teaching standards (I see this moreso with one parent families because there is no time to have quality time). Parents often race to get home to cook dinner while they check FB or Twitter and start chatting with someone else who is not there. Thus the kids are following their intended role models.

Once women were groomed to be married and the talk of sex was the last thing they would learn (if they had a talk at all). They learned about courting men which meant being a good conversationalist. They learned to dress appropriately so as not to tease. They learned to behave like mature ladies rather than silly girls. They understood that at times men needed their space and to walk away and self-soothe if need be like attending to a personal project or hobby. Women used to be self-sufficient. They were involved in women’s groups, charities/fundraisers, raising their children, running a household. Their days as teens were not spent hoping they would get laid but hoping they would find a suitable match. Their parents didn’t allow them to shop at a store such as “Victoria’s Secret” and purchase thongs or push up bra’s (when I was a teen even, this was a store for adult women not teenagers), it was a time of restraint and modesty.

We have come to a place where we have no standards. There are no rules in society. We are career women yet many go to work thinking about some guy they will see there. We don’t dress like women who want to get ahead because we have lost a sense of dignity and integrity. More and more companies are adopting a work culture with no professional dress policies.

Therefore, how can we expect a young woman whose husband or partner comes home from war to think of nothing more than sex? The soldier is coming home from war without their mental health as a top priority, even though they are a ticking time bomb. The partner has no support, the soldier has no support and so it is the blind leading the blind. I’ve seen so many resources available to give the post-deployment folks free this and free that and incentives for one thing or another. All this money could be utilized more effectively by supporting them with psycho-education and mental health services that are mandatory and respected.

In the movie the soldier is told (by his superior), to not allow his men to see him as a weak person getting services from mental health. This is not an isolated situation as I hear this time and time again from vets and their partners. We are all too aware of the problems with the Veteran’s Administration. What some people don’t realize is there is not enough staff and people are backlogged and no one gets preferential treatment. The staff are not treated fairly or with respect in some cases, no different than corporate America. Essentially, they are government workers no different than at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I learned recently it is not run by the military but by a corporate boss who is assigned to head the VA but this is not necessarily based on merit, experience, or military background.

In Britain, after a woman gives birth, a health worker follows her for a year to teach her how to care for her new child. In Britain, when soldiers return from war, they are held on base for 30 days before reintegration into society (as I’ve been told by an officer) and have a much lower suicide rate than the U.S. When astronauts land back on earth, they too are held before being reintegrated back in society. Why do we choose to ignore the people we have trained to kill, knowing full well that more than 30% will come back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Worse than this is that 20 veterans die by suicide daily. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists have been fighting with the military for years to hire us to work with soldiers on base. The jobs currently only recognize social workers.

What I would like to see is an independently licensed clinician, who serves as a family support worker. Someone who is assigned to a household that they follow for a year pre and post-deployment on a monthly basis. Someone who goes to the home weekly post-deployment, and then monthly once services are set up and followed through on. We do this with foster children as this was once my job. While in the home, the worker would be responsible for psycho-education first and foremost, secondly helping the family to fill out forms and explaining the importance of these services. Their job would be to assess and monitor follow-through on mental health support (not to provide it, i.e., not be the actual therapist as you cannot be in a dual role but offer counseling support). This job would then write reports to provide to a supervisor who is monitoring the clinicians in the home. No confidential information need be provided to anyone with exception to that which is a limit to confidentiality (which already exists for clinicians in the military). The records that pertain to mental health would be held by the supervisor. The supervisor could provide demographic information in the way of statistics so that the information gained could be utilized effectively within the military.

You would need a licensed independent clinician handling this assignment in the home as they would be qualified to assess major vs. minor psychological concerns that a simple case worker with only undergraduate knowledge would not have. Obviously, these clinicians would need special training to have more knowledge of military life, family needs as well as advanced training in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorders), TBI (traumatic brain injury) and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) symptoms.
If this type of support were made available to families, I suspect (common sense) that one would see lowered rates of death by suicide, homicide short-term and long-term, military divorce post-deployment, and a better quality of life overall to be had by military families.

We are in a pro-military society now and have gained so much psychological knowledge about the effects of battle since World War I. Why are we wasting this valuable information? Why are we spending so much money on war and then spend money on incentives rather than quality support? Why is a soldier’s life valuable but his/her partner’s is not especially when the family unit is imperative to the success of the soldier’s return? The success rate of person’s who struggle with PTSD is partly dependent on how it is managed within the family (believability, validation) and what support systems they have available to them in the community as well as through mental health and other adjunct resources (i.e., books, workshops, groups).

What we are essentially saying to a soldier and their family is “Thank you for your service and hey, Good Luck to you!” Isn’t this a bit hypocritical? I think they deserve better.

The Wonderful World of Sandplay

sand tray photoOver a decade ago I was introduced to “Sand tray” work (this is a different process than Sandplay that I am studying now), during my practicum at John F. Kennedy University. I took a training on this interpretive process and began to put it into practice at our counseling center.  We had a special sand tray room dedicated for practicing this work with our clients. At that time I was rather fascinated by this modality and what came up in the tray. Then I got a job in social services and went away from therapy for many years.

Recently, I met a trainer here in Columbus, Barbara Brugler who has re-awakened my passion for this work. She teaches Sandplay work (which is not interpretive). As a result, I am now on the path to becoming a certified therapist. This is a very long process which involves a certain number of classes, personal work in the sand and a supervisor to consult with me on the trays I do with my own clients. In the end, I have to write several papers in order to be approved for certification. What I love about this process is that they mandate personal work in the sand and that there are rules to follow. Rules work for me, or I should say knowing my limitations.

What I also love about Sandplay work is the unconscious process that takes place with the client. We don’t analyze the symbols they put into the tray. Not then anyway. Also, a client of any age can do Sandplay and it is especially helpful with trauma. Many people I work with who have been abused, or traumatized by some other type of experience, get to a place where they have said enough and aren’t sure where to go next. The Sandplay experience is a way for them to take a risk of working through these past issues without talking about it. It can be re-traumatizing when we go into our memories and dredge up all those scenes, tastes, unwanted touch and scents.  As a result there will be somatic reactions in the moment that include holding the breath. There can be nightmares, flashbacks, and dissociation as well. Then of course, you have this “a-ha” moment and then what?

How Sandplay works is I show them the sand tray and I show them the objects on my shelves. I tell them to look at these symbols and choose whatever ones seem to want to be picked up. They take them to the tray and make scenes that appear to come out of nowhere. I have heard “I don’t know why I chose that but it seems to need to go here.” This is perfect. I tell them that it is not important why they chose something, just to let the process happen.

My job is to take notes and once the session is over I take photographs of the tray, just like I write notes about the session – for documentation purposes. I then put the objects away.

What draws me in this work, is that I feel like I am in someone’s dream. Since I do dream analysis, this is my first time to watch it come alive. Only it is not their dream, it is happening right this minute. Or maybe it is their dream. The dream that has been happening for many years but they can’t seem to remember it. Or they do but can’t explain it. I suppose I will find out over time.

I also find that this work allows the inner child to emerge. For myself as a therapist and my clients, we are in the sand playing, metaphorically speaking and they are doing mindful work in a non-linear way. Doing these actions in silence (without interpretation) allows room for the client to grow without feeling exposed.

Ordinarily, I do not like silence as a therapist or as a person. Sandplay intrigues me in the sense that the room is actually very loud, again metaphorically speaking. So much is going on! If you can imagine being deaf and going to the circus. This is what it feels like when I watch the client in motion with the objects.

This is all that I have discovered thus far. Stay tuned for more to come! In the meantime, go to Sandplay Therapists of America (STA) and if you are not in the U.S., go to the International Society for Sandplay Therapy. This practice is Jungian based and has been around since the 1950’s. It was founded by Dora Kalff after studying at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich, Switzerland. Sandplay is also based on her studies of  Tibetan Buddhism and working with Margaret Lowenfeld in England.

A Survivors Tale

Yesterday, I thrust an abstract of my novel “Little Girls Should Ride Ponies,” out there for you to view.  There was no explanation, no reason for why it was a blog post, nothing. Just an experiment until I could figure out more to say. When you have written a book, you feel you have said everything and then you realize you have to explain it to others.

This book is a survivor’s tale. Memoirs don’t really sell unless you are famous. This isn’t my memoir though. It is a story about a woman who was sexually abused by an alcoholic father while her mother was hospitalized for depression. It is a tale about how a woman tries to have a life after such an ordeal; with the painful realities of the past continuing to haunt her mind. The novel shows how it effects relationships and causes men to feel put off by a past you had no control of.

“You wouldn’t call my family abnormal; they’ve just been under a lot of stress for many generations.”girleyescropped300(1)

This book is every woman’s story. Even if you haven’t been through this, you know someone who has. You have read about these things and you know it is possible. You want to turn a blind eye to it, because it is them not you. If you don’t read it you won’t have to know the details. You can continue living your life as is.

“How do you tell a complete stranger, a woman whom you don’t know, yet whom you pay $100/hour to listen…ummm… here is my life story?  No, she probably wants a brief summary for the time being.  How do you sum up your life?  Do you give bullet points, like in an annual report? 

  • Sister is a murderer.
  • I got pregnant at 15, gave child up for adoption.
  • Mom hates me.

So this is what happens.  You become successful, start thinking that you’d like to have something more than money in your life, but to do this you gotta sit here and dredge up all the shit in your closet.  Yes, there were demons all right, but I didn’t know where to begin.”

As a woman, you should read this book so that you can listen to the voice of every woman. As a man you should read this novel to build a level of sensitivity toward the young girl who might be your wife someday. Adolescents can read this if they are mature and above the age of 16.

This is a powerful book in the sense that it gives a voice. It begs to be heard. She wants you to know. Little girls should ride ponies, they should continue to be little girls; not pushed into an adult world where men teach them things they don’t need to know.

Paperback

Ebook

 

Little Girls Should Ride Ponies

Resent Cover Photo LGSRPIn Little Girls Should Ride Ponies, Isabel is a woman on the path to rediscovery after dealing with early psychic wounds. She is surrounded by family members of various proclivities. Camille is a famous medium on the west coast. Her visions are astounding and her followers swear by her pronouncements. Dominique is a murderous womanizer who tours the countryside eliminating child molesters. Born-again Jeanne, still living in the Midwest, tries to save the family from discovering what she believes are the family secrets. Meanwhile, Isabel is able to find love through Alejandro and his family. She has finally established some normalcy in her life, but at what cost? Does her mother really know her secret or have one of her own? Little Girls Should Ride Ponies takes a controversial look at the depths of psychological trauma.

It is also available in ebook formats through Smashwords (different cover).