It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

When your N dies, the flying monkeys take over...

For most of my life I didn’t know what a flying monkey was but the minute I heard the description I knew I had one: my brother, Pete. Reflecting over time I came to realize he was not the only one, but he was by far the most blatant.
Pete didn’t bother with gaslighting, he told lies—big, bold, outright lies—and because he was the GC, my mother gobbled them up like candy. They didn’t even have to make logical sense…if Pete said it, then that was the truth. If it contradicted what I was saying, I was a liar. Period.
Needless to say, Pete and I were never close and when we became adults we led lives so disparate that our paths never even accidentally crossed. It should have been a red flag to me, then, when out of the blue my brother showed up at my front door one sunny afternoon. Last I heard, he was in the military and stationed overseas. But, never having had a real relationship with most of my family, I was cheered that he made the time to come and see me and meet the niece and nephew who were strangers to him.
When my mother started dropping in unannounced bearing gifts for the children (junk that fell apart almost before she went home), it should have been another red flag but it wasn’t. Naïvely I thought that she was trying to create a relationship with me—finally! at last!—but the truth turned out to something far more sinister. Within the year my mother would have a guardianship of my children, gained under false pretences and with perjured testimony and the assistance of my brother, and then she would disappear with them.
One of the things we tend to forget when dealing with flying monkeys is that they really aren’t the auntie or cousin or dear friend we remember from childhood—not any more. Whether you have recognized it or not, there is a war going on in your family and they have been recruited by—or volunteered themselves to—the other side, the side headed up by your N(s), the side that is out to sabotage and undermine you and herd you back into the role created for you by your N so that she can play out her drama. These are not people who you can “talk sense into,” nor are they people who will take to heart your side of the issue, even if they will sit and listen to your own tale of woe: all they will do with that is take it back to your N where it will be downloaded and analysed in order to fine-tune the N's campaign against you.
So what happens when your N dies? You would think that without their unifying leader, the gang would fall apart and they would all go their separate ways, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, that is all too infrequent. Sadly, not only do the flying monkeys stick around and even continue their evil undertakings, they often take over right where your N left off.
It would not be unusual for the death notices, obituaries and funeral arrangements to be handled by one of the flying monkeys. Even the in-family announcements can be manipulated to put you “in your place.” I learned of my mother’s death, for example, from my daughter. My brother, executor of her will and listed as next of kin in her papers (despite me being the eldest), couldn’t be bothered to call and tell me…he told my daughter and she told me. This is how scapegoats get left out of the obituaries: my NM’s obit listed all three of my children (including the youngest one who my NM had refused to meet or acknowledge for all of his 26 years) and it listed my grandchildren—but my name was left out.
The flying monkeys may be in charge of the estate and even be named trustees on monies to which you are entitled, and they will attempt to control you on behalf of your deceased narcissist. From outright redirecting your legacy elsewhere to suggesting you give some of it to them or their family to flat-out stealing that which should be yours, the flying monkeys who have their fingers in the N's estate will do their best to get as much—and leave you as little—as they possibly can.
But even after the last clod of earth is heaped on the grave, the last silver spoon distributed, the last farthing sent on its way, your N still has reach beyond the grave through the flying monkeys she left behind. These people will not change the way they treat you, they will not listen to your side of things any more now than they would while your N was alive and if they appear to, it is with a bias that allows them to turn what you are saying into an attack on the dead. They may even tell you how unfair you are being, saying bad things about a person who is no longer there to defend themselves.
You may be called upon to give a eulogy for your N, a double-edged sword that will force you to either decline (and be gossiped about as being spiteful) or to get up in front of people and lie about the person who was your chief tormentor. You could always oblige and get up and tell the truth, but that would strike horror into the hearts of everyone present and end up with you being ostracised and possibly even called a narcissist yourself for turning a funeral into an event all about you.
Flying monkeys will make it as difficult for you as possible, less out of intent than just pure insensitivity. Cultural rituals like throwing dirt or flowers into the grave or who keeps/scatters the ashes, where these rituals will be held—for any of these you may find yourself assigned tasks—or you may be treated like you simply do not exist and the whole thing goes on around you, with you present but not a participant.
If you are anything like me, you will react to news of your Ns death with a combination of elation over being finally set free and a painful sinking feeling as you recognize that there is no longer any time or hope of your N becoming a real human being who acknowledges and apologizes for all of the pain s/he inflicted on you over the years. That brought me to tears, even while I smiled at that other shoe having finally dropped. Your feelings about your deceased N will be assumed by others, nobody will ask how you feel because nobody really cares. Your N has trained them to view you in the same way s/he did, and that will not melt away with the narcissist’s death.
It will not be, I am sorry to say, a time of rejoicing your freedom and subsequent re-entry into the bosom of the FOO because your N has poisoned that well and left the flying monkeys to guard it.

In the Western culture we grow up with the idea that the death rituals of our particular segment of the culture are important and provide a meaningful emotional service to survivors: closure. That may well be true for many, but for us, for those who were not beloved family members but scapegoats and victims, it doesn’t really work that way. Seeing a tormentor safely buried six feet under doesn’t change how s/he behaved in life, doesn’t change the legacy of hurt and abuse and now-unresolved issues that you carry with you. My brother got $300,000 and the confirmation that he was our mother’s favourite; I got nothing but more lies about me read aloud at the reading of our mother’s Will. That is the legacy I was left: her everlasting enmity.
But I learned some important things as a result of my malignant narcissistic mother’s death: I learned that funerals and death rituals do not bring closure, closure, such as it is, comes from within each of us regardless of rituals or ceremonies or the lack thereof. I learned that, despite her last-ditch efforts to hurt me for the rest of my days with her snide little remarks in her Will, I can analyse what was said and done—and even the reactions of others—and come away with a more complete picture not only of my mother, but myself as well.
Did it hurt when she rejected me for all eternity and did her level best to humiliate me in front of the assembled family weeks after she had been cremated? Yes and no. On the one hand, I fully expected it. On the other hand, that little glimmer of hope that continued to flicker in my breast, that hope that in the very end she would relent and include me in the family of her heart, flickered out. I would no longer be tormented with the desire for, no longer surreptitiously seek a “sign” hidden in her words, that her heart had changed. No amount of reviewing old conversations or interactions would ever glean the hoped-for sign, the granting of the deeply buried wish for a real mother, could ever surpass the brazen truth of her feelings as revealed in her will. The cat was dead and the mouse now could choose: stick around for more torment from all of the well-trained kittens? Or GTF out of there?
I got out.

I didn’t go to the memorial service or attend the scattering of her ashes. I pondered them and realized that the rituals were hollow and without redeeming merit, at least for me. When I briefly considered going, I knew that I had become so devoted to the truth of who and what she was (even though at that time I knew nothing of narcissism) that I would likely find it impossible to sit quietly through a litany of lies about how wonderful she was. I knew that if I found my way to the podium to speak, my truth would be alien to the assembled who had not been her victim and who, if they had ever witnessed her abuse of me, were sure I had earned it. I would be a pariah, whether I spoke or not. Those people on my mother’s side of my family who actually loved me were already dead and those who remained were either ignorant of who she really was or they knew and were okay with it. And I realized that I did not need to be there, not even for “closure.” I already had my closure when my brother read to me, over the phone, the parts of my mother’s Will that referenced me. It was all I needed: she slammed the door in my face—but I am the one who put the lock on it.
When your N dies, you will be conflicted and you may very likely be in unexpected pain. Even if you have been NC for ten years, some part of your subconscious may be holding that little flicker of hope that, before she dies, your N will finally come around and try to make amends. But your N doesn’t know when she will die, so if she ever had such an intent, it is very unlikely to ever occur simply because that last minute she was waiting for came and went without warning and she was gone before she could say anything. Even in this, even if she wanted to fix it, she wanted that dramatic exit—to say her piece and then leave dramatically with a final exhalation and no opportunity for you to ask questions.
When your N dies, the flying monkeys you know about will mass and ones you don’t know about will come out of the woodwork. You won’t even be spared this if you and your parents were all only children—there will be somebody put him- or herself in your path as an FM, someone who remembers how wonderful your N was, someone who will not respect either your feelings or your truth.
When your N dies, if you aren’t in charge of the final arrangements, one of them will be and your feelings will not be considered in the making of those arrangements. When my late husband died, I had never met his daughter despite a 12-year relationship with her father: she had simply indefinitely postponed any meetings he tried to set up—he had grandchildren he had never met and she only lived 200 miles away. And yet, I contacted her to find when a funeral would be convenient for her, knowing she worked, had young kids, and had a 200 mile trip to make. Don’t expect that kind of consideration from those who make the arrangements, and don’t be surprised to learn of the arrangements from the published obituary that omits your name.
But know this: when your N dies, you do not need rituals and ceremonies and formalities for closure because those are not where your sense of closure comes from. Closure, in fact, is a modern myth, a fairy-tale substitute for the old-fashioned work of learning to cope with loss through the grieving process and acceptance of painful reality[1]. Only when you have experienced the grief and processed the experience and come to the acceptance of the new reality can you hope to find that feeling that can be identified as “closure.” And trust me, if you still have your N’s flying monkeys in your life, your path to that peace and acceptance is going to be longer and harder than it needs to be and they may even prevent you from getting there at all.
Why? Because they don’t care about you and your feelings. They are sycophants of the N you have buried and they will keep her memory—and her perspectives—alive. Just when you are beginning to feel you have a handle on your N’s rejection, just as you think you are finding acceptable explanations for things and can put them to rest, a flying monkey can appear and shoot you down. This isn’t a train wreck if you are expecting it and are prepared for it, but if you aren’t aware and prepared, being blindsided in this way can be devastating, cause you to doubt yourself, and knock you off the path to healing and acceptance that you were doing so well on. Flying monkeys believe all of the shit your N has said about you, they trust her perspective as being correct, they see you through her eyes. And if you think that this will dim as time goes on, I am sorry to say that, in truth, because of confirmation bias, it will only get worse: they will be seeing you through her eyes and they will habituate that and, despite the fact that your N is dead and buried, she can live on in the minds and hearts of her flying monkeys.
So what to do about it? Well, first of all, recognize this is a real thing and if you escape it, you are lucky. Be prepared for it. How? By simply knowing this may happen, recognizing it when it does, and dismissing it as the ravings of a puppet, a parrot, a person who would rather accept someone else’s opinions than do the work of thinking for themselves.
Don’t do things you don’t want to do because of pressure or concern for what others might think. They are flying monkeys—they are going to think ill of you no matter what you choose to do, so do what works for you. Don’t want to go to the funeral or ceremonies? Don’t. Will they talk bad about your absence? Yes. But they will talk bad about your presence, too, so do what makes you feel best. I didn’t go to my NM’s memorial service or the reading of her Will and it stirred up gossip; but if I had gone, that would have stirred up gossip as well so I did what was best for me: I stayed home. But if attending is what works for you, if you need to make sure she really is dead by looking at her corpse in the coffin, by all means go. Don’t let the prospect of other people talking behind their hands about you get in your way.
With your N dead, you now have unprecedented opportunities to start making choices entirely for yourself. Yes, the FMs will keep her legacy of ill-will alive but they won’t be expending the kind of energy your NM expended in slighting and hurting you. They don’t have the motivation and while their incursions into your life will be disconcerting, they won’t have the same impact. They are also more likely to give up and leave you alone with only the occasional missile sent in your direction: with your N dead, their primary impetus for dropping bombs into your life is gone. Given enough time, they will likely find more rewarding ways to waste their time. If you can just refrain from giving them the satisfaction of knowing that their barbs have hit home, without your N there to encourage them, the appearance of FMs will likely diminish over time until they become little more than an unpleasant memory.
But do expect them when the drama of your N’s death is fresh, and don’t let them herd you in any direction you don’t already want to go: do what works for you, ignore them to the greatest extent possible, and look forward to a much more peaceful life when the rituals are over and you have processed that little flicker of hope that, until now, has refused to die.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Emotional abuse v physical abuse: Which is worse?

Anyone who has spent any time reading this blog is well aware that I suffered both emotional and physical abuse at the hands of my narcissistic mother. And many people who write to me express the belief that because the abuse they suffered was not physical, I had it much worse than they did and they, therefore, don’t have a right to feel hurt about the treatment they received. Because, after all, my abuse was worse than theirs.
This is nonsense. 
Abuse is abuse, hurt is hurt, pain is pain. The fact that you suffered “only” emotional abuse and are still affected by it decades later is clue enough that your abuse was both severe and long-lasting. There are no scorecards, no measure, no competition when it comes to abuse and yet I get mail after mail from people who minimize and even dismiss their own abuse in the face of mine, which they perceive to be “worse.” Using their logic, however, I would have to dismiss my own in favour of the children who were starved or beaten or neglected to death by their parents because, in comparison to those kids, my childhood was a walk in the park.
But it wasn’t a walk in the park: it was brutal and terrifying and painful, both physically and emotionally. And I won’t invalidate either the severity or the long-lasting effects of the abuse just because someone else had a different kind of abuse than I did. I won’t minimize the long-term effects it had on me, I won’t diminish my own pain simply because another child suffered differently than I did. There were times in my life that I longed for death as a release, times I even courted it, yet someone who was trying to quantify degrees of abuse would likely not validate my feelings since the abuse I suffered was not “as bad” as an abuse that led to a child’s death.
Suppose the abuse I suffered had led me to suicide at the age of nine, the age at which I first began suicidal ideation? Would my death at my own hands have been viewed as evidence of fatal abuse on the part of my mother? Would the fact that I died as a result of the abuse she meted out to me make her culpable? Or would the fact that it was my own hand that brought about my actual demise exonerate her, thereby diminishing the severity of an abusive situation so painful that a nine-year-old was driven to take her own life?
I was terrified of my mother and rightly so. Rather than being motivated by a knowledge of right and wrong or even love for her and wanting to please her, I obeyed my mother out of fear of what she would do to me, no matter how small my infraction. It was from her, in a rather backhanded way, that I learned that all pain is equal for, in her household, all violations were alike: putting a fork in the spoon compartment was no less heinous and deserving of punishment than deliberate defiance of her demands. In fact, to her eyes, they were one and the same as she saw all failures to comply with her wishes to be deliberate and insubordinate in nature.
Pain is pain, particularly when you are a child and you have nothing to measure it against. And when the pain is inflicted by the people you fully expect to love you unfailingly, that pain is coupled with fear and confusion and a deep sense of betrayal. It doesn’t matter if the pain is inflicted physically or emotionally, the pain is the same and it provokes the same response in the victims: fear, confusion, and betrayal. A single incident will render the victim wary but, if there is no repeat, it can eventually fade until it no longer negatively affects the victim’s perception—or expectation—of the perpetrator. But repeated intention infliction of pain? A whole other story.
What we so often overlook is the fact that physical pain deliberately inflicted by a parent is also emotional pain. It hurts to know your mother will deliberately inflict pain on you in the same way as the schoolyard bully, and with no more remorse. The mere concept that the person to whom you should be able to turn to for protection is, in fact, your most frequent abuser is shattering. And, with the logic a child, we reason that because we don’t want to hurt people we love, they must not love us if they will hurt us, a distressing concept for a child to realize. It is the emotional pain that physical abuse provokes that hurts the worst because the stripes on my bum, back and thighs healed within days but the fear and pain in my heart remained for decades.
It is all abuse and it all hurts. 
Whether it is verbal or physical or both, it is all pain and it is the emotional component that we carry with us for years—decades—afterwards. We do not remember the feeling of the lash on our bodies but we don’t forgets the words, the disdain, the minimizing, the name calling, the smirks and eye rolls, the sighs and the sarcasm, the yelling and deprecating remarks that cut us to the bone. Those words were carved into our psyches, those negative beliefs about and actions towards us, burned into our brains long after the stinging slap has stopped burning on our cheeks. Emotional abuse is forever, as is the pain it inflicts.
Many people who suffer emotional abuse feel guilty or like they are whining when they complain about the ill treatment they suffered but I am here to tell you that you have no need to feel that way. I don’t care if your NM called that bruising slap a “love tap,” or that she cruelly mocked you for your tears when she verbally abused you. It is in the best interest of the narcissist to minimize what s/he has said or done, so it is up to you to grab onto the truth and hang on to it with both hands—don’t allow her to minimize or dismiss your feelings. You see, it doesn’t matter if that smack was a “love tap” or not: what matters is that you felt hurt. And that is all that matters. Honour the truth of that, your truth about your feelings: nobody feels them but you.
People who, without conscience, abuse people smaller or weaker than themselves are, by definition, bullies. It doesn’t matter if those people are your parents and they rationalize their behaviour as “parenting,” they are still bullying someone smaller and weaker than themselves and not caring about your hurt. That is the most devastating part of being abused by your parents, the fact that you hurt and they are not affected by it. And so it doesn’t matter what means they used to hurt you, what matters is your feelings, your hurt.
Being verbally excoriated is painful, as is being hit with a yardstick or a belt. But can you honestly compare your pain to anyone else’s? You cannot know what another person’s pain feels like, you can only judge its depths from his expressions of pain—weeping or crying out. But how accurate a measure is that? Some of us were abused by people who punished us even more when we made normal and expected sounds when they hurt us, or they ridiculed us and accused us of fakery—I cannot tell you how many times I got accused of “crocodile tears” and “turning on the water works” during an assault—and so we learned to tightly suppress our natural responses, to stuff them, to reveal as little as possible, despite the depth of our pain.
In short, you cannot compare your pain against someone else’s because you simply cannot experience his pain in order to make an accurate comparison. You cannot dismiss your pain at being abused without dismissing mine and the pain of all those other people who suffered at the hands of an insensitive parent. You can only embrace your own hurt and know that whether you were assaulted verbally or physically—or both—you were hurt and feeling that pain and acknowledging the depths of it, its longevity, and its ability to shape your life, is your own truth. Your pain is no more or less valid than any other survivor of abuse, whether it was as blatant as a beating or a verbal assault, or as subtle as a passive aggressive or manipulative martyr game. It is all abusive and it all hurts.
And your pain is just as big and as painful and as valid as anyone else’s.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Friends and Frenemies: ACoNs and Friendship

When we first begin to grasp what narcissism is and learn how to recognize it, many of us are surprised at how many narcissists we find already in our lives. By the time someone comes to this blog, they are pretty sure someone in their family—usually one or both parents—are narcissistic, but they are totally unprepared for how many other people they know seem to be Ns as well.
This can lead to self-doubt because it doesn’t seem possible that all of those people are narcissists, too. So we begin to dig deeper into narcissism and its traits because we are unwilling to trust our initial assessments or, because we assume we are wrong, we deliberately ignore the red flags that are tossed our way by narcissistic bosses, co-workers, siblings, doctors, shopkeepers, other family members, and people we call friends, because we aren’t sure of the difference between real narcissism and fleas.
Most people gravitate to what they know. They seek the familiar, even when that familiar is toxic or painful. They seek it and tolerate it because they know the territory. They can run on auto-pilot (habituated awareness and responses) when in the presence of the familiar. You know not to say this or do that in order to avoid conflict, you know when to disappear or to put in a strategically timed appearance to maintain a fragile peace. You can recognise the run-up to a fight or a confrontation or an ass-chewing or even a beating and your life is predictable—if unhappy—and predictability brings a measure of security in and of itself.
When faced with what we don’t know—a person who seems genuinely warm and giving and interested in us, for example—we experience two immediate emotions: fear and distrust. We are afraid because we are in unfamiliar territory and don’t know what to do or think or trust and we don’t want to make fools of ourselves in our ignorance. Most people like us will respond to such a situation in predictable ways: they will remove themselves, they will bluff it out, or they will attempt to make light of the discomfort. But they will not feel at ease.
We tend to distrust that with which we are unfamiliar. In our experience, this kind and giving behaviour on the part of another person has often been no more than a façade designed to lure us in and make us vulnerable. If we stick around at all, it is because we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the monster to emerge from behind the mask—or we are studiously ignoring the red flags that are popping up all over the place. We simply cannot be sure this lovely person is genuine and due to previous experiences, we may not ever completely drop our suspicions.
But that can make us feel guilty. As the children of narcissists, we are conditioned to be givers, pleasers, and without any expectation of reciprocity. Misplaced guilt acts as a goad that propels us to give even more: it drowns out our doubts, blinds us to those red flags, and chides us for not being charitable in our thoughts.
We are conditioned to see the best in everyone and to overlook, ignore or refuse to acknowledge the kinds of character flaws that would otherwise alert us to something being wrong. This conditioning coupled with our desperate desire for someone in our lives from who we can get (or earn) approbation, makes us very vulnerable to the con artists and narcissists of the world. Women are conned out of their life savings and assets by romantic con artists in just this way: they so want to be loved in the ways these monsters pretend that they deliberately put their common sense on a high shelf in a dark, seldom-visited corner of their minds and then forget about it. We, the victims of narcissists, do much the same thing.
It has been said that narcissists are drawn to us in the same way that wolves are drawn to the weakest, most vulnerable member of a herd. The wolf doesn’t care if their prey is old and chewy or if it is young and tender—the only thing the wolf is interested in is whether or not the prey can be caught: a haunch of venison is a haunch of venison whether it is from an old stag or a new fawn—the wolf does not care as long as the wolf gets a meal. And so it is with narcissists: whatever it is they want, if they perceive we can and will provide it, that is all they need to pick up our trail.
These narcissists can be—or at least seem—romantically inclined like the con artist lover or clingy gold digger, and they can be platonic. All they require is a person who feels in need of a friend badly enough to overlook any flaws that might inadvertently pop out. All we require is someone we think will be a real friend to us. Symbiosis…
It is important to realize that what the narcissist wants does not have to be major: it doesn’t have to be a large sum of money or huge favours like borrowing your car or moving into your house. It can be as small as using you as a “cork” for a hole in their life. They are between the kinds of friends they can usually prey on and you only need a few strokes now and then to keep you around: low maintenance friends are easy to manage while looking for the “right” friend. Maybe the N has managed to get herself stuck in suburbia, cut off from the bright lights and party atmosphere she thrives in. She needs to jog or cycle or do Pilates or boxing or whatever to keep fit and she needs a partner. I briefly had a friend like this: she moved into my neighbourhood and we met by chance at the local 7-11. She seemed to want a friend but what she really wanted, it eventually emerged, was a running partner, and I was just pudgy enough that she could use the promise of shedding a few pounds as a way to get me to run with her. I thought she would take it easy on me because I had never done this before: nope—she did her normal 2 mile circuit and I ended up walking home alone…with shin splints and asthma. She never called me again after that and for a very long time I could not understand why. Everybody knows that a novice doesn’t have the stamina of the experienced, so I couldn’t understand why she was so upset—disgusted is the word she used—with me. It seemed so unreasonable—and I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see how unreasonable she was being—but I didn’t know anything about narcissists back then.
Once you turn out to be inadequate to plug the hole in their lives or, more likely, they find the “right” kind of person to befriend, you are on your way to becoming history. They might drag you along for a while, as they solidify this new relationship or they may drag you into an established social circle into which you would otherwise not be accepted: this is to instil a sense of obligation in you: without the narcissist, you would not have access to all of this wonderfulness... But there is always something in it for the narcissist so when you no longer supply what the narcissist wants or when they find someone they deem better to supply it, or they no longer feel a need for what you supply, you then for them, it is over.
This ending of the relationship can play out several ways but I suspect “ghosting1” is the most common because it allows the narcissist to simply move on without wasting any of her precious time on something she does not value, like your feelings. If you manage to corner her, you might get a lame excuse for her disappearance (“I have just been so busy…”), you might get blamed for it (“…what makes you think I’d want to hang out with a liar like you ever again?” when you told her a truth she didn’t like), or you might get a vague promise of a future meetup (“let’s do lunch next week…I’ll call you…”) that never comes to be. Too often we are left holding the bleeding remains of an executed relationship with no idea why it was put to death, and the other party is simply unwilling to give a clue. This can be very painful—it is a serious betrayal of trust and that always hurts. It can also make you fearful, particularly if you confided anything sensitive or confidential to your absconding friend. Will she keep your confidences? Or will she consider her obligation to maintain your confidentiality dead with the ending of the relationship?
In my experience, the vast majority of people go through these kinds of endings but ACoNs seem to have them more often and are also more emotionally injured by them. It makes sense, if you think about it: our FOOs are untrustworthy and emotionally unavailable to us so we are hungry for connection. And that hunger, coupled with our sense of familiarity with narcissists, draws us into relationships—I hesitate to call them “friendships” because these people really aren’t our friends—with people who seem in the beginning to be warm and welcoming, empathetic and supportive, loving and giving, only to discover later that we projected onto this person what we wanted to see, not what and who they really were.
We often suffer with this kind of “friendship” for years, silently questioning hurts both large and small, but always forgiving, making excuses, rationalizations, justifications. Friendship requires compromises, after all, and forgiveness. And then one day something occurs and you start seeing that you are the one compromising, not your friend. You are the one forgiving, not your friend. You get left out of important events—or given only a minor role—and when you need someone to lean on, she is mysteriously—and consistently—absent.
These kinds of “friendships” come from two places: lack understanding what a real friendship is and our own desperation and fear of aloneness. We may not really know what true friendships are because we have not yet experienced one nor have we had them modelled for us. If our Ns manage to keep a long-term friendship, a close examination will likely reveal the same kind of pathology we have in our own: someone who is well-versed in toadying to an N in order to keep the one-way relationship alive.
Real friendships have reciprocity—but neither friend keeps score. They don’t need to because they know that the other one will be there when they need them and that is enough. Real friendships wax and wane: there are times you hardly see or talk to each other, and time when you are virtually joined at the hip. And real friendships can end, too. Emotionally healthy people grow and sometimes they grow in different directions. But the end of those friendships are soft…there is no painful dump or bump, your lives just grow apart and you remember each other fondly.
Narcissists are not capable of real friendship so you can’t “save” a friendship with a narcissist because there is no friendship there to save. We, however, often don’t know how to deal with the waxing and waning or eventual wind down of a friendship that has run its course. When coming from a place of deprivation, we want to grab onto our relationships and hug them to us—and when we do that, we run the risk of strangling the life out of them.
I treat friendships loosely—if my friend is a call-once-a month kind of person, fine—because I do not need friends in my life to feel whole. I am whole all by myself and have lots of stuff that keeps me busy and engaged, thinking and writing, coming and going. I love my friends but I have discovered that I do not need them—and that is a good thing. If a friend drifts away into another phase of life, I am happy for her, happy to see her progressing. Only those friends who try to put a stranglehold on me, who want my constant company, who cannot seem to function without my presence or at least my approval, only these friends do I have difficulty with because they are not creating their own lives, they are creating lives they hope I will approve of, and that is not healthy for them—they should be creating lives that fulfil them regardless of my opinion or approval.
After divorcing my NexH I stayed away from men for two years. During that time I concentrated on school and on my therapy. When I started dating, I came to a remarkable discovery: I didn’t “need” a man! My previous hunger for male companionship had not only disappeared, I found myself not responding in my previously programmed ways to men who were, if not full-on Ns, full of fleas. I didn’t try to please them—I didn’t care if they were happy with me or not! I was gobsmacked because this was just so out of character for me! But I really, truly, didn’t care if I was paired up or not. I did things on my own, I was comfortable with myself and didn’t need someone else to distract me from what I used to perceive as my inadequacies. I was just fine the way I was and if I was going to have a man in my life, he was going to have to be someone who added a dimension to my life, not someone who took it over expecting me to jump at his expectations like a trained dog.
This realization brought me to the further realization that friends, while lovely to have and entertaining to hang with, weren’t necessities. This made me much more circumspect in the people I came to call friends. I stopped tolerating behaviours I didn’t like and walked away from friendships with women who thought feminism was synonymous with man-hating, who thought men were meal tickets, who judged other women. I began looking at friendships like informal marriages: this person will be in my life, have access to sensitive information, and I will go out of my way to be there for her/him when needed—is this person worthy? Is she trustworthy? Is she tolerant? Is she kind? Does she love?
At some point in therapy I realized that friendship is actually about ME. I know that sounds narcissistic but it isn’t: it is a manifestation of healthy self esteem. I want a friend who will be my friend, not a person who sees me as the supplier of whatever is missing from her life because these are the people who dump their friendships as soon as you get tired of always having to shovel love, attention, advice, sympathy and understanding into that bottomless pit of need and moves on to someone else with a bigger shovel. I have a long-term friend who recently experienced this: a friend of hers (acquaintance of mine), after years of waiting and hunting, finally found “the guy.” And suddenly she disappeared out of my friend’s life. She would stand her up for meetups, lunches, movies, dinner parties—you name it and you couldn’t depend on her to be there anymore because the hole in her life…a man who might marry her…came ahead of a girlfriendship of more than ten years. It made my friend angry, but beneath the anger I could see she was hurt—she had been dumped for a man...for those ten years she had been only a “filler,” a placeholder, until her friend found what she really wanted.
When we as ACoNs choose friendships, we need to be careful and make sure we are not friending just anybody because we are needy, because when we do that, we sow the seeds of our own disappointment. We are prone to repeating old, unhealthy patterns by relying on that comforting feeling of familiarity, so we need to be consciously aware and look for—and heed—those red flags. Most of all, we need to learn how to be alone with ourselves, to be our own best friends, before we go out looking for more. If we don’t like ourselves well enough to spend lots of time alone with ourselves, why would we expect people—the kind of good people who will make true friends—to be friends with us? Other people are not tools to be used to distract us from our own unhappiness with ourselves, nor are they security blankets to keep us shored up as we are try to survive without digging into the quagmire of our dysfunctional emotional history and actually fixing what is wrong with us.
Healing can be a long and lonely process, but it is longer—and lonelier—if we take a gaggle of faux friends with us, people who sabotage us or hold us back or have expectations of us that are unhealthy to our own psyches. You have to be your own best friend first, before you can recognize and reciprocate a healthy friendship with someone who loves you just as you are, regardless of how you might be at any given moment. Friends like this are rare, so don’t expect to find one around every corner and don’t expect to have a horde of them. Fair weather friends—those who love you when your fortunes…and moods…are good but who can’t be found when you have troubles—are a dime a dozen and narcissistic opportunists who masquerade as friends are no less plentiful. You cannot close yourself off to people because there are so many frauds out there looking out only for themselves, though, because if you do you won’t be available to find the real friends who are out there, just waiting for someone like you to buddy up with. You have to put real effort into learning how to separate the chalk from the cheese—you have to stiffen your own spine and exert the self-discipline to not ignore those red flags, to not follow the comfortably familiar path back into a dysfunctional relationship. You have the power here, and it is up to you to use it.
It’s not easy, but it is truly, truly worth it.

1    Ghosting refers to the act of breaking off a relationship…by ceasing all communication and contact with the [other person] without any apparent warning or justification, as well as avoiding and/or ignoring and refusing to respond in any way to…attempts