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Author Topic: 4.20 | Family systems--understanding the narcissistic family  (Read 38500 times)
blackandwhite
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« on: December 27, 2009, 10:55:01 PM »

Many of us feel something was wrong with a particular family, in some cases our own, but we have trouble putting our finger on exactly what. Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman, the authors of The Narcissistic Family, provide a framework for understanding these "off" family systems even when there may be no obvious issue, such as an alcoholic parent or physical abuse.

In this workshop, we will explore:

*the elements of a narcissistic family system

*two types of narcissistic families, overt and covert

*the impact on family members

*ideas for recovery

The authors explain that though there is a well-developed literature for adult children of alcoholics, there is not one that fits for adult children of families where "children become the reflection of their parents' emotional needs"--for reasons other than alcoholism or substance abuse. These families, which include those with a parent or parents who are personality disordered, are called "narcissistic" not after NPD (though NPD might be the problem in the family) but after the classical myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection and was unable "to see, hear, or react to the needs of another," and Echo, who loved him.

The three elements of a narcissistic system are:

*skewed responsibility--children meet parents' needs instead of the other way around. Children are parentified.

*reactive and reflective--"rather than act on their own feelings in a proactive way" (better not to have feelings that cannot be expressed or validated), "children wait to see what others expect or need and then react to those expectations." Children learn not to have needs or to expect needs to be met.

*problems with intimacy--children unlearn trust. Although their needs may have been met as infants and toddlers, as they develop and their needs are more complex, the family system buckles. Children learn not to trust their caregivers and, by extension, others.

Overtly narcissistic families are the classic dysfunctional families--easy to recognize, for a therapist at least, if not the individual. The authors point out that even obvious dysfunction is often repressed or denied by those within the family system, noting "the patient who can readily identify the reality of his or her upbringing is the exception, not the rule." In these families, there is often physical abuse, sexual abuse, severe emotional abuse, and/or neglect.

Covertly narcissistic families are more subtle, harder for the therapist--and of course the family member--to recognize. The family may appear "normal," but the "needs of the parents were the focus of the family, and that the children were in some way expected to meet those needs." In these families, there is often emotional abuse and neglect; one sibling may be strongly favored, or a parent may draw all attention to him or herself or expect caretaking from a child or children from a young age. Emotional incest may be an issue.

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blackandwhite
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« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2009, 08:28:11 PM »

Questions:

1. When we look at a family as a system, what insights do we gain?

2. Do the three elements of a narcissistic family (children are parentified, learn to have no needs, lose trust) sound familiar? How?

3. What are examples of overt and covert narcissistic family situations?
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« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2009, 11:56:30 PM »

Hi blackandwhite

I would say my FOO was a fairly good example of a covert narcissistic family as outwardly we appeared like the respectable model family. We went to church on Sunday, my sisters and I were well behaved, everyone worked hard, everyone smiled a lot.

Mom was the perfect mom and was thought by all her friends to be 'the nicest person they ever met' and dad was the 'ever-by-side' dH. No one stepped out of line and even as very small children we knew what was expected.  It only took a 'look' or a 'tilt of the head ' to stop any untoward behavior as our outward image must be perfect. All the anger, pain and neglect were saved for later in the home and wasn't even talked about amongst ourselves.

My sisters and I had our roles, the youngest was 'golden', the next 'bad', and I was the 'scapegoat' and we all looked after mom.  From as long as I can remember, it was our duty to make mom's life easier by doing the housework, baking, looking after the baby and rocking her to sleep and most importantly, we looked after ourselves.  I think the biggest and most important rule was to... .'obey without question' and second... .'we could not ask for anything'.  

I was so brainwashed it took me to last March to even know that my family had a problem as they had me believing that I was the problem and when I mentioned something to my sister about our mothers questionable behavior she told me I was 'bad-mouthing' our mother.

justhere


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« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2009, 01:57:38 AM »

Once I am ready to back track my childhood, will post... .


Thank you for starting this thread.

Adult children of PDs need the tools to move on with our lives and live a life of radical acceptance and transformation.
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2009, 04:08:10 AM »

Adult children of PDs need the tools to move on with our lives and live a life of radical acceptance and transformation.

So far this forum is the only form I've found that gives actual tools, I've had to search high and low for what I've learned.  Eveything here is readily available and just takes time to sift through. I totally agree with you.

I would have to identify with the Covertly narcissistic families, but there were times it was easy to see the dysfunction like the way my mom used to wistle for me or my dad when we were out in public, or how she would yell like Kate Goslien at my dad in the grocery store, or scream at the top of her lungs because my 8 year old stepped on her foot.  I don't think any "normal" person would do these things.  I think she couldn't hide it from her friends for very long either, like when she told our neighbor friend how I got my period and cried because I thought I went number 2 in my pants and didn't know what it was, supposedly this was hilarious to them.  No one had a clue that there was anything wrong that a 13 year old girl didn't know what getting her period was?  Would this be considered Covert or Overt?

2. Do the three elements of a narcissistic family (children are parentified, learn to have no needs, lose trust) sound familiar? How?

Well yeah, she was the emotional baby and I got to take care of her emotional needs while learning how to parent myself too. Did I loose trust, only in the end, I was dumb, niave or even ignorant, it took two bad marriages and my children being molested for me to take a really hard look at my upbringing and how it affected me.  Once I realized how incredibly messed up my whole childhood was then I lost trust.  However, from the very begining I lost trust in my own feelings and emotions because I had a parent tell me they were wrong, constantly.  So from the very begining I lost trust in the deep down things, anger, sixth sense/intuition, stranger danger sort of stuff, not being able to see that my ex was manipulating me, etc.

1. When we look at a family as a system, what insights do we gain?

Right now the only insight Im able to gain is that my childhood was pathetic, and Im trying my best not to fall apart on a daily basis because of it.  Sometimes I wish I was just oblivious to it that way I could live in apathy and victimology and take no responsibility for myself, but then that would make me just like her.

Sorry my dad told me I was just like her the other day and it's crushed me ever since.
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« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2009, 06:11:59 AM »

*two types of narcissistic families, overt and covert

*the impact on family members

*ideas for recovery

The three elements of a narcissistic system are:

*skewed responsibility--children meet parents' needs instead of the other way around. Children are parentified.

*reactive and reflective--"rather than act on their own feelings in a proactive way" (better not to have feelings that cannot be expressed or validated), "children wait to see what others expect or need and then react to those expectations." Children learn not to have needs or to expect needs to be met.

*problems with intimacy--children unlearn trust. Although their needs may have been met as infants and toddlers, as they develop and their needs are more complex, the family system buckles. Children learn not to trust their caregivers and, by extension, others.

Hi all,

I'm in!  I'm three for three - parentified, reactive and reflective and the trust thing. (Just ask my T - she did say that, not only were the other t's a challenge for me, it was also other relationships! )  I didn't know that I "fit" somewhere - Thanks for the thread!

js
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« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2009, 08:22:19 AM »

Look forward to adding my opinions and experiences on this thread.

The complexities of how families function within their own 'clan' boundaries have challenged research and health professionals in their quest to define or assess the impact of learned behaviors on how we establish future relationships.   Learned coping mechanisms directly relate to our 'nurture' or family environement and, our 'nature' ... .the inherent 'who' that is what we think we are.  Thoreau said it best - "What a man thinks of himself, that is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate”.

So, if the reflection of ourselves is in the eyes of others (the beholders) when we interact with them, are we the ones that put it there ourselves?  I think we are.  Recovery from the effects of a dysfunctional family needs both an understanding of 'where we fit' in the family dynamic - but also ... .where we don't.  I like the idea of also paying some attention to the 'where we don't'. 
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« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2009, 09:45:38 AM »

Lots of interesting stuff here.

From justhere:

Excerpt
I would say my FOO was a fairly good example of a covert narcissistic family as outwardly we appeared like the respectable model family. We went to church on Sunday, my sisters and I were well behaved, everyone worked hard, everyone smiled a lot.

Covert systems present a special challenge, because "there's nothing wrong with us." Family systems theory talks about families having "rules." Dysfunctional families have a "no talk" rule. Secrets are kept.

From MyBigMouth:

Excerpt
Right now the only insight Im able to gain is that my childhood was pathetic, and Im trying my best not to fall apart on a daily basis because of it.  Sometimes I wish I was just oblivious to it that way I could live in apathy and victimology and take no responsibility for myself, but then that would make me just like her.

Sounds like you're feeling pretty low about this right now, but that's actually a lot of insight. Family dysfunction continues across generations unless someone recognizes it and stops it. But it's hard, really hard, to be the one who steps up. You should be commended for your courage. There is a recovery process, which we'll get to later in the workshop.

From joiesophie:

Excerpt
not only were the other t's a challenge for me, it was also other relationships

Trust not learned or unlearned in childhood is very difficult to (re)gain. What strategies help us learn to trust while respecting our own safety? (By holding off on making a larger contribution right now on this thread, AXA is displaying a very healthy strategy, I think--honoring limits and where you are right now.)

From nonna:

Excerpt
Recovery from the effects of a dysfunctional family needs both an understanding of 'where we fit' in the family dynamic - but also ... .where we don't.  I like the idea of also paying some attention to the 'where we don't'.

 

Very interesting point. It makes me think of the "roles" within family systems. They are represented in different ways, but key features are:

*Roles are rigid. (If you try to move off your assigned role, you WILL get push back.)

*Roles are assigned by the system to meet the system's needs.

Examples of family roles (adding on to those justhere mentioned) include Hero, Family Scapegoat, Rebel, Overachiever, Little Parent. Do other examples come to mind?

Where DON'T we fit in the family dynamic?

B&W




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« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2009, 10:11:40 AM »

Questions:

1. When we look at a family as a system, what insights do we gain?

2. Do the three elements of a narcissistic family (children are parentified, learn to have no needs, lose trust) sound familiar? How?

3. What are examples of overt and covert narcissistic family situations?

1.  Looking at the family as a whole reveals a complex web of interactions and effects on individuals. Compare the family to an ecosystem: in a balanced ecosystem all living organisms thrive from interactions and diversity is beneficial.  If, however, the ecosystem is unbalanced then some organisms consume disproportionate resources (time, attention, money), damage others through interactions (actions or omissions, harmful communication) and diversity (feelings, thoughts, activities) is not permitted.  I'd expect a narcissistic family to be an unhealthy ecosystem--mine certainly was one such example.

2.  The three elements of a narcissistic family were found in my own FOO:

Kids took physical & emotional care of parents (bipolar Mom and uBPD/NPD dad, later grandparents too) and performed almost all household duties like cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, yard work, banking and errands;

Kids were not permitted to have needs (in a bizarre appropriation of corporate-speak, dad referred to kid's needs as "P.P.'s" meaning personal problems that we had to solve on our own. There was an implicit criticism for expecting help from him.) ;

Trust was greatly eroded (ex. no one spoke openly at the dinner table for fear of ridicule. Dad was the only one permitted to speak without fear of negative feedback. Everyone else sat stonefaced and conversation consisted of agreeing with whatever Dad said. *Constant awkwardness around each other because there was no trust*)  

Now, to be fair I must add that my family's cultural background expected older children to help with younger children, housework, cooking and care of the elderly.  But all of these chores were take to such an extreme that helping was intensified into being the primary person performing a task.  So, rather than conforming to the cultural norms our family was an anomaly in expecting adult chores to be primarily performed by kids.
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« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2009, 11:27:41 AM »

This is an interesting topic for sure.

I can identify with some of the ideas, but not all are resonating with me. Normally I am on the boards due to BPD behaviors from my DH's FOO, but I have long felt that there was more to my own FOO than I could put a finger on. There is definite dysfunction, I just don't know how to name it.

*skewed responsibility--children meet parents' needs instead of the other way around. Children are parentified. -

This has happened to me, at times. Maybe more than I realize. My father, who is not my biological father, but adopted us after marrying my mom has terrible anger problems. The message was always not to rock the boat and "make" him mad. As he has aged and mellowed some, he has turned to me several times to care for him when he was ill or recovering from heart problems. He will listen to me when I fuss at him about his various health problems, but will not take the same advice from anyone else. This feels wrong to me because to me he should be listening to his wife, not his D. Also, related to my mom: I see her more and more as a waify figure who has for as long as I can remember played dumb or pretended that she can't do things to get other people to do them for her. As often as she plays the waif, she is assertive and can figure out most anything she wants to do, and then does it. She is terribly manipulative and often tells white lies, and until I came in contact with DH's FOO I did not recognize my mother's  manipulations as potentially damaging. I had always worked around them and learned to be manipulative in some ways myself.  I've always reacted very strongly to my mother lying and playing dumb, so much so that I am overly sensitive to people thinking I might be dumb and my sense of honesty is probably overblown. The upshot is that I very easily recognize when I am being manipulated or lied to.

*reactive and reflective--"rather than act on their own feelings in a proactive way" (better not to have feelings that cannot be expressed or validated), "children wait to see what others expect or need and then react to those expectations." Children learn not to have needs or to expect needs to be met.

This one stumps me. I still cannot name very many of my feelings besides love, anger, embarassment, happiness, confusion and frustration. I understand that there are a larger range of emotions that I feel, but have no way to identify or name them. I feel a larger range of emotions than these but have no vocabulary for describing or expressing them. This is something that bothers me very much and that I have actively worked on for the last 17 years.


*problems with intimacy--children unlearn trust. Although their needs may have been met as infants and toddlers, as they develop and their needs are more complex, the family system buckles. Children learn not to trust their caregivers and, by extension, others.

I have problems with trusting people in general and also in individual situations, although I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove me wrong unless I feel something "off" about them, in which case I distrust them until they prove otherwise. More often than not my gut feeling is right and the person or situation is not to be trusted.

Overtly narcissistic families are the classic dysfunctional families--easy to recognize, for a therapist at least, if not the individual. The authors point out that even obvious dysfunction is often repressed or denied by those within the family system, noting "the patient who can readily identify the reality of his or her upbringing is the exception, not the rule." In these families, there is often physical abuse, sexual abuse, severe emotional abuse, and/or neglect.

Covertly narcissistic families are more subtle, harder for the therapist--and of course the family member--to recognize. The family may appear "normal," but the "needs of the parents were the focus of the family, and that the children were in some way expected to meet those needs." In these families, there is often emotional abuse and neglect; one sibling may be strongly favored, or a parent may draw all attention to him or herself or expect caretaking from a child or children from a young age. Emotional incest may be an issue.



? I think my family falls into both overt and covert. Some problems, such as my dad's anger are overt. Almost anyone who knows our family knows that he has a BAD temper than often flares for no apparent reason. In fact, his FOO has a nickname for the rampant anger problems among the entire family. They refer to their tempers as "The match" strikes without warning, flares and quickly burns out, often with the recipients left compeltely stunned by what just happened and the angry person wondering why people are crying, mad at them, or reacting angrily towards them. On the other hand, my mother's machinations and lying are more covert. For most people that know her well, they would be surprised and shocked to hear that she lies and plays dumb so often. They view her as a nice, sweet lady (which she is most of the time). Even in the face of lying, she manages to turn the  situation comical or lighthearted so that rather than feeling angry, you feel like you've heard a funny story to pass along at a party. Despite all that, I've never felt physically neglected or that my parents were the focus of everything. There have been many times when us children were the center, more for mom than dad. I have felt that my sister has been favored over my brother and I on many many occasions, leaving me resentful towards her. She would say that I was favored. All of us would agree that my brother was the black sheep from early on, and continues still. Mom would admit that she favored my sister due to guilt and grieving for the loss of our biological father, which happened while she was pregnant with my sister. Mom also often tells me that dad favors me. Brother is often left out of the equation.




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« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2009, 11:39:07 AM »

I'd say we don't fit into the family dynamic when we do anything not authorized by the family like... .try to get our own needs or wants met, question any of the families decisions, make changes or show any emotions such as anger, fear, pain even too much happiness can be a problem.

There would also never be an excuse to not obey or to not do your job. Keeping order and control of each person and their role and duties in the family is imperative, non-negotiable and life-long.

Mom actually said to me once when I was having a serious health issue that she didn't want me to die as she didn't want to mourn me as I should have the pain of having to mourn her not the other way around and she was quite indignant that I possibly might die out of order.

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« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2009, 12:05:45 PM »

1. When we look at a family as a system, what insights do we gain?

Mapping out the patterns of a BP (especially in a family) can help the sane person see the BPD/NPD, gauge one's own reactions accordingly, and set boundaries.  It's also a stark reminder that relationships between adults are 50/50 and shows the parentification of children.

2. Do the three elements of a narcissistic family (children are parentified, learn to have no needs, lose trust) sound familiar? How?

Oh dear god yes.  uBPDm had narcissistic qualities and the faculty/staff/clergy at my school were extremely narcissistic, using dogma and catechism to reinforce servitude in female students.  Female children are supposed to be the caretakers of others, practicing and perfecting selfless servitude for their future husbands.  Any selfishness meant that your family, future husband and even God will leave you.  uBPDm didn't allow me to see much of my FOO until I was 15, so these poisonous people were the narcissistic family she pushed onto me.

3. What are examples of overt and covert narcissistic family situations?

Overt example: "We're both sick, but you should make enough soup for the both of us." - I was SEVEN YEARS OLD!  This involved opening a can of soup with a handheld can-opener and using the gas stove.

Covert example: "All you Girl Scouts should emulate The Virgin Mary.  She gave up her entire life to serve God, her husband Joseph, and her son.  Since none of you are old enough to get married and have children yet, make sure you serve your families, teachers, troop leaders, and your male peers.  God will know if you aren't doing this."
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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2009, 03:09:05 PM »

My family was mostly covert.  Mom did offer several instances of physical abuse - chasing me with a wooden spoon -flailing it and landing a few, throwing water in my face to wake me up, physical intimidation, and washing my mouth out with soap.  The majority of the damage was done by the covert stuff, however.  

Mom

- Never letting me have an opinion, or never allowing me to be right.  (I thought she was perfect until I was 19 or 20.

- Emotional incest - pulling me aside to quietly blame my father for everything wrong in the family.  I partook.  She took advantage of my love and need for closeness with her.  This has caused a lifetime of intimacy problems in relationships.  I only realized the extent of this damage recently.

- Treating others better than she treated us.  Pouring herself into things such as School Board President, State School Board, County Supervisory Board, Church functions including Sunday School, etc.  and then neglecting our needs at home

- Guilting me to get what she wanted, and then when I did what she wanted, I got no praise or recognition.  She used our accomplishments to bolster her own image.

- Raging unpredictably so that I was chronically hyper-vigilant, until recently.  I'm 38, and I still have bouts of it when I am triggered.  It's just not chronic anymore because of radical acceptance, and understanding that she is that way for a reason.

- The hypocrisy - what she preached to us, was never followed through on by her in her own life.

- Manipulations, lies, and a truth that was constantly evolving to suit her own needs.  This created an atmosphere where we were not allowed to be who we were meant to be, but rather extensions of her, and arrested emotionally in some pretty significant ways.  

- Broken promises - Anything promised was never followed through on.  As a result, the interests I had excitement for were wasted, because I had to jump through unreasonable hoops or she would break promise after promise, and even dashed my own impetus several times.  

Dad

- workaholic/alcoholic - When he wasn't working, he was sitting in front of the tv, drinking beers.

- severely and chronically verbally abused me while working on the farm - on a daily basis.  If something went wrong, or he was in a bad mood, or just felt bad because he had drank too much the night before - it was my fault and he let me know it.  As a result, I felt I was bad.  I started punishing myself around age 11.  My self-esteem disappeared.  I was confused.  

- not much interaction - more low self-esteem, poor habits formed, no interests to model after

- not much encouragement - everything revolved around his work, drinking, or getting us to do more work, for him

- he would attend our events only if he personally enjoyed them.  When something irritated him about one of our coaches, he would swear them of and never be seen again.  

Combined - Mom and Dad together

- Huge, terrible fights all the time, for as far back as I can remember.  Usually on a daily basis.

- Fights just after we went off to bed.  I could hear them clearly even though we were upstairs.  Mom threatened to leave many times.  Sense of abandonment was cultivated here.  

- I can count on one hand how many times I saw them intimate (this meaning just holding each other, kissing, etc.)  They always left their br door open, and it was directly adjacent to the living room.  I don't ever remember seeing or hearing anything.  

- Mom openly accusing dad of having pornography, and seeking our support against him (I suppose I was 12 or so).  Later, I found a lot of the pornography he hid throughout the house.  I think this led to an early unhealthy fixation on sex.  

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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2009, 03:10:16 PM »

Roles

-I was quite clearly 'The Peacemaker' as the middle child, and I guess I was my father's 'Golden Child', even though he severely verbally/emotionally abused me

-My sister, as the eldest, was 'the Achiever', and was cherished for that, but then was the blackened child too, because she did not do everything my mother wanted her to do.

-My brother was 'The Jester' and was supposed to make people laugh whenever the moment called for it.  

Excerpt
What strategies help us learn to trust while respecting our own safety?

-Learning about dysfunction

-Learning about PDs

-Learning, implementing, and enforcing boundaries

-Limiting contact with the abuser

-Learning about our own feelings and behaviors

-Practicing learned healthy behaviors with those that we feel are healthy

-Venting our anger, and doing it in a way that addresses our abuser

-Forgiving our abusers when we are ready

-Accepting our situation and trying to move forward 'in the moment'

-Letting our hurt and anger go

Excerpt
Where DON'T we fit in the family dynamic?

When we become who we were meant to be when we were born.  When we learn healthy ways, and act in healthy ways.  When we refuse our roles, or any roles.   When we learn that it is okay to just be ourselves, regardless of how our family responds to it.

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« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2009, 03:39:05 PM »

Where DON'T we fit in the family dynamic?

When we become who we were meant to be when we were born.  When we learn healthy ways, and act in healthy ways.  When we refuse our roles, or any roles.   When we learn that it is okay to just be ourselves, regardless of how our family responds to it.

Great insight NewPhoenix and a lifelong goal for all of us ... .BPD relationships or not.

I remember someone I respected highly giving me some of the best advice I ever received. In fact, I still practice it to this day when I need to.  "Sometimes, when you are afraid, life drops you on your head, people around you want you to be or act to please them at your expense ... .whatever is thrown your way ... .keep those training wheels on that bike ... .cause it's okay to use an exta set of wheels and pretend you know what you're doing until you are ready to take them off... .no one will know the difference." 

I think it is possible to act in healthier ways before we get there ... .understand who we are.  This person also had another great piece of advice for those who were hell bent on making a lot of money at the expense of everything else.  Imagine a southern drawl when you read this ... ."I ain't ever seen a U-haul behind a hearse".  Priceless.  Humor is a great defuser.

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« Reply #15 on: December 30, 2009, 03:49:18 PM »

Hi all,

This is harder for me than I thought.  I think it is because I finally DO fit in a system, there is a description for what I lived through.  So many times, I've read about families, and my family had issues, but didn't seem to have a name. Alcoholic dysfuntional, overtly dysfunctional, and now - what I probably had, covertly dysfunctional and narcissistic.

It's got a name.  It wasn't my fault.  It never was - but now it's even more real than before.

Being parentified : That started from the get go.  I think, in a way, that I was born a caretaker.  Sometimes I wonder if people were "happy" or better yet, "relieved" that my mother would have "something to do", when learning I was coming into the world.

Learning to have no needs : I had to be a quick learner in order to survive to, the next year.  Having needs meant needing attention, and, usually, the attention was negative.  This is where people talk about children "acting out" because negative attention is better than none at all.  That wasn't me.  If I wanted something - I needed to plan and hope it was a good day for my mother, sometimes my father and possibly my sister.  Learning to go it alone at the age of 4 is something I did out of survival, not desire.  :)id I have a roof over my head and food to eat?  Yes.  And I was reminded of that anytime I wanted anything else.  Being noticed just because I was a person is still something I am getting used to.  

Having trust : This goes right along with having feelings.  It took me, well a very long time to understand I could have feelings and that no one would hit me for having them.  Literally.  When my current therapist would ask me how I felt, I would snap at her "Why do you care?".  Working with a therapist who was willing to wait it out has made all the difference.    And she's waited for several years, patiently.  I had trusted "strangers" (people outside the family) and was usually disappaointed - and no matter how careful I was with my trust, I would be betrayed by authority figures at the least expected times.  Therapists, for example.  I would trust them, and they would just, well, not believe me, or not care.  The first therapist, when I shared just a small instance of how weird my family could be, (after a YEAR of working with her) demanded that I bring in my sister, (who I rarely talk to)to vouch that I was telling the truth.  I felt like the therapist wanted to prove that I was a liar and simply was creating a story.  If I wanted to make up stories, I wouldn't be making this kind up.  

I never considered trusting my family.  That wouldn't make any sense.  And NOBODY would believe me.  

js
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« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2009, 06:37:10 PM »

Mom actually said to me once when I was having a serious health issue that she didn't want me to die as she didn't want to mourn me as I should have the pain of having to mourn her not the other way around and she was quite indignant that I possibly might die out of order.

This sounds just like my Gma, my mom's mom, whom it is joked at family gatherings that she was a very unhappy woman.  I don't know, but I've heard horror stories, anyway's I suspect she and my mom are very much BPD.  The reason I brought this up is when my grandfather died, in his late seventies she was mad at him for the longest time, but she was also very much a social person before his death and after she turned into a hermit and secluded herself.  She was definately in mourning but if I remember right we actually talked about it when I was in my twenty's and she said that he wasn't supposed to die before her.  She couldn't be around when we talked about it because she would cry.  She lived eight years longer than he did and she never got "over" him dying.
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« Reply #17 on: December 31, 2009, 08:50:08 AM »

Examples of family roles (adding on to those justhere mentioned) include Hero, Family Scapegoat, Rebel, Overachiever, Little Parent. Do other examples come to mind?

Where DON'T we fit in the family dynamic?

B&W

There's also the lost child.  Here's a good website for that: www.setyourselffree.com.au/freeresources.html

I was definitely a lost child growing up, but I was/am also a whole mix of things.

Questions:

1. When we look at a family as a system, what insights do we gain?

2. Do the three elements of a narcissistic family (children are parentified, learn to have no needs, lose trust) sound familiar? How?

3. What are examples of overt and covert narcissistic family situations?

1.  The family system, I think, helps us look at how a few or several diverse people can (or attempt) to live under one roof as a structured and functional unit.  It's a biological system, also, something that work, "roommating", etc. are not.  Whereas you can go and find another job, new friends, you cannot choose another family.  Dealing with the different personalities in the family helps, I think, with preparing someone for how to deal with the different personalities outside the family.  Actually, mom's emotional needs (comforting when she was sad) had to be met by us kids because my father was "the reason" she was sad.

2.  I'm not so sure.  The childhood is drawing a blank, but I think some of them definitely came up in adulthood/adolescence.

3.  I'm not sure if ours was totally overt and covert.  We "seemed" normal on the outside.  We did things together and never really put our dirty laundry out.  We had the physical abuser (father) and the less obvious verbal abuser (mom).  I don't know what everyone THOUGHT of us, if they saw that we were such a good happy family.

I have seen families where I really thought they were "normal".  But when I look closer, I think I can see some dysfunction and issues there.
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« Reply #18 on: December 31, 2009, 09:26:20 AM »

Some more food for thought about how a Narcissistic Family works as a child gets past the simple needs of infancy. As the child meets the family system's needs (as shaped by the parent or parents), he/she:

1. Learns to adapt but that others do not adapt to him/her.

2. Loses opportunities for growth and development.

From The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment, by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, MSW, and Robert M. Pressman, PhD

Excerpt
As the child's psychological needs become more of a factor in the life of the family, the narcissistic family truly develops. The parent system is unable to adapt to meet the child's needs, and the child, in order to survive, must be the one to adapt. The inversion process starts: the responsibility for meeting needs gradually shifts from the parent to the child. Whereas in infancy the parents may have met the needs of the child, now the child is more and more attempting to meet the needs of the parent, for only in this way can the former gain attention, acceptance, and approval.

This reminds me, among many other good observations in this workshop so far, of what MotherSpirit said:

Excerpt
Actually, mom's emotional needs (comforting when she was sad) had to be met by us kids because my father was "the reason" she was sad.



Classic covert narcissistic family behavior. Again, from the book:

Excerpt
In a narcissistic family the responsibility for the meeting of emotional needs becomes skewed--instead of resting with the parents, the responsibility shifts to the child. The child becomes inappropriately responsible for meeting parental needs and in so doing is deprived of opportunities for necessary experimentation and growth.

This reminds me of what NewPhoenixRising had to say:

Excerpt
- Broken promises - Anything promised was never followed through on.  As a result, the interests I had excitement for were wasted, because I had to jump through unreasonable hoops or she would break promise after promise, and even dashed my own impetus several times. 



Personally, I instinctively refused to participate in activities in school and out because I knew "my mother needed me."

B&W
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« Reply #19 on: December 31, 2009, 10:39:27 AM »

Excerpt
- Broken promises - Anything promised was never followed through on.  As a result, the interests I had excitement for were wasted, because I had to jump through unreasonable hoops or she would break promise after promise, and even dashed my own impetus several times.  



Personally, I instinctively refused to participate in activities in school and out because I knew "my mother needed me."

B&W

Sounds like you played the 'Caretaker' role very well B&W.  So, I'm assuming there was/is some anger/grieving to deal with in the loss of those opportunities to develop yourself ?  

After I thought about it a bit more, I think I've taken a turn at several of the roles: The Lost Child (probably my predominant role), the Hero (in sports) and later in career (kind of co-Hero with sister), the Surrogate Spouse (with mom in high school), the Scapegoat (since my 'Hero/Scapegoat' sister committed suicide).  I say predominantly the Lost Child because I feel the magical thinking in relationships and life in general, and tendency to withdraw in times of stress, has cost me the most, and has been the most perpetual.  

Finally, I am free of all roles and just trying to undo my dysfunction and live healthy

I've also been thinking that there may have been two, or possibly three, unhealthy dynamics in our family, one caused by my mother, one caused by my father, and one for the family as a whole.  In regard to my father, I was his favorite (Golden Child ?), my sister was kind of Daddy's Little Girl, and my brother was "a mistake" ?.

In regard to my mother, I was the 'Ignored Child', and at times, her 'Surrogate Spouse and her 'Caretaker', my sister was 'the Star' (publicly) and 'the Scapegoat' (privately), and my brother was 'the Baby'.

However, overall in the family dynamic, uBPD mother was 'the Caretaker' and workaholic/alcoholic father was 'the Scapegoat'.  My sister was 'the Achiever' or 'Hero' and then later became 'the Scapegoat' when she couldn't find balance in her life, and became 'needy'.  I was 'the Peacemaker' and the 'Lost Child' and couldn't find a voice in the family.  Later I became 'co-Hero' and then 'the Scapegoat' when my sister was no longer there to be blamed for our family chaos.  And my brother was 'The Mascot' or 'Jester', but has now adopted an extremely pessimistic life-view, and is now being alternately 'Whited' and 'Blacked' by Mom.  :)ad has mellowed out, but is still self-centered at heart.  
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« Reply #20 on: December 31, 2009, 06:40:35 PM »

Excerpt
Sounds like you played the 'Caretaker' role very well B&W.  So, I'm assuming there was/is some anger/grieving to deal with in the loss of those opportunities to develop yourself ?  



You nailed it, NPR! And yes, a lot of my mourning process (referencing here the Survivors' Guide but also how it really felt) was about those lost opportunities. I have felt safe enough to get very angry about these losses, which in turn helped me get past them. (Resources on anger can be found in the selected reading for this board at https://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=56280.0 and there is a workshop US: Respecting Our Anger at https://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=135831.0.)

When I think of the caretaker role that I assumed, I realize this is a part of myself I value. I enjoy helping people, nurturing my daughter's development for example. That is probably part of how I ended up in the role. But I also was assigned it. It was rigid. I got caught in the Karpman Triangle (see our workshop US: Our Dysfunctional Relationships with Others at https://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=135831.0) as the "rescuer."

Nonna's point about how we differ from our assigned roles in our family has a complex meaning for me, at least on this issue. I both am a caretaker (something natural to me) but also have to be very wary of being A Caretaker or A Rescuer in rigid, dysfunctional ways. When I feel a caretaking or rescuing impulse, it's best for me to check to be sure it's:

1. not motivated primarily by self-interest (Do I need to make MYSELF feel better?)

2. in balance with the rest of my life (Is it significantly drawing me away from things I must do and/or enjoy doing?)

So in some cases we may reject roles given to us as children. In others, we evolve them.

For reference, here's a simple description of some of the key roles given to children in dysfunctional families. It's from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt, but it is consistent with many other things I've read:

Children growing up in a dysfunctional family have been known to adopt one or more of six basic roles:

Excerpt
The Good Child also known as the hero: a child who assumes the parental role.

The Problem Child also known as the scape goat: the child who is blamed for most problems and can also be partly responsible for the family's dysfunction, in spite of often being the only emotionally stable one in the family.

The Caretaker: the one who takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family.

The Lost Child: the inconspicuous, quiet one, whose needs are usually ignored or hidden. Often occurs in balkanized families.

The Mascot: uses comedy to divert attention away from the increasingly dysfunctional family system.

The Mastermind: the opportunist who capitalizes on the other family members' faults in order to get whatever he or she wants. Often the object of appeasement by grown-ups.



(Source: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysfunctional_family)

B&W

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« Reply #21 on: December 31, 2009, 06:44:17 PM »

B&W thanks for posting those roles - as embarrassed as I am to admit this, I think I was the mastermind. Looks like I need to look into that a bit more.
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« Reply #22 on: January 01, 2010, 11:09:42 AM »

That description of dysfunctional roles is very interesting, blackandwhite.  I recognize myself as the good child, and also a bit as the mastermind (you're not alone, problemfamily!).  My sister was the caretaker, and still has an extremely hard time acknowledging the legitimacy of her own needs.  The good child or hero role is pernicious because the child accepts responsibility for making things better, a responsibility she can't possibly handle, as a child or as an individual of limited capabilities, and feels it as a personal failure when she is not able to.  She doesn't acknowledge her own limits and pushes herself beyond what is reasonable to expect, punishing herself harshly for failure. 

I'm sad to say I haven't really evolved this role too much as an adult, Laugh out loud (click to insert in post)!  I still feel responsible for fixing any problem I am aware of, and consistently take on more responsibilities than I can handle, and hate myself for any failure, no matter how understandable or reasonable in the particular context.  I have of course shifted the range of my responsibility, from the family to the world at large.  Like many here, I have been active in political causes that I think will make the world a better place, and am involved in a religion that emphasizes our responsibility to do good for others and the world at large.  The religious aspect is helpful though, because while it says that it is our responsibility to do good, in the end, only G-d has the power to direct the fate of the world.  It is only our responsibility to do our best.  This is an enormous relief, to not feel responsible for ensuring success, and to be reminded it is not, in the end, within the range of human capability to do so! 

blackandwhite, it's interesting what you're saying about allowing yourself to express those parts of yourself that drew you to that role in the first place, and arise from within, while going through a process of questioning certain behaviors that have been problematic in the past with regard to whether you are making these choices in a healthy way or not.  I've made it a goal to do that when taking on voluntary responsibilities in the future, after a particularly disastrous set of choices in that area recently.  Some useful questions for me would be:

1. How will doing this activity benefit me personally, apart from the needs of the group?

2. Will taking on this additional responsibility detract from responsibilities I have already taken on?

3. Am I genuinely excited to take on this task, or am I simply stepping into the breech because I feel I have to?
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« Reply #23 on: January 01, 2010, 11:49:17 AM »



Really interesting and honest discussion here.  Thanks everyone for sharing.   I was reading Lawson and how she talks about the Queen tending to marry the King.   My uBPm fits the Queen role completely and totally and if I think about my dad he was the unparalleled king making us a very nifty narssisstic family.   I have always been extremely proud of myself for breaking the cycle and of alcohol and abuse from my father and but I really seeing now that I've struggled far more to break the cycle of my mother and and the toxic effects she has had on me.   

When you talk about the roles, I would say I have mostly been the lost child.  It feels that both of my parents needs were (and my mom's still) so strong and demanding, there was no place for me.   I just sort of got squeezed out.  Where that leaves me now is that in my 50s I am still struggling to find out who I am.  I have been a mother and a damned good one even with my fleas  my-issuesbut now my children mostly live elsewhere and I"m back to looking more inward.  My greatest fear has come to pass, I was afraid I would look inward and find emptiness.   I keep hoping there is more of me underneathe all of that but getting through the muck has been tough.  I have been a writer and I am trying to reconnect with that, but I'm not sure of what "my" self is in my writing.   


I also still struggle at times to even *know* what it is I'm feeling.   It makes me sad to even write those words.  How can a person not know what they are feeling?   Yet it takes me time to figure it out, esp. if I feel threatened or triggered in some way. 

I guess its better late than never that I'm working on all of this,

LD

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« Reply #24 on: January 01, 2010, 01:52:56 PM »

From salome:

Excerpt
The good child or hero role is pernicious because the child accepts responsibility for making things better, a responsibility she can't possibly handle, as a child or as an individual of limited capabilities, and feels it as a personal failure when she is not able to.  She doesn't acknowledge her own limits and pushes herself beyond what is reasonable to expect, punishing herself harshly for failure. 



Therein lie the roots of perfectionism, eh? The authors also comment on how children in these families fail to learn--because it is not in the interest of the family system to teach this--they are NOT responsible to meet all needs and be endlessly available to everyone, at their own expense:

Excerpt
Adults raised in narcissistic families do not know that they can say no--that they have a right to limit what they will do for others and that they do not have to be physically and emotionally accessible to anyone at any time. In their families of origin, they may not have had the right to say no, or to discriminate between reasonable and unreasonable requests.

Excerpt
Children in narcissistic families do not learn how to set boundaries, because it is not in the parents' best interests to teach them: the children might use that skill to set boundaries with them!

                                                       *********

From LionDreamer:

Excerpt
I also still struggle at times to even *know* what it is I'm feeling.   It makes me sad to even write those words.  How can a person not know what they are feeling?   Yet it takes me time to figure it out, esp. if I feel threatened or triggered in some way.

Not knowing what you're feeling is a very common consequence of growing up in a narcissistic family. From the book:

Excerpt
In the narcissistic family, the children lack entitlement. They do not own their feelings; their feelings are not considered. When we do not have feelings, then others do not have to take our feelings into consideration."

It's not too late, at all. You're undoing a lifetime's programming, and you're making a lot of headway.  xoxo

B&W
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« Reply #25 on: January 01, 2010, 02:48:06 PM »

Not knowing what you're feeling is a very common consequence of growing up in a narcissistic family. From the book:

Excerpt
In the narcissistic family, the children lack entitlement. They do not own their feelings; their feelings are not considered. When we do not have feelings, then others do not have to take our feelings into consideration."


Feelings.  Wow.  I "KNEW" I 'understood' what feelings were. Rationally. Intellectually.  HAVING feelings?  That was a whole different concept. Because of the family, I thought people who had feelings, well, were, stupid.   Or warm and fuzzy.  And much less important.  This sounds so much like my father, it helps to be writing it down.  My mother 'held' the feelings for the family.  The out of control, don't know what to do, act out part of the system.  And she would be critiqued by my father and older sister when she would be off on one of her 'walk aways'.  It always puzzled me that neither one of them would see the rage and the episode coming.  but I guess that's because they were all about them? 

I'm finally in a better place with having feelings - everything between therapy and church has made a difference.  Seeing people be angry, have feelings, have someone (therapists) explain that feelings are okay made all the difference.  And that hugging WAS good. And that having feelings and being angry, didn't mean that I would become my mother, out of control and suicidal.   

Entitlement :  What a button for me.  I was never 'entitled ' to anything - see the quote - so when other people, at work, especially, 'get something by apparently 'whining', I am SO angry!  It's like, I've become invisible one more time - just as in the days of long ago in the family system.  So- there IS a reason why I feel this way!  Thanks, B & W!

js
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« Reply #26 on: January 01, 2010, 03:26:12 PM »

When I think of the caretaker role that I assumed, I realize this is a part of myself I value. I enjoy helping people, nurturing my daughter's development for example. That is probably part of how I ended up in the role. But I also was assigned it. It was rigid. I got caught in the Karpman Triangle (see our workshop US: Our Dysfunctional Relationships with Others at https://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=135831.0) as the "rescuer."

B&W

I see how that worked in your family dynamic B&W.  I see the parallel in my own experience.  I also enjoy helping people.  In my case, to help people get 'unstuck' and move forward in their lives, or to help parent and teach my gf's 6 year old.

When I became my mother's 'Surrogate Spouse' by becoming her confidant (when my father failed in that role - or couldn't play two roles at once), I recognize I was 'the Rescuer' in that.  Also as 'the Mediator' of the family, I took on 'the Rescuer' role to restore some semblence of peace (peace is one of my values) in the family.  Later, in my twenties, I think I tried to become my mother's therapist (which would also qualify as rescuing), which failed miserably because she was uBPD.  I think I have tried to play therapist to a lot of people in my life - friends, brother, and especially SOs.  Giving advice when asked is one thing, and playing therapist to those in my life is another.  

I think I just figured out I have been trying to do that here a little too much, and that is why I've gotten into some conflictory situations.  I think it might be tough for me to fully un-enmesh myself with that role of therapist.

I have also played the role of Persecutor and Victim on the Karpman Triangle at various stages in our family history.  I would say more often played the role as victim as I recognized the damage done to me, and I think started to feel entitled to some kind of compensation for that (mostly after sister's suicide, but also at short periods of time between 19 and 25).  

Then, when I didn't feel satisfied with that, I took it to a Persecutor role, where I started blaming my parents for my life.  It is one thing to recognize what has happened, and adjust my behavior to be healthy, and another to expect parents to 'make things right'.  I think I aggressively pursued that with them for a while.  I think for a couple of years, about a year and a half after my sister's suicide, I tried to 'make them responsible for my life'.  That seems to me to be 'the Persecutor'.  I think this is why I became 'the Scapegoat' also - in reaction to trying to 'make my parents responsible for my life'.    

I actually made my parents 'the Victim' in those two years, and I think my brother became the Rescuer/Hero.  After my Hero/Scapegoat/Persecutor sister's suicide, my dysfunctional family's dynamic kind of collapsed upon itself.  Because of this, I think nobody knew what to do.  Maybe I was trying to 'rescue' the dysfunctional family dynamic by becoming the 'Persecutor/Scapegoat' that was now missing because my sister was absent from the family.  I had removed myself from the dynamic about 4 years before sister's suicide, and I wonder if this had something to do with the collapse of the dynamic too ?

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« Reply #27 on: January 01, 2010, 03:42:00 PM »

In my family, I wasn't just not taught boundaries - I got assaulted and punished for having them. Example: my stepfather was looking for something he misplaced, and just walked into my room and started going through all my things, opening desk drawers and rooting through them, etc. I said "Stop going through my stuff!" and got slapped and snarled at - "Your stuff? What do you think is your stuff in here?"

Same with feelings. Like all kids, I would turn to my mother for comfort if I was upset about something. And like all normal human beings, I experienced anger. Sometimes, if I showed any kind of feeling like that, anger, frustration, sadness, my mother would go nuts and attack me, with slappings, screaming, throwing things. Those fits went on for hours. I learned that certain feelings were not just "not OK" for me, they would put me in danger.

I guess I alternated between Hero and Problem child, depending on how my mother felt about me at the time. If she wasn't feeling aggressive and punishing, she would come to me for comfort and advice, even when I was as young as 7 years old. When she was in her more destructive modes, I was either sick - she dragged me forever to various doctors, trying to find that elusive something that was wrong with me - or I was the very face of evil, to be eradicated.

After writing these things down, I kind of feel like I need to... .I don't know, lie down or something.
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« Reply #28 on: January 01, 2010, 04:10:15 PM »

Wonderful topic, B&W.

While I know bpdfamily.com pertains to BPD, I often think that narcissism is dowplayed in the helping profession in regard to BPD.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to what insights I gained, as my insights were bouncing all over the place even as a young teen.

My mother was certainly overtly narcissistic.   ... .unable "to see, or react to the needs of another". I have witnessed my mother go into a panic when she momentarily was 'on the spot' to see to another's needs. Say, another party outside the family might say to her, in my presence, "I'll bet you are so happy that MTS helps you so much", momster would show panic because she was so unaware of my feelings that she was inept to  merely move the moment on by making a simple reply.

When attending her brother's funeral, who died in a car crash in his twenties, she refused my sibs and myself to attend the funeral, while she had her photo taken upon leaving the house to attend, as if she were a moviestar the tabloids were following. I was twelve years old, BTW, while eldest brother was fourteen years old.

These examples are not taken out of context. This was daily behavior for momster.









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« Reply #29 on: January 01, 2010, 07:08:59 PM »

We have many good examples of roles we all play(ed) in family systems. We're also getting to how children's needs are not acknowledged and the results into adulthood--lack of entitlement, ownership of our own feelings, and boundaries.

A discussion of family systems would not be complete without covering triangulation. One tidy definition of triangulation is "where a person takes their frustration with one relationship to another person, adding a third person into the original relationship and causing power, control, and communication imbalances throughout."

A simple example would be when one parent is giving the other the silent treatment and turns to the child to say, "Tell your father/mother XYZ." Another is when a parent speaks alone with a child and says, "Your father/mother is crazy. What are we going to do?" Or "don't tell your sister/brother, but... ."

BPD sufferers, as we know, tend to think in black and white terms. They also tend to push away when they feel too much intimacy and pull us back when they feel too much distance. Those two dynamics alone can set a series of jangling triangles in motion in a family.

1. Does anyone have an elegant example of how a family with a BPD member(s) gets snarled up in triangles? (I'll post a case study later in this workshop.)

2. How do we avoid getting caught up in triangulation?

B&W

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