Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Revealing Phone Conversation

About eighteen months ago I received a phone call from my sister. The evening before she and I had been talking again about my reading on NPD and discussing our mother.

My sister had apparently settled on a niggling, disquieting thought...what if I, her sister, was seeing some parallels between NPD and her?

In a voice sounding slightly higher pitched than normal she posed a question:

"Ah, S, I was just wondering. Um, with all of your reading on NPD, do you think I might be a narcissist?"
...the sound of her voice trailing upward at the end with a bit of a coy, saccharine tone.

Since I wasn't born yesterday I recognized an emotional land mine set for my feet, so I had to think quickly on my feet. I picked the most diplomatic yet honest reply I could find on the spur of the moment.
"I think you showed some narcissistic tendencies when you were a teenager."
Her reaction was immediate and defensive. Suddenly sounding quite huffy and very irritated she responded with an immediate defense of herself as a teen. It wasn't her fault. It was Mom's fault. She was a victim of Mom and didn't know how to react appropriately, she hardly even remembers what she did back then because of the trauma, etc., etc.

I knew right then and there that I had picked the safest course. I didn't even say she was a narcissist way back then. I said that, as a teen, she had shown tendencies. So, my littlest criticism of her behavior as a teen (which was twenty years earlier) and she still goes into a completely defensive mode. She proved as recently as this phone conversation that she refuses to own her bad actions during a time when a person is considered accountable for what they do. Can you imagine what holding her to account in the present would look like? Not good. Which is what ended up happening about six months later.

At that time, I was choosing not to perceive my sister as narcissistic. She had been playing it quite cool during the two year period that I was doing intensive research on NPD. I was willing to put everything behind me and proceed as if my sister had actually matured because I was always wanting to believe that. Whenever she gave me the slightest excuse, I would think the best of her.

My diplomatic answer that day was an honest one. But her over-reaction to that tiny piece of honesty forced me to recognize that my sister was fundamentally unchanged in one important respect: she is never to blame. This conversation was also proof she was not sorry for her bad acts as a late teen and young adult. Which meant she would be even less sorry for anything she had done more recently. Even the distance of twenty years was not enough for her to be willing to admit to anything. She has a pile of guilt and shame she isn't willing to pay the debt on so she can be free of it. The "demon at the door" demands payment in order for her to proceed. Deny, deny, deny. The projection of perfection even as she was as a teen is still imperative for her to keep in place. Sad, really.

As I stated in my previous post, my sister has never asked for forgiveness. This conversation confirmed why she hasn't...she is not willing accept any blame for her bad behavior. None. She is always perfectly justified for anything she says or does. Someone else is always to blame. This has been the way of it all through the years.

Just like any other narcissist.

I let my sister talk until she had herself feeling good again. I didn't raise any contradictions. I made noises like I understood what she was saying. Mind you, we have never had a talk about her treatment of me over the years. Never. I always knew it would lead to her justifying herself and quite angrily, at that. I've never been able to contradict her, or even to hint to her that her behavior is wrong, without having to pay the price of her anger and self-justification. I have also learned that even when my sister solicits my opinion, there is only one "right" answer...what she wants to hear. So, I just wanted to her to lay her feathers back down so I could quietly walk away in one piece. She had herself all put together again by the end of this short conversation.

Now I was the one left with disquieted feelings and an uncomfortable niggling in my mind.

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