Friday, August 24, 2007

Can You Love the Narcissist?

Do you love the narcissist? Or are you in love with your fantasy of what you wish the narcissist to be? How can you tell whether you love the person or the fantasy?

The following applies not only to romantic relationships; it applies across the board of all relationships including parent/child.

You can not truly love someone until they have revealed their characters to you. Why is this so? Because who we are is revealed by what we choose to do. Our characters are the sum total of the choices we've made.

Until you know someone's character you can not say in truth that you know or love who they are. This explains why so many marriages fall apart. People fall in love with their imagined version of the other person and don't become acquainted with that other person's character until enough time has passed for the consistency of their characters to be revealed. This is why short dating periods are often disastrous in the long-term.

We each have a will. How we exercise our will = the choices we make. The choices we make = our behaviors. The consistent behaviors a person exhibits is the truth of who they are. Behaviors are the revelation of character. Behaviors reveal what has been happening in the unseen realm of someone's thinking. When a person, like Cho of the Virginia Tech massacre, suddenly went on a murderous rampage, he was not acting out of character. He revealed what his character truly was. We have a sudden, horrific and stark revelation of what his thinking and small choices have added up to. What Cho did is who he is. Cho forced us all to see what an evil character had been developing quietly step by step and choice by choice while no one was really looking. We often hear people protest after being caught in some bad behavior that "it isn't like me to do this". No, it is like you. You chose to do what you did. You revealed who you are, not who you aren't, when you cheated on your husband or when you cooked the books at work.

If, after having a clear view of someone's personal character traits, you have respect, admiration and trust in that person then you can correctly state that you love this person.

Then there is the situation where you have gotten to know the personal characteristics of an individual, and you find that you can not say you love those characteristics. Yet you insist that you still love the person. Never mind that this person lies to you, cheats on you, slanders you to others, even physically abuses you...you tenaciously insist you hate their character traits but you love the person. It is this so-called "love" which justifies why you are still in this bad relationship. Whatever the reason for it (there can be many), this is describing someone who has created a fantasy around the objectionable character. They are not in love with the person...they are in love with the idea of who they've decided this person is in spite of the evidence to the contrary. This is not reality-based thinking. To insist a person is "good" despite what bad things they actually do is an exercise in your imagination only.

Perhaps you insist that you love what this person could be if they only tried. This, too, is a refusal to live in reality. Can we please dispense with this sloppy thinking? Can we stop trying to fool ourselves in order to justify staying in a destructive relationship? Can we call things by their right names? Go ahead and insist that you love the rotten character, but quit doing it to make yourself believe you are a better person for doing so. Stop white-washing their character in order to convince yourself you need to stay connected to them. If you are afraid of leaving the comfort of the known for the discomfort of the unknown world of life without this bad character, then admit that truth to yourself. But stop pretending you love something that is hateful. Remember that a key component of mental health is the mind which insists on living in reality i.e. the truth. You are not doing your mental health any favors by engaging in these mental games which allow you to stay in a bad place. If you don't love what a person does then you can't accurately state that you love the person himself.

This type of imaginary love is a real problem for many adult children of narcissists (ACONs). It can be incredibly difficult to admit to yourself that you don't love your narcissist parent or that they don't love you. It seems to go against nature to make that admission. I see many ACONs insisting to themselves that they love their N mom or N dad despite the decades of ill treatment they've received from her or him. The ACON isn't ready to give up the idea of having a loving parent, so the ACON must pretend they love this abusive parent in order to justify staying connected. They are willing to pretend that their mommy or daddy really loves them "deep down" though they don't recognize they are having to imagine the love they "see" coming from their parent. This keeps the ACON in an actively destructive relationship. Many ACONs are willing to risk their marriages and their own children's emotional and physical safety in order to "keep the dream alive". This refusal to admit to reality is damaging to more than your own mental health. You can risk everything good in your life by insisting your fantasy is reality. Your refusal to walk away from a destructive parent is not a testament to your deep and abiding love for this person...it is a testament to your volitional stupidity. Do not call your dependency on a bad relationship "love".

It is okay to love a bad person, but only from a distance. Don't insist your love for a destructive person is justification enough for staying close to them. You risk all that is good and beautiful in life in order to love the unlovable. Maybe you think that means you are a better person because you can love and unlovable, but when your so-called love means the destruction of your own well-being, and the well-being of the innocents around you, then I insist you are not as good as you think you are.

14 comments:

jordie said...

Alice Miller has done some interesting work in relation to how we view abusive parents, using the 'fourth commandment' as an excuse to continue to accept damagingat behaviour. We forgive, and 'honor' our parents because God and the rest of society expects us to.

Her book 'The Body Never Lies' and various articles on her website alice-miller.com is very helpful in dealing with the damage inflicted by abusive parents.

Anonymous said...

This post has been extremely helpful to me cutting the emotional cord that still exists to my N Xwife. The "dream" of our home and family was so good that leaving that in my mind and heart seemed sacreligious. The character issues are everything and if your partner's character is morally deficient and unfaithful the "dream" will remain just that, a "dream".

Anna Valerious said...

Anonymous,

It does sound like you understand well the point I'm making in this post. I'm grateful to know you found it helpful, by the way. There is emotional freedom in realizing one has been attached to a dream, not reality, because you can then detach from the dream and get on with real life. "Character issues are everything"...I couldn't agree more.

Katrina said...

My whole life as I knew it in my family of origin has been a "dream". Your blog has helped me immensely this past year as I extricate myself from the siblings & watch them from a distance as they continue to do their dance. Your mob family blog totally explains it--& I'm the one being shunned.That has let me see things clearly. Your writings have empowered me to turn my back on them & not get sucked into the "network"--or care about what they do or say. The more I pull away & they see they can't affect me-the more widespread & viscious they become. Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

googled sadistic mothers and found your blog. not a blog fan. but - and this is a HUGE but - thank you. i am you. a much older you. my mother died may 2006, and it was one of the best days of my life. i feel a relief like i always thought i'd feel. no regrets. we reconciled in the last 2 1/2 years of her life - she was almost 90. but i became realistic about who and what she was. through much therapy, books(recommend trapped in the mirror), medication and sleepless nights i am now comfortable with myself. there is life after a narcissistic parent.

Barbara said...

Anna

The one point I would like to add to your masterful post here is that we often fall in love with the false-image an N is able to create for us to reel us in.

They can keep that up for a few days, weeks or years until they get bored, have you hooked or whatever. If you then "catch" them in their lies they can revert RIGHT BACK to where they were to reel you back in for however long they need. Rinse Repeat.

It takes a tremendous amount of strength to escape the gravitational sickness of the N.

Anonymous said...

This is very helpful. I just found out that my son's father (ex) is an N and I wish I would have known this five years ago. I too had this "dream" of what he would be like after counseling or medication for his "anger" and he would let me down everytime. It really helps to think of it as it really is....You can't really love someone if you don't love their actions. I have never truly loved him. I loved the dream of a happy family.

Anonymous said...

My N Ex told me explicitly that i loved an imaginary person, not him. I think at the time, even though the words were true, the words were still part of his plan to appear to be a caring person seeking truth and trying to "help" me let go of my expectations that he treat me (and my son) better. He didn't seem fazed that he had meticulously set up the imaginary person that i believed in - he was impressed by making an otherwise intelligent person love a lie. In the end a normal person will feel like screaming "if you know youve caused me to love a lie, if you know what is wrong with that - QUIT FAKING IT AND BEHAVE BETTER" haha, like he even cared. Be impressed with the fantastic creationist aspects of the Narcissist actor... THEN WALK AWAY.

Anonymous said...

After my recent confrontation with my mother the next day she acted as though she didn't go crazy. The other day she was literally frothing and her face was completely red in two second flat. She was jumping and yelling throwing shoes. If a friend did that to me I would be wary of them. I am so trapped.
She once again said something along the line of if you don't like me so much why not go to foster care. In the morning I said I was ready to go. Started packing. She went all teary. Not exact quotes "I do everything for you. You are the reason I do anything. I need you. What do you think is wrong with me? What are these 'perceived' faults?" All the while saying things similar to this she is pouting and sniffling.

A side note. It is a big deal when my mother cries. She almost never cries. I know something is serious when she is crying.

I can't take this. Started comforting here. What a strange world when you have to comfort your own parent when you are trying to leave because of how they treat you. She is once again "trying to get to the bottom of things" asking me if she is doing better the next day. I point something out that she did that hurts.

She just pushes it asides and defends making it nothing. I point that out and she gets mad. There is no reasoning. I say something then she acts as though I said something entirely different. She speaks of meaning this and that completely different if you translated her English words by a dictionary.

Now she is being extra nice. It doesn't make much sense. Trying to take us to things. She seems to always think it is because we don't have enough time with her. Frankly I don't have the heart to tell her that the less time I spend with her the better. I hate doing things with her most of the time.

She seems to speak of me as her reason to exist. Then at other times she callously pushes it aside and says "why don't I just leave" like I didn't matter to her at all. I have tried to point out these inconsistencies to her for years.

When talking with her she let out a huge whopper. "If this has hurt you so much why haven't you told me before" I felt like screaming, I told you many times! And each time you did the same thing trying to supposedly get at the root of the problem but never getting it assuming my only problem was something petty like having to do chores!

Funny but before I found there was a name for it I thought she was as honest as good old Abe. Now I am starting to see all her lies when she speaks to me. Once again my heart is wrenched out of my chest.

It is astounding how much pain grief can cause. It resurfaces every now and then when she acts like someone who ought to be locked up in an insane asylum or when a person says something that painfully reminds me of it. The grief that comes up is overwhelming. The kind where I feel like I could choke at any moment where my lungs don't have quite enough room to inflate when I breath. The pit of my stomach sinks.

I get this grief also when it seems that I have made her so sad. She is so good at making it my fault... The thing I want most in this world is just for her to be happy and kind. I would rather be starving to death with a mother that loved me and cared for me in such a way that I knew it. You could be the richest child in the world and if your mother treated you like dirt you still feel like dirt.

At church today I was ready to burst and tell all when one of the teachers mentioned a friend that had gone through an abusive family. Then she said that we were lucky we didn't have parents like that. Also she praised my mother for being so active and helpful and charitable.

Sometimes I just feel like I can't think straight. What is up down or sideways. Kind of like you are in deep water and trying to find which way is up. Follow the bubbles. I wish all situations were like that just follow the bubbles they will show the way. With people some point down others point to the left and to the right and finally a few point up.

Oh if only she allowed herself to be happy. If she would just change I would forgive all without a second thought. She just won't listen when I ask her to stop doing this and this.

Then the shame. I put myself in her shoes and if I had a child that told me that how I treated that child made it so they decided they would rather go to foster care I would feel deep grief. The problem is my mother is acting that out. It seems as though I am feeling her pain and mine at once. She is trying to find out what she can do to make me stay. For example: "If I hug you more often.... say I love you more often......."

It is hard for me to tell her the truth that I am repulsed by her hugging me. I am feel revulsion when she says that she loves me. So I just say that I don't like to be hugged, I don't like to hear her say I love you. What is with so many people thinking that you just have to say I love you and it makes everything better? It can make things so much worse. "You need to say I love you" No you don't. You must show it in everything you say and do.

It hurts so much when I try to explain love to her and she still keeps on believing if she just says I love you thats done and over with. She thinks that if she lets me do things I want that means she loves me, if she lets me eat what I want, if she gives me a break from her constant barrage of home school assignments..... It goes on and one with things that really don't matter much. It is how she treats me.

Why can't she allow herself to see that teenagers/children deserve as much respect as an adult. 18 and less need to be talked to like any other regular adult. Does the average person on the street want to be yelled at? Does the average person on the street want to be criticized and accused of things they have never done? I don't think so. Neither do children. She had this ridiculous belief that parents have a free pass to do anything they want with children and children have to take it without a second thought. I remember quite freshly how I hated adults who talked to me like my mind was made out of mud. I would listen to adult conversations avidly and then join in when I could. They just brushed it aside like my opinion didn't matter. "Oh thats cute" Children need at least one adult in the world to listen to them and not think of them as brain dead until the holy age of 18. Just one that believes their small opinion matters that it is something you can learn from. Just one thats all I ever wanted. I didn't want more of that condescending junk. I want someone to listen and take me seriously. That is why narcissistic parents are so damaging. Children do need to be heard. Most people don't listen. If your parents don't listen you are nothing. What you think you feel is nothing. What you say is nothing. Then when they point out to you how much they have done to you and how grateful you ought to be you really feel like nothing. This burden is now added. You realize you rely on them for everything. You are incurring this great debt that is impossible to pay back. Kinda like getting a hospital bill for a trillion dollars. When I see a parent not showing any care for their child's opinion or putting it down, or downright calling them wrong I want to run over and plead with them not to do that because I know how much it hurts.

Children need someone to care without criticizing them. Someone who doesn't have to point out every time that 2+2= doesn't equal 6. Someone who can let you find things out for yourself. Someone who will accept your advice as something more than just what a child said. Someone who believes in you and that you are capable and not in need of constant help. I don't need someone to hug me or kiss my toe as a child. I need someone who values me. My opinion, my mind, my life, my view of the world. Who doesn't just see me as mentally retarded because I am 8. Someone who doesn't take advantage of the fact that I believe almost anything that an adult will tell me. As a child I need respect. The kind of respect where someone values how you feel and think and treats you likewise and takes you into consideration in all there actions with you. I don't need another idiot mindlessly praising me for a few scribbles. I want someone who believes that I can draw a masterpiece with practice. Or one that praises me just because I can write my name. I want someone who believes I can write a sentence, then a paragraph, then a book. You don't get that with a narcissist and a lot of other fools out there that believe children's minds are clay that need to be molded. Children's minds are inexperienced and just need to be taught what is right and wrong, what is a great accomplishment and many simple facts that they just haven't been taught yet. Such as what the word interesting means.

I even asked her if a parent told a child to drink should they do it? She said yes. Drinking is a big no no in our church. When I attempt to explain how what she does is so damaging she says things like "I didn't mean it like that, I was just teasing," Then this proves that she refuse to change anything I ask her not to do she assumes is not being a parent so she says "If you want me to stop being a parent I won't".

I know her definition of a parent and basically just about anything goes. The child is wrong. The parent is always right. The child must always obey the parent without questioning. She is always amazed that I have a mind of my own. "I always listened to my mother and did whatever she asked. I cleaned the house without being asked. You puzzle me because you don't want to do things and say so."

She just expect her children like employees to do whatever the boss requires. She even uses this context when making us do our chores perfectly. If you get a real job you have to do it top notch. "I am teaching you a lesson about real life" She seems to forget that she has taught that lesson twenty million times and we don't need it anymore.

She even had us sign contracts for crying out loud! To go back to America we had to agree to take whatever dance lessons we required. (This contract contradicts with her promise that she won't make us do any more dance lessons. Due to the contract she says her promise is now void) She also made us sign a paper saying that money we got from outside of the money we get only 10% to spend and the rest goes into various bank accounts.

Why is it when I describe how I felt to my father he said that he didn't realize it was that bad. Can't conjure the picture of his kid being criticized and ridiculed in tears pleading with her mother to please just stop. But her mother kept on going on and on. Kinda like watching a person pinching a child over and over again while the child is pleading with the person to stop but they just keep doing it.

I can't live with this insanity anymore.

Anna Valerious said...

I would not be able to count how many times my mother would justify herself by telling me she was just preparing me "for the real world" by her obsessive need to make my performance perfect, and her cruel ways of enforcing that perfection. "If you can deal with me, you'll be able to deal with the world." She loved to say that. In a way she was right. Everyone that I've met "in the world" has been easier to deal with than her. The world has been "easy street" compared to her shit.

Your mother is incapable of changing. She proves that to you every day. You are seeing that truth by how she pretends to make things right by thinking that just hugging you more or saying the words "I love you" more that you'll feel like everything is okay. You are right. Those words make everything worse. Not better. She can't change who she is which is why her behavior is continually wrong. What she does is an outgrowth of who she is. Her character. She accepts who she is. She is angry that you don't. She acts like she is interested in making things change, but the moment you point something out, she does everything she can to minimize what she does that hurts you. Minimizing is not being sorry. It is being pissed that you are inconveniencing her by expressing you discomfort at her behavior.

You are thinking very, very straight. I know it can be horribly confusing when you're in the thick of things, and it is tempting to think you are the one who is thinking upside down. You have expressed yourself so eloquently and clearly, and you've demonstrated that you have a death grip on reality. Your mother is the child in this relationship. You are thinking like the adult.

Please hang in there. You have a brilliant future ahead of you. Someone with your intelligence, writing ability, and ability to know yourself has all the material needed to make a success of whatever you decide to pursue. I hope you will resolve to put many miles of distance between you and your sick mother the first day you can. If not physical miles, then emotional ones.

I know what you describe about the despair that threatens to take the very breath out you. I have felt that kind of pain. I, too, have felt it when my own N mother would rarely cry. I felt entirely responsible and desperate to comfort her. To see her break down would make me feel like the whole world was threatening to crumble. These are more reasons why it is imperative that you put emotional distance between you and your mother. These are signs of having the very life sucked out of you just for her needs. Yes, she needs you. She needs you in the same way a mosquito needs you...as a source of blood to feed on so she can go on with her parasitic life.

I am terribly sorry for what you are dealing with. You will survive. You will go on to thrive. But it will require excising this cancerous tumor, your mother, from your life. That you realize at this very young age what your mother is means that you are far, far ahead of most of us. Most ACONs don't buy a clue until their late 30s or early 40s.

You have my deepest empathy. I know the desperate feeling of being trapped in the insane asylum. I recommend that you stop trying to reason with your mother. She is incapable of changing. She refuses reason because it would require her to change. Try as best you can to keep the waters smooth; this will help somewhat to minimize the crazy. Then squirt of there the moment you can do so safely.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anna Valerious. It so nice finally to have someone who sees it and can understand. A great burden has been lifted in a way knowing that there are some adults out there who see that children and teenagers are capable of reasoning. People like you I could just hug out of relief.

It is wonderful and sad that someone else knows exactly how I feel. Thank you very much for making this site. It is a great deal of help.

I will take your advice in not confronting her anymore. Lol. I remember the time when I confronted her about her threats to leave us and attempting to explain how much it hurt when she said that. The best part was my brother and father joined in. She focused on us ganging up on her. She talks about us missing the point! The irony is astounding.

Also if you look on youtube look up cop vs skateboard you will find baltimore cop vs skateboarders. It is nice to remind me of what my mom does. That poor kid tries to defend himself meekly as a lamb not happening. The ultimate irony here is the police officer is demanding respect. He got it the entire time while he was giving complete disrespect.

Lora said...

I am starting to realize that my current relationship for the last 10 months is to a N. I have just seen some of his character traits that shocked and surprised me. I recently started catching him in lies.

I am so glad that we did not marry right away as we had discussed. Your advice - about knowing someone and their character before marriage and after the honeymoon stage wears off - was dead right and very helpful to me as I am licking my wounds but thankful that we did not marry right away.

I am troubled that I was in love with a dream and not reality. This makes me sad in a way but able to let go a bit easier.

Anonymous said...

I've always been a fair and giving person. I met a woman, and fell in love (or so I thought). She moved in, and we talked about spending the rest of our lives together. But things weren't adding up. It started gradually. I'd ask her about certain behaviors or actions, she'd get indignant, and scold me for not trusting her. More and more things didn't add up, and the odds of all of them being coincidences was just too great. The arguing got worse. I'd try all manner of conflict resolution. Apologizing for things I wasn't guilty of, just brought out more venom. I thought to myself that I may not be right all the time, but I damn sure know I'm not wrong all the time.
The stress got worse and worse. Then I discovered N.D. And Anna's site seemed to be written about my fiance' (who, although stunningly beautiful, had never been married, had no close friends, and had lived all over the country at 49). Once I realized there was no chance things would change, much of the pressure was off, at least temporarily. Getting her out of my life was unbelievably difficult. She is impressively manipulative, and convincingly sincere. So she'd date other men, then come running back crying. I'm a soft hearted guy, so I'd take her back. Almost immediately everything became my fault. The cycle was impossible to handle. I was advised by a counselor that I'd have to be a serious jerk(much stronger words were used) to get her out of my life, and that's what I became. Because of her N.D., I found out she was in BIG debt, and hadn't paid taxes in years. I had to tell her that if she didn't stop calling, emailing, and texting me, I'd call the IRS. I'd never do it, but I needed something. Buddy, a person can be strong for 23 hours and 59 minutes. But if you lower your guard to one of these narcissists for that one minute, they've got you. I'm mentally exhausted from this, and the stress has caused health problems. It didn't help that I'd spent the previous two years dealing with the effects of hurricane Katrina and aged 5 years in a short period of time repairing my flood damaged home. I look back and there's no comparison. At least after a hard day of gutting my house, or hanging sheetrock, I could get to sleep. Not so with the shark of personality disorders. Just as Anna writes, you cannot truly love someone until they reveal their character. I've never been one to jump into love, but I will now wait till a woman's character is revealed before ever letting my emotions take over. I'm just so grateful to know that I'm not alone, and that others have had the same experience. What a life's lesson. How I wished I had not had to learn it. Good luck to anyone who's going through the same thing. No one can truly understand the depth of frustration and self doubt that a narcissist can bring.

Allgotkund said...

Thank you so much for creating this blog. I was in a relationship, and was going to marry, a girl who could be frighteningly narcissistic. I chose over and over again to ignore the alarms that went off in my mind whenever she did or said something that seemed so selfish to me my heart would feel like it had been punched.

My wonderful relationship with my whole family was nearly destroyed because I would NOT leave her. Finally, one day, she said something (again) against my family bond and it was the last straw for me.

I've not spoken with her for over a month (although I've been tempted so many times to reconnect). I'm still having trouble believing I'll ever find someone else.

Our relationship was so intense, and it was the first time I had ever experienced a relationship with a girl in that way.

The thought of being lonely really bothers me now (well, it did before too). I have read on the internet that many of my behaviors and thought patterns are codependent. I have felt immense guilt over leaving her at times. But my whole life, EVERYTHING good in it, was being destroyed right before my eyes...!

The only solution I can think of is to become some kind of an amazing person; filled with self-discipline, personal direction, and independent conviction about my beliefs, and a burning desire to help other people any way I can.

Or maybe I'm just clueless.