Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Stalemate

Unsurprisingly, we have been invited to EFIL and L's Christmas party this year. Before I get into my analysis of this particularly heinous invitation, I'd like to bring some things to your attention:

As I have mentioned before, EFIL and L operate under the delusional mindset that THEY are in fact the "bigger people" because they choose to continue "reaching out" to others who don't "reach back." In essence, they view us as just one of their many obligations. During a quasi-conversation with them once several years ago, DH and I learned that EFIL is essentially estranged from several of his own siblings. We believe that his sister, who was described by him as a sort of "crazy person," is nowhere to be found, while he explained to us that he is, for all instant purposes, LC or NC with several of his brothers. He does willingly keep in limited contact with at least two brothers that we know of, but he does not seem to have a relationship with the rest.

Now, that's all an interesting tell-tale sign about the level of dysfunction in his FOO and how he has learned to cope with communication issues. Now, I'm not saying that going NC or LC means that a person is crazy, or bad, or refusing to work on the problems immediately in front of them. What I am saying is that for whatever reason, EFIL felt that the problems he encountered with his siblings was either insurmountable, or perhaps not worth the effort of attempting to fix. That is how dysfunctional families operate. If all parties are not willing and able to make the appropriate changes that would enable the creation of a healthier dynamic, then the family unit ceases to function (or perhaps, continues along it's path of dysfunction). Having said all that, there are a few more key pieces to this particular puzzle: the same EFIL who told my husband on several occasions that "it's not a good idea to separate oneself from his blood family" has in fact, mostly separated himself from his. He admitted to us on that occasion several years ago, that some of his brothers treated him and L unkindly, that they just "didn't get along," and as a result he felt it "better not to see or talk to them."

We all know that's a HUGE misrepresentation of the facts, but we can also tell that EFIL is a man who has been hurt, has never properly dealt with that hurt, and can not appropriately separate himself from his dysfunctions. (In my experience, I have found that the less people are willing to talk about the truth, particularly to those closest to them, the higher their level of dysfunction and denial) NOW. Here's the clincher: EFIL and L continue to invite EFIL's long-lost brothers to all of their major family functions because, according to L, in all of her eminent wisdom, THEY "choose to be the bigger people" and if EFIL's brothers choose not to show up, then "it's on them." Then L went into a diatribe about how it's wrong to cut people out of one's life, unless they have been so terribly and obviously awful that it's completely necessary. That's right folks, it's the old, "If so-and-so is not a genocidal dictator, then you have no business cutting them out of your life."

From that interaction with L, I also hypothesized that it could very well be that Mr. Hypocritical himself would be very happy to permanently close the door on several of his siblings, if only he could find the inner strength to do so, and if his manipulative wife would only stop sending out those damn invitations.

I am loath to assume that the responsibility of said invitations falls only on L's shoulders. It doesn't. The decision to send out those invitations to EFIL's brothers is one that they have both made. Willingly or unwillingly, whether by coercion, brainwashing, or force, EFIL continues to "reach out" to people who generally don't "reach back." I don't know how EFIL's siblings feel about his continued limited and perhaps disingenuous contact with them, but I do know how DH and I feel. And I continue to see the same patterns of thought and behavior in my in-laws interactions with us as I do in their explanation of how they behave with others. When it comes to OUR situation with EFIL and L, the following statements can be made: They are reaching out to people who are not interested in their phoney, half-hearted, or otherwise manipulative and condescending communications. They are reaching out to people who are not willing or accepting, for many very valid reasons, of their advances. They are reaching out to people who are changing and therefore rejecting the old patterns of behavior.

And, in comes one invitation to a Christmas party.

I have a feeling we'll get one every year, no doubt out of obligation, along with wedding and shower invitations and other major holiday events. Let's face it, if these people haven't stopped sending invitations to EFIL's brothers after all these years, they probably aren't going to stop sending them to us. EFIL and L continue to behave towards us in such a way that screams, "We are right and you are wrong. Damn what you think. To hell with what you want. We refuse to recognize your needs."

I see this invitation as just another sign that these people will never change.

The date of their little holiday shindig is the night before DS's first birthday. I read their invitation, laughed heartily and said, "What assholes." It doesn't hurt my feelings that they care so little about our family that they would book a major party without having ever asked us when we'd be having DS's birthday party. It doesn't surprise me either, given their behaviors last year for DD's birthday party. The only thing this invitation has done is solidified my theory that EFIL and L simply don't care. If they were NMIL, I'd say they'd picked that date on purpose. But they are EFIL and L and I think they picked that date because we don't matter to them, and our children don't matter to them.

I know that if given the opportunity, they would say, "Well, you didn't invite us to DD's birthday party this year, we just assumed we wouldn't be invited to DS's." (That's a terrible excuse and may even be a lie. EFIL and L, do you even know when DS's birthday is?) And they might say, "Well, you SHOULD be having DS's birthday party the following day, on his actual birthday. It's during a weekend you know." (We will not allow you to impose your "shoulds" on us. We refuse to accept responsibility for your poor behaviors.) And then they'd say, "Well, why don't you just change the date of his party? WE'D do that for YOU, you know." (Maybe so, but we wouldn't ask you to. We have more consideration than that. We have more respect than that. We would show our caring for our grandson by asking his parents about possible dates for his party well in advance so that their wouldn't be a conflict in schedules, particularly this close to the holidays.) And then they'd hem and haw some more and say, "What's the big deal? He's only one. And we have this party EVERY year." (And how many first birthdays does DS have? In fact, how many times a year do we get to celebrate HIS birthday? And how would you feel if the people who were supposed to care the most about you acted in a way that made you feel that they didn't?) And then they would say, "What's that? His party isn't until tomorrow anyway? Well, why are you complaining? The parties won't even be on the same day!" (The point isn't about the date of your stupid party, it's about the fact that you couldn't even be bothered to ask in advance. The point is that you are too selfish to see beyond what you want, to the needs of others.)

If these arguments sound ridiculous and far-fetched, it's because they are. BUT. I'm not pulling them out of nowhere: These are some of the statements they made about DD's birthday party last year.

Does anyone else see a pattern in EFIL and L's behaviors? Does anyone else see a similar thought-process in this year's motivations?

That's right. WE'RE the ones that are changing. EFIL and L see that as a bad thing. DH and I don't. We are no longer allowing this kind of behavior to affect us or our children, and we are maintaining our healthy boundaries.

I know you can't reason with crazy. I know you can't have a reasonable conversation with denial. I know there is no point in explaining the truth to selfish, stuck-in-their-dysfunction people. So, instead of trying to communicate with THEM, Dear Reader, I'll tell you:

EFIL and L are choosing to remain with their heads buried in the sand and their treacherous hearts loyal to dysfunction. They think they are acting under "God's command." They think they are behaving in a way that proves they are better, they are bigger, they are smarter. They think that inviting us to their Christmas party is an act of good will. But what they have done, all on their own, with their own words and actions, choices and deliberations, is show us that we are not important to them. They have shown us that they will not change, not for better or even for worse. They have shown us that the only place they have in our lives is in our past. They have shown us that they see us as an obligation, and not as human beings deserving of love and respect. They have shown us that their hypocrisy doesn't lie.

But we have some things to show them, Dear Reader. We will show them that our value is not a reflection of their actions towards us. We will show them that this stalemate we have reached was not caused by a faulty move of ours. We will continue to show them that we will not engage with them as long as they are refusing to change.

DH and I have each other. We have our beautiful children. We have the love of my FOO and the kindness and respect of friends.

We don't need them.

We have all that we need.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Piece-O-Crap Wine Rack And Other Useless Gifts

To say that narcissists are crappy gift-givers would be a major understatement. Their gifts are often useless, sometimes landmines, and always come with strings attached.

I remember once, during one of the last times we saw NMIL, she came to our house with some dusty old wicker wine bottle holder. It looked like she scooped it out of the trash on her way out the door and decided to "gift" us with it. I don't know what the story behind it was because I was in the kitchen cooking when she arrived and my husband answered the door. He came walking into the kitchen with the thing and asked me if I wanted it and I barely glanced at it and said, "Yeah sure, I guess." Had I spent longer than a second thinking about it, I would have taken it from him, handed it back to her and said, "No thanks." I was taken sort of off-guard by the thing, because I hadn't at all been expecting getting anything from NMIL, let alone some piece-of-shit, barely-held-together, dusty old wine-rack that I wouldn't use and didn't like. Hell, not only wouldn't I use it, but I couldn't use it: I was eight months pregnant with DS, and DH doesn't really drink wine.

I didn't really think about it until the next day and I thought, "Oh well" and threw it out. I remember having the thought that maybe NMIL gave it to us because it was just junk to her anyway and she simply didn't want to have to deal with throwing it out. In essence, I thought, maybe we were just her dumping grounds.

But the whole thing puzzled me, even though I totally get the whole "narcs are crappy-gift-givers" thing. I suppose that it's a bit futile coming up with theories about NMIL's piece-o-crap wine rack, except that it ties in nicely with my "how-to-deal-with-narcs-during-the-holiday-season" theme. I have found that it's much easier to properly deal with shitty N gifts when you more fully comprehend where they are actually coming from and that YOU aren't a reflection of the value they've assigned you.

So, having pondered this particular gift for a while, I've come up with some ideas about it:

If memory serves me correctly, this particular "gift" came to us the second to last time we saw NMIL. We saw her in October of 2010, which was the first time we had seen her in over four months. Then, she came to DD's first birthday party, ever resplendent in her phoniest of all narc-masks. That same month, she came for a short pseudo-Thanksgiving meal (at which I made sure she only got to see DD for a limited amount of time and she left as soon as DD went to bed). And the last time we saw her was for her fifteen minute visit at the hospital the day after DS was born. (Wahoo! We're approaching our one-year-anniversary of being NMIL-free!) Anyway, I believe that the day she brought us her crappy wine-rack was during that pseudo-Thanksgiving visit.

So, it went like this: We didn't see or hear from NMIL for over four months (she was giving DH the cold-shoulder for his now-famous declaration of independence), we had a short visit with her at her mini-mansion, she came for DD's birthday party, she came for a short "holiday" visit, she came to the hospital to see DS after he was born. During the visit at her house in October, she "gifted" us with her cooking. During DD's first birthday party, she made sure to point out that her gift to DD was in "that really really big bag," signifying, naturally, that her gift was the best. And naturally, she brought along crappy, insignificant, and other-wise meaningless gifts to the hospital when DS was born.

I'm fairly certain that the dusty wine-rack was gifted to us because A) She has ALWAYS attached gifts to every single interaction we've had. (The above mentioned are just the most recent examples). B) She was determined to show us how much she "loves" by coming with a gift in hand. And C) She was always on a quest to show us, in ever-so-subtle means, exactly what we were "worth" to her. ("Here, Son and Daughter-in-Law, you are worth this dusty, crappy wine rack"...see what I mean?)

I've created a list of some of the things I consider to be her "gifts" to us that I haven't previously talked about. To define our terms: By "gifts" I mean anything that NMIL gave willingly, in the hopes that she would "get" something in return, be it NS, the pain & suffering of her target, or the humiliation of her target.

These are not in order, and I'm sure that I'm missing some, but this list should paint a fairly accurate portrait of the types of strings attached to the she-devil that is my husband's NM:

1. At our wedding shower, NMIL came with a shower gift that was actually appropriate. She also came with another gift for DD (who was about six months old at the time). It was a bathing suit that was several sizes too big. BUT, that wasn't the part that got me: What tickled the back of my mind ever-so-slightly was the comment she made as she handed me the little pink bag: "It's [DD's name] first bathing suit!" I remember thinking a couple things all at once, "How do you know we haven't already gotten one for her?" And "Bitch, step-off. I won't allow the boundary-pushing that so many others let you get away with." For anyone who knows narcissists, you know well how they continually push boundaries because they expect little resistance, and because they don't recognize others as being valuable, significant, or having any worth. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I just knew that this particular gift was one with the barest tendril of strings reaching out to my DD. There was something in the way she said it, something in the attitude in her posture that told me if I accepted this, she would continue sending out her tendrils until they solidified and actually reached their intended target: the being who I am sworn to protect, cherish, and love...our daughter. I knew well that people like NMIL started small, ever-so-subtly grooming their targets to accept their abuses, until they didn't know any different and were too afraid or unaware to cry out against the injustice of it all. Some might say I was making a mountain-out-of-a-molehill. I know that I wasn't. It starts with a bathing suit. And that's just the beginning. The following weekend, I returned the one that NMIL picked out and bought one that I liked instead. I've read about far too many Narcissistic mother-in-laws to believe that her "gift" to my DD was anything less than a first attempt at planting the seeds of boundary-crossing within the mind of my infant daughter. Those were not seeds I'd be allowing in my garden.

2. A few weeks after we first announced our pregnancy with DD, DH and I were having breakfast with NMIL to discuss the possibility of moving in to the apartment she rented. We didn't yet know that she was lying to us, or that her plans for us involved what she no-doubt hoped would be the ultimate sabotage of our newly-budding relationship. In the parking lot of the restaurant where she "treated" us to breakfast, the subject of my bra-size came up. I think she asked me if I had gone up in size at all since becoming pregnant. If you think that's intrusive, just wait. At the time, I hadn't realized that I had in fact gone up two bra sizes (no wonder why my bras had become so uncomfortable!) and so I said, "I'm not sure. Maybe a little." In an "I-know-best" sort of tone, NMIL told me that she had bras at home that were much too big for her now, and that I could have them, if I wanted. Here, Dear Reader, is where I have to shake my head at my three-years-ago self and smile. Poor little unsuspecting Jonsi. If only she knew THEN what kind of monstrosity she was dealing with, she might not have overlooked this bra-giving-extravaganza as such a "little" thing. But this was prior to my enlightenment, and I thanked her and said I'd try on the bras at her house. Like so many other unsuspecting targets of narcs, I pushed my feelings of discomfort aside and graciously accepted her very first (and...was it also her last?) "offer" to help "poor little me." In hindsight, I can now put a finger on what I was feeling at the time: uncomfortable (did my dear boyfriend's mother just offer me her bras? Icky.) uncomfortable (I'm so worried she's going to cross my boundaries and just walk in to the bathroom where I'm trying these bras on) and...surprise, surprise: uncomfortable (Did she really take on that, "I-know-better-than-you" tone about MY boobs, all the while subtly criticizing the way I look?) In all, the whole event was short, but felt awkward. I didn't know what to make of it at the time because I wasn't yet fully-aware that she was a full-fledged narcissist. But if the feelings I experienced at the time weren't sure red-flags, then I don't know what would be. I ended up taking a couple of her bras and, though she never brought them up again as a means to invoke the NS that had no doubt been originally attached to them, I believe she would have if I hadn't shortly thereafter been made aware (oh, so aware) of the level of her evil. This particular "gift" actually makes me laugh though, to this day. Thinking of NMIL trying to get all "chummy" with me by insulting me, worrying me into thinking she'd walk in on me while I was half-naked in her bathroom (I remember desperately trying to find a lock on the door and couldn't), and giving me her hand-me-down bras has got to be one of the more comical scenarios of our whole relation-shit.

3. When we moved in to our apartment, several weeks after having dealt with her lies and her sister's heinous crimes, NMIL called DH and said she had a "great idea for a house-warming gift for us!!!!!!!" (I didn't hear the conversation directly, but I'm sure there were exclamation points abound). When he got off the phone, he relayed her "gift-idea" to me and added that he wanted to ask me about it first because he didn't know if it was something I would want. She offered to buy us a digital camera** like the one that she had. In talking about the incident in the present, I told DH that I think his instinct to ask me about it first was right-on-the-money and that he knew me (even then) better than he realized. I was happy he'd put off answering his NM (narcissists hate that, they like to pressure their targets into answering NOW) and was happier, still, that he wanted my input and wasn't going to make the decision alone about accepting any of his NM's future "gifts." I told him, "You can tell her thanks, but no thanks." The plain truth was that I would have gladly accepted a digital camera like the one that she was offering, just not from HER. Not only was there no guarantee that she would actually follow through on this "promise" (never trust a liar folks), but I had absolutely no interest in allowing any further manipulations from her, not even if they came in the form of rather expensive digital equipment. I valued myself, and my DH far FAR too much to play those games.

(**The digital camera she owned was no small expense - it wasn't just a point-and-shoot digital, it was the real-deal. You're talking several hundred dollars for the equipment)

4. When DD was born, in spite of several requests that people not buy baby clothes for our infant because I had already been blessed with an overabundance of them, NMIL and her sister "gifted" us with several batches of new baby outfits. The first few came the day after DD was born. Along with a huge robe for me**, NMIL gave us two baby outfits for DD: One in pink and one in blue because "she had bought them before the baby was born." (We had chosen not to find out DD's gender during the pregnancy, so that part could have been legitimate). The next set of clothes came a few days later when NMIL and Naunt came to visit us at our apartment. After I had already told NMIL (yet again) in the hospital that we didn't need any girl clothes, she and her sister gave us several more brand new baby outfits and pretty but useless burp cloths. I remember thinking it very funny that I had been sorting through a mountain of baby clothes just a few hours before they arrived and they'd had to walk past the piles of my work-in-progress in order to get into our apartment. And before they handed me their frilly gifts, they'd asked me if there was anything I needed for DD, to which I replied matter-of-factly, while indicating to the piles, "NOT clothes." I wasn't even slightly embarrassed when I opened up their packages. Another important note: They had brought along DH's youngest cousin, who was about eight at the time, and I remember her contribution to the gift-bag as being the most heart-felt out of everyone's there. Her gift, even though it was also an article of clothing, outshone those gifts of her narcissistic family-members as the sun outshines a broken light bulb. I suppose it's not hard to imagine, Dear Reader, that an eight-year-old little girl could put more thought and heart into choosing a gift than a Narcissist can, but her gift was proof. I remember how excited she was to share it: the outfit that she had taken hours to pick out (she told me.) And MAN, she couldn't have picked out a better gift. In the short time she and I knew each other, she had a better idea of who I was than NMIL or Naunt ever would. The outfit she picked out for DD was a reflection of her own thoughtfulness and proof (at least to me) that she may someday escape the narcissism running rampant in her FOO. The gift she picked out STILL remains my favorite article of clothing that DD ever wore, and I packed it away in DD's box of special things in the attic. Anyway, I pointed out the thoughtfulness of her gift as a means to show the UNthoughtfulness of NMIL's. Where DH's little 'cous hit one out of the park, NMIL failed to even show up at the ballgame.

**I must say at this particular juncture: I think we all know that any of the "gifts" NMIL gave me were not actually for me...they were for DH. He was the one she was really trying to impress (and from the beginning, the only one it had ever really worked on. DH has come a LONG way since then).

Dear Reader, I feel the need to share with you that NMIL is not yet done with her "gift" giving. She is not yet done because she still thinks my husband has strings left to be pulled. He doesn't. But she hasn't figured that part out yet. In the case that NMIL-and-Co. find our blogs, DH and I have decided to play her most recent gift-giving shenanigans close to the chest, but rest-assured that they are not fooling us.

And I have no doubt, Dear Reader, that the narcs in YOUR life won't be fooling you either. Here's to the upcoming holidays: May the narcs realize that their days of pulling your strings are numbered!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Oh, The Irony!

So, this online interview strikes me as particularly funny, considering who they are talking about. Yes, it's genuine, yes I found it online by googling NMIL's full name, and yes, I do believe it's legitimate.

Interviewer: We already have [Online Newsletter] and other online newsletters, how is [Online Newsletter pertaining to Women in Industry] different?

Interviewee: On [Online Newsletter pertaining to Women in Industry] the tips, articles and news are written for women by women...there is an interactive forum with multiple topics: fashion, pet peeves, work-at-home moms and once a month we have a Dear [NMIL's first name] column, where seasoned marketing professional and business owner [NMIL's full name] gives advice to women who have questions like: “Hey [NMIL's first name], My boss flirts with me and I’m not sure what I should do about it. Help!"...Most of the news articles written are focused on what women want to hear and read about, as well as what tips we have for leading a happy, healthy and financially profitable day.


Oh, Dear Reader! The irony! For those of you who don't know the back story, NMIL is a twice married (and twice divorced) serial adulterer who has been dating a man who we believe was cheating on HIS wife. Holy crow, is that the kind of person with the authority to give others' advice on how to navigate questions of morality? This just goes to show how far narcissists are able to go in maintaining the facade that they are moral, loving, and upstanding beings. In reality, asking someone like NMIL for advice about ANY situations in which morality and ethics come into question is like asking a fish to explain how to fly. I find it scary that anyone could be fooled enough by this woman to actually seek her advice on...well, anything. Her advice, even if it sounded reasonable, could only be coming from some terribly warped and twisted well deep within her. Furthermore, she might actually be able to say the right words, but we all know she's incapable of following through on them personally.

It's a scary world out there, friends!

We Are What We Will

Ever expanding my resources concerning narcissism, I happened upon another fantastic article today, written by Deacon Douglas McManaman, entitled, "Narcissism and the Dynamics of Evil." (Link to original at the end). It's rather long, but an excellent read.

The first step to appreciating the subtleties of evil is to begin at the most basic level of philosophical inquiry, the philosophy of being.

Evil, as St. Augustine pointed out centuries ago, is not a positive quality or a substance, but a privation or corruption of being. This implies that "good" is a property of being. Whatever is, is good insofar as it is.

When we speak of good food, for example, we mean much more than that it simply tastes good. We mean that is good for us. Such food promotes the fullness of our being. Food that is bad for us brings about a corruption or deficiency of health. Aristotle wrote that the good is that which all things desire.[1] This, despite appearances, is congruent with the notion that the "good" is fullness of being; for all things desire first and foremost their own perfection, that is, all things desire "to be" and "to be" most fully. Good and being are the same thing. Evil is thus a lack of due being. It is a deficiency, a corruption, a privation, a lack of something that should be there.

Consider a deformity of any kind. What is physically deformed lacks something that it ought to have. A bird that has one wing suffers from a physical evil and as a result cannot fly, that is, it cannot function as it belongs to a bird to function.

Moral evil is also a lack, a deficiency, or a privation, but one far more complicated than physical evil. For everyone understands the nature of a bird, and so it is immediately obvious that a one winged bird is deformed. But in order to understand moral evil, it is necessary to understand the basic requirements of the natural moral law, and unless one understands these, moral evil is not always easy to spot.

Moral evil is primarily about a disordered will; for only a being with intellect and will is a moral agent. That is why irrational animals are not treated as moral agents and held responsible for what they do. They literally don't "know any better". A good will, however, is one that "wills the good". This is what love is: willing the good of another (benevolence). But there are a number of goods that are specifically human, intelligible, and basic, that is, sought for their own sake and not for the sake of some other end. Such basic intelligible human goods include human life, the knowledge and contemplation of truth, the experience and contemplation of beauty, leisure, marriage, harmony between oneself and others, oneself and God, and harmony within oneself (integrity). The moral life has to do fundamentally with our relationship to the entire network of these human goods. Basic human goods are aspects of human persons, and so a good will is one that is open to the entire network of human goods in oneself and in others, that is, wherever there is an instance of human being.

An evil action is one that involves a will that is incompatible with an openness to the complete integration of basic human goods. Such a will is evil, because it is deficient, or lacking an order that it ought to have. For example, justice is the constant will to render to another his due. An unjust act involves a refusal to render another his due, such as the truth, or property, or reverence of his life, etc. Or, consider the act of treating another as a means to an end. In this case, a basic human good is treated as an instrumental good. The life of the other is subordinated to my own and is reduced to a means to my own ends. In other words, I treat my own life as an end, to be revered for its own sake, but I treat another's life as a means. But what is due to another is that he be treated in a way that respects his status as equal in dignity to myself. I willingly refuse that equality, thus failing to render that debt.

Just as a bird is good insofar as it has being, but suffers from a physical evil insofar as it lacks what ought to be there (i.e., another wing), so too an evil will is good insofar as it has being, but is evil in its deficiency. And since a moral agent is what he wills, we do not say that a person suffers from a moral evil as we might suffer from a physical evil. Rather, a person who commits moral evil is evil. Only moral agents can be evil.

And so evil is parasitic. Its host is always a good. And since evil is a kind of non-being or nothingness, pure evil is impossible. Pure evil would be completely nothing, and nothing is not evil; it simply 'is not'. Evil is a privation that requires a subject in which to inhere. St. Augustine writes:

...there is nothing of what we call evil, if there be nothing good. But a good which is wholly without evil is a perfect good. A good, on the other hand, which contains evil is a faulty or imperfect good; and there can be no evil where there is no good. From all this we arrive at the curious result: that since every being, so far as it is a being, is good, when we say that a faulty being is an evil being, we just seem to say that which is good is evil, and that nothing but what is good can be evil, seeing that every being is good, and that no evil can exist except in a being. Nothing can be evil except something which is good.

The Making of a Narcissist:

Human persons engage in a kind of self-making whenever they make choices. The reason is that we are what we will. It was Sartre who said that existence precedes essence, and that we determine our essence by our absolutely free choices. Only if we substitute the word "essence" with "character" is Sartre correct. There is a relationship between choosing (doing) and becoming (being). We are (character) what we choose. Nothing is more intimately our own than our character, which is determined by nothing other than our free and self-determined choices. And since evil is a privation, a kind of non-being or nothingness, the more one makes morally evil choices, the "less" one becomes. In other words,choosing moral evil, such as treating another or others as a means to an end, brings about a shrinkage, a lessening of the self. If perpetuated and unrepented, such de-creation leads to a kind of self-loathing; for there is less of oneself to love – just as the more one severs pieces of one's face with a knife, the more unsightly he becomes and the more horrified he is as he beholds his reflection in a mirror.

Beauty is also a property of being. To be more fully is to be more beautiful. But disease or corruption involves a deprivation of beauty. What is morally noble is beautiful, but what is morally evil is ignoble and morally unsightly. That is why one who commits to injustice or who gives himself to evil for the sake of ends that are good becomes morally unsightly to himself, as well as to those who see him as he is. He becomes ugly. Hence, the self-loathing that is part and parcel of the depraved.

Another property of moral evil, concomitant to self-loathing, is egotism. Consider that injustice is the freely willed decision not to render to another his due, whether it is truth, property, liberty, impartial treatment, or reverence of his life. The golden rule is a traditional formulation of the requirement of fairness: do unto others what you would have others do unto you, or, do not do to others what you yourself dislike. Injustice is precisely a failure to love another as another self. The unjust man treats himself with a degree of partiality, and he fails to recognize the other's status as a person equal in dignity, to be treated as an end in himself. The unjust man has thereby established a degree of egotism within himself; for he has made himself larger than another, at least in his own eyes and according to his own behaviour. As Vladimir Solovyov writes: "The basic falsehood and evil of egoism lie ... in the fact that, ascribing to himself in all justice an absolute significance, he unjustly refuses to others this same significance. Recognizing himself as a center of life (which as a matter of fact he is), he relegates others to the circumference of his own being and leaves them only an external and relative value."

This egotism can be relatively mild, or it can reach pathological proportions. For there is a fundamental difference between the sinner and the one who sins. Everyone sins, but not everyone is given over to sin, that is, not everyone loves sin. Some have made a commitment to do battle against their own tendency to sin, while others have simply surrendered to a life that places the self at the center. The refusal to behold one's own moral unsightliness–and thus the refusal of repentance and moral growth – brings about a conflict that demands resolution. Such a person is aware of his own moral deficiency and loathes himself accordingly. The degree of his self-loathing corresponds to the degree of his depravity. At the same time, though, he has surrendered to an egotism that is part and parcel of an unjust character. The egotist that he has become cannot tolerate the awareness of his unsightly ignobility. This conflict has to be resolved because he has a radical need for affirmation. Like all beings, he naturally desires to be most fully, and so he desires the fullness of the good – it is just that he will not choose in accordance with what he really desires. The need for affirmation persists nonetheless. And affirmation is the natural and proper response to what is genuinely good. The problem is that he cannot affirm himself – he beholds his depravity and sees others as far less unsightly, which of course spawns envy – , yet his egotism demands affirmation all the more and to a much greater extent and intensity. The greater his moral depravity, the greater and more unbearable is this fundamental conflict. He either beholds his corruption and repents of the choices that brought it about, or he turns his gaze from it and commits to creating an image, a reflection, a false self that others will be able to affirm.

He cannot allow others to see what he sees in himself, for they will reject him. What they see will be as repulsive to them as it is to himself. So he must create a highly likable and acceptable image that will procure the affirmation he requires for himself, an affirmation that he can only get from others who do not know him as he really is. Thus begins the fundamental lie of the self-loathing egotist. For an image is a reflection. One can only see a reflection if it is mirrored in some way. The egotist must see his reflection through the eyes of others, and so others become a means to his own affirmation, a means to his own conviction that he really exists. For the deeply depraved have created a void, a nothingness in the heart of their character. But a person cannot detect the presence of nothingness. Hence, the egotist desperately needs to be convinced of his own existence. He needs to feel that he is. If he will not achieve this through the pursuit of virtue, he will do so through the affirmation, praise, and adulation of others, or through their fear of him. But what others affirm (or fear) is not the true self of the egotist. He cannot show his true self, for he does not know who or what it is. His true self is fractured, dilapidated, and in pieces. Thus, it is only a reflection that they affirm.

The habit of treating a human person as a means to an end has a kind of universal scope to it. One person is a particular instance of a basic intelligible human good. Just as I come to know the nature of all human persons by coming to understand a particular instance of humanity (for all have the same nature), so too, my ability to treat one individual human being as a means to an end amounts to a willingness to treat all human persons as a means to an end. And so wherever the egotist appears to be treating another as an end in himself, such behaviour is only appearance. At its roots, it is utilitarian and fundamentally a kind of manipulation.

The more intense the conflict between the experience of his nothingness and his emerging egotism, the more radical his manipulation of others. The more intelligent the egotist, the more able he is to hide his depravity by means of a clever reflection, and thus the more able he is to successfully convince others that they are loved and revered for their own sake. The longer he persists in his depravity, the more deeply he falls into the void that is decreated by the choices he continues to make.

From a purely moral point of view, this is how the narcissistic character disordered are created. They are self-created, or better yet, self-decreated, and then re-created, although what is re-created is not a self, but a reflection or an image. The greater the opposition between his depravity or moral nothingness (and thus self-loathing) and his egotism (his injustice and his regard for others as mere instruments of his own gratification), the more pathological his narcissism, and thus the more grandiose and fantastic his reflected or false self.

The narcissist is incapable of love; for his narcissism is the fruit of his refusal to revere others for their own sake, that is, to love others as another self, equal in dignity to himself. His refusal to love barred him from loving himself because he became depleted and less lovable to himself. What he loves is the false self he has created and that he needs to see reflected in the affirmation and comportment of others. Such people are aptly referred to as narcissists. According to the ancient Greek myth, the nymph Echo fell in love with Narcissus. She died of a broken heart after being spurned by him. As a result, Narcissus was punished by the gods for his callousness: the gods made him fall in love with his own image. He would live till he saw himself. Eventually, he caught sight of his reflection in the water, became enthralled with his image and refused to leave the spot. He died of languor and turned into a flower. As Alexander Lowen interprets this myth, if Narcissus could say "I love you", Echo would repeat those words and he would feel loved. The inability to say "I love you" is precisely what identifies the narcissist.

And since he is incapable of truly loving another as another self, all his relationships with others are perverted, twisted, and abusive; for to use a person is to abuse a person, and everyone in his life, without exception, is nothing more than a means of procuring affirmation, adulation, and admiration, or if that isn't possible, fear. For it isn't the self that the narcissist loves, but his reflection.

Characteristics of the Narcissist:

The narcissist is calculating. He is utilitarian through and through. He refuses obedience to the basic requirements of the natural moral law, for obedience implies that there is something larger than himself of which he is not the measure, but which measures him. Such a notion, however, is incompatible with the very thrust of his character. He has become the measure. He is calculating for the sake of procuring power; for it is power that allows him the control he needs to protect himself from exposure and from his having to face his own finitude. Power allows him to more easily procure a supply of narcissistic fuel. His entire life has become a struggle to procure this fuel...and he will employ the most devious means at his disposal to get it. And if, by some misfortune, he should come into a position of power, we can expect his style of leadership to be thoroughly Machiavellian.

There is no better insight into the workings of the mind of the morally depraved and narcissistic leader than what is provided in chapter 18 of Machiavelli's The Prince. The principal characteristic of such a leader is not prudence, but craft:

"Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word."

Because such persons have depleted their character so profoundly through choices contrary to the norms of reason, they approach the bestial level and will even begin to see themselves as such. For beasts are not governed by the natural moral law, but by the law of power. The narcissistic leader is fundamentally bestial in his rule, but he cannot appear that way without exposing his true colors, and exposure is his greatest fear. And so he must employ craft and know when to "avail himself of the beast." Machiavelli writes:

"...it is necessary for a prince to understand how to avail himself of the beast and the man...A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about. Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer."

Such a person, by virtue of his olympian egotism, always regards others as inferior to himself. Everyone is a simpleton in his eyes. What helps afford him this illusion is that most people are unsuspecting and are unaware of the degree to which they are being taken advantage of, used and abused. This unawareness is not due to a general lack of intelligence in people, but to their tendency to project their own range of normalcy onto others. Hence, their disinclination to suspect someone so profoundly depraved to be in their midst, carrying on an existence that is fundamentally and thoroughly a lie. But the character disordered conveniently regard this trait as evidence of intellectual inferiority and will take a twisted delight in the knowledge that they have so many fooled.

But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.

When it is a question of evil, it is precisely the element of disguise that people tend to overlook. We are wont to assume that evil, character disorder, profound moral depravity, psychopathy, pathological narcissism, etc., are easy to detect and that such people can only intimidate and inspire fear upon a first encounter. But this is only the case with those not intelligent enough to disguise their depravity, like the common criminal. The most dangerous among us are those intelligent enough to appear as paragons of virtue.

"...it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite...a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result...he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar..."

With respect to evil, there still exists a sort of half-baked Platonism in the attitudes of many people, for there is a common assumption that if a person is knee deep in depravity, either he does not know any better or is under the influence of environmental and psychological determinants he has no control over. But there is a distinction between intellectual and moral virtue. Morality is in the will. It is very possible to have a brilliant mind, but at the same time a wicked and depraved will. The most dangerous predators among us are ingeniously veiled. They carefully surround themselves with people entirely unlike themselves, that is, with deeply empathic human beings who wish to please others, who are slow to judge, who are excessively tolerant and who have an eye for the good to be found in others. They know how to exploit to their own advantage such character traits. It is their association with such people that maximizes their chances of perpetuating the facade and keeping themselves from exposure.

The narcissist despises community and emotional intimacy, and so they are profoundly lonely. On the one hand, though, there is something about their loneliness that narcissists like; for they can attribute it to their unique and superior nature. But as human persons who have a radical need for others, they cannot tolerate loneliness. This conflict is a source of chronic anguish; for loneliness is hell, and yet, as Sartre would say, "hell is other people" ("l'enfer, c'est les autres").

Man is a person, from the Latin persona (through sound). He longs to express himself, to communicate himself to others, whether depraved or not. Just as those who contemplate the marvelous or the beautiful cannot hold themselves but will cry out in praise of what they behold, so too the depraved cannot help but on occasion burst out and spit their bile, thus providing others a momentary glimpse of their interior rot. Moments such as these are clues that must be stored in the memory and, like disparate pieces of a puzzle, assembled later in order to acquire a more complete picture, which will be a horror to behold, or an experience of terror – if the narcissist discovers that he has been found out by you. The clues, in isolation, will suggest only minor imperfections or character flaws. But taken together over a number of years, they suggest something much more ominous. The inconsistencies evident in the behavior of the narcissist – prior to his discovery – should never be simply accepted, only to be forgotten. Rather, one must ponder the inconsistencies in behavior until they become consistent, that is, until the apparently inconsistent behavior acquires an intelligible narrative that rings true.

Some pathological narcissists are so clever that certain people will simply never be able to penetrate the disguise, no matter what has been pointed out to them. One reason they are so successful is that they have come to believe their own lies. The narcissist has convinced himself that the facade is not a lie. What helps to establish this conviction, among other things, is a commitment to a cause – a genuinely good cause. But after a few years of observation, one discovers that the narcissist's devotion to the cause is one sided and not grounded in a commitment to the principles underlying the cause, because after a time the inconsistency of the morality of the depraved becomes noticeable. His behavior, in other words, is not principled. And he will despise any individual or institution that expounds a consistent ethics, because it exposes his own inconsistent and arbitrary one and is a constant reminder of his own self-deception.

It cannot be emphasized enough just how much we typically underestimate the depravity of the pathological narcissist who operates behind a facade of respectability and altruism. We cannot forget that they have a desperate fear of exposure, that someone might catch a long enough glimpse at the rot that lies within and raise the awareness of others, thus threatening the power structure that took years of careful planning to erect. That is why the pathological narcissist is a long term plotter, like the brilliant chess player who plans ten or more moves ahead. It is almost impossible for anyone to uncover the complex and multi-layered schemes of such a person unless one is entirely aware of the depths of his depravity and the level of his intelligence. Knowing the one without the other leaves one ever open to being perpetually deceived.

The awareness that others have seen contradictory aspects of himself is a constant source of anxiety for the narcissist in a position of authority. And he is aware of the limits of human perspectives and that community has the power to enlarge individual points of view. When people talk with one another, they begin to acquire a much larger perspective on things, that is, they begin to see a bigger picture. The pathological narcissist who is in a leadership role cannot afford to have people talking amongst themselves and sharing stories. So he will go to great lengths and carefully contrive very devious and underhanded schemes to keep people divided. He will sow division among colleagues by planting lies about one person to another, and another about someone else. This can be a successful strategy because no one expects a highly intelligent adult to be carrying on like a scheming eight year old child or an emotionally disturbed adolescent. And since most of us avoid confrontation, it is much easier to believe the liar.

Pathological narcissists succeed for a time because of the extreme resonance of their personality structure...He is an enigma, at least prior to his exposure. One can't help but reason that he's either an outstanding citizen, leader, priest, court judge, teacher, etc., or he's the most morally depraved individual you are going to meet for a long while. And very few of us expect to discover such a depth of depravity in well dressed professional adults. So we naturally conclude the former. For he is careful not to show opposite extremes to one and the same person, especially if that person is someone he needs. The majority in his immediate environment will see his "too good" side only. Should anyone no longer be needed, or should one happen to become a threat to his facade, such a one is likely to get a taste of the narcissist's vindictive nature, even one who has been a close "friend" to him for a number of years – a narcissist's loyalty is paper thin, for he is incapable of genuinely intimate friendships. But only the targeted victim will see his vindictive nature, or a small few. He is careful to keep this side of himself from others, for it is an inconsistency that might expose him. So adept is he at this narrowly focused persecution, in fact, that any attempt by the victim to tell another will in all probability make him (the victim) appear as if he is losing his mind.

The narcissist takes advantage of every opportunity to favor a person who is down and in need – as long as the prospects that he will be of use later on are good. Such favors might include providing employment, personal counseling, boosting one's confidence, flattery, listening and being sympathetic (at least apparently), etc. Such opportunities supply the narcissist in a number of ways. Primarily, they ensure loyalty for the day that will inevitably arrive, the day when his personal edifice crumbles and he finally falls into the pit he has dug for his enemies over the years. Such a loyal following makes it all the more difficult for anyone to depose him. They also have the added advantage of helping him to persuade himself that he is good and that perhaps the gnawing awareness of that damp and dark cellar at the heart of his character was only a passing fancy. Furthermore, they provide a sense of superiority in that others depend upon him in order to be the persons they have become. When someone finally comes to realize that he is a treacherous and exploitative fraud – which is inevitable – , who is going to believe such a person when so many have been directly benefited by the accused? Gratitude makes it easier to excuse his "faults" or minor character flaws, and that is about all that the clues will suggest in isolation – and most people have poor memories.

The depraved and pathological narcissist is very ready to forgive the faults of others, not because he is loving and merciful, but rather because he is indifferent. In fact, inordinate leniency is typical of narcissists. They are either vindictive or lenient, but rarely just. Leniency, which is a vice, is hard to distinguish from mercy or clemency, so it enables him to feel virtuous, and it also helps perpetuate the appearance of moral purity. Moreover, leniency provides another opportunity to ensure loyalty.

But ultimately, the pathological narcissist is indifferent to injustice and its victims. As St. Thomas Aquinas argues, the more excellent a person is, the more he is prone to anger (S.T. I-II, 47, 3). But the narcissist experiences no righteous indignation. He only rages against the person who is a threat to his charade and/or who refuses to cooperate with his underhanded schemes. But he will not be incensed at injustice.

Courage is the mean between recklessness and cowardliness. Here, narcissists are also at both extremes, never in the mean. Indeed, they are often bold or inordinately daring. Their inflated sense of superiority propels them to recklessness; for they are subject to fantasies of omnipotence and unequalled brilliance, and they feel that they are above the law. And it is this sense of superiority that allows them to underestimate the intelligence and determination of their adversaries. But they are not brave; they are cowards at heart. They lack the courage to gaze upon the dilapidated specter of their true selves, nor can they bear to look into the eyes of one who has discovered their true nature. They inspire terror only because we recognize that the inhibitions that govern the impulses of normal healthy persons are completely lacking in the pathological narcissist. They are psychopaths. The terror they inspire is a source of narcissistic supply that contributes to their sense of existing, which they need to counter the sense of their own nothingness, created by their immoral and unrepented choices.

Narcissists and Religion:

Narcissists, in accordance with their Machiavellian mindframe, will often appear religious, especially if they are leaders. But they may also ascribe to a religion in an effort to understand their special status, which they believe they enjoy.

The narcissist despises authority and is totally incapable of collaboration. That is why he inevitably seeks a position of authority, even in a religious context. Should he be Catholic, he will most certainly come into conflict with the teaching authority of the Church, for he has a need to defy authority, and he refuses to be measured by anything larger than himself, even God...Those who are sources of narcissistic supply are highly valued by the narcissist, not for their own sake, but for what they provide him. Should that production come to a stand still, should a person ever come to discover the true nature of the narcissist hidden underneath all his colorful layers, he is quickly and thoroughly devalued and demonized. As was said above, the narcissist is initially religious in an effort to understand his own uniqueness. He is a disciple – chosen – by virtue of a special quality in him, and not really by virtue of the mercy and gratuitous love of God. He is incapable of genuine humility and worship of what is larger than himself, and so God is eventually devalued, for He does not remain a source of narcissistic supply for long. The true disciple delights in the law of God: "The law of your mouth is to me more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (Ps 119, 72). But despite appearances, the religious narcissist personally finds that law a maddening nuisance that unnecessarily limits his sources of narcissistic supply, namely the entire secular world. Religious narcissists, thus, tend to be compromising liberals, watering down the difficult truth so as to be more inviting and inclusive. But all they ever really invite and include are sources of narcissistic supply, nothing more (this, of course, is not to suggest that all liberals are narcissists).

But religion has afforded the narcissist with a position of authority, which in turn is a reliable source of narcissistic supply. Hence, the reason some of them do not leave the Church–much to the dismay of some of the faithful. They are inconsistent in their leadership; for they are disloyal to the teaching magisterium, but they demand unquestioning loyalty and absolute deference to their own authority. Should this demand for obedience become too obvious, they can very cleverly appear to employ a democratic style of leadership and receive input from everyone. With a large enough number of people at hand, the clever narcissist can find fragments of his own vision in some of their ideas. If one watches carefully, one notices how he collects those very pieces and assembles them into a vision which everyone thinks was democratically determined. But the final product in no way will have differed significantly from what he had decided originally, before consulting anyone. The democratic process, which was under his control from the beginning, only lends the appearance of collaboration and democracy.

The pseudo-religious narcissist will especially identify with certain biblical imagery, such as the Good Shepherd, which depicts a human person amidst irrational animals of an inferior nature. The Parable of the Talents lends itself very well to the narcissist's twisted mind. In this parable, some servants are given five talents, another two, to a third only one, each in proportion to his ability. The narcissist of course sees himself as a ten and everyone else as a two or a one. Only those whom he needs and who supply him with fuel qualify as a ten, but these may quickly find themselves reduced to a two or a one should their status as supplier suddenly change. Such a parable can become a useful tool of manipulation and flattery. In short, the narcissist's use of scripture is as twisted as Satan's in the temptation in the wilderness.

There have been a number of false norms that have been made popular over the years that have only made it easier for the depraved and pathological narcissist to continue undetected. The popular exhortation to be tolerant, positive, non-judgmental and inclusive are prime examples. If a person sees the glass half full, he is positive and optimistic, but negative and pessimistic if he sees it half empty. The problem here, though, is that evil is parasitic. As was said above, there is simply no such thing as pure evil, because evil is a lack of due being. The optimist who refuses to see the lack lest he begin to feel negative is blinding himself to evil and contributing to the creation of the kind of environment that the depraved require in order to flourish. Good is the very subject of evil. And so there will always be something good to behold in the morally depraved egotist. The half full/half empty platitude is simply useless, except for the ridiculously cynical that no one takes seriously anyway.

The biblical precept not to judge (Cf. Mt 7ff) is not and has never been an unqualified and absolute norm, as if making judgments were intrinsically evil. Rather, the biblical norm is qualified by the context in which we find it: "Why do you observe the splinter in your brother's eye and never notice the great log in your own?...Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother's eye" (Mt 7, 4-5). Scripture does not assert that all of us have logs in our eyes that we are forever unable to remove, thus barring us from ever having to judge that someone might have a splinter in his. The norm bears upon the hypocrisy of the morally blind passing judgment on someone much better off morally and spiritually. It is not a precept against making judgments; for as St. Paul says: "The spiritual man judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one (1 Co 2, 15). Scripture is filled with examples of negative judgments (Cf. Acts 5, 1-5; 8, 21-22; Rm 1, 1ff; Eph 4, 5). The narcissist is ever scheming to create a safe environment primarily for himself, and so what could better serve him than to be surrounded by people who are committed to an unqualified refusal to make judgments?

Narcissists will forever seek positions of power. But such positions must be forever denied them. They must never be given authority. But so few are denied positions of authority because they are so adept at disguise. They are convincing, articulate, and charismatic. But the narcissist is all about power. His entire leadership is a game played ultimately for the sake of himself. Everyone under his authority is being abused in one form or another, and the damage he can do is far reaching. The facade he uses to hide his depravity and fool the world may very well contain genuinely good things, such as religious, political, judicial, or educational principles. But most of his victims will forever associate his deception with these good things and will be unable to distinguish between what is genuinely good from the narcissist's abuse of it. In rejecting the one, they inevitably reject the other. How many good things are irretrievably lost to others as a result of such abuse?

Conditions for Penetrating the Disguise:

How is it possible to maximize one's chances of penetrating the almost impenetrable disguises of the character disordered? And how do we keep ourselves from falling into the web of their deceitful scheming?

First, it is a mistake to decide never to trust another human being. There are many honest persons who are entirely trustworthy. But there is a difference between trusting another and trusting in another... We should also learn to cultivate a kind of "spiritual Kantianism"; for it was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant who distinguished between phenomenon (appearance, or the world as it appears to us) and noumenon (the thing in itself, insofar as it is not an object of our sensible intuition). This distinction may not be sound epistemology, for it led ultimately to Idealism and Post-Modernism, but we should nonetheless understand that things are not always as they appear to be. Evil is brilliantly inconspicuous: "There is a wickedness which is unscrupulous but nonetheless dishonest, and there are those who misuse kindness to win their case. There is the person who will walk bowed down with grief, when inwardly this is nothing but deceit: he hides his face and pretends to be deaf, if he is not unmasked, he will take advantage of you. There is the person who is prevented from sinning by lack of strength, yet he will do wrong when he gets the chance" (Si 19, 20-30).

Anyone who goes for a stroll in a posh residential neighborhood naturally assumes that the interior of the houses are for the most part as attractive as their exterior. No one, upon entering, expects to find a desolate interior, that is, a mass of rubble. But some human beings are not always whom we expect them to be; for we naturally project our own basic character traits onto others. But this is not always prudent: "Someone with a sly wink is plotting mischief, no one can dissuade him from it. Honey-tongued to your face, he is lost in admiration at your words; but behind your back he has other things to say, and turns your words into a stumbling-block" (Si 27, 22-23).

The character disordered are highly intuitive...If we do not wish to find ourselves cooperating in the underhanded schemes of the character disordered, we must decide from the outset never to compromise justice, nor do evil that good may come of it. We ought to commit to frequent confession, for unrepented sin can lead us to becoming permissive under the guise of being tolerant and forgiving. But the permissive are not forgiving, only indifferent. The unrepentant excuse themselves, and motivated by an unconscious desire to be excused by others (not forgiven, which implies confession and contrition), he will readily excuse the faults and failings of others, obliging them to do likewise. Hence, the current widespread approbation of tolerance as the perfection of justice. But tolerance is not necessarily a virtue, for there is a great deal that love refuses to tolerate. Again, such confusion only establishes the conditions that the character disordered depend upon in order to keep themselves from being exposed. We can undermine such conditions by praying that we might be given a horror of sin and by cultivating a hatred of injustice.


**Doug McManaman is a Deacon and a Religion and Philosophy teacher at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario, Canada. He is the past President of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. He maintains this website for his students.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Be A Mental Ninja

I plan on doing a couple of posts about how to deal with narcissists during the holiday season. For the most part, all of the information I have found so far in my perusal of the internet has proven to be relevant for dealing with them year-round, and not just the holidays. But, as we know, Ns are particularly adept at hurting their targets during holidays and important events, so I feel it's best to exercise our mental-karate-skills in advance, to be extra-prepared. I found the following list of particularly strong phrases to use when making a stand with a narcissist at Thinklikeablackbelt. Might be a good idea to memorize them and don't be afraid to repeat them ad nauseum if you find yourself up against a Narcissist's holiday attacks:

“Yes, I may have screwed up back then, but I’ve forgiven myself and moved on. Bringing this up again and again won’t help us improve the current situation.”

I may have had some fears in the past, but I’m willing to face them now. Here’s what I plan to do, preferably with your support, but I can do it alone as well.”

“How I show respect and honor is my own business. I’m not bound by your definitions and parameters.”

“My walk with God and my spiritual path is between God and me. I let His Word correct my actions, not the judgments of others.”

“We are not talking about dinner last week, we are talking about how you belittled me just now. Keep on topic and stop trying to deflect the subject away from yourself.”

“Interesting you would think I’m emotional. Saying that is usually a put down. I’m impassioned. I’m assertive. I’m strong minded. Besides, my emotional state is an internal and private matter, and you don’t have my permission to comment or judge me about it.”

Popsicle Stick Jokes About Narcissism

I was browsing the interweb for information about narcissists just now and came across a Wikipage about Ns that I rather liked. Among other lists there (that you might want to check out) I found a list that contained jokes (sort of anyway, they reminded me of jokes you might find on popsicle sticks) about narcissists. Thought I would share this more light-hearted look at narcissism (if there is such a thing!) Maybe one or two will get you to chuckle, Dear Reader.

It can be distressing to live with someone who has narcissistic traits and it may be best to start to understand the condition in a humorous way. The following jokes are intended to explain some of the psychodynamics associated with narcissists. They are not intended to make fun of the narcissist but to make light of a difficult situation, providing some comfort to the family, especially children and partners, of a narcissist. They are also intended to be accurate from the point of view of the psychologist or psychiatrist, thereby providing a gateway towards understanding the condition.

Q. How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None, a narcissist will always manage to find someone else to carry out a menial chore like that.

Q. What is one way to irritate a narcissist?
A. Pretend to enjoy doing the lowly menial chores which the narcissist has given you to do – it will make the narcissist think that he or she is missing out on something.

Q. Why does a narcissist get upset or moody after having just spent lots of time in his/her own company?
A. Well how would you feel just after having spent lots of time in the company of a narcissist?

Q. What should you say when a narcissist asks you what you want for your birthday?
A. Anything but what you actually want – at least then you will have a slim chance of actually getting what you want instead of what the narcissist thinks you ought to want.

Q. What's a narcissist's idea of being a "slave"?
A. Not being able to boss everyone else about.

Q. What does a narcissist really mean when she says that her husband/children never help her?
A. She means that they don't respond well to her impolite demands.

Q. What is a narcissist's idea of equality?
A. Being equally bossy to everyone else
OR
A2. Making sure that nobody ever gets a bigger share of the cake that he/she gets (since it would be inequality for someone to get more than what the narcissist gets)

Q. What two words does a narcissist use to describe the family finances?
A. MY money!

Q. Why does a narcissist find it so difficult to empathise with others?
A. Because he (or she) is always so busy empathising with himself (or herself)

Q. Why do narcissists so often complain of feeling exhausted, shattered or ill?
A. How would you feel if you were constantly charged with the responsibility of controlling everyone else in your family?

Q. Why is a narcissist unable to honour his part in agreements which he (she) has entered into?
A. Any agreement which the narcissist enters into is his (her) personal property and he (she) is therefore entitled to do with it whatever he (she) likes.

Q. What's a narcissist's definition of "rubbish"?
A. Items which take up space in the narcissist's house but which belong to someone other than the narcissist.

Q. What's a narcissist's idea of generosity?
A. Giving away things which the narcissist considers to be rubbish.

Q. What will a narcissist want to get rid of when moving house?
A. Those items which the narcissist considers to be "rubbish". (Maybe that's why some narcissists like to move house frequently).

Q. Why does a narcissist spend so much time rummaging in his/her spouse's and children's private possessions?
A. Well they belong to the narcissist too, don't they, doesn't everything in the house belong to the narcissist?

Q. What does a narcissist really mean when he says that his wife never talks to him?
A. He means that she can't get a word in edgeways whenever he is talking to her.

Q. What is a narcissist's idea of being abused?
A. Occasionally having to go along with someone else's preferences.


(This is a personal favorite of mine. It actually made me laugh):
Joker: Why do narcissists indulge in gaslighting?
Respondent: I don't know, why do narcissists indulge in gaslighting?
Joker: I said moonlighting, there's no such thing as gaslighting. Why did you think I said gaslighting?

Joker: Why do narcissists indulge in projection?
Respondent: I don't know why do...
Joker: It's not narcissists that indulge in projection, its you that indulges in projection. - you are so devoid of empathy and you always want lots of attention and if I dare to criticise you, you always fly off the handle and you go on and on and on about it and you never let me get a word in edgeways and as well as that you are always being charming to people when they are present and later on you always want to criticise them behind their backs! (pause for a deep breath)

Q. What's a narcissist's idea of hard work?
A. Arranging for lots of people to do all the chores (organising people can be hard work, can't it?).

Q. Why does a narcissist find it tiring to have lots of visitors?
A. Who said that acting wasn't tiring? (the narcissist has to present a false image to those whom he/she feels the need to impress - however - if the visitors stay long enough the narcissist might eventually let his/her guard down and the visitors might see a truer picture)

Q. Why do narcissists feel the need to control other people?
A. Perhaps it makes up for them not being able to control themselves.

Q. How do you get a narcissist to respect other peoples' preferences?
A. You can dream!

Q. What do you call a narcissist who is content to sit in the background during a lively discussion?
A. Rare!

Q. What do you call a narcissist who can get through a whole day without criticising someone?
A. Infeasible!

Q. How can you tell when a narcissist is telling lies?
A. His/her lips are moving

Q. What do you call a narcissist who is apparently content to sit and watch someone else being praised?
A. One that's eager to impress the present company of course!

Q. What should you do if you want to reveal your closest secrets to everyone?
A. Tell your darkest secrets to a narcissist first, then the narcissist will pass on your secret whenever he/she thinks it most appropriate (i.e., sooner rather than later).

Q. What's a narcissist's idea of compromise?
A. Persuading others to go along with the narcissist's preferences.

Q. What do you call a narcissist who is never vengeful?
A. Utterly impossible!

Q. What do you call a narcissist who learns to empathise with people in his/her family?
A. Cured!

Q. What should you do if a narcissist is content to let his/her husband or wife or children choose where the family should go on holiday to?
A. Check his/her temperature for fever!
OR
A2. Planning something - He's going to cry off and put the house in his name while everyone is away.


Feel free to leave some in the comments if you have any others, Dear Readers!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.”
-Buddha

I am thankful for:

* My dear husband and beautiful babies. They are what I always hoped for.
* Our house - I love that it is OURS, that we bought it, that we worked hard for it and are making it our own. I love that we've put so much effort into fixing it up and that it STILL needs a lot of work. There's always something to be done and it keeps us busy. But it's more than just a house, it's got heart, it's a home.
* My health and the health of my loved ones.
* My parents, my brothers, and their spouses.
* Ballpoint pens, with which to write.
* Stamps, so I can mail letters to friends and loved ones. (I'm still a fan of the hand-written note).
* Digital photography. I have tons of photos of my babies that I love to frame and decorate our house with. I think pictures of loved ones are so much more personal than buying artwork from a store.
* Do-It-Yourself websites and magazines.
* Upsi
* Santa's Whiskers
* Who's Pulling Your Strings, by Harriet B. Braiker
* Semi-sweet chocolate
* Lilies and ladybugs
* Tax refunds - We're re-doing our upstairs bathroom with the money we got from taxes last year and I am SO excited.
* Aldis Food Store (Love it! I have no idea how anyone could afford buying groceries before!)
* My fertility. Seriously. It was always my biggest dream to have babies. Being a mom was something I'd never thought I'd be lucky enough to experience. Now that I'm a mom with a growing family I fully appreciate what my body can do and that I was lucky enough to find a wonderful partner to make beautiful babies with.
* Caller ID, answering machines that can be shut off, and the ability to change cell phone numbers with ease.
* Red wine (when I'm not pregnant or nursing, I rather enjoy a glass every now and then).
* Cook books - specifically the ones that are about baking and dessert-making.
* Books.
* Window seats and reading nooks.
* Autumn - fall is my favorite season. I love the crispness of the air, the smell of the leaves, and the baking, oh! the baking. Pumpkin pie, cookies, and cakes galore!
* Scrapbook paper.
* Christmas trees, of all shapes and sizes, and ornaments to decorate them with. My mom gave each of her children a new ornament every year, so that when we moved out, we had a whole box of ornaments with which to decorate our own Christmas trees. I have so many beautiful ornaments and I love sitting by the tree when it's all decorated and just looking at it, mug of tea or hot cocoa in hand. It's scrumptious, all of it.
* Metal measuring cups. (I had plastic ones before. They all broke).
* Scented candles.
* White paint - I love the look of white painted furniture. My mom has found me so many awesome pieces of furniture (cabinets, dressers, coffee tables, etc) that I have painting plans for.

Anyway, given that Turkey Day is just a few days away, I wanted to do a post about some of the things I'm thankful for. What are you thankful for, Dear Reader?

Monday, November 14, 2011

With No Hope For Redemption

In honor of the upcoming Christmas season, DD, DS and I have been watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas songs. I know, we get in the holiday spirit awfully early around here. Our holiday cheer starts pretty much the day after Halloween. I've always loved Christmas and I would listen to Christmas music year-round if everyone would let me. (I've been known to listen to some holiday tunes in the middle of summer!) Anyway, we recently watched "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and I was struck by the rather humorous thought that NMIL is like the Grinch, with no hope for redemption. Her heart is two sizes too small, (if it's even in there at all) and there is just no hope that it will grow any larger from it's current shriveled-up state.

So, I thought I'd share with you the oh-so-famous lyrics (accompanied by a music video, of course) of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," composed by Albert Hague, performed by Thurl Ravenscroft, and lyrics by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel.

How many of you can just see that "evil Grinchy grin" all over your NP's faces this time of year? And how many of you think that their hearts will ever grow any larger (or reappear from their long-time absence?) My guess is that Narcs are grinches without any sort of hope for redemption.

 

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
You're as charming as an eel.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a bad banana
With a greasy black peel.

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch.
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders,
You've got garlic in your soul.
Mr. Grinch.

I wouldn't touch you, with a
thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

You're a vile one, Mr. Grinch.
You have termites in your smile.
You have all the tender sweetness
Of a seasick crocodile.
Mr. Grinch.

Given the choice between the two of you
I'd take the seasick crocodile.

You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch.
You're a nasty, wasty skunk.
Your heart is full of unwashed socks
Your soul is full of gunk.
Mr. Grinch.

The three words that best describe you, are as follows, and I quote:

Stink! Stank! Stunk!

You're a rotter, Mr. Grinch.
You're the king of sinful sots.
Your heart's a dead tomato splotched
With moldy purple spots,
Mr. Grinch.

Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing
with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable
rubbish imaginable,
Mangled up in tangled up knots.

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch.
With a nauseaus super-naus.
You're a crooked jerky jockey
And you drive a crooked hoss.
Mr. Grinch.

You're a three decker saurkraut and toadstool sandwich
With arsenic sauce!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Oh Yeah, By The Way

DH and I were talking today about the time that NMIL moved and didn't tell DH about it until several months later.

Now, under normal circumstances (i.e. in relationships with non-narcs) information as important as one's parent moving would be shared openly and freely with the most-important parties several weeks, if not months before the event was to occur. Not only would the information have been shared willingly, but it would have been a conversation that the parent would have with both her son and her son's spouse. The reason why I find the latter point to be significant is because I initially wrote "NMIL moved and didn't tell us about it" and I had to go back and change the "us" to "DH" because no important information was ever shared with me by NMIL, period. I often find myself saying things like that and having to edit myself later: It's just a given that vital information, important information, information that required thought or decisions, was never shared with "us" because, to NMIL, "us" did not exist.

Anyway, I don't remember the circumstances surrounding the phone call, nor I do remember who solicited the phone call to begin with. But one thing was very clear in my memory: NMIL told DH one day on the phone, in a nonchalant kind of way, that she had moved. I have the distinct notion, though the complete details escape me now, that DH hadn't spoken to NMIL in a while prior to that phone call, and that it was NOT the point of the call. I remember giving our DD a bath and listening to DH talking with his mother on the phone and thinking, "What the hell is she up to now?" And when DH got off the phone and relayed what the conversation had been about, I was really struck by the oddness of the whole thing.

What kind of person moves and doesn't tell her own child about it? Can you say "A power-hungry narcissist?" What kind of person withholds important information as a means to confuse, disorient, anger, hurt, and manipulate the people she is supposed to love and respect? Can you say "An evil narcissistic witch?"

I have several theories about why NMIL would pull this kind of stunt, and none of them paint her in good light. DH and I both believe that the most likely theory is that NMIL didn't tell him about the move intentionally. He believes her message was one of attempted cruelty: It was "We're having all these problems, so why should I tell YOU something this big? You mean nothing to me." Granted, neither one of us was hurt by it, the whole event was just too absurd. I remember asking DH a couple times, in a row, in between bouts of laughter, "Wait, she was just like - oh, by the way, we moved." And every time DH confirmed that that was indeed what she said, we just started laughing harder.

I told DH that we would never be intentionally or even unintentionally made unaware of my parents or siblings moving. Chances are good that we'd be helping with the moving process, but if that wasn't the case, then at the very least we'd know about it. But for my parents or siblings to move and keep it a secret from us? Never! The idea is just too absurd.

A couple other noteworthy comments about this particular scenario:

1. As we all know, Ns are expert as using people. In fact, they are so good at using people that they don't have relationships with anyone who can't (or won't) be used. I've told DH a couple times that I believe she chose her ex-spouses well when she married them. After all, they still provide her with a good amount of narcissistic supply. Her first husband (EFIL) as a source of NS is fairly obvious - twenty something years after their divorce, he's STILL acting as her shoulder to cry on and plays the part of a loyal flying monkey. Both EFIL and J (her second ex-husband) also provide her with and extra set of hands with which she can control her children. (SIL is J's biological daughter, which means that she and DH are half-siblings). But NMIL's move brought up another interesting fact: she obviously chose her second husband well, for she is STILL reaping the financial rewards of having used him for so long: The house she sold was one that he built and they lived in for about eight years (one can ponder a guess as to how much of that cost came out of HER wallet). She was able to turn around and sell that house and move into a mini-mansion in the next town over. Who knows what other financial benefits she gets from having been married to both of those particular victims/cohorts? But it seems obvious that she used her N charms well, since she obviously set up her entire relationship with J so well that she could use him and discard him, all the while reaping the rewards of the fruits of HIS labor. (FYI, I don't think highly of that man either, he's pretty much useless as a human being and not at all any sort of loving influence for either his daughter or his ex-stepson).

2. DH and I believe that the move may have been inspired by NMIL's desire to live closer to her sleazy boyfriend, since the town she moved to was the town where he lived. I remember asking DH, "What about your sister? Was she uprooted from her school and is now being sent to some other high school, during her junior year?" Somehow, we found out later that she was able to continue going to the high school of her home town, although we were never entirely sure how that was possible. (You know those narcs, they're always so sparse with the details.) But even though his sister was still able to attend the same school, the decision to move at that particular time struck us as being very strange, and we wondered how much NMIL's relation-shit with her boyfriend had to do with the decision. Certainly, her daughter's well-being was not factored into the equation.

3. As always, the possibility remains that, to NMIL and SIL, the thought just didn't cross their minds that moving to a new house in a new town was information that should have been shared, in a timely-manner no less, with us. With Narcs, it's always possible that they don't tell you because, if you aren't providing them with the kind of narc-supply they want, then you aren't worth the effort it would take to even think those thoughts in your direction. While I don't think this particular theory is likely, I don't dismiss it from the realm of possibility. But regardless, the situation is pretty crappy whether NMIL left out the information intentionally or not.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Traits Discussed

There are too many good things on Joanna M. Ashmun's website not to share some of them with you, Dear Reader. She passed away in 2009, but a man by the name of John Ashmun (I'm guessing her husband or son?) has been kind enough to keep her website up and running, and it's definitely worth taking a look at, whether or not you've ever had a relationship with a narcissist. I wanted to share the following post with you, taken from her webpage:

Traits Discussed
by Joanna Ashmun

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.

This is a compilation of observations I've made from various people I've known well for many years. Most of these traits apply to all of the narcissists I've known, but that doesn't mean that they'll all apply to the narcissists you know. My narcissists are all high-functioning -- that is, they've maintained gainful employment, marriages and family life -- and there may certainly be narcissistic traits that I haven't observed among the narcissists I've known. You can go directly to my full commentary on narcissists' traits or you can select what you're most interested in from the pink box below. Narcissicism is a personality disorder and that means that narcissists' personalities aren't organized in a way that makes sense to most people, so the notes below do not necessarily go in the order I've listed them or in any order at all. Interaction with narcissists is confusing, even bewildering -- their reasons for what they do are not the same as normal reasons. In fact, treating them like normal people (e.g., appealing to their better nature, as in "Please have a heart," or giving them the chance to apologize and make amends) will make matters worse with a narcissist.

[For general discussion of cognition, affectivity, interpersonal functioning, and impulse control in personality disorders and NPD. It's also interesting to compare these traits below with characteristics of normal six-year-olds.]

amoral/conscienceless
authoritarian
care only about appearances
contemptuous
critical of others
cruel
disappointing gift-givers
don't recognize own feelings
envious and competitive
feel entitled
flirtatious or seductive
grandiose
hard to have a good time with
hate to live alone
hyper-sensitive to criticism
impulsive
lack sense of humor
naive
passive
pessimistic
religious
secretive
self-contradictory
stingy
strange work habits
unusual eating habits
weird sense of time

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 [see remarks on John Cheever elsewhere on this page]. 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, (witness John Cheever, for instance; Almost Perfect) 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.

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.