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Author Topic: 4.20 | Family systems--understanding the narcissistic family  (Read 39836 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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« Reply #30 on: January 01, 2010, 09:31:07 PM »

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

B&W

I would guess by first recognizing when someone else is playing the role of Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor.  Then using boundaries to refuse participation in the triangulation.

Excerpt
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.)

Okay, how about this ?  A BPD mother has been trying to make her husband do something he does not want to do (because BPDs need to control the people are around them).  Let's say she is trying to make him color code his files, and he just does not see it as a priority.  Since she cannot control him, this triggers her fear of abandonement (because if she cannot control, there is a risk of someone being independent, and therefore, leaving).  So she ruminates and gets very worked up and angry.  

Since none of her anger has ever been validated (because she does not live in the real world) all of that pent up anger is channeled by this rumination.  Her teenage daughter comes home and tosses her book bag on the chair by the kitchen table.  The uBPD mother explodes and rages at her daughter.  Since rage is not a reasonable response to this, the BPD mother has just become a Persecutor, and in doing so, has made her teenage daughter a Victim.  Now the search is on for the daughter to find a Rescuer.  Dad ? another sibling ?

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« Reply #31 on: January 02, 2010, 07:23:37 PM »

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

B&W

I would guess by first recognizing when someone else is playing the role of Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor.  Then using boundaries to refuse participation in the triangulation.

Recognizing it is the hard part for me because I alway's just did as I was told and thought about it later, since trying to heal and recover my own identity I can only recognize that Im feeling bad or angry at the way Im being treated.  I can sense something isn't right, mom is yelling and accusing me of not bringing something I said I was going to bring on Saturday, but it takes too long to figure it all out in my head, Im usually just playing the  rescuer I guess and just apologizing and trying to be the good girl.  Sometimes I can remember oh yeah, I said I would bring it on Saturday, and it's only thursday, don't pick a fight with me.  Then she would go on to say well how am I supposed to get everything done if no one else will do their part? what ? I just walked into the house. Like what NewPheonix Rising said, Now Im still stuck in the rescuer mode, do I tell her I'll bring it back right away or do I remind her I'll bring it on Saturday like we discussed and let her wallow in her own frustration.?  Dad would play the rescuer and usuall go out of his way to make it better.  I've been trying to detach myself and remind myself this is her hang up not mine, whatever she is mad about it's not my fault.  Still how else could I avoid this?  Back to your question black and white, is there anything else I could have done?

Excerpt
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.)

Excerpt
Since none of her anger has ever been validated (because she does not live in the real world) all of that pent up anger is channeled by this rumination.  Her teenage daughter comes home and tosses her book bag on the chair by the kitchen table.  The uBPD mother explodes and rages at her daughter.  Since rage is not a reasonable response to this, the BPD mother has just become a Persecutor, and in doing so, has made her teenage daughter a Victim.  Now the search is on for the daughter to find a Rescuer.  Dad ? another sibling ?

This was my life. In the middle, usually not knowing why or what but being made the outlet and the person she could just dump on whenever. I should also add that I would oblige her too, like a good little girl because I just wanted her love, and when your being yelled at and accused of not doing things correctly your not feeling loved. xoxo
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« Reply #32 on: January 02, 2010, 07:51:02 PM »

Just want to express my appreciation for this topic. I keep coming back to this thread wanting to contribute, but then find myself shying away. Sometimes just reading it leaves me feeling tired and heading back to bed.

There is so much here I can relate to. I have had that "OMG! Were you part of my family too?" feeling many times. I am going to keep coming back to this thread and work through parts of it very slowly, using it as a springboard to exploration.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed. And  xoxox

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« Reply #33 on: January 02, 2010, 11:12:48 PM »

These are great examples!

Excerpt
A BPD mother has been trying to make her husband do something he does not want to do (because BPDs need to control the people are around them).  Let's say she is trying to make him color code his files, and he just does not see it as a priority.  Since she cannot control him, this triggers her fear of abandonment (because if she cannot control, there is a risk of someone being independent, and therefore, leaving).  So she ruminates and gets very worked up and angry. 

Since none of her anger has ever been validated (because she does not live in the real world) all of that pent up anger is channeled by this rumination.  Her teenage daughter comes home and tosses her book bag on the chair by the kitchen table.  The uBPD mother explodes and rages at her daughter.  Since rage is not a reasonable response to this, the BPD mother has just become a Persecutor, and in doing so, has made her teenage daughter a Victim.  Now the search is on for the daughter to find a Rescuer.  Dad ? another sibling ?

I can see lots of triangulation possibilities here. As NPR suggests, the father or sibling could come in and rescue the daughter, "Hey, give her [the daughter] a break!" Or the father or sibling could come in and rescue the MOTHER, ":)on't upset your mother/mom."

Then family roles come into play as well. Perhaps the sibling is The Good Child who tells everyone to calm down or The Caretaker who solves the problem by comforting the mother. Or The Mascot sibling could do something silly to try to distract and ease the tension.

Everyone is playing a role.

Excerpt
Recognizing it is the hard part for me because I always just did as I was told and thought about it later... .I can sense something isn't right, mom is yelling and accusing me of not bringing something I said I was going to bring on Saturday, but it takes too long to figure it all out in my head, I'm usually just playing the  rescuer I guess and just apologizing and trying to be the good girl... .Then she would go on to say well how am I supposed to get everything done if no one else will do their part? what  I just walked into the house... .Dad would play the rescuer and usually go out of his way to make it better.  I've been trying to detach myself and remind myself this is her hang up not mine, whatever she is mad about it's not my fault.  Still how else could I avoid this?

In this example, I see mom playing the victim and setting up MyBigMouth as the perpetrator. However, MyBigMouth is ALSO playing her family role as The Good Child or perhaps The Lost Child. As The Good or Lost Child, she's not supposed to be bad or have bad thoughts or get mad. But here is her mother, yelling at her and blaming her. Her brain fritzes... .what to do with this contradictory information? As she freezes, her mother keeps yelling and her father comes in and plays the hero, "rescuing" mom.

How does that analysis feel to you, MyBigMouth?

That moment is over, but these situations tend to replay. So you have a chance to step back, catch your breath, and plan for next time. One way to handle this is to think in advance about a clear boundary. For example, "if my mother yells at me, I will... .(leave, go to the bathroom to give myself time to think, tell her to stop and if she doesn't then leave)."

It also sounds like working on noticing your feelings earlier will help. That "freeze" feeling is itself a clue. It's like a deer in the forest startled by a noise. Is it a predator? The deer stops and hopes to blend in with the shadows, waiting it out. When you feel that prey-animal freeze, take a breath. Notice it. Maybe even give yourself a cue for it, like a word or a color. Start associating it with something that can jump in your mind quickly. (I do a lot of yoga, and I started to notice my own "freeze" reaction because I automatically began doing yogic breathing. My body sensed the anxiety before my mind did.)

Once you have it in out in your mind where you can see it, you can start to change your reactions. Eventually, as you feel more in control, you have the option of using boundaries (as above) or validation (validating your mother's FEELING of anxiety or frustration without agreeing with her), or a combination.

So to summarize:

*Look at the roles everyone is playing--this will help you see how these situations play out and plan ahead.

*In the moment, take a time out to give yourself a chance to assess your feelings. You can usually go to the bathroom or step back to the car because you "forgot something."

*Work on noticing your feelings and give yourself cues about them as you go about your day.

*Look for ways to soothe your feelings when they are anxious or panicked ("freeze". Breathing, affirmations, a soothing thought association can all help.

*Work in advance on a clear boundary and how you will maintain it.

Bricolage--I'm so glad you're getting something out of the workshop. You're smart to take things at your own pace.  xoxo

B&W

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« Reply #34 on: January 03, 2010, 06:27:20 PM »

I, too, am thankful that this workshop was started. I have been looking for a family systems graduate course for professional and educational reasons, but I have a strong personal interest as well. The start of this thread seemed serendipitous.

I echo Bricolage, too, that the thread is engaging and draining to read. This is a good sign for me because it means I am being challenged to think critically about our own family systems.

One recent triangulation episode occurred today. This morning, my visiting, enmeshed MIL told my non-DH that his PDsis is hurt that DH didn't say "thank you" for birthday gifts when she called to wish happy new year. When DH only responded with "okay," MIL gave a pointed, long stare. DH responded with, "You are looking at me as if you want me to say something." MIL stated, "Well, I'd like to hear you say you will do better next time and that you will consider her feelings." DH looked at his mom and said, "I'm not going to say that," and ended the conversation.

To me, my MIL is playing rescuer, my PDsil is the victim, and my DH is the persecutor.

For my DH, I think he did a good job because in years past, such a conversation could make him very unhappy, hurt, and slightly depressed. When we talked about it later, another response could be something like, "I know you want to help PDsis, Mom. If PDsis is upset with me, though, she needs to talk to me about it. I'm not going to discuss this with you."

Now that I have learned about the Karpman triangle through readings on this site as well as this workshop, I see triangulation as a common form of communication in my DH's family and in parts of mine, too. (Always easier to see it in others than in myself. )

One of the ways we are trying to avoid triangulation is not to engage in it ourselves. When my enmeshed MIL visits or calls, we do not ask about uBPDsil. If my MIL brings her up we nod, let her talk, say small conversation noises, but try to employ the "Wise Mind," so MIL can process her stuff with uBPDsil, but we do not get hooked or try to add anything that can be brought back to uBPDsil. Realizing all the time that MIL could spin that, too, but . . . meh.

Thank you for this workshop. I am very thankful for the timing of it!

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« Reply #35 on: January 03, 2010, 08:41:11 PM »



Excerpt
How do we avoid getting caught up in triangulation?

I'm sorry to say 'triangulation' has been a way of life for my family.  This is the way we relate to each other... .my younger sister talks to mom, my next sister talks to mom, then I talk to mom.  Mom then tells each of us in turn what the other sister says or maybe what she wants to tell us what the other sisters says.

So mom tells me that one of my sisters kept her bank card and now she's all upset that she has no money, so I run to the bank and drive over with money and now I'm angry at my sister. Then she tells this sister how I don't visit often enough or don't do enough for her so she gets angry at me.

Then she tells both this sister and I that my youngest sister hasn't even visited her for Christmas yet so now we are both supposed to be angry at her. Mom is in this way keeping us all separated just so she can keep control of us, so by the time she is gone there will be no family left.

This has been going on for as long as I can remember.  I have been NC with one sister and this of course was over mom too, till Christmas when she phoned me and talked to me like nothing had happened for the last 4 months but up till then mom told me almost every time she talked to me how much my sister hated me or my children.

I did tell mom that I didn't want to hear about my sister and what she thought about me but she kept sneaking in bits about her and since I'm didn't want to cause a drama like the last time I tried to stop her when she threatened she didn't want to live if I didn't talk to her, I just let it go.  Now I guess I can talk to this sister myself but, I think I would rather just go through my mom as I actually feel safer.  I can see triangulation happening constantly in my family but I don't know how to stop it and too be truthful I don't really want to talk to any of them.

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« Reply #36 on: January 04, 2010, 10:10:22 AM »

Here's a historic example of triangulation from my family. The context is that many people on Mom's side of the family are bipolar; some people on Dad's side of the family have PDs.   Bipolar Mom was unhappy with PD Dad and complained to her mother (MGrandma) and brothers (MUncles), but not to Dad.  Mom's family arranges for a rental house and helps her run away with us (3 young kids) without telling Dad!  :)ad comes home from work one day to find his family gone, no note, and no one in Mom's family will tell him where we are.  At this point in time the roles were: Dad-Persecuter, MGrandma & MUncles-Rescuers, Mom-Victim.  

Several months go by and it becomes clear Mom has serious mental health issues and can't take care of children on her own.  We move into MGrandma's house but Mom is too needy for her family to handle.  MGrandma & MUncles reveal our whereabouts to Dad without telling Mom!  :)ad starts to visit (I have no idea how Mom & Dad worked out this reconciliation), and becomes "Super Dad" on weekends.  Now the roles shift to: Mom-Persecuter, Dad-Rescuer, MGrandma & MUncles-Victims.

A year goes by, Mom & Dad fully reconcile and move to new house together with us kids.  Vicious cycle ensues whereby Dad is mean so Mom is needy.  Or was it Mom is needy so Dad is mean?  We'll never tease out cause and effect there, so let's just say they were a terrible combination. Dad continues playing Super Dad in public, and he complains bitterly about Mom to all who will listen.  :)ad's parents move from another state to be near us and help Dad.  The roles shift again:  Mom-Persecuter, PGrandparents-Rescuer, Dad-Victim.  (MGrandma passes away and MUncles promptly drop out of our lives for 20 years.)

Mom is miserable with PGrandparents living nearby, Dad being a private jerk but public angel.  Mom has several breakdowns and hospitalizations, complains to doctors, social workers, public interest lawyer etc.  Mom is discharged and moves to her FOO's house where bipolar MGrandpa resides and files for divorce (Yes, My bipolar mother divorced my PD father, not the other way around!)  The roles shift again:  PGrandparents & Dad-Persecuters, MGrandpa-Rescuer, Mom-VIctim.

Triangulation continues for years, but I'll stop here having shown how Mom and Dad played multiples roles in the drama.  

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« Reply #37 on: January 04, 2010, 10:53:55 AM »

More great triangulation examples!

Since we focused so much on this topic because triangles are such a key feature of dysfunctional families, I wanted to point out that triangulation patterns are not the only ones. Harriet Lerner (Dance of Anger, Dance of Intimacy, etc.) writes very clearly about a variety of binary patterns as well.

Excerpt
The distancer-pursuer, for example, is a pattern where one person distances from the other, especially in times of stress, causing the other to pursue relentlessly. Or there is the overfunctioner-underfunctioner relationship, where one person takes on the lion's share of the responsibility, so the other does not have to be bothered. There are also triangles, 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.



(Source: www.associatedcontent.com/article/1829707/learning_with_dr_harriet_lerner.html?cat=38 "Learning with Dr. Harriet Lerner: The Use of the Dance of Intimacy in Therapy." I added the bolding.)

Back to triangulation... .here is the promised case study to add to the examples already given. A psychologist who answers questions online posted this case study. There is no mention of a family member having BPD, but I think the scenario will have a ring of familiarity.

Excerpt
On the Family As A System and the Problem of Triangulation

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 27th 2009

(source: www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=29045&cn=51)

Following is an E. Mail Case Example that was posted February 24, 2009

"Fiance's mother from hell:"

"I'm dealing with the fallout of a mother like this.  My fiance's mother was successful in driving us apart.  When my fiance stood up to her, she spread lies about me and my family to all of his extended family in Los Angeles, convinced my fiance's family to stage an intervention on his not marrying me, and was horribly rude to my family in an irreparable way at my fiance's grandfather's memorial service. (this is in addition to calling me up the day after my fiance had said generally where and when we were to be married, and saying that she wished we would wait two years before doing so.)

Although I was technically the one that broke it off because he said he could not stand up for me against his family, I am very hurt and confused at how in the heck ?"

__________________________________

Family Systems and Triangulation:

The posting above, sent by sent by a confused and hurt young woman, is a good example of a family system operating with a dysfunctional pattern referred to as "triangulation."

First, it is important to understand the family as a "system" and what that really means.

Viewing the family as a system means that the members of the group interact with one another and those interactions are governed by certain rules and regulations. Whenever something happens to one member of the family it affects the interactions of all the family members. In addition, one set of rules that govern the interactions among members of the family system have to do with setting and maintaining boundaries. For example, there are rules governing sexual behavior in the family. Parents engage in sexual relationships to the exclusion of the children. Once adult children leave the family and find appropriate sexual partners of their own in the outside world. This is sanctioned by the entire society.

Within the family are patterns of interaction that shift and change with time. Many of these patterns (but not all) are dyadic in nature. In other words, alliances form such as a child in alliance with the mother against the father and other siblings. Another scenario is one in which the siblings ally against one or both parents. In fact, in the  history of a family, there can be many types and patterns of interaction as each challenge, change and crisis comes along.

It is always important to remember that the family system has, as one of its goals, the preservation of itself. To this end, a family will do what it can to meet with and defeat any perceived threats to its existence. At the very same time, a healthy family system is flexible enough to admit new members to its circle and to allow for and adjust to changing circumstances, such as meeting each stage of the children growing up towards adulthood. Some of these circumstances include moving from the nursery to the nursery and then public school. Later, there are movements towards the recognition of the changing status of the children such as rituals around reaching adolescence, High School graduation and leaving home either for job training or college education. Always, the healthy family recognizes and encourages, in gradual and appropriate ways, the movement of the children towards adulthood and emancipation.

However, if the family system is dysfunctional and one or more of its members is not able to tolerate change and emancipation trouble can loom either ahead or all along the way. Partly, this is due to the fact that change and growth are viewed as threats that must be stopped. Change, in many circumstances, is resisted because it provokes enormous anxiety. Sometimes, in the case of the dysfunctional family, threat is dealt with through "triangulation."

Triangulation means that a third person either within the family or someone from outside, is brought in and selected as a way to protect the integrity of the family by ending any perceived threat to the system. Part of the way triangulation works is that it occurs without any direct verbal communication between the threatened member or members and the individual viewed as posing the threat.

This is what happened in the case sited above in the E. Mail.

Explanation of the case example:

The young woman complains that her fiance's mother spread lies about her and her family after he asserted himself with his mother, presumably in protecting his girlfriend and soon to be wife. Obviously, the young man's mother objected to the wedding. Her objections were so strong that she called for an extended family meeting with the purpose of stopping the marriage from moving ahead. Tis family meeting, referred to as "an intervention" was successful in causing the young man to decide that he "could not stand up to his family," and the engagement was terminated. How could this happen?

Discussion of the case:

For some unknown reason, the mother viewed her son's wedding engagement as a threat. There is a lot we do not know about the family or this mother, making it more difficult to reach solid conclusions but it is possible to make some educated guesses.

Educated guess One:

This mother clearly viewed her son's engagement and impending marriage as a threat to her authority and to the integrity of the family. Recall from the E. Mail that this mother demanded that the wedding be postponed for two years. In addition, this mother decided when and where the wedding would take place which she communicated to this young woman. In addition, she viewed the threat as so powerful that she and her family behaved in ways that were quite rude to this young woman's family at a funeral. I think you will agree that this type of behavior is harsh. It is also extremely meddling.

Educated guess Two:

For a son to cave in to the demands of his mother and extended family in this day and age indicates that there is something not right going on with this young man. Why? Now more than ever, it is possible for young people to make decisions whether their families like it or not. As a result, the son's decision to "not stand up to his family" indicates that, emotionally, he seems to not have achieved real emancipation from a psychological point of view. Gaining a real sense of individuation and autonomy means, among many other things, that an individual feels self confident and strong in knowing who they are, what they want, what they want to do and knowing or considering the possible consequences of what they do.

It seems that this young woman was "triangulated" or selected as a threat, possibly, to the authority of this mother over her son. It is speculative but within believability to guess that mother and son has a strong dyadic alliance within the family for a long time. I think it interesting that the young female writer says nothing about her boyfriend's father. We cannot know why and the E. Mail is very brief.

In effect, the mother succeeded in terminating the engagement between her son and the young woman. Thereby, she protected her relationship with her son, kept him within the family and prevented, at least for now, his continued growth and development. She did this by portraying the young woman and her family as damaged or dangerous in certain ways and by enlisting the support of the entire extended family against the marriage. Prior to this set of unfortunate circumstances, it is possible to speculate that she succeeded in keeping her son dependent and somewhat "undifferentiated or unindividuated from both herself and the family. Given his lack of psychological separateness, he could not rebel and marry the woman of his choice.

If I am correct about this explanation it is better, in the long run, for this young woman to have stopped the engagement. The reason is that this young man might never find it within his psychological means to separate from his mother. Add to that, if he is able to summon psychological energy to marry this young woman, he might never have the will to keep his mother from meddling in their marriage with the result that the hypothetical marriage could end up in divorce. At least, that is the way I see it based on the little we know.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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« Reply #38 on: January 04, 2010, 11:27:32 AM »

Well there is definately the trianglulation pattern going on in my family.  I see my father and mother switch roles, but usually my father will be the fixer and my mother is the one telling everyone what to do.  When I stand up for myself Im then the bad person, when she is mad at my dad he is then the bad person and Im supposed to sympathize with her.  So the question is still how to avoid the triangulation, the only way I have found is not to play the game, to take myself out, but then that still pursues the triangulation because then she just spouts bad things about me and tries to get my dad to think Im the worst adult child ever. 

There is very little honest communication in my family, unless you relentlessly pursue the with rightouseness the honest truth of the situation, wich is still part of the triangle, so I don't see how to avoid being in the triangle.
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« Reply #39 on: January 04, 2010, 12:48:33 PM »

Excerpt
The distancer-pursuer, for example, is a pattern where one person distances from the other, especially in times of stress, causing the other to pursue relentlessly. Or there is the overfunctioner-underfunctioner relationship, where one person takes on the lion's share of the responsibility, so the other does not have to be bothered.

I have been on both ends of both of these dynamics in 'romantic' relationships.  I guess because I came from such a dysfunctional family dynamic (which included both of these and lots of triangulation), I experimented with about as many other unhealthy dynamics as there were.  I wanted so much to have a good and close relationship, I tried everything I could try.  However, since I could not be truly intimate in truly being emotionally honest with my gfs, I was not able to reach a healthy balance.  Now I feel I have a much better shot at it.  

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« Reply #40 on: January 04, 2010, 12:56:33 PM »

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

This feature was definitely present in my family.  From a young age I was parentified and expected to mother my mother.  I cannot remember ever receiving comfort or mothering from her.  As a result of this parentification, I learned:

1.  I was responsible for mom's mental health.  

2.  I was obligated to provide comfort on demand.  

3.  Any rejection of my duty to mother my mother was selfish and cold-hearted.  

4.  Having my own needs was selfish and cold-hearted.  I was to think of mother and only mother.  

5.  Being a good person means taking abuse and any rejection of abusive behavior is selfish and cold-hearted.  I was wrong to hurt my abuser by not allowing her the opoprtunity to treat me badly whenever she needed the opportunity to vent her rage and frustration with life.  It was my job to be her whipping post whenever she needed me to be and to not do so means I'm a terrible person.  

6.  Being my own person was unacceptable.  I was not to have a personality beyond a drive to fill my mother's endless needs.  I was not to have boundaries as mother needed to engulf me lest she feel abadoned and rejected.  I was to allow that and anything less was cold and selfish, and made me a terrible person.  

7.  I was not entitled to a life of my own.  My life belonged to my mother.  

Excerpt
*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.

I certainly learned not to have needs or expect them to be met, and I learned not to have feelings.  It has taken me a long time to really be able to identify the range of emotions I tried so hard to suppress as a child.  This suppression served me well as a child and helped me escape from my dysfunctional family environment, but to become truly functional and healthy I had to re-learn how to identify my feelings and even allow myself to feel them.

I was also pretty much a doormat for a long time because I simply could not put any importance on my own needs.  If someone else had a need, it was automatically and subconsciously deemed more important than any need of mine.  I was often angry and resentful after doing so, yet also couldn't bring myself to assert myself and stand up for my needs because I thought I was a selfish and bad person if I did.  It took a lot of work to become more assertive and realize that no one (except my mother) would hate me or think I was a bad person if I had needs, even if my needs conflicted with theirs.  Conflict didn't have to mean raging argument.  Compromises could be reached to accomodate everyone and I didn't always have to bend over backwards and bury my needs to maintain relationships (work, friends, romantic... .relationships of all types).  

Excerpt
*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.

Although seemingly confident, I was really extremely insecure in my relationships.  I simply seemed confident because I could successfully pretend not to care, a defense mechanism that helped me survive living with my raging mother.    

Excerpt
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.

It took me a long time to recognize the full scope of my family's dysfunction.  It was easy for me to recognize my mother's raging, insults, criticisms, and intentional humiliations as abuse.  It was obvious to me that screaming vile names at your daughter was abusive.  It was obvious that chasing me around with a hammer was abusive.  It was not so obvious that it was abusive to make me feel responsible for my mother.  After all, society itself tells us that children should be responsible for their parents, and honor them no matter what.  So when she told me I was a bad person for not bowing to her every demand, it was an easy message to internalize even though on the surface I rejected it.  I knew intellectually she was wrong.  But it took a long time to change the internalized message or even recognize that I had internalized these messages.  Actually, the recognition that my self-esteem was incredibly low and I was a doormat, for instance, was harder than actually changing those things.  I had told myself my mother was wrong to say I was a bad person and thought my self-esteem and confidence hadn't suffered as a result of her constant barage of criticism.  But in reality, I had internalized the message that I was a bad person at the same time I was telling myself she was wrong, and until I accepted that I was a doormat.  Therapy helped a lot as did these boards, because it opened my eyes to the full scope of the abuse and let me recognize it, the first step to fixing it.  

Excerpt
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.

My family was covertly narcissistic at first, but my mother became less and less capable of hiding her dysfunction over the years.  It is now at the point that she has been banned from several local stores due to her behavior.  But despite how normal we appeared for a long time when I was a child, I realize now that many people noticed something was wrong.  They just couldn't put their finger on what it was.  But somehow my mother's dysfunction was transmitted to them and they felt it.  

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« Reply #41 on: January 04, 2010, 01:52:33 PM »

I'm wondering, and B&W and others, I hope you will chime in on this.

Just how much does abuse of power play into the triangulation and how deeply can it run?

One of the numerous triangulations that have gone on, and still go on in my Foo was that momster parentified me but WHILE being a controlling and 'militant' mother (queen). An example for me is that I'd have established plans to go out on a particular evening in my late teens. Momster would brush past ordering me to "Stay home and watch the kids". No discussion, total compliance on my part. Aka my needs, wants and humility did not exist. Not much good for self-esteem I'd guess.

Also, not that anyone has made an issue of this on this thread, but this same triangulation (power) is what feeds into and allows emotional and sexual abuse within the nuclear family, IMO. How many have heard professionals state that the mother is never unaware that a D is being sexually abused by the father? I've heard many. I know that my father knew momster was emotionally abusing me and his quietness granted her permission. This alone could open up more cans of worms. In that scenario there seems to have been no rescuer.

I think that there is never a clean cut triangulation. I think that it gets messy and complex depending also on how many family member's are involved.

I hope the issue of power in triangulating will be probed.

























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« Reply #42 on: January 04, 2010, 01:56:40 PM »

So how do people avoid triangulation?  In my family, this happened all the time - if me or my sister misbehaved, my mom used that as a weapon against dad, my mom has said that she saw me as a representative of her mother, as well as, at times, of my dad, and fought out those conflicts in her relationship with me, and she would also tell us, through direct instruction and example, that dad was not to be trusted, and to live in fear of him, that he was unpredictable, judgmental, and potentially violent (none of this was true - it may well have been true of her father, though).  

Since adulthood, my strategy has been to avoid talking about my sister or father with mom, and if she complains about their behavior, to say that she should talk to them about her feelings, not me.  I have also rejected her attempts to get my advice on her relationship with potential love interests, saying I don't have specific advice since I don't know the situation and she surely knows better than I do what the best course of action is.  At first, I gave her innocuous information about my in-laws (i.e., grandma is sometimes forgetful, a new college grad seems unsure what to do with his life, etc.) but have started shutting down those conversations as well, for fear that they will give her more material for manipulation.  All of this shutting down leaves us with very little to say, naturally!  I'm not really sure how to deal with it other than not to respond, and drop with subject, with dead silence if necessary.  With the result that our relationship consists of a symbolic call (which means, I haven't cut you off, we still have a relationship) but no substance, just her complaining about how others mistreat her and silence on my part, padded with her false double-edged happiness for my "perfect life."  It's pretty bleak.
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« Reply #43 on: January 04, 2010, 01:58:11 PM »

Hit post too quickly.

Triangulation/power would be a 'must' in a narcissistic family since narcissists operate by having power/control. An interesting statement I once read is that the narcissist demands other's to 'obey'.
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« Reply #44 on: January 04, 2010, 05:04:05 PM »

Excerpt
author=methinkso link=topic=108970.msg1074992#msg1074992 date=1262634753]Also, not that anyone has made an issue of this on this thread, but this same triangulation (power) is what feeds into and allows emotional and sexual abuse within the nuclear family, IMO. How many have heard professionals state that the mother is never unaware that a D is being sexually abused by the father? I've heard many.

Being the mother of a children who were sexually abused I would have to disagree.  I knew that he was emotionally abusive, I would plead with my daughter just do the dishes or he will get mad. I thought he was having an affair. He would leave and work in another state for a week, etc.  He was abusive verbally and I would run after trying to make it all better. It was because the kids didn't do enough chores, etc. I was running in circles and he knew that and he kept the facade going then once in a while he would be nice and help out and I thought wow ok we are making progress. The times he said I'll go to the grocery store you stay here I'll bring (eldest daughter) and that way you can stay and I can have help. It sounded harmless and I thought he was actually listening to my cries for help.  He was molesting her on those trips. I never had one red flag, other than his behavior was weird.  His nice, seemingly understanding persona also filtered to my other kids. I see now his manipulation and his way's of keeping me from seeing what was really going on. Now anything strange or out of the ordinary is a red flag but I still get manipulated by people very easily and it feels like crap. I believe I am not in tune with these things because of the lack of trust for my fear, anger, etc.  So in essence yes I believe the whole triangulation does lend itself to abuse of all sort, however I have to disagree with your thinking that the other person involved see's everything as it is. I do know because he told the DA that I knew that he was doing it, wich he may actually think I did know and somewhere in his messed up head he thought that gave him permission, who knows if he was truthful in that statement or not. From the bottom of my heart I had no idea that was what was going on, I thought he was abusive though and I wish I had the gut's to get out of there sooner.

Being the child of a uBPDm I do know for a fact that my father saw and heard the mean things she did and he chose to ignore it.
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« Reply #45 on: January 04, 2010, 06:01:35 PM »

Since adulthood, my strategy has been to avoid talking about my sister or father with mom, and if she complains about their behavior, to say that she should talk to them about her feelings, not me.  I have also rejected her attempts to get my advice on her relationship with potential love interests, saying I don't have specific advice since I don't know the situation and she surely knows better than I do what the best course of action is.  At first, I gave her innocuous information about my in-laws (i.e., grandma is sometimes forgetful, a new college grad seems unsure what to do with his life, etc.) but have started shutting down those conversations as well, for fear that they will give her more material for manipulation.  All of this shutting down leaves us with very little to say, naturally!  I'm not really sure how to deal with it other than not to respond, and drop with subject, with dead silence if necessary.  With the result that our relationship consists of a symbolic call (which means, I haven't cut you off, we still have a relationship) but no substance, just her complaining about how others mistreat her and silence on my part

This is exactly what I have done, but everytime I want to make conversation and I give in and let tidbit's out, she manipulates it. Sarcasm or tone of voice inuendo suggesting I dont know what Im talking about, duh how stupid of me?  I want to get out of this invisible child role, and stand on my own two feet in front of her not just when she isn't around.  It's hard to sit without having anything to say! It's hard to hear her complain about this or that and not say something! It leads to a very uneasy feeling in my stomache and anxiety wether I stick to my guns and deflect like you suggested with directing the responsibility back to her or just have no opinion. The anxiety is higher than I can tolerate and I then get flashbacks of how stupid she makes me out to be. If Im quite Im stupid, if I have an opinion it's stupid. It's a no wind situation and the triangle continues.
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« Reply #46 on: January 04, 2010, 06:02:36 PM »

I think that there is never a clean cut triangulation. I think that it gets messy and complex depending also on how many family member's are involved.

I agree with this.  I think often the waters become murky when there are multiple family members involved, complicated alliances, and such.

One Christmas, a very infamous one in our family, my sister and I teamed up against Mom and Dad.  It all started with Sister trying to clear off the coffee table, so there was one surface in the house that did not have a mess of papers and miscellaneous junk on it.  Mother would not allow her to do it.  It escalated and Sister was yelling at both Mom and enDad  that 'things had happened', that our family was dysfunctional and parents played an integral part.  Momster was 'fighting back' and I stood up for sister.  enDad backed momster.  Momster and sis began pushing each other (the only time I remember the fam getting physical like that).  I yelled in support of sister, but did not take part in the physical stuff.  Brother was having his own meltdown just wanting us all to stop.  This led to an alliance between sister and I against Mother and enDad.  Although she was still looked on as the main Persecutor, a fissure had formed in the static triangulation where it had been Sister-Persecutor, Mother-Victim, Dad-Rescuer.  I think Brother and I were co-Rescuers, although much lesser than enDad, for Mom before this event.  Before this, Sister did not have a Rescuer on her private phone calls with mother, when I think they were both Persecuting each other.
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« Reply #47 on: January 04, 2010, 07:52:49 PM »

Boarderchic, thank you for sharing your responses. Really interesting. These points struck me especially as among the common "lessons" of the narcissistic family:

Excerpt
1.  I was responsible for mom's mental health. 

2.  I was obligated to provide comfort on demand. 

3.  Any rejection of my duty to mother my mother was selfish and cold-hearted. 

4.  Having my own needs was selfish and cold-hearted.  I was to think of mother and only mother. 

5.  Being a good person means taking abuse and any rejection of abusive behavior is selfish and cold-hearted.  I was wrong to hurt my abuser by not allowing her the opportunity to treat me badly whenever she needed the opportunity to vent her rage and frustration with life.  It was my job to be her whipping post whenever she needed me to be and to not do so means I'm a terrible person. 

6.  Being my own person was unacceptable.  I was not to have a personality beyond a drive to fill my mother's endless needs.  I was not to have boundaries as mother needed to engulf me lest she feel abandoned and rejected.  I was to allow that and anything less was cold and selfish, and made me a terrible person. 

7.  I was not entitled to a life of my own.  My life belonged to my mother.



Methinkso, power is absolutely a critical part of the family dynamics. You gave an example:

Excerpt
An example for me is that I'd have established plans to go out on a particular evening in my late teens. Momster would brush past ordering me to "Stay home and watch the kids". No discussion, total compliance on my part. Aka my needs, wants and humility did not exist. Not much good for self-esteem I'd guess.

The example doesn't seem to be so much about triangulation as about domination. Your mother wanted you to know that you had no rights. Two quotes from The Narcissistic Family (bolding mine):

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!

B&W
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« Reply #48 on: January 04, 2010, 08:05:25 PM »

There aren't any easy answers with all of this.

Salome pointed out the strategy of refusing to carry information with a redirect:

Excerpt
Since adulthood, my strategy has been to avoid talking about my sister or father with mom, and if she complains about their behavior, to say that she should talk to them about her feelings, not me.

You do have to be very firm and consistent to make this work, but eventually, in my experience, the "let's complain about so and so" (and imagine him/her as the root of all evil) version of triangulation can fade away.

A useful tool when you are being verbally attacked (but being made into a persecutor) is found a TOOLS: Stop accusations and blaming.

B&W
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« Reply #49 on: January 05, 2010, 07:58:43 AM »

Wow, that workshop on stopping accusations and blaming was helpful!  The idea that when someone accuses you of feeling a certain way or being motivated by certain things that you aren't it's a lie told about you to you, and that it's a form of abuse that should not be tolerated... .wow.  This was practically a way of life in my family. 

Giving me lots to think about, as usual, blackandwhite!  Thank you!
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« Reply #50 on: January 05, 2010, 11:22:44 PM »

So I skimmed through the workshop on stopping accusations and blaming, so is there a way to end the triangulation by simply saying stop. Triangulation comes in all forms and it is sometimes silent and you have no idea what is going on, but when we do see the pattern emerging the actual triangulation in itself is a form of abuse so would saying stop your putting me in the persecutor role and actually calling it what it is help the BPD see that they are using us as a pawn?  Mabe Im taking it too literally.
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« Reply #51 on: January 06, 2010, 12:30:51 AM »

Triangulation comes in all forms and it is sometimes silent and you have no idea what is going on, but when we do see the pattern emerging the actual triangulation in itself is a form of abuse

Yes!

My reading of it is by recognizing unfounded accusations and blaming and calmly saying "stop" and naming what's going on ("stop the accusations and blaming", you are stepping off the triangle. You're creating a clear boundary. The other players may perceive your action as persecuting, but it isn't. You're calm. You're simply stating a boundary and putting an end to abuse.

so would saying stop your putting me in the persecutor role and actually calling it what it is help the BPD see that they are using us as a pawn?  Mabe Im taking it too literally.

I think these things have to stay pretty simple to work in these situations, so saying "you're putting me in the persecutor role"--though TRUE!--would probably muddy the waters. You can think it, to help you recognize what's going on, but keep your words to "stop" and "stop the accusations and blaming." Also be prepared for how to enforce the boundary once you set it. If accusations continue, you will probably have to take a time out and leave the situation.

The critical thing is that you see it, you call an end to the behavior, and over time, the behavior is likely to diminish. That's my take, at any rate... .

B&W
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« Reply #52 on: January 07, 2010, 01:16:18 PM »

Thank you again to everyone who participated in this workshop. Your questions, stories, and insights have been terrific. Before we wrap up this phase, I wanted to be sure to include information on recovery from the Narcissistic Family, as outlined in the book by that title referenced throughout this thread.

Five Stages of Recovery from the Narcissistic Family:

1. Revisiting--facing the reality of your childhood

2. Mourning the loss of the fantasy--recognizing that you will never get what you need from your family and grieve that loss

3. Recognition--naming and validating the strategies the child used to survive, but recognizing the strategies may not be helping (and my be hurting) the adult

4. Evaluation--assessing the current situation and deciding what you want to keep and what you want to change

5. Responsibility for change--accepting the reality and working toward change

These stages are similar in general concept to those provided in our Survivors' Guide in the right panel of Coping and Healing in a Family with a BPD Parent, Sibling, or Inlaw. The Lessons there offer additional tools to work through this process.

The problem was a system that served the needs of the most powerful family members at the expense of the least powerful. The solution, however, is individual--it's about each of us.

The key ideas in getting past our narcissistic families of origin are that recovery:

*is a process

*is difficult but possible

*is within the control of each of us

Note: If you are questioning whether you are currently in an abusive relationship, review Safety First.
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« Reply #53 on: March 31, 2010, 08:40:27 AM »

Here is the famous "wolf pack" post with another way of describing a dysfunctional family system and the role of the scapegoat in it.

This was written by StillStanding:

Excerpt
One of the principles of systems is that every system is uniquely designed to do what it does and that includes the social structure of the BPD/NPD.  The only way that a system in which one member makes their needs paramount can be maintained is if the other members subordinate their needs to the dominate member. 

One of the things that I have noticed is that whether we are talking NPD/BPD, alcoholic/drug addict, or nasty turd, the social system that maintains the dominant or privileged position of the main player is the system that is termed pack structure.  That is to say that the pack structure normally expressed in the canine is the same structure we see in what we choose to term the "dysfunctional family." 

In pack organization there is one individual whose needs are dominant and who reigns supreme.  There is not a hierarchy.  It is ME and everybody else.  The only way this structure can be maintained is if other members of the structure subordinate their needs to the dominant member (called the alpha in the canine pack).  This is why BPDs and nonBPDs have to hook up together. Ever see a canine pack in action?  Talk about walking on eggshells.  It is the duty and responsibility of the non-dominant members (beta) to please and appease the alpha.

If we could graph this you would see the BPD as at one level and all of the other members of the social system at a lower level.   Interactions would be from the BPD to all other members and interactions between the other members would be controlled or eliminated making the BPD (alpha) the dominate member of the social system. 

Pack structure is the perfect system for maintaining control and blind obedience and fosters dependency and lack of initiative.  Sounds like my family.  Military and paramilitary organizations are set up this way because it serves their purpose. 

In the pack structure it is the alpha's perfect right to attack any one for any reason or for no reason.  Challenges to the alpha are rare because the alpha has random displays of aggression (often pseudo aggression to maintain control) and there is no coalition formation.  One of the ways coalition formation is prevented is by the process someone else has identified as "triangulation."   If alpha is angered at beta1 it just might attack beta2 and beta2 will nail beta1 with a thanks a lot, see what you did.  This is a much more effective method of control, because of the "guilt factor."  True terrorists understand this.  Someone crosses you it is much more effective to punish some innocent than the true perpetrator then the entire pack turns on the guilty party.  This process serves to limit challenges to the dominant member as the risk is too great and you can count on other members standing with the dominant member against you.

In the canine pack one member is often chosen to be the buffer or (mixing animal metaphors I realize) the scapegoat.  This member is termed the omega.  The omega is the "bad child" that is blamed for all that goes wrong.  This is a very important role in the pack and serves to reduce over all conflict in the social system.  I'm sure that many BPD families (packs) have their omegas. 

The point of all this is that each of us has existed in an identifiable and although screwed up social system from the stand point of individual growth and development, one that obviously fits the needs of the BPD/NPD (alpha).  The alpha will do anything to maintain that system.  Including feigning injury or helplessness to regain position and support from the other members of the social system.

Another principle of systems is that they seek to maintain themselves.  So when one of the members tries to break out of role there will be tremendous pressure put on that individual to return to role.  That is why some Ts will require or urge individuals to reduce or eliminate family contact as they work on personal issues.

Don't know if anyone else finds this interesting but I find it fascinating that the structure that the BPD creates is the pack structure, the perfect one for control and obedience, designed to eliminate individuation and personal growth.

I think it is important to see this behavior in a systems context.  It also explains why there are so many similarities in our experiences.  Same system, same outcomes.   


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« Reply #54 on: October 04, 2010, 11:33:50 AM »

Many of us who have lived longterm with someone with narcissistic behaviors struggle with some basic issues regarding our personal safety.  We are so used to the theatrics, threats, stalking, etc., that we are the proverbial frog in the pan of hot water.  We tolerate ongoing threats to our own safety, even long after we have left the relationship. We even tell others (including attorneys, guardians ad litem, etc.) that "something bad is going to happen because this situation is out of control," but then we are afraid to act on our own behalf.  This is especially true if there are children involved and we cannot go "no contact" with our ex. 

Is anyone aware of an article re. when to create a safety plan?  I know there are some articles on domestic violence and how to create safety plans.  But I am talking about more covert emotional abuse which is escalating, and the individual has become desensitized and so is at further risk.  I would like to see an article addressing "When to Call the Police."  I have a sister who is divorced from a narcissist, and he has dogged her in court for well over a decade.  He is very abusive towards her and escalating - but he always stops short of doing anything which could be proved.  Recently he insisted on having his parenting time late at night with his son (age 15), after his son's soccer game.  He planned to bring the boy home at 1am.  My sister refused, so this man blocked her car with his.  When traffic backed up behind him he had to move - so he followed her all the way to her house, his bumper nearly touching hers the entire way.  When she got home she put the garage door up and quickly got in the house with her son.  Her ex began calling her home phone and cell phone repeatedly (he sometimes does this for hours.) 

Sorry if this is a confusing post - I'm not really sure how to even articulate this question.  My FOO has a pattern of getting into abusive relationsips - I am well on the way out of mine, but I fear for my sister and her son.  I know it would've helped me long ago to read an article instructing me on when to call the police, or on what behaviors (BEYOND OBVIOUS PHYSICAL ABUSE)never to tolerate, etc.

Thanks for any help,

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« Reply #55 on: November 21, 2010, 02:32:34 AM »

This is an interesting thread for me.

The first thing I thought about when the phrase Narcissistic family came up was that I have thought within the last few years that my FOO was like this.

I was thinking they were narcissistic because they always acted on the outside to people like what a great family we were , esp. if you included all the aunts, uncles and cousins. 

No one ever was willing to admit dysfunction except for the overuse of alcohol in the family, even then, my mom would never admit anyone was really an alcoholic until one of my sister actually admitted it herself.

No one ever saw the many problems that came up over and over again as dysfunction.  Every damn thing that came up was swept under the rug, shrugged off.

All my mom ever said to me about the things I questioned was, Well we can't do anything about it.

My mom was as sick as my philandering, alcohol abusing, immature dad, but in a codependent way.

We all were programmed to focus on their needs, as my mother was programmed to focus on my grandmothers needs.

There was never , ever any real closeness among the five siblings, just posing.  Some are still posing.

I can't wait to be completely healed of the posing, I am working on it every day with the help of Faith Therapy, and the book Codependent no more by Beattie.


xoxoTelios

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« Reply #56 on: December 06, 2010, 03:59:18 AM »

I'm wondering, and B&W and others, I hope you will chime in on this.

Just how much does abuse of power play into the triangulation and how deeply can it run?

In my opinion, triangulation is all about the abuse of power, depending on which of the three positions you are in at any given time, you are either exerting too much power in the relationship, or CHOOSING TO GIVE YOUR POWER AWAY, which i think is a way off of the triangle, to choose to keep your personal power. A T made the very important point to me too that in stepping off the triangle, you may well be percieved by other players as a pesrecutor, you have to be clear in your own head of your intentions and that you are not persecuting, you cant change how others interpret things.

B&W, do you or the book have any examples of step 5 of the recovery process? 5. Responsibility for change--accepting the reality and working toward change

I believe that this is where i am now, and as God is my witness, i am trying my hardest not to pass this stuff on to my kids. I am currently readung "Kids who carry our pain", although this is more about codependancy than narcissim.  I have found this, which although brief i thought was a succint way re parenting to prevent narcissm



www.family.org/sharedAssets/correspondence/pdfs/LifeChallenges/Responding_to_Narcissism.pdf


www.media.focusonthefamily.com/topicinfo/responding_to_narcissism.pdf

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« Reply #57 on: February 16, 2018, 01:47:29 PM »

I have read this book on The Narcissistic Family, along with many books and articles on narcissists, borderlines. I would say that everyone has unique experiences with their family. It is so hard to deal with how the family misrepresents itself to the outside world, and trashes the family members that stand up to the dysfunction in the family. Oftentimes, relatives, friends, neighbors, some therapists, believe the negative comments and stories made up about the members who refuse to play the role that the dysfunctional families members want them to play. For me, the key is to have my own life away from the family in places where nobody knows my family, and I can trust the feedback I get from others, because I know that it has nothing to do with my family members trashing me behind my back.
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