Toxic shame is one of the most common debilitating feelings that people struggle with.
Toxic shame is a term that refers to a chronic feeling or emotional state of feeling bad, worthless, inferior, and fundamentally flawed. It is called toxic because it is unjust, whereas healthy shame is when we do something morally wrong, such as aggressing against others.
The origins of toxic shame
Toxic shame has its roots in trauma. Trauma is a word that people either don’t think much about or they associate it with something extreme, like broken bones or severe sexual abuse. While these things are indeed very traumatic, there are a lot of traumatic experiences that people don’t recognize as trauma. That’s why many people struggle to understand how things like childhood neglect can be a form of abuse and trauma.
In most cases, it is trauma a person experienced in their childhood and adolescence. Moreover, this trauma was experienced in a repeated fashion and wasn’t processed as such nor healed. So the person was conditioned into routinely feeling ashamed when there was nothing or very little to be ashamed of.
Regarding toxic shame specifically, it develops because an individual’s primary caregivers or other important figures routinely shamed, or punished them either passively or actively. Such a person internalized those hurtful and untrue words and behaviors, and it became their understanding of who they are as a person.
Toxic shame beliefs and emotional states
Some common beliefs a person suffering from toxic shame may have include:
I am unlovable; I don’t matter; everything is my fault; I can’t do anything right; I don’t deserve good things; I was a bad child; I deserve to be treated the way others treat me; I’m a bad person; my needs and wants are not important; nobody likes me; I can’t be myself around others; I have to hide my true emotions and thoughts; I’m never good enough.
It is common for a shame-ridden person to also suffer from chronic anxiety and low self-esteem. Some people cope by hurting or not taking care of themselves, while some hurt other people and become highly antisocial and narcissistic.
Toxic shame is often accompanied by toxic guilt, where the person feels unjust responsibility and guilt. So the person not only feels ashamed, but also guilty for things they are not actually responsible for. They also feel responsible for other people’s emotions, and feel ashamed and guilty when other people are unhappy, especially if it’s in some way related to them.
It’s common that shame-ridden people lack a sense of self and are dominated by their false-self, which is a combination of adaptation techniques and coping mechanisms that they developed to deal with their unresolved trauma. As I write in the book Human Development and Trauma:
“This early erasure of self often develops into an internalized practice of self-erasure in later life, or various other emotional problems like the inability to name emotions, the presence of guilt or shame about feeling emotion, or a general numbness surrounding emotion.”
Toxic shame behaviors
Lack of healthy self-love. Because such a person usually suffers from low self-esteem and overt or covert self-loathing, these things manifest themselves in poor self-care, self-harm, lack of empathy, inadequate social skills, and more.
Emptiness. The person also feels chronic emptiness, loneliness, and a lack of motivation. They don’t want to do anything, don’t have any active goals, and do things only to distract themselves from how they feel.
Perfectionism. A lot of people who struggle with toxic shame are also highly perfectionistic because as children they were held to unrealistic standards and punished and shamed for failing to meet them.
Narcissism. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who develop grandiose fantasies about how they will become rich, famous, powerful, and conquer the world, believing it will make those painful feelings go away, which is not what happens even if they succeed.
Unhealthy relationships. Many people suffering from toxic shame have unhealthy relationships because they don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like. Or they are incapable of building and maintaining one.
Usually they settle for a “good enough” relationship, where both parties are highly unhappy but are too weak, in their own way, to pursue true happiness. Sometimes, again, it’s because they believe they don’t deserve anything better. Also, the relationship is a decent way to cope with all the unbearable painful feelings that come up when the person is alone.
Susceptibility to manipulation. Since they are ridden with toxic shame, guilt, loneliness, and inadequacy, manipulators can push those exact buttons to make them feel those exact emotions and then they will do what the manipulators want to get rid of that painful emotion.
“Why are you hurting me?” “Don’t you want to be a part of us instead of being a lonely loser?” “This product will finally make you look beautiful.” “It’s all your fault.” There are many examples of things abusers and manipulators say.
Summary and final words
Children who experience trauma often feel shame. Since this shame is usually unidentified and unaddressed, the child grows into an adult who suffers from a chronic shame.
Toxic shame is closely related to other emotional states and beliefs, including low self-esteem, self-loathing, chronic guilt, unresolved anger, and never feeling good enough.
Consequently, these mental states result in unhealthy behavior, including acting out, hurting others, feeling responsible for others, self-erasing, having toxic relationships, poor self-care, poor boundaries, being overly sensitive to other people’s perception of them, being susceptible to manipulation and exploitation, and many others.
All these painful, unprocessed emotions actually belong in the context of their childhood environment where they were initially hurt and violated, but they are currently unable to make that connection and resolve it, so they deal with them in the ways they learned: actively or passively hurting themselves or others, or both.
The challenges are daunting. Yes, we are vulnerable.
But each of us can find the courage room inside.
The first part of this article is a story about how frightening the current pandemic is for some of us, and how one young woman is finding her courage every day. (This client has given me permission to share some of her story, hoping her courage is contagious.)
The second part describes two different practices for courage-building. If either one resonates, grab a journal or open a fresh computer doc and WRITE IT OUT or (with bilateral stimulation) DO IT. The key is to act because action is POWER: a main ingredient of COURAGE.
Angel of a New Life.
She’s so distraught that she needs time to cry before the session can begin. “But I’m afraid of dying. I will die . . .This could be Armageddon. Couldn’t it?” Since COVID-19 has become a pandemic, Angel, a woman who recently left an apocalyptic religion, has experienced a resurgence of acute PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms: panic attacks, overwhelming fear, dissociation, feelings of abandonment.
I respond, into my computer screen, “No, Angel. I don’t believe it’s Armageddon. We’ve talked about this. And I know you’re scared. Before we keep going, please find your feet on the floor.”
I give her a moment. “Do your feet feel the same on either side?” At first, she can’t feel her right foot. At all: she’s dissociated—unable to feel her body fully. For Angel, this manifests first in her feet; she cannot feel the ground. This brings on a new round of panicked tears. I speak again, wishing that our two bodies were in the same room instead of on opposite sides of Toronto and opposite sides of our screens. When someone is upset, dissociating, crying, just sitting quietly with a loving witness can be a great help. Our brains and bodies are inherently social; the presence of an emotionally-regulated person brings calm to an individual or even a group in acute distress. Our emotions are contagious.
Does it work through a screen, though? Therapists all over the world are asking themselves that question right now. “Angel, I’m here. I’m with you. Keep your eyes open. Look at me. If you can’t feel the right foot, just focus on your left foot. Move your toes up and down. Lift your heel. Now touch your one hand to the opposite knee. Then the other hand. That’s it.” She shivers, sighs, touches and touches, back and forth.
After this short round of bilateral stimulation — rhythmic touches on alternating sides of the body — a wave passes through her body, top to the bottom. Though I can’t see her right foot — we’re working in separate rooms, each on our screens — I know from her and eyes face that her awareness has entered the ‘missing’ foot, connecting her back to the floor and to the present. “Back in the feet? ” I ask the familiar question.
She answers, “Yes, back in my body.”
Touching one side, then the other: it’s a deceptively simple grounding technique, but it works in profound ways. Bilateral stimulation can be tactile, visual, or auditory — gentle rhythmic stimulation to either side of the body/ears/eyes to calm and soothe the nervous system.
Eastern physical and spiritual practices like yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and all the martial arts have elaborate systems based on this technique; Western neuroscience and psychotherapy have finally joined the club. Most of the somatic trauma therapies developed in the last twenty years use some form of bilateral stimulation. Though I work a lot with visualization and mindfulness, my core practice as a therapist is OEI — Observed Experiential Integration — another bilateral stimulation therapy that changed my life twenty years ago, when I was healing from the traumas of my childhood.
We Live in a Beautiful, Traumatized World.
Many of us have extensive histories of abandonment and trauma: child abuse, including neglect, insecure attachment to caregivers, religious trauma similar to Angel’s; violent and emotionally abusive adult relationships; combat experiences; assaults of many kinds; school, academic, and workplace bullying; life-altering accidents, shootings. Many trauma victims grow into kind, productive individuals who have healed, who are healing, who want to heal. Yet many more are in prison or live in prison-like personal circumstances, trapped in the pain and disconnection of traumatic reenactment.
While life protects none of us from misfortune, with the spread of Covid-19, some people are experiencing traumatic stress as daily reality for the first time. Having never experienced anything like this before, many people are deeply confused, which often expresses itself as an inability to focus. When everything normal has changed, it is natural to feel disoriented and fearful.
Even for those of us who are relatively safe, this pandemic carries all the markers of the traumatic experience:
Powerlessness. Intense anxiety. Lack of predictability.
Fear of impending injury or death. A disordered sense of reality and time.
Disrupted social bonds.
For those who are working in essential services and healthcare, the dangers are potentially lethal. The brave work some people are doing now will leave the deep internal scars of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But the rest of us also have to contend with this frightening time. Later in the session, Angel asked, “But how can my parents not even call me? How can they not check in on me? Did they never love me at all?” Her family has disowned her for leaving ‘the truth.’ She’s had very little contact with her family or old JW friends. She already has created a small circle of new friends, but she craves contact with her ‘old world’ and her parents and siblings.
Ostracism is one of the most wounding things a group can do to an individual or family unit. Social death is truly a form of death. And with this pandemic, because we’re so cut off from each other, millions of people are experiencing a taste of social death and ostracism.Our internal and external social engagement systems have been disturbed or completely overturned. Forced isolation is painful.
Single clients tell me — on a phone or computer screen, at this time — that they think they are going “fucking crazy.” I nod and say, “Let’s work with that.” We are social creatures; our bodies and our brains are social machines. We can now see on MRI scans that our brains respond to and interact with each other all the time — right down to the level of mirror neurons. We experience our connections with each other as both emotions and physical feelings in the body.
That’s why the glance of a stranger’s eyes or the gaze of a loved one can be so powerful. It’s brain to brain contact. By reading this, you share with me a moment, a small world of thought.
I continue to work with Angel on her renewed symptoms. She feels deep grief for the loss of her family. This is part of religious and betrayal trauma: in breaking away from an abusive religion or relationship, the person often loses a community as well as an identity. Sometimes, when Angel feels like she can’t cope with this world and her fear, I remind her of the extraordinary courage she found to make her escape in the first place.
My therapy and mentorship practice is called The Courage Room. That doesn’t only indicate the name of the place; it’s also another way of saying ‘the human body’. Each of us has within a room of resilience and strength. You are the courage room. I am the courage room. We are in this together.
Below, you will find two techniques for building your courage (finding your calm is an extra benefit.)
Finding The Courage Room Inside: two basic techniques
#1. Make Courage Real: Visualize The Courage Resource
The first step in building courage is to imagine it. Never underestimate the healing power of the imagination.
Usually every one of us, even those who’ve lived through damaging experiences, can remember a time and a place where we were safe, where we experienced a sense of happiness and contentment. In therapy-speak, we call this a resource; remembering the resource place or activity is called resourcing. We summon up those places in our memories we can use for self-nourishment and stabilization.
These do not have to be fancy places. Often they are humble. One safe place in a house: for one client, it was under the dining room table of her childhood. Sometimes it’s a backyard or garden. A park you used to love as a kid (or still love as an adult). A safe relative or friend’s house.
So think of (or imagine — custom-build one) your place of courage and safety.
Meditate upon it. Daydream about it. Honour it in your mind and heart.
Courage can also be contained, like a talisman, in one small object in our mind or physical life. Imagine the space or the object.
Hold it in your hand if exists: turn it into your courage talisman.
Now, grab the journal or open the fresh document and write down the story of your courage room/object. Really DO IT: the physical act is an act of power. Accessing power through your imagination gives you courage. Courage COMES from the imagination. More on that in another blog post, and a book I’m writing . . .
My house is full of small and large rocks and stones because at different times, they’ve given me courage, or a view into another possibility. Rocks and stones especially are dense, beautiful objects of power. Their solidity is dependable. And one of my most important ‘courage’ rooms and talismans combined is a big tree in my neighbourhood. I visit it almost every day. I love that tree!
Close your eyes and think about how the courage of this space/object can grow, expand, giving you both strength and a sense of calm. When you experience distress, upset, exhaustion, fear, PTSD symptoms, go to your room/object and get in touch with your courage resource. The more you work with this, the more powerful it becomes.
Visualization can be many things, including a spiritual practice that’s part of meditation, but it’s also a form of brain exercise that translates into physical results. For decades, elite athletes have employed visualization in their training; a whole body of research shows how effective visualization is for building co-ordination, strength, and spatial memory.
#2. Bilateral Stimulation
Anyone can experiment with stimulating each side of their body in a simple alternating sensory pattern. When we touch the body, or focus our vision or hearing in a certain way, we send signals to the brain: it’s the brain that actually allows us to feel, see, hear, taste, smell. Focused, intentional bilateral stimulation has a regulating effect on the brain, the body, and the entire nervous system.
So next time you are panicking, ready to scream at someone, filled with the pressure to harm yourself or another person in any way (in reality or in your imagination) please count to ten, take a few deep conscious breaths, and give the techniques below a try. We bilaterally stimulate naturally when we walk, dance, push the pedals of our bicycle.
First and foremost, as I did with Angel above, put your feet on the floor. Feel your feet. Feel how each side might give you a slightly or a radically different sensation. Pay attention. Go back and forth. Just stay with your feet; the feeling will come into them.
Breathe into your belly. You don’t want to have the breath up in your throat; pull it all that way into the bottom of your lungs and let your belly fill with air.
Take your right hand and gently tap your left knee or thigh. (Further focus comes when we cross the midline of the body, hence the left to right sequencing.) Take your left hand and gently tap your right knee or thigh.
Repeat 20 times, paying careful attention to how this simple exercise helps to calm down your body. Keep breathing into your lower lungs and belly. Feel your feet on the floor. Repeat more if it helps.
If you want to get more active, stand up. Feel your feet on the floor. Lift your right knee up and touch it with your left hand. Repeat on the other side. Do this bilateral stimulation march for a few steps, remaining in place, to see if it works for you.
Turn these two basic, easy techniques into part of a mental health hygiene routine. Share these techniques with friends and family. Kids can also use conscious bilateral stimulation to calm down, to feel better, to focus on homework, and to self-soothe.
The Beginning, Not the End, of The World
Social distancing has brought Angel into a renewed period of mourning for the loss of her family; it’s an ongoing sorrow, especially in a time when most of us are anxious to connect, to remind ourselves that we belong, we are part of our families and of the human family. In a recent session, Angel talked at length about losing her family, her friends, feeling that she had died to them; none of the community members that she’s known her whole life have called to see how she’s doing.
“It’s like Armageddon has already come and I’m dead!” Her face seemed to be ready to crumple. I thought she might cry. But something else happened. Her expression altered and opened; her face lit up. And her voice became stronger as she said, “But I’m not dead. Obviously! I’m ALIVE. I’ve already resurrected myself. That’s what leaving was for me. Resurrection. And it’s the only kind of resurrection I will ever know. So I’m not going to waste it.” Then she did something she’s only recently started doing, after almost thirty-three years of living: she swore, with great feeling, “Fuck that!” We burst out laughing, each leaning in to get closer on either side of our computer screens.
Here’s to self-resurrection. Here’s to spring, which shows us every year how to come alive again.
(Disclaimer: Dear Reader, this article is not a substitute for therapy or counselling. If you are experiencing serious distress, please call a hotline or a trusted friend for support.!)
(This disorder can also apply to a wife but in this article it refers to the husband)
A narcissistic husband will destroy you and destroy your life. If you are realizing that you may be married to a narcissistic husband, or you already know you are, well done! It’s not easy to recognize when you are in a mind control situation so you should give yourself a pat on the back…
So that’s the first step, being able to identify the reality of your situation. Now you have to deal with it. This means getting away from him, so that you put a stop to the abuse, and then you have to undo the damage he has done to you, and the children, if there are any.
In order to do that, you have to understand what was done to you. In fact, the more information you have about what he did and how he did it, the better for you. With this in mind, I want to explore here a very particular aspect of any relationship with a narcissistic husband. I am going to look in detail at the false personality, or pseudopersonality, that the manipulators impose on their victims and the implications of this.
You can substitute other phrases for ‘narcissistic husband’ here. You may consider that you have a ‘controlling girlfriend’, a ‘group leader’, a ‘strict boss’ or a ‘manipulative friend’. In any situation of psychological abuse the same things will apply.
Narcissistic husband – a quick summary
A narcissistic husband is all about control. He wants to control you so that you make him the purpose of your life. He wants all of your time and attention, he wants your praise and adoration and he wants to know that he has total power over you. To do this he will manipulate your beliefs, he will control your thinking and your decision making and he will manage your behaviors. He will even change how you think about the world and your place in it.
All this adds up to a change in personality for you. Friends may have commented how you are different, not yourself and so on and you may have noticed how you somehow got lost in the relationship or you may not even know who you are anymore. This is because you have had this pseudopersonality imposed on you by your narcissistic husband.
Oh, you’re back, good! In this article we will deal with the details of the pseudopersonality itself and the implications of it.
Deception from day one
From the very first encounter, the narcissist is manipulating the impressions of the victims. The narcissist makes out that they are charming, friendly and caring, as well as intelligent, wise and worldly. They understand that first impressions are important and they want to make as good a one as they can. My grandfather used to say, “Get yourself the name of an early riser and you can stay in bed all day!”
The narcissist wants people looking up to them because that creates a power imbalance in the relationship from the word go. And control and domination is what it’s all about for the narcissist. And, of course, that power means that they get their praise, compliments and adoration, their narcissistic supply, from those around them.
Using a whole range of destructive mind control techniques the narcissistic husband then imposes a collection of beliefs, ways of thinking and making decisions, ideas, emotions and behaviors on the unsuspecting wife. This is basically imposing a new personality on her, as we have outlined above.
A good way to think of the pseudopersonality is to consider that it contains the programming that the narcissistic husband wants in place. The beliefs are aligned with the thinking of the narcissist, the thinking and decision making are designed for the benefit of the manipulator and the behaviors of the pseudopersonality make the life of the narcissist more comfortable.
Think ‘slave’, but in this case the slave does not realize it is a slave. It thinks that it is making it’s own choices, that the relationship is normal and acceptable and the slave thinks that everybody is working hard for the benefit of all.
This may seem far fetched if you have never been in a mind control environment, but it is what actually goes on.
The pseudopersonality is programmed to consider the well being of the narcissistic husband above all else. Decisions are made in order to avoid upsetting him and instead to do things that are likely to be pleasing to him. Thoughts such as ‘If I do that he will be upset so I won’t bother,’ are so common for the pseudopersonality that it becomes automatic and the pseudopersonality hardly realizes that it’s doing it.
In this way a person with a pseudopersonality believes that he or she is making their own decisions. After all, they decided whether to choose A or B, they haven’t asked anyone and no-one has a gun to their head. What the person doesn’t account for is the extensive influence the narcissist has had on them up to that point. The fact that the pseudopersonality believes it is making it’s own decisions gives it a sense of control and motivates it to continue in the relationship, trying to improve things.
This starts out with the wife needing to check with him to know what to do. If often ends up with her needing to check with him to know if she is ok and even to know who she is.
The idea is that she feels that if he is ok, then she is ok, too. If he is angry or upset, then she feels bad and she may even consider that she is bad. She has been literally trained to accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong, and if he is upset, then she is at fault, and it’s because of who she is that there are problems. This kind of thinking is very detrimental to a person’s self esteem and self confidence. It means that the pseudopersonality often has a very low opinion of itself.
But to outsiders, the pseudopersonality presents a great façade. It acts as if everything is great and the relationship is marvelous. In cases like this, when the woman separates from the narcissistic husband, people are shocked because they believe the two make the ‘perfect couple’ and there did not seem to be evidence of any problems at all. They often find it hard to believe the long suffering wife’s stories about her abusive husband.
The pseudopersonality is also programmed to defend the narcissistic husband, making excuses for him when others criticize him. Even when the woman’s family can see that he is abusive, she backs him up. This can be very distressing for her family because they can’t understand how she cannot see that he is bad and abusive.
The dependency can be such that a woman cannot imagine a future without her narcissistic husband. Many people have a phobia of leaving and they even think that they would be so alone that they could even die. This obviously keeps them locked into the relationship with no other option than to stay and try and make things work in whatever way they can.
Having a pseudopersonality means that a person’s decisions and actions are not their own. These things have been shaped and controlled by the narcissistic husband using influence that is outside the awareness of the victim.
The victim does not know what is going on. They do not have all the information about their situation. Not having full knowledge and awareness of what is going on means that the woman’s decisions are not fully informed. She is making decisions with only a fraction of the available information, and even much of that is distorted! For this reason, the victim is not responsible for what happened to them. (This typically takes a person months of study to fully understand how and why this is true.)
The pseudopersonality co-exists with the real personality but it dominates and suppresses it. This idea helps to explain the internal battle that many women experience while with a narcissistic husband.
One part of them wants one thing. Another part wants the opposite.
The real personality wants to leave the relationship. The pseudopersonality is programmed to stay. The pseudopersonality can hardly wait for him to return to the house, the real personality is disgusted at the thought of being with him again. The pseudopersonality loves him, the real personality hates the things he does. The pseudopersonality feels that it needs to look after him, the real personality logically knows the situation is not fair, bad or even detrimental.
These contradictory emotions, or contradictory thoughts and emotions, are very distressing for the woman and there is no way to resolve this situation until the pseudopersonality is removed. While it is in place, however, the woman, not understanding what is being done to her, can easily blame herself for not being able to sort things out. Many women feel that they may actually be going crazy! And at the same time they also have a sense that it’s not them that is the problem but that there is something wrong with him, but they just can’t put their finger on what it is.
A narcissistic husband installs a pseudopersonality over time using powerful influence techniques that are repeated time and time again. The pseudopersonality is forced onto the victim without their knowledge or consent. The victim is therefore not in a position to resist mentally. In fact, in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, the victim is a ‘willing’ participant, so to speak. This is the nature of mind control, the victim thinks that the abuser is actually helping them and is genuinely looking out for them. Therefore it is easy for them to go along with what is happening.
These factors, along with the fact that a person’s core beliefs are changed, mean that the pseudopersonality can be quite durable. Just because a woman leaves a narcissistic husband does not mean that the pseudopersonality disappears. It actually persists and it will last for decades unless the victim does something about it.
Some aspects of the pseudopersonality may disappear or weaken with time, but most of it does not.
First of all, the persistence of the belief system and behavior patterns, which are not designed for the benefit of the victim, causes problems of all sorts with trust, relationships, sleep, concentration, memory, decision-making, digestive issues, identity issues and emotional disturbances.
Secondly, if a person does not recognize that they were in an abusive relationship, they break up and try and put things behind them. Later, when problems arise, they do not associate these problems with the abusive relationship and the pseudopersonality. They may seek help for said problems without realizing where the problems originated. Unless the therapist recognizes the source of the problem as being the abusive relationship, the problem will be treated in isolation. This rarely gives satisfactory results.
More abusive situations
A person who has a pseudopersonality has various beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that have been installed as part of the pseudopersonality. Obviously, pseudopersonalities share many common beliefs and behaviors because each pseudopersonality is designed to be subservient, obedient, dependent and loyal.
For example, the pseudopersonality is programmed to accept responsibility whenever things go wrong so that many people blame themselves when anything around them is not working out. They do this even when there is no way that things are their fault. The behavioral manifestation of this pattern is the pseudopersonality apologizing very frequently, even for the smallest of things.
Another common trait of the pseudopersonality is expressed when somebody treats a pseudopersonality very nicely. The pseudopersonality is so used to being treated badly that when someone treats it well, it is extremely grateful. So grateful, in fact, that it wants to make sure that the person doing the nice things knows how grateful it is. What do you notice? The pseudopersonality says ‘thank you’ a lot and may be very effusive in expressing gratitude, including going over the top in returning the good behavior, buying a small gift and so on.
The excessive apologizing and expressing of gratitude are but two examples of the evidence of the presence of a pseudopersonality. There are all sorts of other beliefs and behaviors that indicate that a person has been manipulated or abused in the past, if you know what you are looking for.
Psychopaths and narcissists know exactly what they are looking for. They recognize these indicators as soon as they meet someone. After all, they are used to imposing these things on their victims!
The reason this is important is that when a psychopath, sociopath or narcissist meets a new person, if they see the signs of a pseudopersonality, they know that person will be an easy target for them. So they set their sights on them and go for it.
The only way to take the target off your back is to get rid of your pseudopersonality. Trying to forget your abusive situations will never work. The damage is too deep and you can’t hide it from the predators. You don’t even know what they are looking for, so how can you hide from them?!
Trying to manage narcissists and psychopaths won’t work either. They are so much more sly and devious than you could ever be, and they are way better at destroying limits and boundaries than you ever will be at putting them in place.
A further complication here is that the pseudopersonality is programmed to reveal things about itself. The narcissistic husband needs information to keep the manipulation going so he programs the pseudopersonality to reveal things to him. This pattern is insidious and often extremely strong and when a woman leaves her narcissistic husband, the pattern persists. She ends up revealing all sorts of things about herself to others, often complete strangers. If the listener or reader is a narcissist, the woman is giving them all the info they need to pick up where the narcissistic husband left off.
So what to do about a narcissistic husband
You really need to leave. While you are in the relationship, the abuse continues, the pseudopersonality is constantly reinforced and you suffer while your life is being stolen away from you. I know it’s incredibly difficult to get out and it’s still something that has to be done.
Then you have to undo the pseudopersonality. Working with an expert is worth your while. It will save you time, money and heartache. Having professional help going through a divorce from someone you know is abusive, and who is guaranteed to play dirty, is invaluable.
Until you get rid of the pseudopersonality you will have that man in your head, acting like a malignant psychiatrist. Your life won’t be your own and you will continue to be affected by him. If there are children, you owe it to them to get rid of your pseudopersonality so that you can help them to get rid of theirs. The risk of not doing that is that they grow up with a pseudopersonality and fall prey to other narcissists and end up being caught in an abusive relationship themselves as adults.
The emergence of COVID-19 as a public health emergency by the World Health Organization has led to a number of precautionary measures such as quarantines, social distancing or in some cases total lockdown in region or countries around the world.
For the first time since WWII, Europeans have been confronted with such restrictions and have to adjust to new realities where the future is unpredictable. Keeping a job and earning a living have become uncertain, especially for those who are already in a precarious situation, leading to greater levels of stress and anxiety. Furthermore, limiting access to normal daily activities, not just going to work, but normal social interactions with others provokes mental health issues, and weakens physical health for those who already struggle to maintain good health and wellbeing.
This situation is particularly worrying for prisoners, who may experience greater mental health effects as they are deprived of external social contacts for a longer period. Children are also affected by social isolation and the mental health issues this provokes. For those who already experiencing loneliness, the social distancing required to stop the pandemic only further raises their feelings of social isolation.
Feelings of loneliness and social isolation, heightened by the current public health crisis, can have severe health consequences for a number of socio-economic groups. Anxiety and apathy, as well as loneliness, are some of the mental health consequences that will persist long after the pandemic ends, while the increased feelings of depression and stress, especially during a time of uncertainty, may have serious impacts on public health, increasing people’s vulnerability to poor health, and weakening society as a whole. Social isolation should not become a norm, even if some specific circumstances require social distancing. These two terms are often used interchangeably but their meanings should be clearly distinguished and used in an appropriate manner. Indeed, it may be more appropriate to talk about “physical distancing” instead.
Tackling the pandemic and preventing its further spread is vital for society, but such measures do not mean there should be a collapse in social contact. The impact of isolation and loneliness should not be under-estimated or fall to the bottom of politicians’ lists of priorities as inaction now will lead to high human and financial costs later on. The strong social and economic arguments should be enough to convince decision makers that they also need to take urgent action to tackle people’s social isolation especially those in a vulnerable situation. Developing effective interventions, including prevention measures is not an easy task during a public health emergency when priorities have to be redefined and public spending has to be urgently reallocated; but consideration of these issues now can widely contribute to limiting the long-term effects of the current crisis.
In an era when digital technology is an integral part of people’s lives, public authorities must deploy their capacity to meet people’s needs and address both the physical and mental health impacts of social isolation. Online medical consultations can support doctors and patients to ensure proper medical follow-up, which is widely affected by confinement. Such a measure will demonstrate the role of digital technologies in the health sector and provide an effective response to patients’ needs – allowing patients to be properly diagnosed and avoid self-medication that can additionally worsen people’s health during a health emergency.
The possibility for online discussion with a health professional or a psychologist is another concrete action that can help reduce anxiety and panic and overcome feelings of being alone or powerlessness. Virtual thematic discussions and group activities offered by social workers can also help combat social isolation – people can be part of a collective where they can “meet” and discuss with others, their common values and interests. Teachers play an important role for child’s socialization, through online classes, as well as extra-school activities that can meet children’s specific social needs.
“It’s funny how sometimes the people you’d take the bullet for, are the ones behind the trigger.”
What exactly is parental alienation in the context of a narcissistic relationship?
It is the dynamic that occurs when a child is manipulated by the narcissistic parent to reject the other, healthy and empathic parent. It happens because the narcissistic parent uses a type of invisible coercion to convince the child that the other parent is no good. In essence, the narcissistic parent teaches his/her child to hate his/her other parent, and uses the child as a weapon to hurt the other, non-narcissistic parent.
Often this is done by implication and non-verbal communication, such as when a child returns home from being with the targeted parent and the narcissist acts overly concerned or alarmed by anything that may have gone on at the targeted parent’s house; by acting as if there is cause for distress, and that the child is very fortunate to be away from that “unhealthy environment…”
Why would a child be so willing to reject his/her “good” parent in exchange for the emotionally dysfunctional personality disordered parent?
This occurs because the child sees and feels the rejection and discard of the targeted parent by the abusive parent, and internalizes a deep and powerful fear that if he/she does not identify with the “favored” parent then he/she too will be rejected by the narcissist. In fact, the child will enmesh with the rejecting parent in order to ensure his/her protection from the same fateful rejection as the targeted parent.
The child is unconsciously experiencing a type of trauma bond/Stockholm syndrome phenomenon within the parental relationship. Liken it to being in a cult. In a cult, members learn to be loyal to the charismatic leader at the expense of friends, family, and society! It really is astonishing how it happens.
The narcissist, just like a charismatic cult leader, convinces his/her child that he/she is “special” and “favored” by aligning with him/her (the narcissist.) Reality gets flipped on its head and the other parent is considered to be the dangerous one, while the narcissist becomes a hero of sorts.
Typically, in a narcissistic family, there is a “golden child” and a “scapegoat.” In either case, the family has experienced viscerally the unspoken dynamics at play within the family. Often, during a divorce, the scapegoated child may all of a sudden experience the narcissistic parent paying close attention to him/her, meeting the felt needs of the child that have long been unmet within the child’s psyche.
The child has been starving for attention from the narcissistic parent, so, when all of a sudden he/she starts receiving deeply coveted attention, any sense of analysis or logic is suspended. It’s like a person dying of thirst, receiving that long overdue glass of ice sparkling water. Even if the narcissist has been abusive, hurtful, or neglectful of the child in the past, because of abuse amnesia, it doesn’t matter. The child’s needs become satisfied in an instant and all is forgiven and forgotten.
And, if the child feels secure with the parent who has always been there emotionally for the child, he/she will find it easy to be manipulated by the narcissistic parent because intrinsically, he/she knows that his bond is safe with the empathic parent. It is much easier to reject someone you know will never leave, than it is to reject someone you can barely hold on to.
For the child, the unconscious choice is an emotional survival strategy. One of the problems with abusive relationships is that they create unmet needs in those involved with the abusive person. When the narcissist starts wooing the child, it requires very little to win him/her over. Once this happens, then alienation of the targeted parent begins.
In reality, the narcissist does not love his/her child in a real way. Real love would not deprive a person from a loving, empathic relationship.
In addition to this, we must not forget that people with narcissism suffer from delusional thinking. On some warped level, the narcissist actually believes his/her own lies. He/she destroyed the relationship with the targeted parent in the first place, creating a drama in his/her mind that made the “good” parent the villain; while, the narcissist believes, erroneously, that he/she is the truly injured party.
To add more power to the dynamic, because the narcissist believes his/her own lies, he/she is VERY convincing to everyone – particularly his/her vulnerable children. He/she propagandizes his delusional narrative.
The other (empathic) parent does not see it coming and cannot compete with the lunacy of it all. Since the empathic parent is most-likely conscientious and plays fair, he/she is not equipped to even enter the battle field with the narcissist’s weaponry – seduction, manipulation, smear campaigns, delusional complexes, believed confabulation, reality twisting, and utter insanity. The targeted parent is completely out-witted.
One of the hardest things to experience is the betrayal wound that occurs when your own child grows up to hate you. I have seen this numerous times in my life, to the point that I am compelled to write about it.
Parents who have been rejected by one or more of their children experience a type of pain that is not matched by any other – even the betrayal of a spouse or parent.
If you are a parent who has been rejected by your child or children then hopefully this paper will be beneficial to you. Of course, if you were and still are an abusive parent, then perhaps your child did what was necessary in order to protect him or herself from further abuse; but, if you are a typical, “good enough” parent, then your child’s rejection is unnatural and unhealthy – for all involved.
What types of children reject their parent(s) in this respect? (Note: these options are not mutually exclusive.)
Children with Narcissistic Parental Alienation Syndrome
Children with attachment trauma
Children with personality disorders
If you are experiencing the heart ache of a child who rejected you, then you probably feel devastated, hurt, confused, angry, furious, misunderstood, shocked, invalidated, and empty. Was I a bad parent? Why did my children turn against me? What could I have done differently? Maybe I said “no” too many times. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on him/her. Where did I go wrong?
Many questions enter your mind.
Usually, children, no matter what, are loyal to their parents – even very neglectful and abusive ones. When a child rejects a parent it usually has something to do with something else other than abuse or neglect. In fact, when a person cuts ties with an abusive or neglectful parent it is usually a difficult process and requires the child to set difficult boundaries, and is nearly impossible to do.
What about the parent whose child rejects them easily or with no sense of conscience or remorse, acting as if their parent were Attila the Hun, using criticism and judgment as tools of attack against the parent; using every weakness of the parent as justification for the ostracizing him/her? This type of parental rejection is not natural and is usually the result of one of the above three mentioned possibilities.
I will discuss each option here.
Children with Narcissistic Parental Alienation Syndrome:
This is the dynamic that occurs when a child is manipulated by the narcissistic parent to reject the other, healthy and empathic parent. It happens because the narcissistic parent uses a type of invisible coercion to convince the child that the other parent is no good. In essence, the narcissistic parent teaches his/her child to hate his/her other parent, and uses the child as a weapon to hurt the other, non-narcissistic parent.
Often this is done by implication and non-verbal communication, such as when a child returns home from being with the targeted parent and the narcissist acts overly concerned or alarmed by anything that may have gone on at the targeted parent’s house; by acting as if there is cause for distress, and that the child is very fortunate to be away from that “unhealthy environment…”
For further information on the topic of Narcissistic Parental Alienation, please click here.
Children with attachment trauma:
While attachment occurs all through the human lifespan, the most crucial time in a human being’s life for attachment is between the times of birth to two years. If the child experiences a breach in time, away from the mother, for any reason – be it abuse, neglect, or something else prevents the mother from being present and attuned to her child, then attachment trauma results.
Once a child has not connected properly with his/her mother, then the child did not develop the appropriate skills for having a healthy interpersonal attachment. A mother needs to provide the necessary attunement and resonance needed to learn how to love and trust another person. When a child is not given that type of relational input, he/she adjusts or copes by shutting down his/her needs. This results in later relationship problems, particularly involving the relationship with the mother, or anyone else offering intimacy and nurturing.
Children with personality disorders:
There appears to be a genetic component to personality disorders. If a child has a parent or other person in his biological family with a personality disorder, or even other mental illness, then perhaps he/she has inherited a biological propensity to have a personality disorder him/herself.
According to Google dictionary, a personality disorder is defined as: “a deeply ingrained and maladaptive pattern of behavior of a specified kind, typically manifest by the time one reaches adolescence and causing long-term difficulties in personal relationships or in functioning in society.”
As you can see by this definition that people with personality disorders are not easy to have close relationships with; this would include parent-child relationships.
What to do?
The best advice I can offer is as follows:
Ask your child what he or she needs from you in order to repair the relationship. If your child tells you something specific, just listen and determine if you can honor your child’s request. If it is reasonable and sincere, than do your best to repair what has been broken.
Don’t act on your feelings of defensiveness. If you feel defensive, learn to talk within your own head and keep your mouth shut. You should not defend yourself to your child. You can say something neutral, such as, “I have a different perspective on the story, but I’m not going to defend myself because it won’t be productive.”
Expect Respect. Realize that no matter what, everyone deserves to be treated with respect – including you.
Don’t idealize your children or your relationship with them. Yes, our children are the most important people in our lives, but they should not be idealized or enshrined. They are mere mortals just like you and I.If your child is rejecting you, it’s one thing to feel disappointed and sad, but it becomes unhealthy if you can’t focus on anything else other than that. You are best served to remind yourself that you have other relationships that are important as well, and learn to focus on the ones that work.
Grieve. Allow yourself to feel the sadness of being rejected by your child. Grieve over the loss of the innocence that the relationship once was. Grieve over your lost child – even though he or she is still alive. In your world, he/she is no longer part of your life. That sense of “what can I do?” keeps you yearning and longing for reconciliation; but sometimes reconciliation is not forthcoming.
Live one day at a time. Even if you have no contact with your child today, you have no way of knowing what tomorrow may bring. None of us does. The best thing we can do is to live the best way we know how today. When you can focus on one day only, you feel less hopeless and desperate. Remind yourself, “I cannot predict the future.”
Don’t beg. No matter how hurt or desperate you feel to have a relationship with your rejecting child, never stoop to the level of begging for attention or even forgiveness. You will not be respected by your child if you beg and it will demean your position as a parent.
Be empowered. Don’t let your rejecting child steal your personal power. Just because you are having difficulties in this area of your life, don’t get to the place where you feel personally defeated. Do what it takes to be good to yourself – seek therapy, join a support group, travel, go to the gym, do whatever you can to own your own power and stop giving it away to anyone else.
One thing that is certain about life is that it is about all about letting go. As parents our job is to raise our children to the best of our ability and teach them how to be independent, productive adults. If, during the process, they choose a path we don’t agree with, we must remind ourselves that we can’t live their lives for them. Learning to let go is the best way to manage any part of life that doesn’t go the way we expect, including when our children choose to reject us.
As we continue into uncharted times with the COVID-19 pandemic, we must change our focus to how we can combat this virus and support one another during this crisis. This global pandemic affects each and every one of us. Unfortunately, not everyone believes in science and nor is taking it seriously. Too many people are going against the suggestions of medical professionals and scientists, putting all of us at risk. Estimates now are that due to a lack of proper preparation to accept tests offered by WHO, as well as masks, alcohol wipes, and ventilators from suppliers, 100,000 – 240,000 Americans might die due to this virus, potentially millions. There is currently NO national shelter in place order with specific guidelines for essential people and services, which must continue. Things are being organized state by state. Epidemiologists state the virus does not respect artificial boundaries.
Additionally, religious leaders are using fear of the End Times to manipulate members. (I wrote about this last week, here.) And others refuse to stop meeting as a congregation, claiming they are essential and trust in God to protect them. One such example is a megachurch in Louisiana. Texas Pastors are asking for a religious exemption to the stay at home order.
Even more disturbing is Ralph Drollinger, who runs a weekly Bible study for Trump administration Cabinet officials and other politicians, suggested the coronavirus pandemic is due to God’s wrath over homosexuality and environmentalism. I wrote about Drollinger, the Christian Right, and the influence they have on today’s political administration, in my book, The Cult of Trump.
This brings me to this week, where I had a chance to interview the award-winning author and media analyst, Anne Nelson. I learned much by reading her book, Shadow Network, and it largely validated a lot of what I wrote about in The Cult of Trump. Her research and insights are invaluable into the network and 501C-3 Council for National Policy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already gained its place on the dark side of world history for a variety of reasons: sudden onset, speed of global transmission, mistakes in recognition and management, politically inspired neglect or minimizations. The already dramatic infection and mortality figures have led to seemingly desperate and extreme government decisions in many countries. Its social, economic/financial, and public health impact is very impressive and, obviously, more powerful and damaging among the poor and disadvantaged population segments worldwide.
Not surprisingly, the mental health implications of this crisis were recognized early in the process. Psychopathological and clinical terms were used from the beginning by the media and social networks to describe attitudes, pronouncements, reactions, and behaviors from individuals and groups in different scenarios: fear, cynicism, lies, or denial moving to anxiety, panic, hysteria, and even . The scope of these words quickly broadened and became the subject o administrative, community-oriented measures, including the need to provide mental health or psychological counseling. From the perspective of the mental health professions, it is important to assess the emotional impact of some of those dispositions themselves. One of the most relevant examples is that related to the so-called social distance, later enlarged to social isolation, first as part of preventive health care advice, and then, as a critical component of “shelter in place” or total lockdown decrees.
Every type of adverse situation, particularly in the health field, entails uncertainties and ambiguities. A measure such as “social distance,” for instance, is dictated in the name of social integrity, protection or solidarity; the imposition of “social isolation” invoked individual and group safety as its raison d’être. Social isolation may be just a phrase but, under the present circumstances, it is certainly a public policy order, a commandment, with intimations of punishment if and when not duly followed. It is precisely the type of disposition that can lead to a unique mood state, a multifaceted cognitive/emotional experience, mental feature—loneliness—that in some cases may generate demoralization and well-defined clinical conditions.1 In fact, the sequence of social isolationàloneliness constitutes an excellent example of both an etio-pathogenic route and a source of individual reflections, an opportunity of self-examination leading to a therapeutic pathway.
The many faces of loneliness
The term was first used at the end of the 16th century to define “the condition of being solitary.” In 1677, Milton’s Paradise Lost featured one of the first lonely characters in British literature, Satan, who describes his loneliness in terms of vulnerability. The word acquired its concrete meaning of “feeling of being dejected from want of companionship or sympathy,” only by the start of the 19th century. In an interesting essay, Worsley2 emphasizes “lonely spaces” as places in which one might meet “someone who could do you harm, with no one else around to help.” The term has evolved from being “usually relegated to the space outside the city,” that is, a merely physical condition to “moving inward . . . taking up residence inside minds, even the minds of people living in bustling cities.” The author concludes that by doing this, loneliness has brought “wilderness inside us.”
Thus, loneliness exhibits a complex conceptual journey. The dictionary definitions of being without company, unfrequented, isolated, or lonesome describe an individual feeling as well as a social experience, a perception of abandonment and/or a desire for company or refuge; the latter can also make of loneliness an existential state, a way of looking at life and people as components of a reality that belongs to others. Still, away from a truly clinical nature but already delineating fragile junctures, loneliness may have solitude as a synonym, a very personal requirement for the exercise of meditation or reflections—a refuge, again.
The feeling of loneliness leads initially to reflections about what is going on at the present time. The uncertainties of a future worst-case scenario (eg, positive coronavirus test, gradual onset of symptoms, hospitalization, complications, etc) may give place, later, to reflections about one’s own life, expectations and hopes, accomplishments and failures, self-criticisms and self-condemnations, a sense of no-return. Missing alternatives in the near or distant past, grateful moments unable to be re-lived, failed job opportunities or attempts to improve or excel, the present (or absent) impact of religion, spirituality, romantic encounters, personal phantasies, or impossible dreams are all material agitated by the apparently quiet psychological surface of loneliness.
Mother’s Day is Sunday. Will you be celebrating, hibernating, or going through the motions? For so many people for so many reasons, Mother’s Day is not always a day of celebration.
A couple of years ago, about this time of year, I was talking with a pastor friend of mine. I mentioned how hard Mother’s Day is for women who are struggling with infertility and for birth mothers who have placed a child for adoption. I suppose I thought I might be helping to educate her on the complexities of this day of celebrating motherhood. It turns out that she needed no education on these complexities.
My pastor friend sighed and surprised me by saying that Mother’s Day is a nightmare for the church and that she was always thankful when it was over.
It’s not just the infertile who find this day painful, but also anyone who has lost a child or is estranged from a child.
Women whose children are struggling with addiction or are in jail often find Mother’s Day sad too since some feel like failures as a mother.
Single women who want to be a mom and feel time passing them by feel their loss more intensely on this day set aside to celebrate the joys of motherhood.
Moms who have placed their children through adoption may feel their empty arms more intensely on Mother’s Day.
And then there is the view from the other side of the mother/child relationship: women who have lost their mothers or are estranged from their mothers may dread this day that reminds them of their loss.
Suffering Silently Through Mother’s Day
I thought of how myopic I’ve been. As a daughter, I liked having a day to honor my mother. As a mom, I liked having a day where my kids and husband honor me. As someone immersed in the world of infertility and adoption, I was aware of how Mother’s Day affects the infertile and birthmothers. If I had taken the time to think it through, I would have realized of course, that they aren’t alone in their suffering, but honestly, I hadn’t taken this time.
So many who suffer through Mother’s Day are invisible. Other than your close friends, you don’t know who has had three miscarriages, or hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, or doesn’t hear from her grown son other than once a year, or who placed a child for adoption years before. But then pain is often invisible unless you’re the one feeling it, isn’t it?
So as you sit in church this Sunday or at a restaurant surrounded by your family at your celebration lunch, look around you. Really look at the people who are there and recognize that not all are celebrating. Also notice who isn’t there; who is holed up at home watching a Law & Order marathon with a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s because it is simply too painful to participate.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted widespread panic buying, with people stripping stores of hand sanitizers, face masks, toilet paper, hand soap, thermometers, medications — just about anything they fear will soon disappear from the shelves.
Some of that buying is rational, such as making sure you have enough medication to treat chronic medical conditions, for example. But much of it is irrational, such as filling up a shopping cart with toilet paper rolls (and then having a fistfight over it).
As BBC reporter Bryan Lufkin points out in an article on the psychology of panic buying, there are real-world consequences to such behavior, for panic buying “can drive up prices and take essential goods out of the hands of people who need them most (such as face masks for health workers).”
So why do people do it? “Experts say the answer lies in a fear of the unknown, and believing that a dramatic event warrants a dramatic response — even though, in this case, the best response is something as mundane as washing your hands,” writes Lufkin.
“Under circumstances like these, people feel the need to do something that’s proportionate to what they perceive is the level of the crisis,” Taylor said. “We know that washing your hands and practicing coughing hygiene is all you need to do at this point.”
“But for many people, hand-washing seems to be too ordinary,” he added. “This is a dramatic event, therefore a dramatic response is required, so that leads to people throwing money at things in hopes of protecting themselves.”
The need for risk aversion
Experts also say panic buying can be understood as the intersection of three powerful psychological phenomena: herd behavior, loss aversion and regret.
“Herd behaviour explains why we like to buy popular products, or join queues without knowing where they’re going,” writes Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reporter James Purtill in an article attempting to make sense of why so many people have felt a need to stockpile toilet paper. “Loss aversion is about our fear of missing out — we tend to think it’s better to have extra of something than miss out.”
As David Savage, a behavioral economist at the University of Newcastle told Purtill, “The bigger problem for us is when loss aversion starts to kick in and we start thinking about what would happen if I currently have the opportunity to buy this product and I choose not to, and then down the track, when I am isolated, I run out, that’s when we hit regret.”
“Regret is a really, really powerful motivator. It actually makes us feel way worse than just loss,” he added. “Not only is it missing out on something, it’s missing out on something that I had the choice to fix. That’s a really big kicker, that one.