Monday, November 27, 2017

The Essential Narcissism of Parenthood

When does our desire for a better version of ourselves become unhealthy?
Jars of Sweets/Barb Watson/CC BY NC 2.0
 Source: Jars of Sweets/Barb Watson/CC BY NC 2.0
Telling a parent not to be narcissistic is about as useful as telling a child to ignore a candy store’s display window. It does not work. Parents are wired to look at their babies as mirrors of their more perfect selves. We cannot eliminate this primal feeling, but we can manage it so that our children thrive.
When most people think about narcissism, they think about a full-blown constellation of traits: an inflated sense of one’s own importance, a need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy. People who exhibit all of these traits over an extended period of time, without any awareness that they are doing so, are diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Children raised by parents with NPD suffer, usually growing up to assume either the narcissistic personality of their parent or a self-effacing demeanor of constantly trying to appease and accommodate others' demands.
However, not every person with traits of narcissism (which is to say every person) represents a danger to others. The need for attention and admiration, the need to feel important, even the need to establish boundaries that limit our empathy—these are all elements of the human psyche. They push us toward accomplishments and a belief in our own agency. When narcissism is balanced with the impulses for connection and empathy, it can even become a pro-social trait.
You're So Vain/A. Strakey/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Source: You're So Vain/A. Strakey/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Infants are born narcissists; they recognize their caregivers only as an extension of themselves. As children grow, they slowly develop a theory of mind, an understanding that other people are separate beings with distinct needs, preferences, and perceptions. This recognition is an essential precursor to the transition toward independence.
Children are not the only narcissists in the parent-child relationship though. Parents see their own reflection in their babies as much as babies see themselves in their parents. The difference is that children naturally evolve out of this state, whereas parents must make a more intentional effort.
Children are born to be loved, but they are also born to mirror and validate their parents. A parent’s narcissism consists of seeing the child as a true and perfect reflection. The child embodies the parent’s best traits and compensates for the parent’s shortcomings. My newborn is a perfect version of myself.
Parental pride derives from the positive light that our children’s accomplishments reflect back onto us. We see it in every boastful conversation about precocious reading ability, athletic prowess, college acceptance letters, and financial success later in life. Those accomplishments? Those are my accomplishments, says the parent. Give me credit for creating and raising this extraordinary person!
I dare say this mirroring impulse, this narcissism, is useful in evolutionary terms. The more closely we identify with our offspring, the more likely we are to nurture them and encourage their success. They, in turn, are more likely to attract mates and build families of their own if they demonstrate that success. The genes live on.

So being a narcissistic parent is normal and natural. But the impulse must be kept in check. Allowing our children to develop their independent selves requires us to let go, to let them explore interests and behaviors we may neither recognize nor desire in ourselves. Even when we do celebrate their accomplishments, we cannot declare ownership (even if we feel it), because our children need to believe in their own efficacy. Watching our children spread their wings is terrifying because we worry about their safety, but also because we lose control over the reflection in our mirrors.
Holding on too tightly is only one pitfall of narcissism. What happens when the child’s reflection disappoints us? When the child does not advertise our strengths and compensate for our shortcomings? Every child, at some point, fails us. Our progeny simply cannot be more perfect than human imperfection allows. When we confront this disappointment, we may be inclined to blame the child, reject the mirror. At least for a moment. We have to will ourselves to accept the separateness of our children, to relieve them of the burden our narcissism imposes on them. Our disappointment in ourselves cannot be transformed into resentment toward the child who does not improve the reflection staring back at us.
I have been thinking about parental narcissism because the challenges it imposes are particularly acute for those of us who are raising children with special needs. We confront, at an early age, the fact that our children will not be the vehicles for our redemption. They will not, in all likelihood, become the belles of the ball, win the MVP awards, or garner Nobel prizes. As reflections of ourselves, they may be barely recognizable.
What then? Certainly, the fact of a disability does not diminish our love for our children. It can, however, interfere with the natural processes of attachment and separation. Our children still need us to mirror them when they are young, but we may instinctively reject their need for identification. Again, we do not feel less love, but we may communicate resignation rather than the joy of mutual experience. Later on, as our children mature, we may limit their opportunities for independent growth, perhaps because we expect so little or perhaps because we cannot imagine in them the same desire for accomplishment that we remember in ourselves and assume in more easily recognizable children.
Distinguishing our own preferences from the needs and desires of our children requires a concerted effort. Abandoning the hope that our children will redeem us, and doing so with grace, also requires a concerted effort. For our children’s sake, we must let them take responsibility for their own lives, just as we relieve them of responsibility for ours.

Barb Cohen

Barb Cohen is a teacher, writer, and educational 
advocate with seventeen years 
of experience parenting an autistic daughter.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

4 Tips to divorce a borderline woman

You are divorcing the Borderline mother of your children. Your dissolution of marriage action is getting now here. You are an entrepreneur who owns your own business or you are a middle-to-upper level corporate executive or manager. You are responsible for accomplishing the impossible everyday and you get the job done every day--no matter what. You are a resourceful, educated, creative, motivated problem solver accustomed to dealing with difficult people who has no patience for fools or incompetents and you only work with team players who share your drive to succeed. Naturally, you expect your divorce will proceed the same way you handle the rest of your life.

    Unfortunately, divorcing a Borderline is everything you hate most in life: delays; disruptions of your business routine and personal regimens; dramas bordering on bad theater; impossible, inflexible people; inconsistent demands and confusing signals; serial hurry-up-and-waits; every specie of verbal and behavioral deceit ever conceived by the human mind; physical, emotional, financial, social and psychological abuse; total chaos. All of this in a judicial setting designed to enable the Borderline to amplify and exploit both human and institutional weaknesses. It’s like swimming out into the ocean from the beach and then turning around to swim back to shore only to find nothing but water as far as the eye can see. No landmarks. No people. No boats. No help. Nothing but water to the horizons in all directions. In family law court, the very qualities that make you successful in business will prove to be your downfall in your Borderline divorce.

   You were trained to take charge and to adopt a “can do” attitude. You want non-issues resolved yesterday. You have no patience for people who have nothing better to do than to waste your time and money. But in a Borderline divorce, you can rest assured nothing will happen when you want or need it to happen. People who have far more issues than you will judge your life while lying to you, while engaging in passive/aggressive behavior, while paying lip service to the “best interests of the child”, and while employing “secrets” and codes of silence. They will not let you see the man behind the curtain, but they act like they expect you to know what the Great Oz is doing. As soon as you file your divorce your life starts being run by a remote control shared by everyone involved in your case, except you. The court, your spouse, opposing counsel, the custody evaluator and other retained experts are all making decisions directly affecting you and your future, but they rarely seek your advice let alone consent. You are not accustomed to having someone else tell you how to run your life, let alone someone who knows nothing about you and who (you get the feeling) could care less. You feel helpless because you are being judged by an institutionalized negative stereotype of what a “man” is that has little to nothing to do with who you are, namely: a physically violent, emotionally abusive, alcoholic, drug using, Monday Night Football couch potato, who doesn’t know one end of a baby from the other. After a while, you begin to feel overwhelmed, powerless, misunderstood.

     Eventually, you begin feel that you are the only person at the table who doesn’t have a say in your own life. And you are not far from the truth. You are being pulled in multiple directions. Your life unravels. Your health suffers. You are not eating or exercising or sleeping right. Your hard earned financial security is soon siphoned off. You don’t have time or money to see a therapist let alone start a new relationship. Your income drops. You see your children far less than you need and want to while you watch your career and future disappear down Alice’s rabbit hole. The dream is dead. Only after this new surreal reality sinks in do you begin asking yourself, “How will I survive this divorce? Will I survive?” You will survive. That is not the question. The question is who will you be after the divorce is granted, a custody plan is in force, support has been established, and the community property has been divided? The first steps toward salvaging your life when divorcing a spouse who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (“BPD”) are, first, to understand what Borderline Personality Disorder is, second, to surrender to the dysfunctional American family law court system--a way of divorcing people that not even Niccolo Machiavelli could have envisioned–and, third, creating a new dream. A man without a dream is a dead man. Begin this process by assuming you have no rights and no life: You are a third class citizen. Objectively speaking, you have been repeatedly victimized by your spouse and the family court system, but you can never think or act like you are a victim. You must always be “at cause” in your own life no matter how strange things get.     This is the only way for a man to win any significant custody time with his children and to gain any say in this own life. If you so much as smell like a victim–you lose.

The attorney you choose will determine how you come across to the court. The Great Oz who hides behind the curtain is testing you to see if you are really a Man. You will be mercilessly tortured until you either break down from the systematic abuse heaped on you year after year, or you win primary custody of your children. There is no middle ground. Why? Because Borderlines know no middle ground and Borderlines force all- or-nothing resolutions. Courts and attorneys do not understand this about Borderlines. In fact, they do not know Borderlines even exist. Aristotle said, “Know Thyself.” To survive, you must know your heart, your strengths and weaknesses, your limits and potentials. If you know now that you are not ready, willing and able to endure endless psychological, emotional, financial and social abuse, you need to consider walking away and never looking back–whatever that means to you. If you do walk away, be absolutely certain that five or ten years from now, you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I did everything I possibly could to save my children.” This is one way to survive a Borderline divorce. There is only one other way. If you are a man who cannot walk away from his children and who is willing to risk and sacrifice everything for your children, you have no choice but to to be “all in”, no matter what, no matter how long.

 When Hawkeye tells Cora in The Last of the Mohicans to go–he will find her “no matter how far, no matter how long”–he meant it. And so will you. Because your children’s lives solely depend on you. When you resolve that you have no other options but to save your children, take action: Dream a new dream for your life. This is the necessary first step to survival.
  1. Seek out a good life coach or psychologist and get the help you need. 
  2. Read as much as you can about BPD. In time, you will learn how easy it is to manipulate a BPD. 
  3.  Find an attorney who either specializes in BPD cases or who is willing to consult with one does; and Accept that the court system is not only blind when it comes to BPD cases, it is also deaf and dumb–and then develop a plan that forces your judge to deal with reality. 
  4.  Your goal is primary custody of the children. In almost all Borderline cases in which the Borderline parent is moderately or severely Borderline, this is the only custody arrangement that will save the children. If your game plan is Borderline savvy and if you have the wherewithal to financially and personally endure protracted litigation against a Borderline, you can save your children and live your new dream.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Is Your Mother a Borderline?

Photo istock
Mark Banschick M.D.

 Mark Banschick

A Borderline mother can hurt a child in a heartbeat, and these wounds often co
tinue into adulthood. In this piece, Dr. Daniel Lobel shows us how this abuse occurs and what one can do about it.
Conversations with people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (IBPDs) can deteriorate quickly.
It's like stepping on a bee's nest.
One moment you’re talking normally, and the next, the room shakes with rage, shaming, or hurt. And, for the children of such people, the results are ongoing trauma.
•    A Borderline parent can transform into a brutal parent in the blink of an eye.
Given this inherent instability, children—even, adult children—often find themselves unable to respond effectively to a triggered IBPD parent. This blog describes some common patterns of IBPD thinking, and what one can do about it.  After all, forewarned is forearmed.
Two important notes:
  • Borderline parents suffer as well. People don't hurt their children naturally; these suffering souls often have their own past traumas. That being said, parents are not off the hook for abusing their children.
  • We are focusing here on the Borderline mother, but IBPD occurs in fathers as well. In future blogs, I hope to explore what it’s like to be the son or daughter of such men.
Predictable Toxicity:
Regarding the Borderline mother, being prepared for some predictable toxic patterns can help mitigate some of her disorienting pain. If you don’t understand what you are dealing with, the likelihood is that she'll cause damage for years to come.
The thinking of a person with IBPD is distorted at many levels of processing but there are nonetheless patterns of thinking that can be identified. An understanding of these patterns can help to minimize conflict and damage to the self when relating to individuals so afflicted.
The Danger of Distorted Thinking:
Healthy thought processes must be based on accurate perception of the communication and feelings of others. This is where the problems begin for IBPDs. Persons afflicted with this disorder don’t listen to—they listen for.
•    They listen for confirmation that they are the victim.
•    They listen for slights.
•    They listen for hidden meanings.
•    They listen for any withholding of self or resources.
There is a pattern to this listening bias.
The Brutal Search Engine:
Like Google, the Brutal Search Engine is activated by questions. Whereas Google works best with direct and focused questions, the Brutal Search Engine is often driven by hidden agendas.
In the example below, the normal font represents what is verbalized, while the italics reveal the hidden agenda.
IBPD    “So what are your in-laws doing for Christmas?”
            Are you planning to spend the holiday with me?
Child    “They are visiting with us.”
IBPD    “What about your brother and his wife?”
             Am I the only one left out?
Child    “I don’t know.”
IBPD    “So you asked him?”
            Are you keeping something from me?
Child    “I don’t know what he is doing.”
IBPD    “I wish I never had children.”
            I will punish you for victimizing me by leaving me out.
In this example, the Brutal Search Engine was searching for evidence of exclusion and hence belittlement and victimization.
IBPD    “Can we go out to dinner tonight?”
            My friend Phyllis called her son before to have dinner and he said yes. I was                 wondering if you are as good a child as he is?
Child    “This is kinda short notice. How about next Saturday?”
IBPD    “Why, what are you doing now?”
            Can I convince him to give in?
Child    “We have company coming over.”
IBPD    “What company is more important than me?”
             Will you give in if I make you feel guilty?
Child    “Mom, these plans were made weeks ago.”
IBPD    “Never mind. I have other plans too. I just wanted to see if you had any                          interest in being with your mother. The answer is obviously no.”
            Here is your well-deserved punishment.
The final effort to pressure the child to give up his plans is abuse. If this does not succeed in breaking the child’s will, it sets up a sense of victimization. This entitles them to commit more abuse as punishment while also entitling them to be more entitled in the future because they are now wounded.
The Brutal Filter:
The IBPD hears only what they are interested in and only what they want to hear. This leaves them with only partial memories of what is said to them and even these parts may be distorted.
Child    “Mom, Jacob’s third birthday party is on Saturday at our house, and we would like for you to come.”
IBPD    “I would love to come. What time?”
Child    “It starts at noon.”
IBPD    “Can you make it a little later?’
Child    “This is when everyone else is coming”
IBPD    “Do I have to come when everybody else is coming?”
Child    “Well not exactly.”
IBPD    “OK then I will be there around 1:30.”
Child    “But the party will be winding down around then. Jacob naps around that time.”
IBPD    “Then I won’t come at all.”
In this dialogue the Brutal Filter filters out the following information:
•    The party has already been planned.
•    The time has already been set at noon.
•    Other people are invited.
•    This is a party for a 3-year-old—the child is the focus.
IBPD    “Remember when you were a kid and you liked to go to antique shows?"
Child    “I used to prefer going to antique shows than going to Sunday school.”
IBPD    “Why don’t we go to a show this weekend?”
Child    “I am traveling for work this weekend.”
IBPD    “That’s not what you told me yesterday.”
Child     “What did I tell you yesterday?”
IBPD    “Weren’t you even listening?”
Child    “You mean that we were going to Betsy’s soccer game?…I am going away for the weekend but returning early to see her play on Sunday.”
IBPD    “But you have no time to go to be with me.”
Child    “The show is on Saturday. I will be out of town.”
IBPD    “And you have no time for me on Sunday either, right?"
Child    “Mom, I told you that I am traveling on Sunday and returning just in time to get to the game.”
IBPD    “There is always a reason.”
Child    “Why don’t you come to the game?”
IBPD    “With the bugs. Are you crazy?”
This exchange illustrates how the Brutal Filter distorts communication only enough to adjust to the meaning that suits them. These distortions can be the basis for abuse without regard to their validity or departure from objective reality.
The Brutal Disaster Machine:
IBPDs tend to favor the worst possible interpretations of events as this supports their sense of being a victim. Though others may see the proverbial glass half full, they see it as more than half empty.
IBPD    “Have you seen the movie The Way We Were?”
Child    “Yes. I saw it a few weeks ago. It was wonderful.”
IBPD    “I guess it never occurred to you that I might like to see it with you.”
Child    “We never talked about going to a movie together.”
IBPD    “I just don’t exist for you”
Child    “That’s not true”
IBPD    “Then why don’t you ever ask me to do anything with you? You must hate me.”
Child    “Mom, I don’t hate you.”
IBPD    “Then why do you treat me this way? What was I thinking when I decided to                  have children?”
In this example the IBPD is not looking at the situation and history objectively, but rather looking to confirm that she is a victim. Neutral statements and events are thus turned into attacks and justification for abuse.
Child    “Mom, we are going to celebrate our anniversary in Hawaii this year.”
IBPD    “When?”
Child    “The second week in April.”
IBPD    “What if I need something from you while you are gone?”
Child     “Call 911”
IBPD    “What if both of you die in a plane crash? What will happen to me? You don’t                  care about me. Some daughter!”
Here, the IBPD is expressing feeling like a victim of something that has not happened yet. The IBPD is blaming the child for putting herself in the position of not being available in case something might happen and then using it to justify abuse.
Child    “Hi Mom, how are you today?’
IBPD    “I am not doing well.”
Child    “What is bothering you?”
IBPD    “I have to tell you again?”
Child    “You mean your arthritis?”
IBPD    “I could be dropping dead and you wouldn’t even know there was something                  wrong.”
Child    “Is it your hammertoe?”
IBPD    “Forget it. When I am lying on the floor dying, I won’t call you.”
In this example, the Brutal Disaster Machine has created a fantasy where she has an acute medical crisis and she is left to suffer and possibly die due to the child’s negligence. The negligence is abandonment in the form of not keeping the mother’s physical condition a source of constant focus.
The descriptions above are just a few of the patterns of thinking that are characteristic of some IBPDs. These particular patterns concern mostly perception, or the way that they look at the world. Profound suspiciousness can yield to frank paranoia under stressful circumstances.
Protecting Oneself From Abuse:
Without question, being the target of relentless abusive accusations is hurtful and damaging to the self. This is particularly true when it comes from a mother, toward whom children are naturally seeking nurturance and approval.
Absorbing these allegations, condemnations and criticisms can cause self-doubt, loss of confidence, self-hatred and, at the extreme, disintegration of the self. IBPDs often make those closest to them feel badly about themselves. And, often the children of these people either distance themselves or anxiously try to make things right.
Understanding some of the patterns of brutal thought may help to anticipate caustic reactions. This allows for strategic planning to minimize the damaging effects of the abuse. This does not stop the abuse. But, it does give son or daughter of the Borderline mother the tools to brace and or to duck.
Take Back Your Life:
To the adult child of the Borderline mother, it’s your life and she’s your mother.
Armed with insight, and perhaps psychotherapy, you can choose how you want to respond to her. You can distance, placate, or confront, or some combination of the three. But, let it be your choice. Differentiating successfully from such mothers may be the toughest thing you will ever have to do.
Sadly, she won’t make it easy for you.
This piece is by guest blogger Dan S. Lobel, Ph.D. who is in private practice in Katonah, New York.  Dr. Lobel can be reached for consultation at 914-232-8434 or by email at: (link sends e-mail).