Welcome to Thoughty Thursday! This is the day of the week that y’all get to be privy to whatever thoughts are kicking around in my brain.
Marcy Kennedy’s post, How Do We Know If Someone Has Truly Changed, got my wheels turning this week.
She posed several questions:
- Can someone truly change?
- Do you believe in second chances?
- How many chances do you give before drawing a line in the sand?
As I pondered these, I thought of a fabulous post Ingrid Schaffenburg wrote a few weeks back, based on the Maya Angelou quote:
When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
I love that quote.
I live by that quote.
After a lifetime of banging my head against the wall of a narcissist, I have that quote tattooed in invisible ink on my forehead. I trust actions far more than words. The older I get, the less chances I offer to people who treat me poorly.
Why? Because I grew up with a father who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
What on earth is THAT, Jenny??!
NPD is a condition in which people have an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with themselves. I’m not talking about someone with a “healthy ego.” I’m talking about living with a toddler forever. Yeah. Welcome to life with an adult narcissist.
It gets exhausting to live with someone who must have the world revolve around them 24/7 x 365. The majority of people with NPD literally can NOT change.
Here’s an overview, in case any of you have some NPD in your family or close personal relationships. Hanging out with someone like this is downright confusing until you figure out the problem.
10 Common Traits/Reactions of a Narcissist:
- They need someone else to be wrong in any situation that makes them feel bad.
- The entire nature of NPD is that nothing is wrong with them so they look to others and the world to explain their problems.
- NPD can be improved with medication, but we come back to the question of, “Why would I take medicine if there’s nothing wrong with me?” You see the conundrum? For this reason, most people with NPD go unmedicated.
- A true narcissist will most often react to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation.
- They’ll have excessive feelings of self-importance and will often exaggerate achievements and talents.
- Be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love.
- Narcissists often have unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment.
- Need constant attention and admiration.
- May disregard the feelings of others and have little ability to feel empathy.
- Often have obsessive self-interest and a tendency to take advantage of other people to achieve his or her own goals.
My father has many children and all of us grew up scratching our heads over why our dad was such a pain in the a$$. Of course, we all thought it was us, and that suited him just fine. (Remember, he’s a narcissist.)
When the whole NPD issue came up during my father’s third marriage, every single one of his children was THRILLED. Seriously.
We were over-the-moon, delighted and giddy with joy over the fact that all the “a-hole-ness” we’d grown up with had nothing to do with us, and everything to do with him.
It was incredibly freeing.
There’s an old therapist saying that goes something like this:
You always know when you’re dealing with somebody with a personality disorder because they drive everyone around them crazy too.
So to go back to the questions from Marcy’s post:
- Can someone truly change?
- Do you believe in second chances?
- How many chances do you give before drawing a line in the sand?
Yes, I believe most people can change if they really, really want to. And I believe in second chances. However, the proverb about “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” needs to be in force if you’re going to have a level playing field.
I see people draw their line in the sand and say, “Cross this line and you die!” Then they back up over it when someone gives the barest push against their boundary.
They back up again….and again…and again. Until they’ve trapped themselves in an unhappy, uncomfortable corner with no boundaries to protect them.
That corner sucks. Trust me on this one…you DON’T want to hang out there. 🙂
- Setting Healthy Boundaries – Allowing the True Self to Emerge
- Fantastic t-shirts to help you deal with life’s “crazy-making.”
- Any of the “Dance” books by Harriet Goldhor Lerner – I’d start with The Dance of Intimacy and move on to The Dance of Anger. (These are life-changing books!)
OK, I’m turning the floor over to all of you for some Thoughty Thursday answers…
Have you had to deal with NPD in your close relationships? What about personality disorders of any type? Did you grow up with healthy boundaries or did you have to learn them? What resources or links do you recommend for those who are struggling with this? Enquiring minds always want to know these things here at More Cowbell!
Good morning, Jenny… Narcissists.. ack!!! I believe that if someone has NPD, there is little hope that they will change.. I mean, after all, like you said, they have to admit something is wrong with them. Ah, that darn Catch 22.
I had to learn my boundaries, absolutely. Between my mom and her freaking out over nothing and then getting married at 16 to an absolute a-hole.. and yeah, his mother was some sort of whacked out sadistic psychopath (she was crazy!!) my boundaries were pretty whacked.
What an awesome post, Jenny..
Hope your day rocks just like you do! 😀
Wow, what a life you’ve lived, Darlene! Marriage at 16?! I can’t imagine. I remember what I was like at 16, and it wasn’t marriage material. 🙂
Wow! Jenny, you chose a serious & personal subject today. I have 6 years of graduate training in counseling psychology, and so we had to learn the DSMIV (psychological bk for diagnosing patients) definitions of many disorders, including NPD. There was someone who was a professional part of my life and colleagues who, at the time, had undiagnosed NPD and caused many people under him/her much sorrow, grief and more. Finally, someone reported this person. You are right to presume that she/he denied everything and gathered evidence to refute every complaint, which provided additional proof of her/his disorder. I was able to leave, but I was sorry for others still assisting this person.
Many people w/this disorder go for decades (as in the case of your father) w/out being diagnosed and then do not follow through w/professional help – (again, “I’m not sick. Why do I need help.”). To this day, I don’t know if the person sees professional help, and I feel for the people around my ex-colleague who do not yet know about the problems.
Oh man, Monique! I feel for them too. Narcissists are nearly always incredibly intelligent and charming. Throw attractive in there and you’ve got…politicians, to say the least. I’m so glad you don’t work with this person anymore.
P.s. Your Harriet Lerner books are excellent bks (period); especially for learning about boudaries and more.
This is truly a valuable post to many people, including me. Thanks for writing it!
Thanks, my dear. The “Dance” books were extremely life-changing for me. It was the first time I understood that I had power for change in my personal relationships.
Sadly, I understand this too well. Your father, my mother. And it leaves its mark. Even my 12 yo sees it now. I have never been brave enough to tackle this topic, but I can tell you I allowed my mother’s up narcissism to kill a book deal. Never again.
A while back I guest posted at Nina Badzin’s about toxic people.
I don’t play with adult babies anymore.
Oh, Renee… I’m glad you’ve taken back your power. A book deal is a pretty big regret to live with. I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with someone like this.
But. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? We ROCK for having reached for our happy despite these parents. 🙂 You go, girl!
I think you are so brave for writing about this stuff. I have been thinking all day: “Her father must not read her blog.” or “Her father must have passed away.” Because I could NEVER write so honestly about this topic. Not yet. Someday. I have journals filled with stories. We should compare notes sometime. Maybe some funny tweets. 😉
We can absolutely compare notes! And really, with a certain amount of distance, the stories get a certain amount of humor to them.
Something for you to think about: NPD parents typically make ‘non-perfection” the biggest sin for their children because you are a reflection of them (in their minds). Their kids grow up with the same compulsion for a “perfect looking family front” because of it. They don’t know why they’re compelled, they just are.
oh hello, I know. Welcome to my fiction mother, Adina. She’s a professional organizer. 😉
And there is some humor. But a lot of pain, too.
Cyberhugs going out to you, Renee!!
God, your dad must have hard to deal with, especially the whole “it’s all about me” mindset confusing you and your siblings. It’s hard to deal with those people.
Wait, is your father still alive? Sorry if that’s a bit rude, but I’m just curious.
It’s fine, Chihuahua. Trust me, if this was a sensitive point for me, I probably wouldn’t have written about it on my blog. I’m private that way. Yes, he’s still alive. And no, he doesn’t realize what “everyone’s problem is.” That’s just the way he’s made.
It’s sad because he doesn’t have a lot of friends or family left.
Wow, I didn’t even know such thing as NPD existed … That must be thought, living with someone with NPD …
Learning something knew everyday 😉
Juliana, NPD makes for fantastic characters in fiction. 🙂
You will love Lois. Or hate her. Either way.
Great post, Jenny. right on the money. I think NPD is grossly underreported. I would include all pedophiles, and most rapists in this group, just on principle. Anyone who puts their needs before the needs of others probably is NPD. The behavior of many addicts is also Narcissistic but that’s a whole nother story. Lerner’s books are excellent. I second their recommendation.
Louise, thanks for chiming in…how very, very interesting to think about. I think NPD is underreported too. I use it a lot in my fiction and find it very useful. 🙂
Thanks for the shout out. This post is excellent, and it’s fun to see how a little spark matured. The poignant word picture about stepping back over your boundaries until you’re trapped in a corner really hit home for me because I’ve done that before and fighting your way out of the corner is a lot more difficult than holding the line in the first place.
Adding a personality disorder to the mix when it comes to whether a person can change or not really makes things difficult because that person isn’t likely to change without medication and counseling. I had a friend during my master’s degree who was obsessive-compulsive (for example, he’d have to close a door and then check seven times that it was closed) and his particular patterns and routines nearly destroyed his marriage. Thankfully, he got help in time, and as long as he takes his medication, is able to now live a normal life.
Marcy, I’m glad that “corner” hit home. I see people do it ALL THE TIME. But everyone puts their boundaries up at their own pace. It took me many unhappy years before I figured out how. Kudos to you for learning that lesson so early!
p.s. What an inspiring story about your OCD friend! Have you ever read David Sedaris’ story collection, “Naked”? “Naked” has an absolutely hysterical story about OCD.
Wow. Intense. I can’t imagine…
I grew up in an abusive home. Mom wasn’t a narcissist but she was physically, emotionally and verbally abusive. She was more just filled with rage…but it wasn’t like that 24/7! 80% of the time she was the most loving, wonderful Mom in the world! It was the 20% of the time beatings that just sucked!
To my utter astonishment, she did change. I was around 11 when she vowed to never strike us again and she never did. She went into intense counselling and did everything a person could do to change…and she did. But she was also someone who recognized that this wasn’t who she wanted to be, that she wasn’t happy, that she was breaking her family and she stood up and took responsibility.
I don’t hear many stories like hers. People that far gone usually don’t ever look inside themselves to change…because I believe their minds are just to broken to even allow them to do so.
I definitely struggled with setting healthy boundaries growing up. And rage. And low self-esteem etc etc etc. LOL! I certainly haven’t mastered it by any sense of the imagination but I’ve come a long way myself through MUCH counselling to ensure that I am the healthiest and happiest me that I can be.
A long road for both me and Mom but…we’ve both managed to change and grow and thrive. It’s sad that not everyone has that happy ending and sad for the loved ones forced to try and manage a relationship with those with personality disorders. Devastatingly hard!
Had Mom not changed….well…I just don’t know where we’d be right now?!?!?!
Here’s to you…and to your health always!
Wow, Natalie. Your story is so beautiful. So HOPEFUL! Talk about beauty from ashes….
I agree with Myndi. There is beauty both in your mother choosing to do the work to change and make amends for her damage, and in you for allowing her to do so. That was a hell of a lot of therapy on both sides of the dance. I’m so proud of you, Nat!
I love to toast to my health. It’s been hard-won. 🙂
Really great post, Jenny. So enlightening, especially when you know someone with NPD. I can’t imagine living with someone with NPD because it’s not like you can ditch your family member to escape from this behavior. From your account, it does seem like it leaves lasting, deep, scars.
Thanks, Ginger. I disagree that you can’t ditch a family member though. I agree that it’s hard and traumatic but, if it’s your mental health or them, I say “ditch ’em.” I know that sounds harsh.
I do believe that parents only borrow their children and that they have a responsibility to leave that child in great condition for their life after they leave their parents’ nest. An adult relationship with your child is earned in those first 20+ years through consistent love, compassion and protection.
My mother provided me with all of that more, thank heavens. She also believed that you must respect your children.
One last note, I always wish the abusive and neglectful parents of the world kept in mind that their children choose their nursing home, so to speak. It might prevent some of that early behavior. 🙂
Jenny, I do believe people can change — IF they want to. The problem is, Narcissists and batterers don’t believe they’re the problem. How many times, growing up, did you hear, “Well, if you’d only . . . ” Sorry, no hope for them. Best to put them to sleep like you would a mad dog.
Sorry. Can you tell I have strong opinions on the subject?
I don’t disagree with you, Laura. If you look at my comment above to Ginger, I think many people have had to adopt a “me or the crazy one” model in their personal relationships.
In the case of Narcissists and batterers, there’s only one person getting out that relationship alive and whole, and it might as well be you.
I have two people in my life who are textbook NPD. Severing those relationships would cause far-spread damage that I’m not willing to do – yet. But dealing with them is oftentimes very, very difficult. I totally agree, though – when I realized the problem isn’t really me, but them, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my back. SO freeing to know that I wasn’t as messed up as they would have liked for me to believe, and DOUBLE freeing to realize that I wasn’t the only one who saw those two for what they are.
Oh, Myndi! I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with that. And look at how sweet and loving you are, despite them. Read those Lerner books when you have time. Not only will they make you feel better, they’ll help your writing. 🙂
ah is that’s what it’s called? Yes lived with one of those for years (sibling) – came back again after retirement and made another three years hell – my friend s in partnership with one – we just thought they were selfish bastards! – prob didn’t have a term for it when we were young!
No thye wont change.
Alberta, that’s EXACTLY what we said: “It has a name??!!!” It’s very exciting when you realize they’re just living in Crazy Town. 🙂
I seem to be surrounded by people with addictive personalities – not so far as NPD though. But – man it does get annoying. Great post.
Thanks, Lisa! The Lerner books help in dealing with addicts too. 🙂
I diagnosed many people in my life with personality disorders during grad school, lol (in my former life I was a clinical social worker). And that question about change–well, for personality disorders, the outlook isn’t good. The key is in the name “personality” disorder–it’s part of who they are, their integral make up. So you can teach people how to better cope and how to address different things, but at it’s core, it’s a hard thing to change.
And I love the saying “when people show you who they are, believe them.” I actually used that quote in Crash Into You. : )
Fantastic quote, Roni! I didn’t realize that was part of your former life, and i should have from your writing. 🙂
I would argue narcissists really cannot change. They want everyone else to change for them. Even my son understands this about his grandma. Before she comes to visit, he fist bumps me and says: “She’s 6 years old, right?”
Because that’s the way she acts.
Jenny, what a great post. One that seems to hit home for a lot of people. I wish I’d known there was such a thing as NPD twenty years ago when I married a man who obviously suffered from it. He was a master of disguises…making up successes, puffing himself up so that I’d think the planet could not possibly rotate without him in charge. He was always spouting lines like “In my world these kind of people don’t exist.” I know…I should have seen it, but it seemed to escalate after we got married. Great post. I really appreciate the honesty.
Annie, my dad’s been married 4.5 times (we like to joke about the annulment as ‘a half’) – all of the women were AMAZING. He’s charming (as long as he’s getting his way) and the “center-of-the-universe” bell gets rung constantly during courtship so he started out VERY sweet.
Don’t be hard on yourself…there’s no way you would have seen that coming, especially if you grew up with someone like that. Always remember that evil (and personality disorders) hide in plain sight. 🙂
Jenny I am the 3rd exwife of a narcissist who is also an alcoholic.
His 3 children from previous marriages resulted in 3 children whose only contact with him is to receive money. The trust funds that grandfather left are almost depleted so there will probably be no contact after that.
The two older ones have alcohol and substance abuse issues which rehab has been discussed for one, andone had also be diagnosed with with BPD. The youngest has anxiety issues and pretty much hates her father having very little contact unless she needs some big ticket item. He has left such a path of devastation in his wake, but always blames the mothers of the children along with me and hardly ever himself.
His idea of parenting was to provide monetary support and none of the other truly important things that children need while growing up, which It’s is just so sickening. Yes he was wonderful at the beginning, but his NPD plus the additional alcohol abuse almost killed me. Still dealing with the aftershock of it all, only being married to him less than 3 years.
Im so glad that you were able to survive and flourish. I look at his children and sadly, do not see a bright and happy future for the two older ones. The third I think will be somewhat OK due to her mother. But I also think she exhibits some N traits as her father does. It is just so sad.
Loved the post. I had to take the mirror on the desk and put it away. (The guy in the mirror is facinating) Seriously, I had a sister who managed to blame everyone else when something went wrong, even if she was alone. People tolerated her rather than calling her on it. They were raised to be polite and tolerant and wouldn’t dare offend her lest she throw one of her tantrums.
Thanks, Tom! And it’s funny you should say that because I almost used a mirror picture for this post. 🙂
It sounds like your sister is gone – I’m sorry she was a toddler in life…
As your father’s third wife I can only say that those 18 years were the least healthy period in my life, but I have two wonderful children and a deepening relationship with you, my step-daughter, from that marriage and for that I am deeply grateful.
I have spent the last 11 years since that divorce trying to gain:
1) a true sense of self with healthy boundaries,
2) a habit of self-care to balance out my caring for others,
3) a sense of my place in GOD’s creation,
4) a reason to get up in the morning,
5) a tool box of skills to cope with the crazy-making people and situations in the world and
6) a sense of Hope and Joy and Love
I am still very much working on all the above…am a work-in-process and I pray each day that our Good Lord will give me the resources to get through another day. I try to do my bit to make Life a little better each day for not just myself but for others.
I try each day to forgive a little more the pain that I experienced during those 18 years. However, I don’t ever want to be back there again.
I pray that people who have read your blog post about NPD will learn how deal with people who have NP. This means setting up strong boundaries between self and the person with NPD. Sometimes those boundaries include separation, very thick walls and often thousands of miles.
Jenny, you were very brave to write this blog. Thank you.
Love to baby girl, Nana
And you are very brave to comment, Nana Sharon!
I think the #1 best way to fight back against abuse is by being as happy as you are capable of being. Every drop of joy you experience is a testament to the fact that your abuser did not break you. Plus, you get the joy! It’s a win-win. 🙂
You 10 common traits have got me realizing some things about a “friend” of mine. Can’t really discuss it at this time.
Then my work here is done! 🙂
I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with this in a friend – it’s terribly hard.
I love my parents, but 🙂 my mom totally has NPD and my dad qualifies on at least 1/2 that list. I’m not sure how they’ve stayed together. My brother and I giggle and wonder how we turned out so normal and we are thankful to both have wonderful in-laws.
That’s fantastic that you have wonderful in-laws, Sidney. I do too.
I think a lot of kids of NPD parents learn to take a vacation in their minds and they become very creative. (See, there’s hidden blessings everywhere. 🙂 )
Interesting. My brother is an incredible writer. I will not be shocked at all to see him on the NY times list some day. Thanks, Jenny.
You are most welcome, Sidney! 🙂
Oh Jenny, you just gave me a light bulb moment girl. Holy Cowbell! That is if a cowbell can be considered holy. LOL! Uh, that is my mom. OMG. Thank you. I’ve never heard of such a disorder.
And talking about having an inspirational moment. Your comment about having so many girlfriends with cancer inspired me to write my post this week. See, it’s all good! 🙂
Of course a cowbell can be considered holy!! (Sacred cows and all that…)
While I’m sorry to hear you had to grow up with a parent like that, I’m delighted to give you a name for…THAT THING YOU’VE NEVER UNDERSTOOD (it always was an all-CAPS kind of question for me). It’s a trippy feeling, isn’t it?
I agree with Louise that NPD is vastly underreported. Go read everything you can find on NPD, Karen…you’ll feel so much better afterward. 🙂
Wow, Jenny. I’ve known people with NPD. It can pose so many challenges, as I’m sure you well (well well) know. 😉 I believe that most people can change, too, with the exception of some socio and psychopaths. Those boundaries you mentioned are so important, as is desire to change, familial support, therapy… The heart/spirit of who we are, however we describe it, seems pretty permanent; in most cases, though, I’d say that’s good.
LOL…I agree that the hearts of most people are pretty constant, and that’s usually very good thing. I’ve told several of the commenters today, there’s a ton of character opportunities available with those crazy narcissists. 🙂
I am husband #4. I needed to carefully evaluate each question regarding NPD. One of my most important formative influences, Hal Kallenburg, stressed that “You must admit when you are wrong or don’t know.” Hal and I worked together at a newspaper. Nearly every day, someone would ask, “Does anyone know [thus or such]?” Hal would always respond, “Yes.” When asked for the answer, he would say, “You did not ask for the answer. You asked if _anyone_ knew. Of course, _someone_ knows. It just does not happen to be me.”
I have known (personally and professionally) several women whose previous husbands had NPD. I was not aware of the specific diagnostic tools to be applied. Thank you for supplying that information, Jennifer.
We have met exactly one time, at your sister’s wedding; I am reading this post because your stepmother linked me to it. For whatever reason, I request your permission to “follow” your blog.
Signed insecurely, (yes, I do feel like Adrian Monk. Why do you ask?)
Hey there, George! Nice to see you here at More Cowbell. 🙂 All you have to do to subscribe is click the button up by my picture on the right side of your screen.
I’m delighted that the list doesn’t apply to you!
Hi Jenny, thanks so much for this. There is someone close to me who displays every one of those symptoms. Prior to reading this I have wondered if it is a Bipola problem, the trick being, like you say, how to encourage them to get help? The other issue that I have found difficult is when others are also in denial of the problem, and you feel like you are being judged for trying to establish boundaries….Thanks. I’m going to look into this more now.
You are very welcome, Alarna (and BTW, your name is lovely!). Good luck to you in dealing with this person – setting boundaries with them is not a job for sissies. Be strong! 🙂
So lovely of you to say so, and thanks – it’s a work in progress! Look forward to reading more of your posts.
Thanks for subscribing, Alarna…we’re happy to have you here at More Cowbell! 🙂
Late to this, but my sister is a narcissist. She’s had major rifts with everyone in our family, and she and my mother are on the outs. Things aren’t good with us, either. She fits pretty much every trait, and the worst part is she’s in complete denial and always will be. There is no talking to her, no arguing with her. It’s pretty sad, but I’m to the point I’m done dealing with it.
It’s very, very wearing, Stacy. I’m sorry to hear this. You’ve had so much loss on the sibling front, I know a supportive sister would be a blessing to you. You deserve one so I hope you have ‘surrogate sisters.’
Thank you. I actually have two other sisters I get along well with (all of my siblings are half, four from mom and three from dad), and my best friend is like a sister.
A best friend can often be as closer (or even closer) than biological family. Very glad to hear you have a little of each, Stacy. ♥
So amazing, Jenny! My sister and I just realized in the last year that our mother has NPD. Haven’t read Lerner, but several others (and our solidarity) have helped. I could write a stand up comic routine about it.
For instance, a few years ago, Mom called and said, “The economy is horrible and I was wondering how your job is holding out. Do you think you or Dave [my husband] will get laid off? That would great, because then you could move back here and take care of me and your dad. He can’t do anything anymore and I have to do everything.” I kid you not…
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I know this topic too well since I grew up with a man who has NPD. For the man who is my biological father, the most important thing to him is him. I realized it from an early age and thought at first it was me not trying hard enough. Then I realized I could just be myself and live in my integrity because nothing I did mattered. You are brave to be able to name and write about it hear because it is something I cannot yet do.
Right now I am learning all I can About Narcissism. I have a significant other who has bounced in and out of my life for the last twenty years. I used to call him “my subconscous man” because he truly lacks awareness. He is very detached from reality; ie Recreates his past based oin lies. Literally his right hand did not know what his left hand was doing. Now I realize he suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. His daughter is also NPD. His daughter is a bigger narcissistic than her father. His son moved several thousand miles away to get away from the daddy daughter chaos-disorder.