Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Changing

July 2, 2008

 

 

 

I have just finished reading a book titled “The Art of  Changing” by Susan Peabody.   What prompted me to choose this book was an affirmation I noted when I flipped through the pages.  You know how sometimes you can be a spiritual magnet when some things, people or occasions that appear in your life at the right time when you are working on some issues, seeking for understanding and resolution at different stages in your life.  Interestingly, this is an affirmation in relation to

 

“When people are unavailable.”

 

Here is how it goes,

 

          No one is purposely trying to abandon or reject me, and I can choose to remember this.

 

          I don’t need to be a hostage taker.  I can honour somebody’s saying, “I am not available.”

 

          How other people spend their time is none of my business, and I will not judge their choices.

 

          “No” is a complete sentence.  I do not have to change people’s mind.

 

          I have enough people in my life that even if someone isn’t available to me I ‘m ok.  I have God, other people and meetings.

 

          My serenity is not dependent on any one person’s availability.  I can be serene even if no one is there to help me.

 

Some of us will find this affirmation beneficial with some personal adaptation.

 

Susan’s honest sharing is touching.  Susan shares the methods in changing but at the same time she shares her experience in her trials and tribulation and mostly being realistic in her guidance.  Some of the writings in this book is worth taking note and can be deep or thought provoking, for ponder or just simply, simply logical and/or sensible.  The following are some of them which impressed me in different ways and I am sure some of us would be able to relate to part of it or heard of it before.  They are in a bits and pieces.  Read the book for a wholesome understanding.

 

          Our lives don’t get better when we read a book or go to a class; our lives get better when we put forth a change.

 

          When my therapist asked what was holding me back from getting better, I said, “I am afraid to get well.  Mental health is unfamiliar. It’s a mystery that lies beyond a closed door, and I have no peephole.  That mystery feels like a beast ready to devour me if I open the door.  What if getting better is worst than being sick?  It can happen.  Besides, I think I have bonded to my vision of myself as a victim.  I prefer self-pity to self-esteem.”  – (So true, we can sometimes becomes a creature of habit, know where to get our fixes whenever we are in need and get ourselves to a comfort level but never go pass beyond to reach one that is “fixes free” until we reach a crisis or hit bottom.)

 

           Stay focused on your self – It is very tempting when trying to change your life to focus on changing others.  “If only my husband would change, “A wife thinks to herself, I will be happy.  Unfortunately changing other people is impossible. We only have the power to change ourselves.  Even if we could change others, it would only take time and (energy) away from the work we have to do to change ourselves.

 

          Denial is usually a defense mechanism.  A defense mechanism is anything we think, say, or do to manage the feelings we want to avoid.  Sometimes even our feelings are defense mechanisms against other feelings.  For instance, I get angry to avoid fear and blame others for my problems to keep the fear at bay.

 

          Whether perfectionism is good or bad, it can be a stumbling block to change if we can’t move forward because we are afraid of making mistakes.

 

          Toxic guilt – Children with undeveloped egos see themselves as the center of the universe and see themselves responsible for everything.  They think, “If the mother is angry, then it is my fault.  I am a bad person.”  This leads to the feelings of shame and toxic guilt.  This phase of childhood development has a lasting impact on our adult lives.  The feelings of guilt in our unconscious mind and float to the surface now and then when we least expect them.  This gets in the way of change because it weighs us down.  It saps our energy and keeps us in survival mode. We have to spend all of our time fighting off the feelings of shame and guilt, and as a result there is no time or desire to change.  To counteract this type of guilt, we must use positive reinforcement.  We must counter the free-floating feelings of guilt with an awareness of truth and with constant self-talk until the guilt recedes.  Most of all, we must not act on this toxic guilt.  For instance, codependents live lives of quiet desperation trying to get rid of toxic guilt by taking care of people in unhealthy ways.  They must stop doing this and ease the toxic guilt to the best of their ability.

 

          The pleasure compulsion is seductive, and it may be linked to the desire for control.  There is no trial or error necessary when doing something for the second or third time.  Whatever worked before is guarantee to work again – or so we think.  Food lovers get overweight, gamblers loose their paycheck, etc.

 

          Making changes step by step – Pinpoint what has to be changed – Making personal inventory of shortcomings – be thorough and honest as possible – consider exploring the relationship between your bad habits and wounds of your childhood – taking action is the key to change – I discovered a lot of myself by doing this task.  I found out that at one time or another I was capable of being selfish, angry, dishonest, gluttonous, afraid, resentful, envious, vengeful, intolerant, codependent, mean, lazy, impatient, controlling, demanding, judgmental, blaming and quick to attack people who disagreed with me.  When the truth was out, I immediately got depressed.  But I did not give up and eventually some mysterious force from deep within pushed up my consciousness and provided me with the willingness to at least dream about overcoming these problems.  As Jim Manley puts in his hymn “Spirit,” from the bondage of sorrow, the captives dreams dream.”  When I was ready to change the first action I took was to select one single thing from the list of things that I want to change about myself.  Then I made a commitment to overcome this problem.  What I choose to change was to overcome my bad temper.  I began breaking down this huge problem into manageable pieces.  I chose one manifestation of my temper and decided to work on that first.  What I chose was my habit of yelling at my son, I chose this because  at a therapy session with my son, the therapist said to him, “If you could change one thing about your mother, what would it be?”  My son replied, “I’d like her to stop yelling at me when she gets upset.”  To begin trying to change this bad habit, I spent the next few weeks thinking a lot about yelling.  I asked myself why I yelled.  The answer was that I was frustrated when my son didn’t do what I asked him to do, and this was the only way I could get his attention.  Then I asked myself what other choices I had.  I came up with a plan that I called “calm persistence.”  The day after committing to this plan, I screamed at my son.  Afterward, I was overwhelmed with a sense of how easy it was to do something that I had told myself I wouldn’t do.  However I didn’t give up.  I keep trying, and after each failure I spent some time thinking about how the incident had gotten started and how it had escalated.  A few weeks of great adventure of trying to change, I asked my son to do the dishes when he came home from school.  I got home from work expecting a clean kitchen. When I saw the dirty dishes piled up everywhere, I turned red with anger.  I was ready to pounce on my son.  Fortunately he wasn’t home so I had some time to think about the commitment I had made to calm persistence.  When my son came home, I began talking to him calmly. When he started getting defensive, and making excuses.  I suddenly found myself yelling at him again.  However, this time, instead of feeling as if I was in some kind of trance with no control over the situation, I found myself observing myself as I was yelling.  I also felt, for the first time, that I had a choice.  I knew I could stop if I wanted to.  I used this new sense control to change my behaviour, I stopped yelling at my son in midscream and walked out of the room.  Later, despite my small victory, I still felt as if I had failed to reach my goal and I started crying about it. The sobs continued for a while and afterward I felt as if a big weight has been lifted of my shoulders.  Then I recognized that at least I was thinking about yelling at my son and during the act – not just afterward.  I was making progress.  The next time my son forgot to do the dishes, I talked calmly to him about it and insisted he do them before going out on turning on the television.  He resisted and I persisted – but I did not yell.  Afterward, I felt so good about myself for not yelling.  This victory lifted my self-esteem and later become a motivation to continue fighting my urge to yell.  From this point on, despite periodic relapses, I continued to have a sense of choice about my yelling rather than feeling powerless about it.  After a year passed, the urge to yell at my son disappeared, and it seemed normal to handle things without loosing control.  I still got angry, but I had gotten control over my behaviour and I felt better about myself.  Most of all, in changing my behaviour I had improved my relationship with my son.  We were close and he respected me more.  Because he respected me more, he was more cooperative.  Over the years, I have continued to change many things about myself – from hurtful behaviours to small vices.  I give myself all the time I need to change, and I never give up.  I do something even if it’s just thinking about the problem and keeping the goal of change firmly entrenched in my mind.

 

          The power of group – Honesty is very fragile.  It begins to fall apart in isolation.  To guard against the withering away the progress you’ve made, it’s important to find a community of other people who are also working to change.  Many wonderful things happen in such a place. – You’ll tell your story out loud and find out, to your amazement, that you are not the only one with this problem and that you are not banished from the group. – You find love and support from others who really understand from what you are going through. – You’ll find strength you didn’t know you had and the hope you thought you had lost. – You’ll find more wisdom how to change than you know what to do with. – You find the place where you can be honest and share secrets.  This will help dissipate your toxic shame.  You’ll learn a lot about your problems and what you can do about them.  The people you meet will share their insights and recommend books and resources.  This will facilitate the change you want to make. – You will be reminded to guard against procrastination and denial, because showing up is a constant reminder you need to change. – Calling people in your support group will help you avoid the dysfunctional behaviour you want to change.  You can call someone before acting out in some irrational way. – Support group makes you accountable to the group.  You’ll find yourself doing for them what you can’t do for yourself.  (As you develop your own inner strength, accountability to the group will be less important.)

 

          The power of therapy – “Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness; the emotional discovery of the truth about the unique history of our childhood…..In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom.  The damage dome to us during our childhood cannot be undone, since we cannot change ourselves….We become free by transforming ourselves from unaware victims of the past into responsible individuals in the present, who are aware of the past and thus able to live with it. – Alice Miller, The drama of the gifted child. – One day I told my therapist that I was unhappy with the progress that we were making.  “What do you mean we?,” he said.  “Well” I mumbled, “isn’t this a team effort?”  “No” he said, “you are the one who has to do the work.  I hold the flashlight and you chopped the wood.”  I was shocked by this statement, but it was the beginning of the change in my attitude about therapy.  I realized my therapist wasn’t going to fix me.  I had to start doing things differently if I want to change. –  As long as I could remember,  I had been angry with my mother – both as a child and as an adult.  When I shared some episodes with my therapist, he said something interesting.  He shrugged his shoulder and said sympathetically, “Oh, she couldn’t do it.”  I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized that he didn’t say “she wouldn’t do it”.  He said, “she couldn’t do it.”  What a difference a letter can make.  I suddenly began looking my mother in a brand new light.  – This is how therapy is supposed to work.  You uncover things.  You process your feelings.  Your feelings change.  You treat people differently.  You change. Your relationship changes.  Then you repeat the process all over again.

  

          Healing the wounds of the past begins with changing how we look at it. – Identify the things that happened to you – Talk about them – Write about them – Feel your feelings fully – no matter what the are and how they are or how afraid of them you are – Accept what has happened to you – Accept what you did in reaction to what happened to you. – Forgive those who hurt you – Forgive yourself if you passed your anger on to others – Try to find something good that came out of the chaos – Move on. Live in the moment. – Once I broke through my denial and identified what had happened to me and what I had done to myself and others, I began talking about it.  At some point, I also began writing about what had happened. However, I was still unable to feel very much at this point, so my writing was very analytical.   This was my way of recognizing my pain but not feeling it.  After some time, the dam burst and all my painful feelings would come and go, but every time I discovered something new, or I realized how much I have been wounded in the past.  I faced my feelings and had a good cry.  I cried a lot.  Eventually, I moved on from my feelings and addressed the issue of acceptance.  Acceptance was very important part of the healing process for me.  It doesn’t change the basic situation, but it ends our struggles against things that can’t be changed, leaving more energy to focus on the things that can be.  Acceptance amounts to surrendering your pain so that you can move on.  You just give it to God or some benevolent force in the universe and in return you get the serenity you need to heal your wounds.

 

          Parenting yourself – When I was growing up I was very headstrong.  It was difficult for my parents to discipline me, so they gave up trying.  Interestingly enough, this lack of discipline made me feel unloved.  I remember wishing I had some of the restrictions my friends moaned and groaned about.  Because no one restrained me, I didn’t know how to restrain myself, and my lack of discipline eroded my self-esteem.  I always felt out of control and ashamed of myself.  I used to beg my mother to give me the structure I needed.  She would shrug her shoulders and say, “I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to.”  Further more, both my parents were clinically depressed and addicted to mood-altering substances.  As a result, they didn’t have the emotional energy to give me the love and nurturing I needed.  Like most children, when I couldn’t get what I need from my parents, I looked for it elsewhere.  This began a life long pattern of looking for love outside myself.  – Self parenting is a therapeutic approach to healing the wounds of our childhood.  It is an attempt to give ourselves now what we did not get as children.  This relationship for me is threefold:  I love and comfort my inner child, my little girl (Susie); I set limits with her and we play together.  As a result, she has for the most part, stopped acting out, and her pain no longer permeates my life.  She is content and no longer needs mood-altering experiences to anesthetize her pain.  Most of all, my self-parenting has helped me grow up, and this maturation has paved the way for other changes.

 

          Building self-esteem – The teacher said that high self-esteem was linked to altruism.  She said people feel good about themselves when they generous and charitable.  I questioned the teacer after class, because all the nice things I had done for people over the years hadn’t help my self esteem.  The teacher didn’t have an answer for me, but after I thought about it, I came to realize that altruism has to be balanced with self-care.  It also has to be freely given.  All the giving I had done over the years has been motivated  by an attempt to buy love.  Therefore, to a certain extent, my generosity has been contaminated by my own needed and the less-than-pure motivations.  As a result, helping others didn’t build up lasting self-esteem, it was just a quick fix.  After I realised this, I decided that I would give to others when I could do so with a free heart – with no strings attached.  You might say, I decided to love my neighbour as I love myself – no more, no less. – I believe strongly that creative people have high self-esteem.  I know that when I started writing and sharing my work with others, I really feel good about myself.

 

          Forgiving others – In his book, Alcoholic Anonymous, author Bill Wilson, discusses forgiveness, and say it’s not done to please others, but in the interest of self. – In Toxic Parents, Susan Forward says this, “You may be asking yourself, “ Isn’t the first step to forgive my parent?” My answer is no…It is not necessary to forgive your parents in order to feel better about yourself and to change your life…Why in the world should you  “Pardon” a father who terrorized and battered you, who made your childhood a living hell?   Early in my professional career I too believed to forgive people who had injured you, especially your parents, was an important part of the healing process….The more I thought about it, I realize this absolution was another form of denial….One of the most dangerous thing about forgiveness is that it undercuts your ability to let go of your pent-up emotions.  How can you acknowledge your anger against a a parent whom you’ve already forgiven? – The question is this : Is it possible that both Bill Wilson and Susan Forward are both right?  Yes, Susan Forward is correct when she says we must own our anger.  Anger is honest.  Anger in the right setting is therapeutic.  Anger can lead to justice.  Anger can free us from tyranny.  And by coming out against forgiveness, Forward allows us to take our time without shame.  Bill Wilson in my opinion is also right.  If we stop resenting people, we feel better about ourselves and others.  This changes us and our lives.  This is why I believe forgiveness is the ultimate goal no matter how long it takes. – If you decide that forgiveness if for you, it might be helpful to realize that letting go off anger does not mean that you have to like the person or continue to let that person to persecute you.  Actually, you don’t even have to be around the person who hurt you if you don’t want to. – “You know, God asks us to love our neighbours and our enemies alike, but some people you just have to love at a distance.” – Forgiveness is not a constant state.  It ebbs and flows like the tide.  Sometimes you feel good about those who hurt you and other times you feel the anger all over again.  But this doesn’t mean, you haven’t progressed.  I’ve found that, as long as I ask God for the strength to release my anger, or announce it in my support group that I am going to “turn it over” or tell my therapist I am really tired of these resentments and want them to go away, the anger comes less and less often.  People should not be told to forgive when they are not ready.  They shouldn’t be shamed by others, and they should not shame themselves.  They should push themselves gently in the right direction.

 

          Forgiving yourself – To begin forgiving yourself, it’s important to accept the fact that you’re not perfect.  Embrace your humanity and the fact that you make mistakes.  The resulting humility is necessary fro change.

 

          Helping others – Helping others is a good way to help ourselves change. – “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

 

          Progress – not perfection – Changing is a slow process.  You have to learn the art of accepting failure while still pushing forward to the next milestone.  Accepting failure is easy if you are humble.  Humble people understand that they are not perfect and that failure is part of who they are.  They also reframe failure and see it as a legitimate part of the learning curve.

Salsa Dancing adventure.

August 1, 2007

I attended a school concert a few years ago.  One of the performances, salsa dancing really caught my attention.  The dance was performed by a couple, both teachers, husband and wife, the coordination was one of the most graceful and smoothest that I have ever witnessed.  Talk about harmonious relationship, this is certainly a classic exhibit of hand in glove cooperation. 

I got so intrigued by it that I started researching the classes available in my area.  It was just within a handful.  I went to check out a place and decided to pursue, one of the most difficult lessons of my life.  So here it goes, left foot one step back, one step front, right foot one step front, and one step back, do not sway your hips, eyes on your partner, hands resting gently on the others, count four in one, last count silent, do not bend your knees or bend, what? And etc.  Oh my god! I thought, what have I gotten myself into.  I felt as if I got all my clutches, gears and pedals mixed up and all over the place for the first time. Trying to use my mind to coordinate my limbs, listening to the cue and feeling it all at the same time and applying some logic and system into it, I have to say I fumbled badly like a clown for the first few lessons.  If I can picture myself, the description is close to getting a mannequin to dance.  Seeing how good the teacher was, and others, being in the salsa lesson felt quite intimidating and a daunting task.  Like a fool I was too enchanted by my desire to dance like them and the music was rather infectious and animating, with catchy tunes, I did not give up so soon. 

So back on my internet again, like a professional undergraduate student, adopting the scientific approach, I started researching on, this time, the theory of salsa which explains about the origin, the techniques, the instruments behind the music, and etc..  Practising with a partner.  Still in the lesson.  It did not justify my progress.  Something in my dancing was still out of place and I could not, in all my attempt, metaphorically speaking, get the bolt and nut in place.

Like a stubborn mule, I persisted, this time, I took a few one to one lessons. I also braved myself to just practise on the dance floor, coming back from dancing past midnight like Cinderalla bolting back home for the reason that I hardly graced the dance place in the late night.  But the love of wanting to be at least a reasonably abled dancer, I took the adventurous risk, may not be perceived by others, being a timid in that area, for me, it was.

I was fortunate enough to have found a dancing partner who was superbly excellent and was kind enough to dance with me frequently.  And finally, somehow, it clicked, things just fell into place and I was dancing myself like Alice in Wonderland exploring Disneyland and having much fun, I have to say, I was enlightened in some way.  What I meant was I was lit up in everyway when I was dancing you probably see me with one of my million dollar smiles.  Even writing and recalling it now, makes me smile.

In retrospection, this is what I have learnt or discovered from my experience in salsa dancing.  As a female partner, you have to learn how to take cue from the male partner and learn how to allow yourself to be led by your partner gracefully.  Your partner, if possible, have to be really good at leading.  I am used to being independent since young it was hard to be led, that explains my struggle in the dancing lesson initially.  This really teaches me about life and a lot about myself too; how I can apply that principle of the dance into real life.  To be in harmony, one will sometimes have to surrender gracefully to the flow of life or support and if in partnership, the leader has also to be good at leading, generally the gender leading is the male, but not necessarily the case, if the other is more able.

It also teaches me to not be in my mental mode of controlling when I am dancing and this is also applicable to living. When you think less or none, you are in the flow with the pulse of life and enjoying the moment, the same when you meditate.  The soul needs to express itself and sometimes there is no words to define it so dancing is a good form of expression, like art.

I have seen ladies in their middle age crisis especially after sending their children off to college, go through the empty nest syndrome and at the same time, their relationship evolves to a different mode.  So, what is really catching up among them is line dancing. You really get to witness them having a whale of a fun time, it is really rejuvenating and brings one back to life like being a child again.  In fact, it is deserving for these mothers after accomplishing, so to speak, their call for duty.

Further, when I am dancing with the other person, just by the way he holds my hand and leads me and dances, it tells me a lot about that person for the first time, whether the person, is sensitive, organised, authoritarian, considerate, etc..  Apart from that, I also learn about myself when I start to observe my feeling and my moves.

Seeing from afar, for those who are not into salsa dancing, some may view the moves as sleazy or provocative.  It is actually a beautiful,  graceful and a sexy dance.  We actually hardly touch, I mean body to body, and we were taught how to keep at a certain distance. Those who are into salsa dancing, are more into mastering the dance then looking for a partner, off course, not to mention, that such potentiality does exist.  What they say, dancing is the vertical expression of love making, an interesting definition.

So in a nut shell, I had fun with my adventure and learnt a lot.  Hope you get to experience some of that fun too!    

     

         

Homa – The fire purification ceremony.

July 29, 2007

 On Wesak day, this year (2007), I was very fortunate to have the opportunity of having Homa done in my humble abode.  The priest, Danesh, from the Laskhmi temple is highly in demand for such performing rites and especially on auspicious days like full moon and Wesak, the birthday of Buddha.  Someone who had make a reservation for such rite for this Wesak day cancelled and hence I have been blessed with such a sacred chance.  I was advised by a friend to have a homa performed in my home since last year and I had been thinking about it since then and hence, the right moment.

When I made the arrangement with priest Danesh, two weeks before the actual date, I was given a list of items to get and prepare for that auspicious day.  It tallies close to thirty.  The items include flowers, fruits, raisins, rice, incense, saffron, ghee, coconut, betel leaves, cashew nuts, almond, bananas, red vibhutti, tumeric powder, red cloth, brown sugar, frankinscence, tulasi leaves, camphor, salt, etc.  It was quite a task gathering all the items but it was manageable. Overall the ritual felt wholesome and definitely the atmosphere in the house during and following the purification process, felt really good.  It felt starkly clean and pure. It is close to the exhilarated feeling after an exercise, a fresh injection of pure, bright, brilliant and sparkling white light.  Similar to the taste as if you just have had your teeth brushed with a spearmint toothpaste. 

Taken from a site and Wilkipedia, Homa, the fire offering, is said to be more ancient than puja.  It comes from Vedic times when fire was the main resource used in life. Each house was built around a central fire. Each community had its central or communal fire.  Fire is the Divine presence, the presence of light in the material world. No better symbol for the Divine can be found. The spirit is hidden in all material things the way fire is latent in wood. Hence fire is our most convenient symbol of the Divine and our aspiration towards it.  In the homa devotional ceremony, we offer our thoughts and emotions to the Divine

 Although a consecrated fire is the central element of every homa ritual, the procedure and items offered to the fire vary by what occasions the ceremony, or by the benefit expected from the ritual. Procedures invaribly involve –·        the kindling and consecration of the sacrificial fire; ·        the invocation of one or more divinities; and, ·        the making of offerings (whether real or visualized) to them with the fire as via media, amid the recitation of prescribed prayers and mantras.

The consecrated fire forms the focus of devotions; it is often maintained on specific types of wood and other combustibles. The fire-altar (vedi) is generally made of brick or stone, and is almost always built specifically for the occasion, being dismantled immediately afterwards. This fire-altar is invaribly built in square shape. While very large vedis are occasionally built for major public homas, the usual altar may be as small as 1 x 1 foot square and rarely exceeds 3 x 3 feet square. Again, whereas major altars at public events may include a hollowing of the earth to create a relatively deep pit, usual altars involve no such excavation and indeed rise only inches above the ground.

In all events, the arrangement is centered in the middle of a space, which may be either outdoors or indoors. The principal people performing the ceremony and the priests who instruct them through the rituals seat themselves around the altar, while family, friends and other devotees form a larger ring around that center. The length and procedure of a homa depends on the purpose to which it is performed; many different types of homas exist, and the following list is only illustrative.

I find the following material on homa written by Dr Shantala Priyadarshini, teacher and theorectical researcher from Mysore Aryuvedic Medical College, very informative and comprehensive :

Can these healing methods really work? Are they scientifically provable? Do these practices help only in treating psychological disorders or do they mean much more? Why did our seers give these rituals so much of importance? What could these Vedic rituals mean today ? in this scientific era of CT scan, atomic energy, exploration and expedition to Mars?

From ancient times, Ayourveda & Vedic sciences have made significant contributions to the world civilization, culture and knowledge in all areas of human pursuits. These contributions, mostly unknown to the wider world, are often un-acknowledged and this wisdom often distorted. Their ideas require attention for better understanding and appreciation of the human past.

A homa is a sacred fire ceremony in which various forms of the Divine are invoked in a sacred fire that has been kindled according to the guidelines in the Vedic scriptures.  They bring powerful healing and spiritual upliftment.According to India’s ancient spiritual tradition, certain ritual practices have the power to attract divine cosmic energy for the benefit of the practitioner, his or her household, and the world at large.  One of the most powerful practices involves homas.

Certain special offerings are made into the fire while Sanskrit mantras are chanted. The combination of the powerful energy of the fire element, the most transformational among the Five Elements, and the chanted mantras creates extremely auspicious and purifying vibrations that are beneficial to all who attend the homa.The smoke that rises from a homa contains a powerful healing energy, and as it rises to the heavens it purifies the atmosphere, both physically and subtly, encouraging a peaceful environment and gentle weather. Even the damaging effects of natural catastrophes can be reduced through the performance of homas. The energetic vibrations that are invoked during a traditional Vedic fire ceremony represents one of the most powerful presence of the Divine on Earth. The element of fire is associated with the upward motion of the divine kundalini energy and is considered to be the most powerfully purifying element. Every kind of negative karma can be purified by the sacred homa fire, due to divine grace.It is true that sitting in one homa fire (for an hour or more) can roughly be the equivalent of doing intense meditation, for a month.

During the actual homa ceremony, we start with a few introductory mantras, bringing in the energy of our divine lineage, including Swami Kaleshwara, Shirdi Sai Baba, Jesus, Mother Divine and other divine souls, for bringing the highest healing and blessings to all who attend.Then we light the fire, and chant powerful ancient Sanskrit and Telugu mantras together, as a group. These mantras vary depending on which kind of homa we’re doing and what energies we’re invoking, although some flavor of the Mother Divine energy is always an important part of the process.While the homa fire’s energy is building and people are chanting the mantras, everybody gets to hold a rose and a few sticks of incense, which will later be offered to the fire in the final group offering.We offer sacred materials into the fire, including ghee, rice, flowers, incense, and a coconut.

The special Full Moon homas, for increasing prosperity on all levels (including spiritual) and for connecting in a beautiful way with the Mother Divine directly, involve a few more specialized offerings: nine different types of oils, fruits, flowers, and seeds.It is not uncommon for people attending homa to experience internal heat intensifying, since the internal heat is a response to and reflection of the external fire.At the end of the ceremony, after all the mantras have been chanted, we offer our collective prayers and intentions as a group in the form of incense and flowers.Then we ‘cool down’ a little bit by singing some bhajans and kirtans, sacred songs praising and invoking the divine.

Many times the on-going energy and blessing of the homa fire is experienced later on in the day or even over the next few days or weeks.As the purification side of healing goes on, you may feel agitated or irritable, or have sensations of heat or tingling in the physical body. Similar to any energetic healing experience, you may find that you want to rest a little more than usual during the day, and drink more water than you might normally.Emotions of all kinds (sadness, joy, anger, gratitude) might run a little high.Sleep is usually deeper and feels more restful after a homa. Dreams may be vivid. Memories of the homa fire itself (even the scent of the smoke!) may come to mind at seemingly strange or random times.Sometimes the mantras you chanted at the homa will return in your mind, as though a record of them is playing. It’s a beautiful chance to go deeper with the mantras, and to re-experience the same healing energy, at any time, that you encountered at homa.  A sense of well-being and inner peace, or a feeling of connectedness to your Higher Self or the divine, however you consider it, may increase. Moments of open-heartedness, and a deep appreciation for loved ones and all beings in general, may occur…!

There are many different reasons why a person might want to sponsor a homa. The real significance of making a donation in order to sponsor a homa (through making your home available, providing the homa materials like ghee and turmeric, kindling wood & a coconut, or offering food and drink to the people who come to attend the homa, or even, in the case of extreme healing need, paying a financial donation FOR the actual homa) is that one is offering one’s negative karma (in the form of the effort to offer your home, or the cost of food, homa materials, or money) to the homa fire. Through the power of the homa ceremony, the negative karma is destroyed and replaced with positive karma. If a person is experiencing difficulties of any kind, sponsoring a homa will help to lessen those difficulties. The homa fire is capable of destroying the most negative karma at the very root, and karma is ultimately the cause of all problems. In addition, sponsoring a homa is a very sacred act of merit, as homas benefit all attendees, as well as the entire world. It is also important that whoever attends a homa make some contribution to the process. For maximum healing to take place, it’s important that an energy exchange of some kind is involved — either a small financial donation, bringing food/drinks to share at the homa, providing homa supplies like roses or ghee, helping to clean up after the ceremony, etc. By making a small donation, we can bring great benefit to many creatures, and this enhances our own pool of merit, or positive karma. Positive karma makes the path of our lives smooth and clear, and gives us the opportunity to be in the presence of and benefit from holy people. Thus, sponsoring the sacred homa can both reduce one’s negative karma and enhance one’s positive karma, which makes life more conducive to spiritual practice and which ultimately leads to the highest liberation. 

Hopefully, my experience and the above information will add on to your boat of knowledge and interest.  Namaste!

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

April 25, 2007

In order to understand or relate better to another person, I try to get to know his or her childhood and past experiences, family background, their astrological and psychological make-up, personality and etc.  By doing so, I become more accepting and less judgmental of the person and maybe even begin to forgive and have more compassion.  Sometimes, I experienced something that I did not even have any knowledge or understanding, and then, later, I began to see more clearly when I have sought for more information.  The following is one of them.  This information has been taken from a term paper written extensively by Joanna M Ashmun.  If you can relate to this, I would welcome your sharing in the comment section. 

“The study of human nature may be thought of as an art with many tools at its disposal, an art closely related to all the other arts, and relevant to them all. In literature and poetry, particularly, this is especially significant. Its primary aim must be to broaden our knowledge of human beings, that is to say, it must enable us all to become better, fuller, and finer people.” — Alfred Adler 

A personality disorder is a pattern of deviant or abnormal behavior that the person doesn’t change even though it causes emotional upsets and trouble with other people at work and in personal relationships. It is not limited to episodes of mental illness, and it is not caused by drug or alcohol use, head injury, or illness. There are about a dozen different behavior patterns classified as personality disorders.  All the personality disorders show up as deviations from normal in one or more of the following:
(1) cognition — i.e., perception, thinking, and interpretation of oneself, other people, and events;
(2) affectivity — i.e., emotional responses (range, intensity, lability, appropriateness);
(3) interpersonal functions;
(4) impulsivity.

While grandiosity is the diagnostic hallmark of pathological narcissism, pathological narcissism occurs in two forms, (a) a grandiose state of mind in young adults that can be corrected by life experiences, and (b) the stable disorder which is defined less by grandiosity than by severely disturbed interpersonal relations.

The preferred theory seems to be that narcissism is caused by very early affective deprivation, yet the clinical material tends to describe narcissists as unwilling rather than unable, thus treating narcissistic behaviors as volitional — that is, narcissism is termed a personality disorder, but it tends to be discussed as a character disorder. This distinction is important to prognosis and treatment possibilities. If NPD is caused by infantile damage and consequent developmental short-circuits, it probably represents an irremediable condition. On the other hand, if narcissism is a behavior pattern that’s learned, then there is some hope, however tenuous, that it’s a behavior pattern that can be unlearned. The clinical literature on NPD is highly theoretical, abstract, and general, with sparse case material, suggesting that clinical writers have little experience with narcissism in the flesh. There are several reasons for this to be so:

— The incidence of NPD is estimated at 1% in the general population, though I haven’t been able to discover the basis of this estimate.
— Narcissists rarely enter treatment and, once in treatment, progress very slowly. We’re talking about two or more years of frequent sessions before the narcissist can acknowledge even that the therapist is sometimes helpful. It’s difficult to keep narcissists in treatment long enough for improvement to be made — and few people, narcissists or not, have the motivation or the money to pursue treatment that produces so little so late.
— Because of the influence of third-party payers (insurance companies), there has been a strong trend towards short-term therapy that concentrates on ameliorating acute troubles, such as depression, rather than delving into underlying chronic problems. Narcissists are very reluctant to open up and trust, so it’s possible that their NPD is not even recognized by therapists in short-term treatment. Purely anecdotal evidence from correspondents and from observations of people I know indicates that selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac, aggravate narcissists’ grandiosity and lack of social inhibition. It has also been suggested that self-help literature about bolstering self-esteem and getting what you want out of life or that encourages the feeling of victimization has aggravating effects on NPD thinking and behavior.
— Most clinical writers seem unaware that narcissists’ self-reports are unreliable. This is troubling, considering that lying is the most common complaint about narcissists and that, in many instances, defects of empathy lead narcissists to wildly inaccurate misinterpretations of other people’s speech and actions, so that they may believe that they are liked and respected despite a history of callous and exploitative personal interactions.

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy.   Additionally, there is considerable overlap between personality disorders and clinicians tend to diagnose mixes of two or more. Grandiosity is a special case, but lack of empathy and exploitative interpersonal relations are not unique to NPD, nor is the need to be seen as special or unique. The differential diagnosis of NPD is made on the absence of specific gross behaviors. Borderline Personality Disorder has several conspicuous similarities to NPD, but BPD is characterized by self-injury and threatened or attempted suicide, whereas narcissists are rarely self-harming in this way. BPD may include psychotic breaks, and these are uncharacteristic of NPD but not unknown. The need for constant attention is also found in Histrionic Personality Disorder, but HPD and BPD are both strongly oriented towards relationships, whereas NPD is characterized by aloofness and avoidance of intimacy. Grandiosity is unique to NPD among personality disorders, but it is found in other psychiatric illnesses. Psychopaths display pathological narcissism, including grandiosity, but psychopathy is differentiated from NPD by psychopaths’ willingness to use physical violence to get what they want, whereas narcissists rarely commit crimes; the narcissists I’ve known personally are, in fact, averse to physical contact with others, though they will occasionally strike out in an impulse of rage. It has been found that court-ordered psychotherapy for psychopaths actually increases their recidivism rate; apparently treatment teaches psychopaths new ways to exploit other people. Bipolar illness also contains strong elements of grandiosity. 

The disorder begins by early adulthood and is indicated by at least five of the following:

Translation: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a pattern of self-centered or egotistical behavior that shows up in thinking and behavior in a lot of different situations and activities. People with NPD won’t (or can’t) change their behavior even when it causes problems at work or when other people complain about the way they act, or when their behavior causes a lot of emotional distress to others (or themselves? none of my narcissists ever admit to being distressed by their own behavior — they always blame other people for any problems). This pattern of self-centered or egotistical behavior is not caused by current drug or alcohol use, head injury, acute psychotic episodes, or any other illness, but has been going on steadily at least since adolescence or early adulthood.

NPD interferes with people’s functioning in their occupations and in their relationships:
 

Mild impairment when self-centered or egotistical behavior results in occasional minor problems, but the person is generally doing pretty well.
 

Moderate impairment when self-centered or egotistical behavior results in: (a) missing days from work, household duties, or school, (b) significant performance problems as a wage-earner, homemaker, or student, (c) frequently avoiding or alienating friends, (d) significant risk of harming self or others (frequent suicidal preoccupation; often neglecting family, or frequently abusing others or committing criminal acts).
 

Severe impairment when self-centered or egotistical behavior results in: (a) staying in bed all day, (b) totally alienating all friends and family, (c) severe risk of harming self or others (failing to maintain personal hygiene; persistent danger of suicide, abuse, or crime).

1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

Translation: Grandiosity is the hallmark of narcissism. So what is grandiose?

The simplest everyday way that narcissists show their exaggerated sense of self-importance is by talking about family, work, life in general as if there is nobody else in the picture. Whatever they may be doing, in their own view, they are the star, and they give the impression that they are bearing heroic responsibility for their family or department or company, that they have to take care of everything because their spouses or co-workers are undependable, uncooperative, or otherwise unfit. They ignore or denigrate the abilities and contributions of others and complain that they receive no help at all; they may inspire your sympathy or admiration for their stoicism in the face of hardship or unstinting self-sacrifice for the good of (undeserving) others. But this everyday grandiosity is an aspect of narcissism that you may never catch on to unless you visit the narcissist’s home or workplace and see for yourself that others are involved and are pulling their share of the load and, more often than not, are also pulling the narcissist’s share as well. An example is the older woman who told me with a sigh that she knew she hadn’t been a perfect mother but she just never had any help at all — and she said this despite knowing that I knew that she had worn out and discarded two devoted husbands and had lived in her parents’ pocket (and pocketbook) as long as they lived, quickly blowing her substantial inheritance on flaky business schemes. Another example is claiming unusual benefits or spectacular results from ordinary effort and investment, giving the impression that somehow the narcissist’s time and money are worth more than other people’s. “When the narcissistic defense is operating in an interpersonal or group setting, the grandiose part does not show its face in public. In public it presents a front of patience, congeniality, and confident reasonableness.”

In popular usage, the terms narcissism, narcissist, and narcissistic denote absurd vanity and are applied to people whose ambitions and aspirations are much grander than their evident talents. Sometimes these terms are applied to people who are simply full of themselves — even when their real achievements are spectacular. Outstanding performers are not always modest, but they aren’t grandiose if their self-assessments are realistic; e.g., Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, was notorious for boasting “I am the greatest!” and also pointing out that he was the prettiest, but he was the greatest and the prettiest for a number of years, so his self-assessments weren’t grandiose. Some narcissists are flamboyantly boastful and self-aggrandizing, but many are inconspicuous in public, saving their conceit and autocratic opinions for their nearest and dearest. Common conspicuous grandiose behaviors include expecting special treatment or admiration on the basis of claiming (a) to know important, powerful or famous people or (b) to be extraordinarily intelligent or talented. As a real-life example, I used to have a neighbor who told his wife that he was the youngest person since Sir Isaac Newton to take a doctorate at Oxford. The neighbor gave no evidence of a world-class education, so I looked up Newton and found out that Newton had completed his baccalaureate at the age of twenty-two (like most people) and spent his entire academic career at Cambridge. The grandiose claims of narcissists are superficially plausible fabrications, readily punctured by a little critical consideration. The test is performance: do they deliver the goods? (There’s also the special situation of a genius who’s also strongly narcissistic, as perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright. Just remind yourself that the odds are that you’ll meet at least 1000 narcissists for every genius you come across.)

2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

Translation: Narcissists cultivate solipsistic or “autistic” fantasies, which is to say that they live in their own little worlds (and react with affront when reality dares to intrude).

3. Believes he is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

Translation: Narcissists think that everyone who is not special and superior is worthless. By definition, normal, ordinary, and average aren’t special and superior, and so, to narcissists, they are worthless.

4. Requires excessive admiration

Translation: Excessive in two ways: they want praise, compliments, deference, and expressions of envy all the time, and they want to be told that everything they do is better than what others can do. Sincerity is not an issue here; all that matter are frequency and volume.

5. Has a sense of entitlement

Translation: They expect automatic compliance with their wishes or especially favorable treatment, such as thinking that they should always be able to go first and that other people should stop whatever they’re doing to do what the narcissists want, and may react with hurt or rage when these expectations are frustrated.

6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends

Translation: Narcissists use other people to get what they want without caring about the cost to the other people.

7. Lacks empathy

Translation: They are unwilling to recognize or sympathize with other people’s feelings and needs. They “tune out” when other people want to talk about their own problems.
    In clinical terms, empathy is the ability to recognize and interpret other people’s emotions. Lack of empathy may take two different directions: (a) accurate interpretation of others’ emotions with no concern for others’ distress, which is characteristic of psychopaths; and (b) the inability to recognize and accurately interpret other people’s emotions, which is the NPD style. This second form of defective empathy may (rarely) go so far as alexithymia, or no words for emotions, and is found with psychosomatic illnesses, i.e., medical conditions in which emotion is experienced somatically rather than psychically. People with personality disorders don’t have the normal body-ego identification and regard their bodies only instrumentally, i.e., as tools to use to get what they want, or, in bad states, as torture chambers that inflict on them meaningless suffering. Self-described narcissists who’ve written to me say that they are aware that their feelings are different from other people’s, mostly that they feel less, both in strength and variety (and which the narcissists interpret as evidence of their own superiority); some narcissists report “numbness” and the inability to perceive meaning in other people’s emotions.

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him

Translation: No translation needed.

9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes

Translation: They treat other people like dirt.

We all have to deal with difficult people. Some days we can be pretty difficult ourselves. Recognizing the difference between normal difficulties and personality disorders can be crucial to decisions about entering new relationships and continuing existing relationships.The material on Narcissistic Personality Disorder that is published for lay readers is not very informative, even though most people have had to cope with a narcissist at one time or another. If you were raised by a narcissistic parent, then you’ve been taught that the narcissist is always right and you’re the one who’s wrong. A lifetime of such mistreatment typically instills lack of confidence in your own judgment, along with habitual shame at never getting it right or being good enough to deserve the air that you breathe. The children of narcissists may not have realized that the quirks and oddities of their impossible-to-please parents are not in any way unique or special but are in fact the symptoms of a personality disorder.The information on the Web is very repetitive and amounts to little more than the diagnostic criteria from DSM-IV. Clinical descriptions of Narcissistic Personality Disorder don’t describe the things that are most shocking and puzzling in everyday interaction with narcissists.

Almost everyone has some narcissistic traits, but being conceited, argumentative, or selfish sometimes (or even all the time) doesn’t amount to a personality disorder. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a long-term pattern of abnormal thinking, feeling, and behavior in many different situations. The traits on this page will seem peculiar or disturbing when someone acts this way — i.e., you will know that something is not right, and contact with narcissists may make you feel bad about yourself. It’s not unusual for narcissists to be outstanding in their field of work. But these are the successful people who have a history of alienating colleagues, co-workers, employees, students, clients, and customers — people go away mad or sad after close contact with narcissists.

How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb?

(a) Just one — but he has to wait for the whole world to revolve around him.
(b) None at all — he hires menials for work that’s beneath him.

The most telling thing that narcissists do is contradict themselves. They will do this virtually in the same sentence, without even stopping to take a breath. It can be trivial (e.g., about what they want for lunch) or it can be serious (e.g., about whether or not they love you). When you ask them which one they mean, they’ll deny ever saying the first one, though it may literally have been only seconds since they said it — really, how could you think they’d ever have said that? You need to have your head examined! They will contradict FACTS. They will lie to you about things that you did together. They will misquote you to yourself. If you disagree with them, they’ll say you’re lying, making stuff up, or are crazy. [At this point, if you’re like me, you sort of panic and want to talk to anyone who will listen about what is going on: this is a healthy reaction; it’s a reality check (“who’s the crazy one here?”); that you’re confused by the narcissist’s contrariness, that you turn to another person to help you keep your bearings, that you know something is seriously wrong and worry that it might be you are all signs that you are not a narcissist]. NOTE: Normal people can behave irrationally under emotional stress — be confused, deny things they know, get sort of paranoid, want to be babied when they’re in pain. But normal people recover pretty much within an hour or two or a day or two, and, with normal people, your expressions of love and concern for their welfare will be taken to heart. They will be stabilized by your emotional and moral support. Not so with narcissists — the surest way I know of to get a crushing blow to your heart is to tell a narcissist you love her or him. They will respond with a nasty power move, such as telling you to do things entirely their way or else be banished from them for ever. 


If you’re like me, you get into disputes with narcissists over their casual dishonesty and cruelty to other people. Trying to reform narcissists by reasoning with them or by appealing to their better nature is about as effective as spitting in the ocean. What you see is what you get: they have no better nature. The fundamental problem here is that narcissists lack empathy.

Lacking empathy is a profound disturbance to the narcissist’s thinking (cognition) and feeling (affectivity). Even when very intelligent, narcissists can’t reason well. One I’ve worked with closely does something I characterize as “analysis by eggbeater.” They don’t understand the meaning of what people say and they don’t grasp the meaning of the written word either — because so much of the meaning of anything we say depends on context and affect, narcissists (lacking empathy and thus lacking both context and affect) hear only the words. (Discussions with narcissists can be really weird and disconcerting; they seem to think that using some of the same words means that they are following a line of conversation or reasoning. Thus, they will go off on tangents and irrelevancies, apparently in the blithe delusion that they understand what others are talking about.) And, frankly, they don’t hear all the words, either. They can pay attention only to stuff that has them in it. This is not merely a bad habit — it’s a cognitive deficiency. Narcissists pay attention only to themselves and stuff that affects them personally. However, since they don’t know what other people are doing, narcissists can’t judge what will affect them personally and seem never to learn that when they cause trouble they will get trouble back. They won’t take other people’s feelings into consideration and so they overlook the fact that other people will react with feeling when abused or exploited and that most people get really pissed off by being lied to or lied about. 


Narcissists lack a mature conscience and seem to be restrained only by fear of being punished or of damaging their reputations — though, again, this can be obscure to casual observation if you don’t know what they think their reputations are, and what they believe others think of them may be way out of touch with reality. Their moral intelligence is about at the level of a bright five- or six-year-old; the only rules they recognize are things that have been specifically required, permitted, prohibited, or disapproved of by authority figures they know personally. Anyhow, narcissists can’t be counted on not to do something just because it’s wrong, illegal, or will hurt someone, as long as they think that they can get away with it or that you can’t stop them or punish them (i.e., they don’t care what you think unless they’re afraid of you).


Narcissists are envious and competitive in ways that are hard to understand. For instance, one I knew once became incensed over an article published in a national magazine — not for its content exactly, but because she could have written something just as good. Maybe she could have — she hadn’t, but that little lapse on her part was beside the point to her. They are constantly comparing themselves (and whatever they feel belongs to them, such as their children and furniture) to other people. Narcissists feel that, unless they are better than anyone else, they are worse than everybody in the whole world. 


Narcissists are generally contemptuous of others. This seems to spring, at base, from their general lack of empathy, and it comes out as (at best) a dismissive attitude towards other people’s feelings, wishes, needs, concerns, standards, property, work, etc. It is also connected to their overall negative outlook on life.


Narcissists are (a) extremely sensitive to personal criticism and (b) extremely critical of other people. They think that they must be seen as perfect or superior or infallible, next to god-like (if not actually divine, then sitting on the right hand of God) — or else they are worthless. There’s no middle ground of ordinary normal humanity for narcissists. They can’t tolerate the least disagreement. In fact, if you say, “Please don’t do that again — it hurts,” narcissists will turn around and do it again harder to prove that they were right the first time; their reasoning seems to be something like “I am a good person and can do no wrong; therefore, I didn’t hurt you and you are lying about it now…” — sorry, folks, I get lost after that. Anyhow, narcissists are habitually cruel in little ways, as well as big ones, because they’re paying attention to their fantasy and not to you, but the bruises on you are REAL, not in your imagination. Thus, no matter how gently you suggest that they might do better to change their ways or get some help, they will react in one of two equally horrible ways: they will attack or they will withdraw. Be wary of wandering into this dragon’s cave — narcissists will say ANYTHING, they will trash anyone in their own self-justification, and then they will expect the immediate restoration of the status quo. They will attack you (sometimes physically) and spew a load of bile, insult, abuse, contempt, threats, etc., and then — well, it’s kind of like they had indigestion and the vicious tirade worked like a burp: “There. Now I feel better. Where were we?” They feel better, so they expect you to feel better, too. They will say you are nothing, worthless, and turn around immediately and say that they love you. When you object to this kind of treatment, they will say, “You just have to accept me the way I am. (God made me this way, so God loves me even if you are too stupid to understand how special I am.)” Accepting them as they are (and staying away from them entirely) is excellent advice. The other “punishment” narcissists mete out is banishing you from their glorious presence — this can turn into a farce, since by this point you are probably praying to be rescued, “Dear God! How do I get out of this?” The narcissist expects that you will be devastated by the withdrawal of her/his divine attention, so that after a while — a few weeks or months (i.e., the next time the narcissist needs to use you for something) — the narcissist will expect you to have learned your lesson and be eager to return to the fold. If you have learned your lesson, you won’t answer that call. They can’t see that they have a problem; it’s always somebody else who has the problem and needs to change. Therapies work at all only when the individual wants to change and, though narcissists hate their real selves, they don’t want to change — they want the world to change. And they criticize, gripe, and complain about almost everything and almost everyone almost all the time. There are usually a favored few whom narcissists regard as absolutely above reproach, even for egregious misconduct or actual crime, and about whom they won’t brook the slightest criticism. These are people the narcissists are terrified of, though they’ll tell you that what they feel is love and respect; apparently they don’t know the difference between fear and love. Narcissists just get worse and worse as they grow older; their parents and other authority figures that they’ve feared die off, and there’s less and less outside influence to keep them in check.


Narcissists are hostile and ferocious in reaction, but they are generally passive and lacking in initiative. They don’t start stuff — they don’t reach out. Remember this when they turn and rend you! They will complain about the same things for years on end, but only rarely do anything to change what dissatisfies them so badly.


Narcissists are naive and vulnerable, pathetic really, no matter how arrogant and forceful their words or demeanor. They have pretty good reasons for their paranoia and cynicism, their sneakiness, evasiveness, prevarications. This is the one I get suckered on. They are so out of touch with other people and what goes on around them that they are very susceptible to exploitation. On the other hand, they’re so inattentive, and so disconnected from what other people are up to, that they don’t recognize when someone is taking advantage of them.


Narcissists are grandiose. They live in an artificial self invented from fantasies of absolute or perfect power, genius, beauty, etc. Normal people’s fantasies of themselves, their wishful thinking, take the form of stories — these stories often come from movies or TV, or from things they’ve read or that were read to them as children. They involve a plot, heroic activity or great accomplishments or adventure: normal people see themselves in action, however preposterous or even impossible that action may be — they see themselves doing things that earn them honor, glory, love, riches, fame, and they see these fantasy selves as personal potentials, however tenuous, something they’d do if they didn’t have to go to school or go to work, if they had the time and the money.

As Freud said of narcissists, these people act like they’re in love with themselves. And they are in love with an ideal image of themselves — or they want you to be in love with their pretend self, it’s hard to tell just what’s going on. Like anyone in love, their attention and energy are drawn to the beloved and away from everyday practicalities. Narcissists’ fantasies are static — they’ve fallen in love with an image in a mirror or, more accurately, in a pool of water, so that movement causes the image to dissolve into ripples; to see the adored reflection they must remain perfectly still. Narcissists’ fantasies are tableaux or scenes, stage sets; narcissists are hung up on a particular picture that they think reflects their true selves (as opposed to the real self — warts and all). Narcissists don’t see themselves doing anything except being adored, and they don’t see anyone else doing anything except adoring them. Moreover, they don’t see these images as potentials that they may some day be able to live out, if they get lucky or everything goes right: they see these pictures as the real way they want to be seen right now (which is not the same as saying they think these pictures are the way they really are right now, but that is another story to be discussed elsewhere). Sometimes narcissistic fantasies are spectacularly grandiose — imagining themselves as Jesus or a saint or hero or deity depicted in art — but just as often the fantasies of narcissists are mediocre and vulgar, concocted from illustrations in popular magazines, sensational novels, comic books even. These artificial self fantasies are also static in time, going back unchanged to early adolescence or even to childhood; the narcissists’ self-images don’t change with time, so that you will find, for instance, female narcissists clinging to retro styles, still living the picture of the perfect woman of 1945 or 1965 as depicted in The Ladies’ Home Journal or Seventeen or Vogue of that era, and male narcissists still hung up on images of comic-book or ripping adventure heroes from their youth. Though narcissists like pictures rather than stories, they like still pictures, not moving ones, so they don’t base their fantasies on movies or TV.

Grandiosity can take various forms — a narcissistic woman may believe herself to be the very model of perfect womanhood, the standard by which all others are measured, and she will try to force her daughters to be just like her, she will not be able to cope with daughters who are taller or shorter than she is, fatter or thinner, who have bigger or smaller feet, breasts, teeth, who have different favorite colors than hers, etc. Narcissistic men can be infatuated with their own looks, too, but are more likely than women to get hung up on their intelligence or the importance of their work — doesn’t matter what the work is, if he’s doing it, by definition it’s more important than anything you could possibly do. Narcissists I’ve known also have odd religious ideas, in particular believing that they are God’s special favorites somehow; God loves them, so they are exempted from ordinary rules and obligations: God loves them and wants them to be the way they are, so they can do anything they feel like — though, note, the narcissist’s God has much harsher rules for everyone else, including you.  We are in love with ourselves and evaluate churches, ministers and truth-claims based upon how they make us feel about ourselves. If the church makes me feel wanted, it is a good church. If the minister makes me feel good about myself, he is a terrific guy. If the proffered truth supports my self-esteem, it is, thereby, verified.


Narcissists have little sense of humor. They don’t get jokes, not even the funny papers or simple riddles, and they don’t make jokes, except for sarcastic cracks and the lamest puns. This is because, lacking empathy, they don’t get the context and affect of words or actions, and jokes, humor, comedy depend entirely on context and affect. They specialize in sarcasm about others and mistake it for wit, but, in my experience, narcissists are entirely incapable of irony — thus, I’ve been chagrinned more than once to discover that something I’d taken as an intentional pose or humorous put-on was, in fact, something the narcissist was totally serious about. Which is to say that they come mighty close to parody in their pretensions and pretending, so that they can be very funny without knowing it, but you’d better not let on that you think so. [Interestingly, this is the only trait on this list about which there seems to be any controversy. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky! I’ve known narcissists who’ll make fun of others, repeat jokes they’ve heard others laugh at, and laugh at jokes when others laugh, but knowing how to make people laugh is not necessarily the same as having a sense of humor.]


Narcissists have a weird sense of time. It’s more or less like they are not aware that the passage of time changes things, or maybe they just aren’t aware of time’s passing at all. Years can pass without touching narcissists. Narcissists often look, or think they look, significantly younger than they are; this youthful appearance is a point of pride to them, and some will emphasize it by either preserving the styles of their golden youth or following the styles of people the age they feel they “really” are. That their faces don’t show their chronological age is a good sign that they haven’t been living real lives with real life’s wear and tear on the looks of normal people. The narcissists’ years have passed without touching them. Bear in mind that narcissistic adults have had decades of not being in synch with the times or with other people, so that by now they are really out of it. Sometimes it just seems like they have a highly selective memory — which, of course, they do, sort of; they pay attention only to what has their name in it in the first place, so after 30 or 40 years, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear a narcissist say something like, “Didn’t the Beatles have a couple of hit songs while we were in high school?” or to suddenly discover that the narcissist doesn’t know that M&M’s have little m’s on them or that smallpox was eradicated over 20 years ago. They are not being ironic: they really don’t know. They were off in their own little world of fantastic perfection. On the other hand, as far as I’ve seen, all that stuff really is in there, but is accessible only intermittently or unpredictably. Narcissists ordinarily have spotty memories, with huge and odd gaps in their recollections; they may say that they don’t remember their childhoods, etc., and apparently most of the time they don’t. But they will have sudden accesses of memory, triggered by God knows what, when they remember details, everybody’s names, what people were wearing, why the people in that picture from 1950 are standing the way they are, what the weather was like, etc. — in other words, every once in a while, their memories will be normal. But don’t count on it. 


Narcissists are totally and inflexibly authoritarian. In other words, they are suck-ups. They want to be authority figures and, short of that, they want to be associated with authority figures. In their hearts, they know they can’t think well, have no judgment about what matters, are not connected with the world they inhabit, so they cling fanatically to the opinions of people they regard as authority figures — such as their parents, teachers, doctors, ministers. Where relevant, this may include scientists or professors or artists, but narcissists stick to people they know personally, since they aren’t engaged enough with the world to get their authoritative opinions from TV, movies, books or dead geniuses/saints/heroes. If they get in trouble over some or another opinion they’ve put forth, they’ll blame the source — “It was okay with Dr. Somebody,” “My father taught me that,” etc. If you’re still thinking of the narcissist as odd-but-normal, this shirking of responsibility will seem dishonest and craven — well, it is but it’s really an admission of weakness: they really mean it: they said what they said because someone they admire or fear said it and they’re trying to borrow that person’s strength. 


Narcissists have strange work habits. Normal people work for a goal or a product, even if the goal is only a paycheck. Normal people measure things by how much they have to spend (in time, work, energy) to get the desired results. Normal people desire idleness from time to time, usually wanting as much free time as they can get to pursue their own thoughts and pleasures and interests. Narcissists work for a goal, too, but it’s a different goal: they want power, authority, adulation. Lacking empathy, and lacking also context and affect, narcissists don’t understand how people achieve glory and high standing; they think it’s all arbitrary, it’s all appearances, it’s all who you know. So they try to attach themselves to people who already have what they want, meanwhile making a great show of working hard. Narcissists can put in a shocking amount of time to very little effect. This is partly because they have so little empathy that they don’t know why some work is valued more highly than other work, why some people’s opinions carry more weight than others’. They do know that you’re supposed to work and not be lazy, so they keep themselves occupied. But they are not invested in the work they do — whatever they may produce is just something they have to do to get the admiration and power they crave. Since this is so, they really don’t pay attention to what they’re doing, preferring the easiest thing at every turn, even though they may be constantly occupied, so that narcissists manage to be workaholics and extremely lazy at the same time. Narcissists measure the worth of their work only by how much time they spend on it, not by what they produce. They want to get an A for Effort. Narcissists lack empathy, so they don’t know what others value or why. Narcissists tend to value things in quantitative ways and in odd quantities at that — they’ll tell you how many inches of letters they received, but not how many letters or from how many correspondents; they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

A narcissist may, in fact, hold himself to a grinding work schedule that gives him something like an addictive high so that, when wrought up, he can be sort of dazed, giddy, and groggy, making you wonder if he’s drunk or otherwise intoxicated — now, that’s a real workaholic. Usually, this excessive busyness appears to be — and some will even tell you this — an attempt to distract themselves from unpleasant or inconvenient feelings (i.e., it’s a manic defense against depression — and, note, with narcissists it’s inaccurate to use “happy” or “unhappy” because their feelings are just not that differentiated; “euphoria” or “dysphoria” are as close as they get to ordinary pleasure or distress) or to make themselves unavailable to others’ emotional needs.


Narcissists feel entitled to whatever they can take. They expect privileges and indulgences, and they also feel entitled to exploit other people without any trace of reciprocation.


Some narcissists spend extravagantly in order to impress people, keep up grandiose pretentions, or buy favorable treatment, and some narcissists overspend, bankrupt themselves, and lose everything. My personal experience is that narcissists are stingy, mean, frugal, niggardly to the point of eccentricity. This is a person who won’t spend $1.50 on a greeting card but will instead send you an advertising flyer that came with the newspaper. This is a person who will be very conscious of her appearance but will dress herself and her children in used clothes and other people’s cast-offs. [Note: Thrift is not in itself a narcissistic trait; neither is a fondness for old clothes. The important element here is that the narcissist buys clothes that other people she admires and wishes to emulate have already picked out, since she has no individual tastes or preferences.] These are people who need labels or trademarks (or other signs of authority) to distinguish between the real thing and a cheap knock-off or imitation, and so will substitute something easy and cheap for something precious and dear and expect nobody else to know the difference, since they can’t. These are people who can tell you how many miles but not how many smiles.

Narcissists are not only selfish and ungiving — they seem to have to make a point of not giving what they know someone else wants. Thus, for instance, in a “romantic” relationship, they will want you to do what they want because they want it and not because you want it — and, in fact, if you actually want to do what they want, then that’s too much like sharing and you wreck their fun and they don’t want it anymore. They want to get what they want from you without giving you what you want from them. Period. If you should happen to want to give what they want to get, then they’ll lose interest in you.


Something I had not connected with narcissism until I read about Reactive Attachment Disorder is that narcissists I’ve known have had unusual eating habits or appetites, including eating match heads, dry cake mix, chicken bones, raw meat, dog kibble, egg mash, bits of paper, wood pencils; some binge or gorge on ordinary foods, others seem always to be on one or another self-imposed, self-invented eccentric dietary regime. This behavior does not seem to have much in the way of affective component compared to, say, “normal” eating disorders.


Narcissists are very disappointing as gift-givers. This is not a trivial consideration in personal relationships. I’ve seen narcissistic people sweetly solicit someone’s preferences (“Go ahead — tell me what you really want”), make a show of paying attention to the answer (“Don’t you think I’m nice?”), and then deliver something other than what was asked for — and feel abused and unappreciated when someone else gets gratitude for fulfilling the very request that the narcissist evoked in the first place. I’ve seen this happen often, where narcissists will go out of their way to stir up other people’s expectations and then go out of their way to disappoint those expectations. It seems like a lot of pointless work to me.
    

First, narcissists lack empathy, so they don’t know what you want or like and, evidently, they don’t care either; second, they think their opinions are better and more important than anyone else’s, so they’ll give you what they think you ought to want, regardless of what you may have said when asked what you wanted for your birthday; third, they’re stingy and will give as gifts stuff that’s just lying around their house, such as possessions that they no longer have any use for, or — in really choice instances — return to you something that was yours in the first place. In fact, as a practical matter, the surest way NOT to get what you want from a narcissist is to ask for it; your chances are better if you just keep quiet, because every now and then the narcissist will hit on the right thing by random accident.


It’s very hard to have a simple, uncomplicated good time with a narcissist. Except for odd spells of heady euphoria unrelated to anything you can see, their affective range is mediocre-fake-normal to hell-on-Earth. They will sometimes lie low and be quiet, actually passive and dependent — this is as good as it gets with narcissists. They are incapable of loving conduct towards anyone or anything, so they do not have the capacity for simple pleasure, beyond the satisfaction of bodily needs. There is only one way to please a narcissist (and it won’t please you): that is to indulge their every whim, cater to their tiniest impulses, bend to their views on every little thing. There’s only one way to get decent treatment from narcissists: keep your distance. They can be pretty nice, even charming, flirtatious, and seductive, to strangers, and will flatter you shamelessly if they want something from you. When you attempt to get close to them in a normal way, they feel you are putting emotional pressure on them and they withdraw because you’re too demanding. They can be positively fawning and solicitous as long as they’re afraid of you, which is not most people’s idea of a real fun relationship.

I always have the problem that I get fed up and stay away from THEM long enough to forget exactly what the trouble was, then they come around again, and every narcissist I’ve known actually was quite lovable about half the time so I try it again. A clue: Run for cover when they start acting normal, maybe expressing a becoming self-doubt or even acknowledging some little fault of their own, such as saying they now realize that they haven’t treated you right or that they took advantage of you before. They’re just softening you up for something really nasty. These people are geniuses of “Come closer so I can slap you.” Except that’s not the way they think about it, if they think about it — no, they’re thinking, “Well, maybe you do really care about me, and, if you really care about me, then maybe you’ll help me with this,” only by “help” they mean do the whole thing, take total responsibility for it, including protecting and defending them and cleaning up the mess they’ve already made of it (which they will neglect to fill you in on because they haven’t really been paying attention, have they, so how would they know??). They will not have considered for one second how much of your time it will take, how much trouble it may get you into in their behalf, that they will owe you BIG for this — no, you’re just going to do it all out of the goodness of your heart, which they are delighted to exploit yet again, and your virtue will be its own reward: it’s supposed to just tickle you pink to be offered this generous opportunity of showing how much you love them and/or how lucky you are to be the servant of such a luminous personage. No lie — they think other people do stuff for the same reason they do: to show off, to perform for an audience. That’s one of the reasons they make outrageous demands, put you on the spot and create scenes in public: they’re being generous — they’re trying to share the spotlight with you by giving you the chance to show off how absolutely stunningly devoted-to-them you are. It means that they love you; that’s why they’re hurt and bewildered when you angrily reject this invitation. 


Appearances are all there is with narcissists — and their self-hatred knows no bounds. The most dramatic example I can think of is from John Cheever’s journals. Throughout his life he had pursued surreptitious homosexual activities, being transiently infatuated with young men who reminded him of himself in his youth, while also living in a superficially settled way as a married family man, a respected writer with an enviable suburban life, breeding pedigreed dogs and serving on the vestry of the Episcopal church. When his secret life (going to New York City for a few days every now and then to pick up sailors and other beautiful boys for brief flings) came to scandalous light, his family sought to reassure him by telling him that they’d known about his homosexual activities for years. Now, a normal person would be ashamed and embarrassed but also relieved and grateful that scandal, not to mention chronic emotional and marital infidelity, had not caused his wife and children to reject and abandon him — but not the narcissist! Oh, no, Cheever was enraged that they would ever have thought such a thing of him — if they really loved him, they’d have bought his artificial “country squire” persona: they would have seen him as he wished to be seen: they would have believed his lies without question or doubt.


Narcissists don’t volunteer the usual personal information about themselves, so they may seem secretive or perhaps unusually reserved or very jealous of their privacy. All these things are true, but with the special narcissistic twist that, first, their real life isn’t interesting to them so it doesn’t occur to them that it would be interesting to anyone else and, second, since they have not yet been transfigured into the Star of the Universe, they’re ashamed of their real life. They feel that their jobs, their friends and families, their homes and possessions aren’t good enough for them, they deserve better.


Narcissists not only don’t recognize the feelings and autonomy of others, they don’t recognize their own feelings as their own. Their feelings are sort of like the weather, atmospheric, acts of God. The narcissistic think that everyone’s having the same feeling as they are. This means that usually their own pain means nothing to them beyond the physical discomfort — it has no affective component. When they do get some painful affect, they think that God is punishing them — they think that their trivial errors are worth God’s specific attention to their punishment. If you try to straighten them out, by telling them that your feelings are different, beware: their idea of sharing their feelings is to do or say something that makes you feel the way they’re feeling and, as they make a point of not sharing anything desirable, you can expect something really nasty. The sad fact seems to be that narcissists feel just as bad about themselves as they make others feel about them. 


Narcissists are noted for their negative, pessimistic, cynical, or gloomy outlook on life. Sarcasm seems to be a narcissistic specialty, not to mention spite. Lacking love and pleasure, they don’t have a good reason for anything they do and they think everyone else is just like them, except they’re honest and the rest of us are hypocrites. Nothing real is ever perfect enough to satisfy them, so are they are constantly complaining and criticizing — to the point of verbal abuse and insult.


Narcissists are impulsive. They undo themselves by behavior that seems oddly stupid for people as intelligent as they are. Somehow, they don’t consider the probable consequences of their actions. It’s not clear to me whether they just expect to get away with doing anything they feel like at the moment or whether this impulsiveness is essentially a cognitive shortcoming deriving from the static psychic state with its distorted perception of time. 


Narcissists hate to live alone. Their inner resources are skimpy, static, and sterile, nothing interesting or attractive going on in their hearts and minds, so they don’t want to be stuck with themselves. All they have inside is the image of perfection that, being mere mortals like the rest of us, they will inevitably fall short of attaining.

“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….”
To my knowledge, none of the narcissistic individuals I’ve known personally have had official diagnoses of Narcissistic Personality Disorder; they have not sought help and so haven’t been assessed clinically. On the other hand, members of their families have sought help to cope with them — and I have sought help in understanding every one of them! Thus these pages.These are field notes — that is, descriptions and observations to assist in identifying narcissists and also, I hope, to give aid and comfort to others who live and work with narcissists. I’m sorry that I cannot also give hope, but, since a prime characteristic of narcissists is believing that they are always right no matter what, narcissists are extremely resistant to change and, unfortunately, tend to get worse as they get older.I have also never had to cope with a physically aggressive or sadistic narcissist. The narcissists I’ve known have pretty much stuck to neglect and verbal and emotional abuse. But lots of people have not been so lucky, and their narcissist parents or partners have been relentlessly interfering and cruel in efforts to reform and re-form their “beloveds,” including but not limited to plastic surgery or bleaching and perming little babies’ hair to make them more perfectly beautiful blondes. 


Nearly everyone has some narcissistic traits. It’s possible to be arrogant, selfish, conceited, or out of touch without being a narcissist. The practical test, so far as I know, is that with normal people, no matter how difficult, you can get some improvements, at least temporarily, by saying, essentially, “Please have a heart.” This doesn’t work with narcissists; in fact, it usually makes things worse.  It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of narcissists’ lack of empathy. It colors everything about them. I have observed very closely some narcissists I’ve loved, and their inability to pay attention when someone else is talking is so striking that it has often seemed to me that they have neurological problems that affect their cognitive functioning. These are educated people with high IQs, who’ve had ordinary middle-class backgrounds and schooling, and their thinking is not only illogical but weird: with narcissists, you have to know them pretty well to understand their behavior. For instance, they always fill in their gaps (which make up just about the entirety of their visible life) with bits of behavior, ideas, tastes, opinions, etc., borrowed from someone else whom they regard as an authority. Their authoritative sources, as far as I know, are always people they’ve actually known, not something from a book, for instance, and narcissists’ opinions may actually come from someone you know, too, but who is not to you obviously an authority on the matter at hand, so narcissists can seem totally arbitrary, virtually random in their motivations and reasoning. They are evidently transfixed by a static fantasy image of themselves, like Narcissus gazing at his reflection, and this produces an odd kind of stillness and passivity. Because their inner life is so restricted and essentially dead, it doesn’t contain images of how to live a full life — these things are not important to them, they expect others to look after day-to-day chores, they resent wasting their specialness on common things, they don’t put their heart into their work (though they’ll tell you how many hours they put into it), they borrow their opinions and preferences and tastes from whomever strikes them as authoritative at the moment.From my personal experience, and from what I’ve seen in the clinical literature, narcissists don’t talk about their inner life — memories, dreams, reflections — much at all. They rarely recount dreams. They seem not to make typical memory associations — i.e., in the way one thing leads to another, “That reminds me of something that happened when I was…of something I read…of something somebody said….” They don’t tell how they learned something about themselves or the world. They don’t share their thoughts or feelings or dreams. They don’t say, “I have an idea and need some help,” or “There’s something I’ve always wanted to do…did you ever want to do that?” They do not discuss how they’ve overcome difficulties they’ve encountered or continuing problems that they’re trying to solve (beyond trying to get someone else to do what they want). They often say that they don’t remember things from the past, such as childhood events, their schooldays or old friends, and it seems to me that they really don’t most of the time. Anyhow, for all these reasons, I’ve tried to refrain from speculating about (i.e., novelizing) what goes on in their heads. Writer John Cheever (who recorded having been diagnosed as a narcissist when he went to marriage counseling at his wife’s insistence) describes some of his persistent fantasy images — and, with Cheever, they’re very striking, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of his fiction; his characters and plots tend to be narcissistic (i.e., self-obsessed tunnel vision spiraling into nihilism), but his stories often contain memorably glorious set pieces or tableaux, such as the the hunt for the golden Easter egg in one of the Wapshot novels. Cheever also gives unself-conscious expression to the ways in which his obsessive preoccupation with himself (and his penis — sort of a magic wand in his mind) obstructed his ability to relate to his wife and children, obstructed even his ability to perceive them: to see what they looked like, to pay attention to what they said and did, though with Cheever everything is also soaked with the sorrows of gin. Alice Adams’s novel, Almost Perfect, also gives things from a narcissistic point of view in a way that I found convincing and credible, based on my personal experience of narcissistic individuals. A striking thing about narcissists that you’ll notice if you know them for a long time is that their ideas of themselves and the world don’t change with experience; the ones I’ve known have been stalled at a vision that came to them by the age of sixteen.There are different theories of how narcissists are made. Some psychologists trace NPD to early infantile neglect or abuse, and some blame over-indulgence and indiscriminate praise by parents who don’t set limits on what’s acceptable from their children. Others say that NPD shows up in adolescence. Some say narcissists tend to peak around middle age and then mellow out. Others say that narcissists stay pretty much the same except they tend to depression as they get older and their grandiose fantasies are not supported, plus they’re not as good-looking as they used to be. The narcissists I’ve known have apparently always been “that way” and they get worse as they get older, with dramatic regression of their personas after the deaths of their parents and other personal authority figures who have previously exerted some control over the narcissists’ bad behavior. And, yes, chronic depression gets to be obvious at least by their forties but may have always been present. Depressed narcissists blame the world, of course, and not themselves for their personal disappointments.

Essentially, narcissists are unable or unwilling to trust either the world or other people to meet their needs. Perhaps they were born to parents unable to connect emotionally and, thus, as infants learned not to let another person be essential to them in any way. Perhaps NPD starts later, when intrusive or abusive parents make it dangerous for the child to accept other people’s opinions and valuations. Maybe it comes from a childhood environment of being treated like royalty or little gods. Whatever the case, narcissists have made the terrible choice not to love. In their imaginations, they are complete unto themselves, perfect and not in need of anything anyone else can give them. (NB: Narcissists do not count their real lives — i.e., what they do every day and the people they do it with — as worth anything.) Their lives are impoverished and sterile; the price they pay for their golden fantasies is high: they’ll never share a dream for two.Now, it is possible to have a relatively smooth relationship with a narcissist, and it’s possible to maintain it for a long time. The first requirement for this, though, is distance: this simply cannot be done with a narcissist you live with. Given distance, or only transient and intermittent contact, you can get along with narcissists by treating them as infants: you give them whatever they want or need whenever they ask and do not expect any reciprocation at all, do not expect them to show the slightest interest in you or your life (or even in why you’re bothering with them at all), do not expect them to be able to do anything that you need or want, do not expect them to apologize or make amends or show any consideration for your feelings, do not expect them to take ordinary responsibility in any way. But note: they are not infants; infants develop and mature and require this kind of care for only a brief period, after which they are on the road to autonomy and looking after themselves, whereas narcissists never outgrow their demands for dedicated attention to their infantile needs 168 hours a week. Adult narcissists can be as demanding of your time and energy as little babies but without the gratification of their growing or learning anything from what they suck from you. Babies love you back, but adult narcissists are like vampires: they will take all you can give while giving nothing back, then curse you for running dry and discard you as a waste of their precious time.

It is also essential that you keep emotional distance from narcissists. They’re pretty good at maintaining a conventional persona in superficial associations with people who mean absolutely nothing to them, and they’ll flatter the hell out of you if you have something they can use or if, for some reason, they perceive you as an authority figure. That is, as long as they think you don’t count or they’re afraid of you, they’ll treat you well enough that you may mistake it for love. But, as soon as you try to get close to them, they’ll say that you are too demanding — and, if you ever say “I love you,” they’ll presume that you belong to them as a possession or an appendage, and treat you very very badly right away. The abrupt change from decent treatment to outright abuse is very shocking and bewildering, and it’s so contrary to normal experience that I was plenty old before I realized that it was actually my expression of affection that triggered the narcissists’ nasty reactions. Once they know you are emotionally attached to them, they expect to be able to use you like an appliance and shove you around like a piece of furniture. If you object, then they’ll say that obviously you don’t really love them or else you’d let them do whatever they want with you. If you should be so uppity as to express a mind and heart of your own, then they will cut you off — just like that, sometimes trashing you and all your friends on the way out the door. The narcissist will treat you just like a broken toy or tool or an unruly body part: “If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off” [Matt. 18:8]. This means you.

So, yes, it’s possible to get along with narcissists, but it’s probably not worth bothering with. If family members are narcissists, you have my deep sympathy. If people you work with are narcissists, you will be wise to keep an eye on them, if just for your own protection, because they don’t think very well, no matter what their IQs, they feel that the rules (of anything) don’t apply to them, and they will always cut corners and cheat wherever they think they can get away with it, not to mention alienating co-workers, clients, and customers by their arrogance, lies, malice, and off-the-wall griping. Narcissists are threatened and enraged by trivial disagreements, mistakes, and misunderstandings, plus they have evil mouths and will say ANYTHING, so if you continue to live or work with narcissists, expect to have to clean up after them, expect to lose friends over them, expect big trouble sooner or later.


If you’re reading this because of problems with someone you know now, the chances are excellent that one or both of your parents was a narcissist. Narcissists are so much trouble that only people with special prior training (i.e., who were raised by narcissists) get seriously involved with them. Sometimes narcissists’ children become narcissists, too, but this is by no means inevitable, provided stable love was given by someone, such as the non-narcissist parent or grandparents. Beyond that, a happy marriage will heal many old wounds for the narcissist’s child. But, even though children of narcissists don’t automatically become narcissists themselves and can survive with enough intact psychically to lead happy and productive lives away from their narcissistic parents, because we all love our parents whether they can love us back or not, children of narcissists are kind of bent — “You can’t get blood out of a stone,” but children of narcissists keep trying, as if by bonding with new narcissists we could somehow cure our narcissistic parents by finding the key to their heart. Thus, we’ve been trained to keep loving people who can’t love us back, and we will often tolerate or actively work to maintain connections with narcissistic individuals whom others, lacking our special training, find alienating and repellent from first contact, setting ourselves up to be hurt yet again in the same old way. Once narcissists know that you care for them, they’ll suck you dry — demand all your time, be more work than a newborn babe — and they’ll test your love by outrageous demands and power moves. In their world, love is a weakness and saying “I love you” is asking to be hurt, so be careful: they’ll hurt you out of a sort of sacred duty. They can’t or won’t trust, so they will test your total devotion. If you won’t submit to their tyranny, then you will be discarded as “no good,” “a waste of time,” “you don’t really love me or you’d do whatever I ask,” “I give up on you.” (Note: In many instances, narcissists’ demands are not only outrageous but also impossible to fulfill even if you want to please them. Plus if you actually want to do what they want you to do, that would be too much like sharing, so they won’t want it anymore.)

If you’ve had a narcissist for a parent, you are probably not afraid of dying and going to hell — you have lived hell on Earth. Narcissists cannot be satisfied and do a tremendous amount of damage to their children and partners in their relentless demand for a perfect outer appearance to reflect the perfect inner image that obsesses them. Kyrie eleison.


Remember that narcissism is a personality disorder and narcissists’ personalities are disordered: they don’t make sense! They are not concerned with making sense and they are also impulsive, so you will waste your time trying to understand the details of every little thing they do. 

Aftermath

Narcissists can and do control themselves when someone’s good opinion is sought — in front of a judge, for instance — and are skilled at presenting a respectable, even admirable, public face; some are actually meek and mild in public. Most of us who’ve lived with narcissists have had the experience of being disbelieved when we dared to tell what goes on in private; in some ways, we can hardly believe it ourselves. Life with a narcissist is like a bad dream that you can’t wake up from. As a child, I used to be dazed by my narcissistic parent’s public demeanor — I wanted to take that person home with me or else live our entire family life in the protection of the public eye — so attractive, modest, and sweet that even I could hardly believe that this same person could be the raging fiend I knew at home and had seriously thought, for a while when I was about ten, might be a werewolf. But truthful reports about narcissists’ private behavior are often treated as symptoms of psychological problems in the person telling the tale — by naming the problem, you become the person with the problem (and, let’s face it, it’s more gratifying to work on changing someone responsive than it is to tackle a narcissist). And I’m talking about the experience many of us have had with “the helping professions,” including doctors, teachers, clergy, counselors, and therapists. This stuff is hard to talk about in the first place because it’s weird, shameful, and horrifying, and then insult is added to injury when we’re dismissed as overreacting (how many times have we heard “You’re just too sensitive”?), deluded or malicious, as inventing stories, exaggerating, imagining things, misinterpreting — it goes on and on. The fact is that there is next to nothing anyone can do to modify a narcissist’s behavior and the only useful advice I ever got (first from my non-narcissistic parent, later repeated by my Jungian analyst) was “Get out and stay out.”

But that’s much more easily said than done. We’re still members of families that have been damaged, corrupted and corroded by narcissists’ pathology, and we can’t totally remove ourselves from the narcissists’ sphere of influence without also forsaking other family members and old friends. Parents sharing child-rearing or custody with narcissists, or who have narcissistic children, can’t just get out and stay out.

Beyond

The nature of narcissists’ personality disorder is so profound and so primitive that narcissists damage virtually everyone who comes into contact with them. They hurt their children in ways that are hardly imaginable to anyone who hasn’t been there. Narcissists elicit profound and primitive wrath and hostility from sane and stable people. This damages the social fabric by alienating the very people who might possibly be able to counterbalance the narcissists’ malign influences.  The children and other victims of narcissists often seek psychotherapy to come to terms with the damage suffered at the hands of narcissists.  Narcissists are generally not candidates for conventional analytical treatment, since psychological analysis is a dialogue and narcissism is a soliloquy. Because of narcissists’ incapacity for genuine relationship, their treatment tends to be of the “Band-Aid” variety that deals with specific acute difficulties, such as depression, which can be treated with drugs. Part of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the conviction is that “I’m okay, it’s everybody else who’s not okay,” so narcissists rarely seek treatment voluntarily. Some wait until they are in such bad shape that they require hospitalization. Because narcissists’ self-image is so scanty and fragile, they depend on the reflection of themselves in others’ perception to be aware of themselves; sometimes it is really as if these people do not have bodies, have no real material existence. Therefore, social isolation, such as comes following the loss of a job, the failure of a marriage, or the alienation of friends and family, has swift and terrible effects on narcissists. Their thinking quickly deteriorates into chaotic incoherency and disorganization. For this reason, when they do receive treatment, the therapists’ first order of business is to restore and fortify the narcissists’ ego defenses — i.e., the therapist must help the narcissist recover the habitual grandiose and self-obsessed self-image. When reasonably recovered, the narcissist usually leaves therapy before any work can be done on the underlying personality disorder.