Friday, January 18, 2008

Pity Party

She just behaved very badly. She had fought to get her way on something, but because she wasn't able to get her way, she had an adult version of a huge temper tantrum. Unfortunately for her she had a witness to the scene...a witness not entirely under her power. She is in a jam because this person's opinion of her matters to her a great deal. Her usual tactic of having a rage just won't work in this situation. She must do something much more artful.

This situation calls for the full on wounded act. She gets her target alone with just her. Her voice quavers. She takes on the look of complete defeat. Copious tears. Sighing and crying she is angling for her target to agree with her that she has been treated unjustly. She is making a play for the heart. A calculated grab for pity. While explaining how unjust the treatment of her was she looks tiny, pathetic, broken. She pretends to feel badly for the small little thing she did wrong while exaggerating and lying about how the other person reacted and treated her. The target feels their heart being wrenched in their chest with the desire to comfort her even while they logically know that they just saw her being a complete spoiled brat and a bully. The target starts to feel confused by these conflicting realities. The desire to comfort the pitiable creature standing in from of them is overwhelmingly compelling.

You've been invited to the Pity Party. Your host tonight: the conscience-impaired. (In this story, my mother.)

I'm about half way through the book, "The Sociopath Next Door", by Martha Stout, Ph.D.

"How can I tell whom not to trust?" is a question Ms. Stout has often fielded from her patients. She asserts that one of the best clues that you may be dealing with someone who has an impaired or absence conscience is the pity play:

"...the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy...More than admiration--more even than fear--pity from good people is carte blanche. When we pity, we are, at least for the moment, defenseless..."

You know this is true. How many times in the movies has this tactic been used by the evil villain? Innumerable. We are screaming at our TV screens, "Don't fall for that!!" as we see the camouflaged evil villain lure in the good guy by appealing to the good guy's intact heart and conscience with a convincing act of being wounded, pitiable, defenseless. If the good guy believes the act, he is the one rendered defenseless. This allows the bad guy to kill him or make an escape. This scene happens over and over again in movies because we all recognize it to be a common tactic of evil people, and we all recognize the good guy's vulnerability to such a tactic. His decency is what sets him up for the fall. We find ourselves wishing that the good guy could be just a little less decent for a moment so he can avoid what we can see is coming...his annihilation.

Do we have to lose our decency to insure we don't fall for such a ruse? No, I don't think so. We just need to pay attention. Don't assume that anyone who seems pathetic and pitiable is automatically going to deserve your compassion or pity. Remember that giving sympathy to evil doers is no virtue. If you want your compassion to be virtuous be sure to give it to the truly deserving.

Stout gives us some guidance on how to decide who is trustworthy and who is deserving of your compassion:

"When deciding whom to trust, bear in mind that the combination of consistently bad or egregiously inadequate behavior with frequent plays for your pity is as close to a warning mark on a conscienceless person's forehead as you will ever be given."

"I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him."
The Sociopath Next Door, pg. 109.

The devil does exist. Boot his or her sorry ass out of your life.

[icon by scarymime]


Anonymous said...

Another good post Anna. This is my mother's favorite move for strangers and friends in her inner circle - anyone who was not witness to the truth.

Vampira is saved for only intimate family members (her spouse and children).

Imagine the shock and dismay after being chastised by people she knows for "breaking HER heart and making HER cry" even though she was not crying and her heart was not breaking at the time. No!

I WAS THE ONE CRYING and she was the one raging and screaming obsenitites... how nice for her to go and twist it around to make me the unstable, ragaholic.

Ugh! But what to do? Unless i walk around with a hidden video camera at all times then i'm helpless to her attacks and no one believes it. I wish i could have proof of one of her rages and post it on the net for all to see.

Anonymous said...

There's only one cure for a temper tantrum: treat them like the 3-year-old child they are. That means don't give in.

Tears are an interesting twist. The N I know cannot for her life produce a tear. She can sob and sniffle and make her shoulders shudder, but never, ever make a tear. And when she coyly sneaks a peak to see if her audience is buying it, she will instantly stop if it's not working.

Anonymous said...

As usual Anna, you are spot on with your observations. Your posts about the pity play and the place of Christian charity have been particularly helpful.

My mother is an N, and she is friends with an N - Agnes. How many times has she called upon us to do some errand and then treated us like the help?
Once when I was working two jobs and had only Sundays to recover Agnes called me and asked if I could tutor her with accounting. I said no. She then called my mother and mentioned it to her. My mother called me and said can you help Agnes with her accounting. I told her you would go. So I did. Week in week out. I used to call her on the appointed day and ask if she needed me to come over. One day I called her, her son answered and she told him to tell me that she no longer needed me to come over. And that was that. No thank you, no prior warning. I got treated like the help.
then when she went on vacation for 2 weeks - her son didn't like it and came back one week in. She didn't call ahead and ask my brother if he could check on him, she told her son to call my brother when he got there and ask him to stop by....
We don't know what Agnes does for a living. But she has a lot of married men friends whom she freely admits, buy her new things. The biggest was a house, bought by a man who owned an insurance company. He left his wife for her and when she had the house, she kicked him out because he was being too 'controlling'. Which meant asking where she was going and wanting to know who her friends were. Not slander folks, she told us this. she has dumped men because they weren't rich enoug. I think we are the only ones who still speak to her.

When I saw her last Thanksgiving I was very cool with her. She then called me the next day to make her PITY PLAY and in a trembling voice asked me if I had time and could I do something for her - She never calls me, EVER, EVER. I said no, she hung up quick and not a word from her since.

She is recovering from a bout of cancer now. My mother wanted me to take her soup and sit with her but I refused. I knew that when she got better she would be back to the same old same old i.e not calling unless she needed something. (Fun fact - it never occured to me that she would die) My mum said that I was wrong and should treat her with CHRISTIAN CHARITY and that everyone has faults. I declined. She is better and of course has reverted to the same old same old. Hasn't spoken to my mother since or responded to her phone messages.

Barbara said...

Brilliant!! This is EXACTLY what most of mine did to coerce me into a relationship or compliance.

Boo hoo.

And if you stand up to them, the 'bystanders' hammer you for being cold & cruel.

At least I have gotten past caring what other people think.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Anna.

This is also a favored tactic of abusive borderlines.

I don't consider those poor souls narcissistic in the usual [viciously, deliberately predatory] way; there's generally horrendous abuse of some kind in their childhood, and woundedness, in this case, does explain a great deal.

But it doesn't excuse it. And these specific borderlines tend to snap into a savagely abusive mode with little or no obvious provocation, then can't figure out why 'friends' or 'loved ones' they've eviscerated on a whim - or slandered across three counties at the top of their lungs for a solid month - want nothing to do with them afterward.

Whereupon the pity play begins.

This is another point where borderlines resemble narcissists; they often backstab their target as fast and furiously as possible at the same time they're making all kinds of overt and covert plays to that individual, asking for pity and reconciliation [classic hostile dependency].

This looks insane because it is. The only thing to do about it is No Contact, from the moment the facts become apparent. Not always easy to do if you've married them or work with them, or have them in the family otherwise, but it's ultimately the only sane option.

It's also the only really compassionate option. If enough people disappear from their lives, eventually a borderline may look around at the smoking rubble they've made of their lives, and realize who's sitting at the blast center. This may be the only way to motivate them to the degree of honest self-appraisal that will lead to recovery.

Anonymous said...

Example: I am cooking lunch for my N mom and father. N Mom swishes past the stove and punches on the stove-top light. I decided to set a boundary. I ask "Are you going to do something on the stove?" No "Well, you know. . .it makes me feel kind of insulted when you turn on the light." Pish posh is the general response. "I'm an adult. It makes me feel like I'm being disrespected and am unable to decide for myself when to turn on a light." Well!! That was not her intention at all! I am unreasonable. I say, "How 'bout we just agree you will be more conscious about it and I will be less resentful knowing you don't mean anything by it." Not sure what the answer was because I was internally chaotic by then -- trying to stay calm and reasonable externally.
Is this trivial, everyday intra-familial conflict or bona fide N behavior? It seem petty on my part, but I know it doesn't feel petty. Could it be I am the N? Responses appreciated --- can take honesty. :)

Anonymous said...

Great post Anna. Well, for what it's worth, I recently arrived back from a wedding, where I saw my former narcissist in attendence.

For six months, I foolishly attempted to contact this person after having confronted them about their inconsiderate actions, to try and reason with them, to broker some sort of dialog. Two days before I was set to move, they slowly began treating me coldly. I made the mistake of asking about this treatment, and to try and talk about both our feelings on my necessary departure several hours away.

Having had previously difficult times, I expected us to eventually talk about things, as we left on uneasy terms. However, this time was different because I no longer lived close to them. I was special only if they felt the could still obtain something from me, I guess.

I have been completely ignored until they finally respoded to an email two months ago, where I extended an olive branch for the umpteenth time. However, their response was simply to toy with me, as they never really planned to ever talk about our ending and my pain at their treatment.

The bottome line is that your post on stockholm syndrome really hit home on this point. I was pathetically awaiting any sign from them that I wasn't completely worthless! I am still hurt and angry at myself for being so damn co-dependent!

So, while nervous as to what to expect, I completely ignored them, as they did me. They and a friend seemed uncomfortable and left immediately following the service. I believe I finally have my closure through this encounter of sorts. I still hurt, but it's a dull ache rather than what it was before, which felt like I was bleeding to death from the inside.

Perhaps I was childish in absolutely ignore them, but it felt right. I'm sure they still feel that I'm hurt, but I tried to just act nonchalant.

It's not often that I stumble across a site as helpful as yours, and for that I thank you and everyone who offers their experiences here. My recent loss and the ensuing pain have been drastically aided from the various postings here.

Anonymous said...

They're EVIL. Thanks for clarifying that point. I think that's why so many people can't get it...they want the rational answer, when they are bred from the Father of Lies.

I started a site/forum dedicated to the discussion Psychopaths?Narcissists evil ways.

Anonymous said...

Anna, would you consider examining the tactic of "gifts" as manipulation in a future blog? Like you, my mother is the N against which I am struggling. When we were younger, she always used "inheritance" as the magic word with me and my sister - ("I plan to leave these diamond earrings (timeshare interest, wedding rings, etc.) to you"). It is amazing to me how long this worked on us - gee, we'd better be nice to Mom or she'll "cut us out" of her will, or gee, I'm the favorite one - I won't tell my sister, it will make her feel bad to know Mom's leaving these to ME.

Only recently have my sister and I begun talking - and realizing our mom has been playing the two of us for forever. Each of us has been the "only one" for a long time. To my sister, she said "your older sister doesn't need the help, you do." To me, she said "your younger sister will just squander the money like she does everything else."

It took me until the past few years, when indeed, my husband and I have done really well in life, to see that Mom's a lot of smoke and mirrors. The "gorgeous real diamond earrings" she gave me one year I now see for the little diamond chips they are - and the backs are suspiciously ordinary, not safety backs. Likewise she would tuck in notes with other gifts, letting me know exactly what they cost, so I would know how grateful to be. In one case while traveling, I finally realized where she had bought something she gave to me, and they were little more than tourist trinkets - not a tenth of what she said they cost. (I do love the part where I now realize she tells me what EVERYTHING costs, so we can all be appropriately impressed.)

Anyway, she also gambles and whines to my sister about not having any money to gamble, how she can't lend my sister money, etc. - while bragging to me about how much money she wins all the time at the casinos. (And "please don't tell your younger sister, she has so little it would make her really unhappy." She can only tell ME, the daughter with money, how much money she has, has won, etc.)

Now here's the thing, after having told my mother that we don't want to be in her will AT ALL - I said, leave everything to my sister, she needs it more - my mom has gone on an aggressive gift-giving campaign to win me back.

First she told me that I hadn't sent her husband a gift for his birthday last fall. I said, "well, he doesn't send me one. And you didn't send my husband a gift last summer." My mom became VERY upset and claimed that because I once told her that my husband and I don't exchange gifts on a formal basis, that she didn't really FORGET his birthday, she was just HONORING our request that he not get gifts. ??WTF??

So subsequently, I received an email saying "well, as the idea of gifts upsets you, these holidays I will just send gifts to the children. I will not bother with gifts for you or XXX ... not that I expected them from you anyway, this year ...."

Well, what she expected was that I would say "oh my no, it's the holidays, of course we should exchange gifts."

What I did say was "you know, that's a very good idea. Thank you for coming up with it. We adults really have all we need and should just exchange cards."

It was the last thing she wanted to hear, as she loves getting presents (just forgets everyone else's birthdays - she is sick, etc. and it's not the same to send a gift after so much time has passed, or she wants to wait to give them in person, etc. and never gets around to it).

So, she decided to get aggressive on the gift front, and has started sending gifts that we have specifically asked her NOT to send - the kids have enough, etc., please don't worry about us. Would you believe she sent two large ACQUARIUMS to my 2 daughters for Christmas? For their ROOMS? So we have to go out and learn how to keep fish and fill the acquariums? The girls are in elementary school, for crying out loud. They do not need large acquariums in their rooms (20 gallon tanks), and she shipped them from eBay, so I can't return them.

I already gave one to my neighbor's son. My daughters don't want fish. They think their Nanny is crazy, and I have to agree.

Now my mother has been emailing saying that "even though I don't want gifts, she is picking me up some fabulous things, just fabulous" at the resort where she's staying (where, she told my sister, she's staying for "Free", so she can explain why she turned my sister down for a loan to buy a better car last fall). She says "you have been my baby for way too long for me to forget you, I get such joy from thinking about how much you will like what I get for you."

Anna, I have closets full of clothes from my mother, all from HER closet. If she gets me something "new", it is in her size and a style she would wear - and I know she bought it for herself and just changed her mind about it. The funniest was when she gave me a very expensive scarf. I asked her "was this in your wardrobe and you just didn't want it?" She was gobsmacked. "WHY WOULD you say THAT?"

"Because," I said, "I was thinking of buying you one of these for your birthday next month and these are exactly the colors I thought would look perfect with your eyes and coloring." (They were really bad colors for me that made no sense, really.) BUSTED. LOL !!

Anna, please, I would love to hear your take on the gift-giving. My mom's birthday is coming up soon, and I can almost hear the tom-toms in the background. She can't stand that she can't throw gifts at us and receive the appreciation, and can't stand that she may be IGNORED even though I called her bluff.


Anonymous said...

I forgot to add - my nMom is the queen of the pity party. She tosses these one-liners around all the time:

"I guess you girls will be better off after I'm gone"

"Who knows how much time I have left on this earth"

"I guess I should just go away and not bother you anymore"

"I will remember in the future that you already have everything, and obviously need nothing from me"

"I think I need some time to be by myself for a while, don't worry, I won't be bothering you"

"Remember, since you are my daughters, you have the power to hurt me more deeply than anyone else in the world"

"My mother died right after I had you girls. So you see you are all I have left, and you can hurt me more than other daughters hurt their mothers"

"I don't have a mother, so let me tell you that as YOUR mother, I am the ONLY one who will EVER TRULY LOVE you, the ONLY one who will EVER be TRULY HAPPY for your good fortune. I am the ONLY person in the WORLD who will ALWAYS be there for you, no matter what. So be careful what you say to me and how deeply you can hurt me."

I think I love the last one best. Our parents divorced and my sister and I lived with my Dad for five years when mom's 2nd husband traveled too much for us to live with them. But she was the ONLY one ALWAYS there for us ... priceless.

Anna Valerious said...

I'll see what I can come up with. Stay tuned.

Cathy said...

My mother can actually be quite good at gift giving. Gift giving and doing nice things for people. This always served to confuse me. Especially when I was young. How can I think she is a mean person when she does such nice things, I would think to myself.

I began to realize that the nice things she does on an external level is merely a distraction from the mean-ness that resides within her. It is an overcompensation for the mean-ness within. Plus it keeps everyone indebted to her because she is such a nice and giving person.


Anonymous said...

Oh, some of them are extremely good at gift giving. The ones who use it as a dagger rather than a club. You'll notice the extremely elegant, well chosen, expensive, thoughtful gifts are always given FOR SHOW. To OTHERS.

Which gets the N a double payoff; the people on the outside think the N is just a lovely, lovely person; the people on the inside get their noses rubbed - by the N - in the fact that the N COULD treat them decently too, but CHOOSES not to.

This kind of reptilian meanness is hard to believe until you've either experienced it yourself or watched it in play. Which makes it so easy for this type of N to fool their audience and discredit their targets.

And it also plays off one of the nastiest forms of human selfishness there is... the one that goes, "I won't believe X is mean to you because X isn't mean to ME."

Cathy said...

I couldn't have said it better myself anonymous (5:25 pm). Especially the part about their gifts always being for show. To others. I could give many nauseating examples but don't have the energy to type them up!

And you are also right. Nobody can believe that she could be mean to me because she isn't mean to them.
Nobody can believe the inner vileness of my wonderful mother. Instead, they register envy. They wish they could have as wonderful a mother as me. If they only knew...

It seems one is always in a no-win-situation with the N. If you DARE speak the truth about them as a way of explaining why you have had to go No Contact, you are the one that looks like an idiot because it is so contrary to the appearance they portray to the world. The world - their audience.
And consummate actresses they are before their beloved audience.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to almost every post one form or another. Thank you all. Just about the time I start thinking I am crazy or petty, I read some more and am assured I am not.

Please read the article by Andrew Vacchs, "You Carry the Cure in Your Heart". Mr. Vacchs wrote this article in 1994 and it was published in The Parade Magazine. Though it is not specifically about Narcissists....more focused on Emotional is one and the same to me. His articulation and 'language' is absolutely right on. The website below will direct you to 'Articles'...and you can scroll down until you find the specific article.

God bless,

Anonymous said...

Recent happenings at the nut house. I was stupid enough to come up and tell her wrongs once again. The result I am severly punished and she is trying to get to the root of the problem while simultaneously making it impossible and punishing me severely for it.

It happened yesterday. After one last comment about she didn't have to work so hard (She often complains about having to work) Her face turned from calm and white to firy red. It was contorted in rage and tears were coming out of her eyes. She was literally frothing and went into victim/temper tantrum mode. She took both shoes off and threw them.

Not exact quotes but similar:

"After all I have done for you! I work so hard so for you! Why did I bother raising such ungrateful children! You were never grateful! Why can't you appreciate me! I took you to all your lessons! I fed you! I provide this house for

All the while she was trying to get out of the house and I was trying to prevent her. (That wasn't right of me) My reasoning was that she was acting like a maniac and she had her car keys. Kinda scary imagining what kind of wreck she could make. (When she is angry or in a hurry she is a very very reckless driver)

Then after several hours of her blessed absence she came back acting like it never happened. She is now very angry at my "percieved grievences" Arguing distorting and belittiling all I point out. Now she is trying to get me to list every minute detail so she can make the restitution and I try to explain what she continually does. Not happening. She said "Why don't you just go to a foster home and get another mother" Next day today I said "I am ready to go to a foster home" She stared at me angrily and sadly. Crying. Aish it pulled at my heartstrings again. It seems impossible to exclaim it and after her huge fit it left me in tears for hours. My brother is on her side believing that he can save her. Anyway I can explain to him that it is not happening?


Anna Valerious said...

My brother is on her side believing that he can save her. Anyway I can explain to him that it is not happening?

I don't know your brother so it is hard to know how to recommend you reach him with reality. Perhaps you can suggest he read this blog and others like it. In the meantime, tell him you are leaving him to his project of saving his mother. You are not going to waste your energy and effort on trying to raise your own mother. Ask him if he can't see there is something terribly, terribly wrong when a woman's own children feel they are responsible for saving her. When a child feels they must parent the parent it is proof that the relationship is totally screwed up and upside down. It is a sign that you need to leave the relationship or be dragged down to the abyss with them.

kcjan said...

I don't understand the difference between a "borderline" and a narcissist.

kcjan said...

I get it. I used to question whether some of the feelings I had over "little" things my "N" did were petty. But there were HUNDREDS of "LITTLE" things, things that were done to make me feel small, incompetent, unaccomplished, to keep me unbalanced and unsure of myself and my own abilities. It MIGHT be petty if it were ONE thing - or a very occasional action that in our hearts and minds and GUT we know aren't meant to demean us - but it's NOT just ONE thing and those "trivial" things become constant, the norm, and become one of those "unrecognizable to the NORMAL human eye" as DEMEANING.

Unknown said...

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