Friday, 31 August 2012

ACoN Lingo: Setting Boundaries

Article by Quercus

I used this image on a previous post (Cold Comfort or Change?) and realised it was the perfect prompt for a post on "Setting Boundaries".

I like to start my posts with my credentials just so everyone's aware I'm not a therapist or a psychologist or an expert in mental health in any way.

For this article, I'm also going to mention that I'm not a skilled setter of boundaries! Far from it! Like many ACoNs, I essentially lacked any boundaries; I could manage to say "No" to someone, but it was difficult, and I had to be absolutely certain that I should. After saying "No", I'd then spend the rest of my time apologising for having to say "No", explaining my reasons and petitioning the other party's approval of my actions.

Sad, I know.

In the past year, I've learned all about boundaries. Actually, that statement is a little deceptive; I already had a fantastic understanding of other people's boundaries! Particularly those of my parents. But of my own boundaries - they were effectively unguarded and ill-defined. I had been raised to roll over and submit.

"Setting Boundaries" is difficult for me to define, not being a therapist or anything. Let's start with my understanding of 'boundaries'.

Psychological boundaries are the self-defined limits you have for your own person and your own mind. They can be physical (I don't like it when people I don't know put their hand on my waist; I won't 'put out' on a date just because he wants it), and they can be mental (I don't want to have to answer that invasive personal question; I don't need to justify my thoughts to anyone).

For me, I can easily envision a 'bubble' around myself to define my 'personal space'. Everyone has slightly different requirements and preferences for personal space; someone living in a city might be used to having to rub shoulders with a stranger on a subway, whereas someone from the suburbs might get weirded out by that closeness. This can be context-dependent as well; I will be comfortable half-pressed up against someone on a crowded subway car, but I get really uncomfortable when the person behind me in line is within 2 feet of me (human tail-gating!). I know that my personal space boundary extends about 2 feet behind me, and is dependent on the circumstances.

Enforcing personal space boundaries with a stranger is awkward; you can step forward (and usually the tail-gater will follow suit), or you can ask them to back off, nicely (if anyone has any polite phrasing for such a situation, please share it with me!).

But knowing my where my psychological boundaries lay is more difficult for me. If they're difficult for you to define too, I think the best way to know is to "follow the uncomfortable". If something someone just asked or said or did made you feel yucky, you're onto a 'boundary violation'! And sometimes it's your actions that feel uncomfortable - if the scenario doesn't feel right, take time to dissect it in your brain. What about the scenario makes you uncomfortable? Are you doing something you don't want to do? Why are you doing it? Did you feel you had to say 'yes' to this job? Could you have said 'no' and avoided this altogether? Really examine what it is that made you get the 'yuckies'.

Establishing and defending boundaries (or 'maintaining' them for a less confrontational view) is not easy for someone like me who was punished every time I attempted to erect a boundary. If I didn't want to hug my mom, then for the next . . . I was going to say week, but I think it's more accurate to say "for the rest of my life", I had to deal with a snarky, cold and petty mom. Shouldn't a child have the right to say no to a hug?

To a narcissist, the answer is "No!", even though they may phrase it slightly differently. Their needs come first. To withhold a hug is cruel, they say. You must not love me at all, they weep. And they'll never forgive you. This is all stemming from a sense of entitlement that is grossly inflated, of course.

Establishing and defending boundaries against your narcissistic parents as an adult is a wretched (but necessary) experience. You'll likely have trouble putting your foot down thanks to their years of brainwashing you into believing that you're being 'cruel' to them. You'll equate asking them to email instead of phoning to ripping their heart out and stomping on it. You'll see telling them to not show up to your house unannounced as comparable to beating a small, helpless child.

In short, if you attempt to construct realistic, normal and healthy boundaries against your dysfunctional parents, you'll likely have to battle yourself as much as them. You'll see yourself as the abuser, the aggressor, the cruel one. It's going to be a major challenge to take a calm, sobering breath and try to rationally address the situation in your mind. Because the truth is that asking someone not to just pop over to your place whenever they feel like it isn't mean. It's just not. And any normal, loving parents will gladly abide. (Although one might argue that you wouldn't have to ask normal parents to change their behaviour if it wasn't weird to begin with). Asking for space, restricting the number and length of their phone calls - again, hardly a terrible thing.

Remember that as you set and enforce boundaries, you're going to see it from two points of view, likely simultaneously:
  1. This is a perfectly reasonable and normal request to make. I am entitled, as a human being like any other, to ask politely and expect that this boundary be respected. If I asked my neighbour to do this in the phrasing I've used, I would expect that everything would work out just fine for both parties, no big deal.
  2. I'm killing her, oh my gosh, I'm ripping her heart out! This is going to destroy her! She'll be weeping on the floor! She'll starve herself! Oh, she'll tell all my family how horrible I'm being! I'll have to deal with Auntie so-and-so and the rest of my family shunning me! Imagine asking your mother not to call you! Your own mother! She'll have a heart-attack or a stroke! I'm an awful person! I can't bear hurting her like this! (and on and on and on.....!)
Now obviously the first thought pattern is the one you'll want to focus and act on, when it becomes possible. Here's what your mother (or substitute in 'father', as required) is thinking when you follow through and very politely and respectfully state your case (don't ask; you have to tell them how it's going to be. Nicely is best): 
  1. How DARE he/she say that?! To his/her own mother! I'm his/her MOTHER! I deserve to be respected! I wiped that little sh*t's butt for years and years and put up with all the grief and suffering that comes with having children and THIS is how they repay me?! Well I'm not going to take this, no sir! I can do what I like! They have NO RIGHT to tell me when I can and can't call them. I OWN them! I brought them into this world, I wiped their butt, I breastfed them 'til my nips bled - we'll see about this. THEY OWE ME. And I own them. And I'll make them pay for this insolence if it's the last thing I do!!! NO ONE talks to me like that!
  2. I'm going to milk this for everything it's worth - wait 'til I tell EVERYONE what a horrid son/daughter I have! No one's going to side with them! Oh - this will get me all sorts of support and pity and attention! THEN who's the popular one?! Then who's the one with all the power?! Ha! I'll show them - they'll have cousins and aunts and grandparents phoning them, SHAMING them into proper behaviour! I WILL have MY WAY! Muwhahahaha* (*maniacal laughter added for dramatic effect).
Don't think I have the sentiment of the mother (or other parent) quite right? Read this post on Upsi's blog "You Don't Have to Dance for Them" to get it straight from the old nag's mouth (an irate mother who commented on Upsi's blog). Predictable, no?

So now that you've seen my proposed thought process for your Nparent, does it make it any easier to see why your #1 thought process is the one to hang onto? Can you really bring in the default #2 thought process that sees yourself as the abuser, when we can all see who really wields the power in your relationship?

Boundaries are essential to your psychological well-being. Here are some helpful "I"-phrases to make setting boundaries easier. I recommend practicing this in front of a mirror, or at the very least out loud to yourself. Imagine you are a stage actor rehearsing a script - you've got to nail the execution in front of a tough audience! Leave no room for error - get comfortable with your lines and posture and timbre of voice!

"I've come to realise that I'm not comfortable when you drop by my house unexpectedly. Please don't come by unannounced; we'll set up a time that works for both of us to meet up somewhere we can both agree on."

"Both myself and my (husband/wife/roommate/coworker) find it unpleasant to receive so many phone calls. We much prefer communicating by email. I'm going to ask you to email instead of calling our phone. It gives us more peace and quiet, and allows us to communicate at times of our choosing that are convenient for us."

"I feel bullied when you pick apart my looks or complain about my weight. I understand that you're 'only trying to help', but I did not solicit (ask for) your help or your opinion. If you want to continue to have lunches with me on the second Tuesday of the month, you're going to have to keep your opinions on my looks to yourself. Good or bad, I don't wish to discuss my physical appearance."

"I am feeling smothered by you - up until just recently, I've always felt that you wanted nothing to do with me. And I got used to that. And now quite suddenly in the past two years or so, you want to spend quite a lot of time with me, doing things that I do with my own age-group and my own friends. I'm not comfortable with this arrangement - I feel used, as if I'm here to provide you with fun. The truth is I'm not here to provide you with anything; we're separate people. If we are to have a good friendship, it has to be balanced. And the way things are at the moment won't work for me any longer. We need to find a compromise."

Getting a narcissist to agree to a compromise is about as difficult as trying to thread a needle in the dark. So here's a few tips on what to do when your Nparent has heard the above speech that you struggled through and practiced and practiced 'til you were hoarse, and has blatantly ignored your boundary! (If it hasn't happened yet, it will! You're in for a treat . . . that was sarcasm, just to be clear):

"Last month (be specific about dates and times and locations - show you haven't forgotten a single detail) I very plainly told you that you were not to come by my house unannounced. You came by unannounced, claiming it was an emergency. Grandpa had had a stroke. However, it was a mild stroke, and Grandpa was already stable in the hospital and getting ready to be discharged. In this case, I saw no reason why a phone call, or even an email, wouldn't have been sufficient. I feel as if you saw Grandpa's stroke as an opportunity to challenge my boundary. If you will not respect my needs, I'm not sure we're going to have much of a relationship down the road."

This is likely going to start WWIII, so be prepared with the following.

"I can see that you feel very angry that I am enforcing this boundary. I don't understand what is making you so angry. It's very simple - I have asked you to call ahead and arrange to meet instead of popping by unexpectedly. I'm going to go inside now, and we can discuss this again in two day's time over email. Goodbye for now."

And then follow-through. If you say you'll do something, you HAVE to do it! It's like raising children - if they realise your threats are empty, anarchy will ensue! Stay calm, appear as unemotional as possible, and be unwavering. It'll drive your Nparent batty, but it will, in time, work.

You might end up with more than you bargained for (i.e. the silent treatment, or being disowned), but you'll be better off knowing that you stuck up for yourself. Mom and Dad aren't going to stick up for you, so someone's got to do it! You're an adult now - act like one. They ought to too.

Best of luck in "Setting Boundaries"! Again, the best advice is to see a therapist or counsellor and have them help you through this process (they'll probably have much better suggestions that I have!). There are many books on 'setting boundaries' in the self-help section of bookstores as well.

One of the most useful books in dealing with my parents (ironically) is "How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk". It was recommended by another ACoN for parenting purposes, but I've found that this classic applies to people who act like children, too!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Cold Comfort or Change?

So, so you think you can tell  
Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain  
Can you tell a green field 
From a cold steel rail?  
A smile from a veil?  
Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade  
Your heroes for ghosts?  
Hot ashes for trees?  
Hot air for a cool breeze?  
Cold comfort for change?  
And did you exchange  
A walk-on part in a war  
For a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here  
We're just two lost souls  
Swimming in a fish bowl  
Year after year  

Running over the same old ground  
What have we found?  
The same old fears  
Wish you were here.

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

Story by Quercus

You awake alone on the forest floor. A wall of grey branches arches over you, closing you into the brambles; skeletal fingers of former life jutting in at you, pointing. Dead leaves, brown and brittle, mask the stony earth. There is little light. In this grey and confining place there are few sounds. How you got to this cold, dead and eerie place quickly begins to become less of a problem as what you're going to do about it now.

Ahead of you is a rough trail, partly over-grown with thorny brambles and leafless branches. The fog has closed in more, and visibility has decreased to a scant few feet in front of you. You look up to the sky, which seems to end just above your head; there is no outline of clouds or glow of sun. All you see above, behind and in front of you is a dense grey fog.

Wisps of white rise around you, bright against the grey trunks and thorns. They float soundlessly, seemingly as spectres in your peripheral vision. They disappear when you turn to look. Ground fog, swamp gas, something natural, you plead with yourself. Not ghosts, not ghosts, you repeat again and again under your breath. Stare at the ground, don't look up.

Without another option, you set off down the misty grey trail. It isn't inviting, but must lead somewhere, you reason. Anywhere but here, you hear yourself say. The way is rocky and full of twisted, hardened roots. You must travel very slowly, else risk a sprained ankle, or worse. It winds back and forth, and pitches gently up a while, then down again. Sometimes it's straight for what seems like miles.

Cautiously, step by tentative step, you travel along the forest road. It is just wide enough for you to pass by, the dry bones of branches reaching and occasionally tugging at your sleeves and ankles.

There is no chirping of birds. No signs of life. There are few noises. The fog scatters sound-waves in the air. The sound of your own footfalls thud loudly in your ears one moment, then fade to silence; then they seem to be coming from behind you, or in front of you, or from far below.

You shiver. It's cold, and you've been walking for minutes, maybe hours. Your mind begins to play tricks on you - you start to hear voices on the wind (but there is no wind). Not voices, animals calls or something. You cannot convince yourself. A disembodied voice laughs somewhere far away to your right. You startle and feel a hand grab your shoulder - turning with a jerk, you realise it was only a branch that you backed into on this narrow trail.

Boom, boom, boom. Your heart pounds in your ears. The mocking laughter - Was it laughter? - has faded away. Apart from the pulsing of the blood through your ears, the grey woods are silent once more. Boom, boom, boom.

Take a deep breath - calm yourself. You close your eyes and try to settle your senses. You open your eyes again. Still, the trail leads ever on, as uninviting as ever. Maybe I should turn around - did I miss a turning?

The horror of what you see behind you causes you to gasp aloud and stumble back. It can't be - it's the same wall of grey thorny branches that you've been walking away from. How can this be? How can this be? You've been walking for hours and hours by now, your feet are aching - yet you haven't moved an inch?

No. You turn around at look ahead at the trail. It's changed; it bends slightly down and to the left now. You have been going somewhere. You just can't go back. Forward along the trail is your only option.

Suddenly you hear another noise - it seems close by. A breathing, a menacing growling breath.

You panic and run, running along the rocky trail with no real visibility because of the fog. You don't know what you'll meet until you reach it, and you can only hope it won't be worse than what you're running from. On and on you go, your lungs burning. The breathing sounds as if it's coming right down the back of your neck. Faster, faster you sprint, here and there stumbling on a root or a rock, fearful you'll fall helplessly to the ground. The laughter returns. They're laughing at me! Tears begin to flow - you're running out of steam and slowing.

You have no option - you have to break your run. Gasping for breath, you look behind you. Nothing, just the familiar wall of grey branches. The laughter, the breathing - it's silent again for now. Anger erupts from your soul like a volcano spewing a pyroclastic floe. Why are you doing this to me?! You scream, challenging the faceless grey fog. Let me go! Let me go! You kick at the brambles. The laughter starts up again, seemingly enjoying your descent into hostility.

The light levels haven't changed. You've been here for at least a day by now, but the sun hasn't set, or rose, and the grey fog hasn't dissipated. You're exhausted, but the thought of lying down to rest is laughable. You've very nearly accepted your situation; you can't escape, you can't retrace your steps, and the trail goes ever onwards.

You laugh dully to yourself. You begin to crack up. It's impossible! You laugh like a madman. There's no escape!

Endlessly you wander on along the endless path, no longer jumpy. Your torment has been complete, and you feel you're losing your mind. This isn't so bad! I like long walks on the beach, why not the forest?! Your voice sounds insane to you as you try to adapt, to accept - you're losing your grip.

On and on and on the path goes. You never sleep; you trudge on forever, forever along the rough forest path in the dense, grey fog.

Then one way, long after you've suspected you've at least partially lost your mind, there's a fork in the road.

An aged and greyed wooden sign on a post points to an even darker, even more thorny and overgrown path that you'll have to crouch to pass through. The sign reads "this way out". Inside the tunnel of this 'exit path' it is nearly pitch black.

You pause. The path you're on suddenly doesn't seem so bad. It's consistent, it's familiar, and you don't need to stoop much to travel along on it.

You have a choice. You can trust that the sign is telling you the truth - it's the only sign you've seen on this journey - and get on your hands and knees and crawl down the dark and scary path towards freedom. It's an even rougher road than the one you're on, and you have no information as to the length of the path or where exactly you'll end up on the other side.

Or, you could continue down the path that you know. The never-ending, rocky, spooky path where there's no way but forward and nowhere to rest. You can continue ever onwards, forever and ever, in the ever fainter and fainter hope that one day, somehow, you'll walk clear of the woods.

That faint hope fades quickly though, because the only "exit" sign you saw (and may ever see) was this one....

This is the life of the ACoN. A never-ending treacherous path that you're born into and which has no escape. A rat trapped in a maze. You can't go backwards because you can't turn back time. This is how you will live your life, forever.

Did they get you to trade  
Your heroes for ghosts?  
Hot ashes for trees?  
Hot air for a cool breeze?  
Cold comfort for change?  

Then one day, a glimmer of hope in the form of an 'exit'. The exit, however, might appear even less attractive than The Twilight Zone-like existence you've had to adapt to. And you have no guarantee what you'll encounter along that dark rabbit-hole tunnel to 'freedom'. You'll have to humble yourself to do it, too. You can't walk tall along the exit tunnel.

So it's your choice. The never-ending grey forest trail, or the scary exit path. An eternity of playing someone else's cruel game, or temporary discomfort for real freedom.
And did you exchange  
A walk-on part in a war  
For a lead role in a cage?

As someone who's currently crawling her way along the pitch-black 'exit' tunnel, I can say that there have been times that I wanted to turn back. Times where I thought I'd jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Let me say this - one year into professional counselling (by a psychologist), the kind support of a loving husband (a close friend could help you if you haven't got a spouse), many many tears, nightmares and heartaches, coupled with 'low contact' and firm boundaries set for my parents (who rail against them and attempt to breach them on a regular basis), and I can see a glimmer of daylight. Sometimes a glimmer, sometimes full daylight. The path opens, then constricts, then opens again. It's exhausting. It's the hardest thing I've ever done, in fact. It's harder than you could imagine without having done it yourself.

"Opening Door Sounds Alarm" - Truer words have never been spoken.

But it's worth it, it's SO worth taking the "way out", no matter how hard it may be. Because without hope, what do you have?

Running over the same old ground  
What have we found?  
The same old fears  
Wish you were here.

Need to hold a hand for support while you head down the exit path? We're here for you. We've been down that path already and have stepped clear of it, or are a little ways ahead of you.

One day, you can return the favour and help hold the hand of another ACoN when it's their time to muster the courage to brave the dark path to freedom. You will know how important that exit path was to take, and you'll want to encourage others to break free of the psychological bonds that keep them trapped in a waking nightmare.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

It's Not "a Con"!

Article by Quercus

I'm writing this very short post to preempt any lurking troll who wishes to claim that the assertions and beliefs of ACoNs are nothing but "a con".

I could leave it there, beating them to the comedic punch, but I wish to elaborate.

The sad fact is that we're telling it how it is, not how your narcissistic parent would have you believe.

How do you know we're being truthful? Easy - Do you want to believe that your parents never truly loved you? No. No one does. We sure didn't.

But actions speak louder than words. Something didn't add up - they said they loved you, but the abuse said otherwise. The painful and confusing memories that resurface and won't go away. The way they treated your one sibling in contrast to how they treated you. You were never good enough. You did wrong without ever understanding what you did. You were envied, you were bullied, you were blamed, you were hurt emotionally, physically, sexually. You were anything but loved.

Knowing you were never truly loved by the people who were supposed to love you unconditionally is probably one of the worst realizations anyone could ever come to. Most of us go through a period of denial before we accept, reluctantly, that it is the case. It hurts so deeply that some of us may pull back from this realization permanently.

We have a choice: either brave the pain and break the cycle, or retreat and repeat it instead.

Realizing your parent(s) didn't love you is soul-crushing. It means that you have a void in your life that may be there forever; it's very difficult (maybe impossible) to completely fill it in after the fact.

Realizing your parent(s) didn't love you does not mean is the following:
  • You can't in turn love your parent (though it may be difficult; we sympathize).
  • You are incapable of being a 'normal' person (no one's normal - don't worry about that!)
  • You can't continue to have a relationship with your parents (though you may decide that in your circumstance it's easier to cut ties. Many ACoNs choose this; if the pain of losing your family is less than the pain of their continuing abuse, this might end up being your preferred choice. Conversely, others (including myself) prefer to keep a superficial relationship with their parent and enforce necessary boundaries. Know that not all narcissistic parents will accept your enforcement of boundaries; they may simply disown you themselves).
  • You can't respect your parents (though you may have to 'show them respect' without them ever earning it; if your parents couldn't unconditionally love their own children, they may not have a lot about them that is worthy of your esteem).
  • You're crazy (You're not. You probably feel crazy, and that's, sadly, quite normal. You'll get through that phase in time. It takes varying amounts of time for you to grieve the 'loss' of the parent you never had, accept that their lack of love had nothing to do with you or your actions and everything to do with their personality disorder, and to come around in the end and see that your parent is the unbalanced one - and hopefully someone you can have compassion for, in time).

I wish I could tell you that The ACoN Society is "a con" - some cruel joke played on unsuspecting passersby. But it isn't. There may not be many of us (praise God for that), but we do exist. Friends who had good, loving, humble parents who enjoyed every precious moment of their children's youth will not be able to relate. Good friends will try to understand, but will never know the awful sting of the hateful words of a resentful parent.

That's why The ACoN Society exists. We understand you, because we went through something eerily similar. (Which is also how we are assured that psychologists have it right and "NPD" is a real "thing"; so many different lives, different circumstances, different details and yet..... the stories, the phrases, the experiences are all too familiar).

Monday, 27 August 2012

OPINION: Hierarchy and the Narcissist

Article by Quercus

Let me begin by fully disclosing the following: I'm not a psychologist, I'm not a trained counsellor or therapist, and I haven't done an awful lot of research to back up the opinion I'm about to put forth. My only credentials are that I am an ACoN, that I've followed many other ACoN's blogs for some time, and that I put a lot of personal thought into what makes people with NPD or extremely narcissistic traits 'tick'.

As the crude saying goes, "Opinions are like (rectal orifices) - everyone's got one". So this is mine.... my opinion, that is.

Narcissists see the world as extraordinarily hierarchical. That is, they believe in a "pecking order"; that there's a "top dog" in the pile. To them, 'equality' amongst people is a ridiculous notion.

Narcissists cannot stand being low on the perceived 'totem pole'. I believe that the majority (if not all) of their self-worth is wrapped up in where they 'stand' in society. They are competitive. They demand respect (for a fantastic recent example this, visit the blog "You Don't Have to Dance for Them" and read the lovely Upsi's post, "An Ounce of Respect").

Some theories on the origins of an individual's pathological narcissism revolve around a painful childhood; the child was horribly mistreated, and as a result the adult is a bitter and twisted person. I don't believe this applies to all narcissists (those that are sociopathic (psychopaths) are likely born without a 'conscience' as we know it), but it fits with what I understand my NMom to be. Her father is an even bigger narcissist than she is.

She struggles with ambivalence towards her father; she hates him and wants him to die already, but on the other hand she 'loves' and respects him (her recent tormented sentiments). Notice the word respect. A narcissist will gladly cultivate your fear if he or she cannot (will not) earn your actual respect. To a narcissist, fear is an acceptable substitute for respect. And respect is vital to them; if they're not respected by you, they'd be lower on the invisible totem pole than you are.

My NGrandfather is a veritable monster; someone who spent a lifetime bullying others (as he was likely bullied). My mother lived with him until she was a teenager, and I don't think she's matured much since then.

My suspicion is that her parents didn't show her any love at all unless she was doing something to make her parents look good (sound familiar?). Rather than rebel, she bent down and grudgingly served her parents as a slave would a king and queen. Eventually she had to believe that her father really was worthy of her worship. Once she did so, she had to keep believing that lie (otherwise, she would have to rethink the whole paradigm of her existence; all of us ACoNs know how deeply hurtful and frightening it is to face the awful reality that our parents never loved us in any real sense). I have sympathy for her; facing reality might hurt, but it's infinitely better than the alternative.

It's difficult for her to keep bowing down, receiving my grandfather's abuse. Whenever I told her that I didn't like the way he treats her, she'd laugh nervously (insanely) and flee the conversation. This isn't something she can accept; if people view him as a contemptible old (rectal orifice), then how must she appear, worshiping at his altar?

I can't say for sure why she decided to have children, but as her daughter it was my turn to be subservient and her turn to be feared. I treated her respectfully but it wasn't enough (it'll never be enough to slake her insane lust for admiration). And worryingly for her, if I can see that my grandfather's behaviour is wrong, she must know that I might not be willing to take it from her anymore.

Want to rattle a narcissist? Show them compassion for their pitiful and impossible situation. Ironically, nothing will make them hate you more (you've been warned!).

Even if your narcissistic parent felt the smallest shred of guilt for putting you into the position that they were (likely) once put in by their cruel parents, they are no longer capable of swallowing that lifetime of pride to truly apologise to you for your mistreatment. To make amends with you would be to reverse the order of their beloved totem pole - one they have viciously clawed their way up since the very beginning. I can't imagine anything scarier for them; to give up their hard-earned position and climb down would be to give up on their very lives. They don't love you enough to do that. They don't love anyone* enough to do that.

*possible exception: 'the golden child'

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Welcome to the community, ACoN

ACoN: Adult Child of a Narcissist

The ACoN Society was founded in 2012 to provide an online gathering place for ACoNs around the world.

Finding out that you're not alone in your journey can be liberating. The ACoN Society exists to connect individuals with common backgrounds with one another, with the blogs of other ACoNs, and with resources.

We hope that The ACoN Society will provide a nexus for the online ACoN community, and that here you can belong. "Membership" is free, and the only rule is simple: love one another.

Articles posted here are written by fellow survivors of narcissism, and are not intended to replace or supplement the advice of mental health professionals. They are the opinions of the author(s) alone, and are meant solely for 'entertainment purposes'. We are not experts nor therapists - we are laypeople who wish to share our experiences in the hope that they will provide encouragement for others in similar situations.

Welcome to our community. We are sorry that you have gone through what you have.

Please note that ACoN blogs are the frequent target of trolls (many of which appear to be estranged and manipulative parents seeking vengeance and/or control). We do what we can to keep the haters out, and welcome anyone who truly understands what it is to be on the receiving end of an abusive relationship with a heinously unfair power-imbalance. If you've made it through your adult parent's pathology as a resource-less and innocent child and lived to tell the tale - you're welcome here. We're sorry you have the credentials to join this 'society', but we're glad you've found us.

Saturday, 25 August 2012


You could accuse me of being a little 'nutty', but I designed a quick DIY project for fellow ACoNs.

Sometimes it's nice to have something tangible to hold onto, especially when as a child your narcissistic parent kept you in a cloud of fog. Narcissists can be slipperier than eels when it comes to proving what they said or did. Remember what the author of "Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers" wrote:  

Everything she does is deniable. There is always a facile excuse or an explanation. Cruelties are couched in loving terms. Aggressive and hostile acts are paraded as thoughtfulness. Selfish manipulations are presented as gifts. Criticism and slander is slyly disguised as concern...

So if you're longing for something to actually hold onto, or a badge of honour, or a rite-of-passage, here's a pattern and instructions for how to make your own ACoN acorn to do with what you like.

For this rainy-day project, you need three colours of felt, a needle and thread (brown and green), scissors, a Sharpie pen to trace with, and a printer and paper for the template. Optional materials are ribbon or embroidery floss for hanging, straight pins, glue (i.e. Aleene's Tacky Glue), cotton batting or fibre-fill, and embellishments (beads, sequins, embroidery, etc.). To make the one in the photo, the only extras I required were embroidery floss and a darning needle. I added some stuffing to the acorn by inserting felt scraps left over from in-between the leaf lobes.

A fall colour scheme with yellow, orange or red leaves would be pretty, too. It's all up to you - you could even make it in bright fuchsia. Such is the beauty of art and self-expressionism.

To get started, print off a template and cut out the leaf, acorn and cap shapes. You can change the size of your finished project by scaling the image (I find the best way to go about this is: click on the image to get the full-size, then right-click on the image, save image as ____ to desktop or wherever you like, then open it with any image software, select "print preview" from the menu and see what it looks like relative to the sheet of computer paper).



1. Gather the materials. Cut out the individual templates.

2. Trace and cut out the component parts (two of each).

3. Sew together the two halves. For the acorn body and cap, you might want to stuff it with cotton batting or fabric scraps - make sure you attend to that before completely sealing off the 'inside'! If the two halves don't exactly match up, try your best to square the edges as you sew without totally skewing the shape. You can trim 'overhang' or excess felt after you've completely sewn around the perimeter (I think this is the easiest and safest way to go about it).

(If you wish to add embroidery, do it before sewing together the two halves.)

4.  Connect the acorn and the oak leaf together (how ever you think it looks best!), using ribbon or embroidery thread (or something else - you could simply pin them to something using a safety pin, too).

5. Hang it with pride! 

If you like, you could fill the acorn with something scented (potpourri, dried lavender, cloves) and use it as a sachet. It could hang from a keychain, your rear-view mirror (keep it small if so!), etc. I keep mine hanging from a knob on my computer desk drawer. 

project by Quercus  

Show off your handiwork! If you make your own, please consider emailing an image of it to:


for inclusion on this blog post! Please also give a name (i.e. made by Quercus), or a location (from Manitoba, Canada). You can simply remain anonymous, too (as always).

Friday, 24 August 2012

MUSIC: Narcissism Anthems & ACoN Songs

Article by Quercus

Carly Simon's hit song "You're So Vain" might be the first to pop into anyone's head when prompted to name a narcissistic song.

But there are so many songs out there that 'ring true' for people who have been on the receiving end of extreme self-centeredness.

I know I have a few favourites. I'm not sure anyone else would hear them in the same way, but to me they hit an emotional chord or two.

If The ACoN Society was to put out a "Greatest Hits" album (apologies to those who were physically abused - I realise it's a poor choice of words), what songs would you nominate for it? Let's compile a soundtrack.

I personally nominate the following songs (I think I've got classic rock and alternative covered - please help flesh out the other genres!):

  • Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

The whole song's relevant to me, i.e. "You know you can't hold me forever, I didn't sign up with you. I'm not a present for your friends to open, this boy's too young to be singing the blues."

"What do you think you'll do then? I'll bet you'll shoot down your plane. It'll take you a couple of vodka and tonics to set you on your feet again. Maybe you'll get a replacement, there's plenty like me to found...."

I like the imagery of "catastrophic self-harm" coupled to having a few cocktails and then moving on to finding a new source of narcissistic supply. I think it captures the DSM-5's proposed revision to NPD well (my emphasis on the vacillation part):  

Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated, or vacillate between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.

  • David Bowie's "Oh! You Pretty Things"

This song is written from the perspective of older parents, watching with horror as a new species, Homo superior, take over the world.

"All the strangers came today, and it looks as though they're here to stay. Oh, you pretty things! Don't you know you're driving your mamas and papas insane?"

"Look out at your children; see their faces in golden rays. Don't kid yourself they belong to you, they're the start of a coming race. The earth is a bitch, we've finished our news; Homo sapiens have outgrown their use. All the strangers ('nightmares' in another verse) came today, and it looks as though they're here to stay."

It's a really neat song, musically speaking (I defy you to not want to sing along to the chorus!). To me, it captures the 'redundant' feeling my NMom has now that she's aging (and fighting it all the way).

Why can't our parents see our births as a launch of a new and exciting generation? Why can't they be happy for us that we're coming into power in our own rights? Is it because all their identities were wrapped up in being young and virile?

It makes me wonder - what did our grandparents feel? And their parents? I don't believe that the 'current' generation is any 'worse' than the previous. I'm actually rather suspicious that the previous one just gripes an awful lot more than their predecessors. Maybe it's because life in the western world has gotten so easy. I'll bet there was once a generation glad to grow old and die; one that had had 'enough' of life. There's no pleasing people with a whopping great sense of entitlement.

  • Audioslave's "Revelations"

This is probably a fantastic song for an ACoN who had pseudo-religious parents who preached at them (not my experience). But for any ACoN who was told what they thought and felt and who weren't allowed to 'own' their own existence, I think the lyrics (good and angry sounding!) will strike a familiar chord.

The entire song rings true for me. I suppose it can be heard as being anti-Christian, but I don't agree. I hear it as a rebuttal to a hypocritical pseudo-religious self-righteous stance. I see it as a shout back at my parents for telling me what I was feeling and thinking (leaving me very confused):

"You know what to do, you know what I did. Since you know everything, just clue me in. I am such a wreck, I am such a mess. I know what I know, why don't you fill in the rest? I will bring you down, I will make it bad, while you're feeling proud, why don't you help me?!"

Chorus: "Such a shame that I ought to know by now your 'revelations'. Cut me in, I don't want to live without your 'revelations'."

"You know what to say,  you know what I said. You know what I dream sleeping in my bed. You hold all the keys, you know all the rules. Why don't you guide me then, if I'm such a lost soul. I'm spinning round, I will make you ill. Since I'm so broken down, why don't you fix me?!"

"I am haunted when I am sleeping. Try to give without receiving. It's in the apple bite, it's in the days and nights, in the afterlife we'll reap."

  • Smashing Pumpkins' "Rocket"

The video for this song is really what sticks in my mind. It's of (adorable) children, dreaming to be astronauts. Their mission control is based in a nearby junkyard. They build a rocket in the backyard, during a barbeque. The parents ignore them, writing them off the whole time. Guess what happens in the end? "I shall be free!"

I actually feel quite a lot of sympathy for the mother with the astonished look on her face, dutifully serving them hot dogs. She didn't see it coming. I don't think they typically do. And it's not like the signs aren't there. If only they had redirected their attention from within to without...

This is the ultimate "I'm cutting the ties that bind!" anthem for me. I used to listen to it again and again when I was young and physically trapped.  Poor Billy Corgan; I wonder what he went through as a lad? (See my next song choice, too!)

Key lyrics for me are:

"Bleed in your own light. Dream of your own life. I miss me. I miss everything I'll never be. And on and on. I'll torch my soul to show the world that I am pure deep inside my heart. No more lies."

Here are the BEST set of lines pertaining to the ACoN experience, in my opinion:

"An image formed, deformed. The mark I've borne, a mark of scorn to you. Consume my love, devour my hate, it only powers my escape! The moon is out the stars invite, I think I'll leave tonight!"

"Soon, I'll find myself alone. To relax and fade away. Do you know what's coming down? Do you know I couldn't stay 'free'? I shall be free! I shall be free! I shall be free... free from those voices inside me."

  • Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarm"

I listened to this song so much in my youth that I got sick of it. It's very pretty, especially if you haven't heard it a billion times. This is a song about a hurting little boy - he said it was about "the shaky relationship" with his parents as a child (many people took the lyrics literally and thought it was a song about abortion, re: 'cut that little child inside of me'). I think he was speaking metaphorically; I suspect he was turned into an abuser as well. When there's only two choices on who to be, victim or abuser, not everyone is able to choose 'victim'. Maybe Billy handed down the legacy of abuse he received from his parents to another child as a bully? I don't know. I know he's hurting, though; that much is clear.

"Disarm you with a smile, and cut you like you want me to, cut that little child inside of me and such a part of you. Ooh, the years burn."

"I used to be a little boy, so old in my shoes. And what I choose is my choice, what's a boy supposed to do? The killer in me is the killer in you."

"Disarm you with a smile, and leave you like they left me here, to wither in denial. The bitterness of one who's left alone. Ooh, the years burn."

Guilty pleasure-wise, I also like Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory". It doesn't have much to do with anything (apart from struggling against impossible odds, with nothing going in your favour), but it's a great battle-cry. Think trail-hardened cowboy outlaw ready to "go down in a blaze of glory" as his final stand. Favourite lines: "Lord, I never drew first, but I drew first blood. I'm no one's son, call me young gun." and the bitter response of "You ask me if I've known love and what it's like to sing songs in the rain? Well I've seen love come, I've seen it shot down, I've seen it die in vain."

UPDATE:  I've referenced three other songs in later posts which probably should have been included in this here. The first was "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd, then "Best of You" by the FOO Fighters, followed by "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell.

29 Sept 2012 update: How could I forget Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train"?!

Your turn! What's a great ACoN song or hilarious Narcissism Anthem? Please post your 'nominations' below.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

ACoN Lingo: NPD

Article written by Quercus

NPD: Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a personality disorder listed in the second axis, cluster 'B' of the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) published by the American Psychiatric Association. The next edition of the DSM (DSM-5) proposes to define NPD in a new light, with a heavier basis on personality traits than identifiable actions or symptoms. Briefly, a person suffering from NPD is self-absorbed to a pathological degree. In the past, NPD has also been referred to as "Megalomania".

Narcissism and narcissistic traits exist along a spectrum of varying intensities, ranging from the healthy narcissism that a 'normal' individual has to the malignant and occasionally sociopathic narcissism seen in NPD.

People with NPD are consumed with the task of presenting a false-image of themselves to the world at large, in order to be seen as extraordinary or 'special'. Delusions of power, grandeur, superiority, exceptional intelligence, sexual attraction and beauty are common manifestations.

Narcissists 'feed' off of others the way vampires feed on blood, taking in what is referred to as 'narcissistic supply'. Narcissistic supply is a term that essentially means "attention", both positive and negative. Narcissistic supply includes (but is not limited to) admiration, envy, 'love' (of all varieties and definition), sexual attraction, fear, and dominance or control. Narcissists are sometimes thought of as 'emotional vampires' or as being psychologically 'parasitic'.

There are many theories as to the etiology of NPD (where it comes from, how it's developed), though most agree that a fundamental lack of true self-esteem or self-worth is at the heart of the narcissist. The narcissist may believe on a very deep level that they are unworthy of love and acceptance, and so as a mental 'defense-mechanism' they artificially inflate their own importance. People with NPD are frequently willing to do this at the expense of others, and this need to be seen as valuable or admirable or 'better' than others can be all-consuming.

Narcissists make terrible parents. If parenting is the single biggest act of altruism one can undertake, the narcissist is the least able to thrive in this role. Continually placing the needs of an infant, a child, a youth or a teenager (or indeed, even an adult) before their own is a role too humble and debasing for someone of their 'importance'. But narcissists frequently choose to have families - a baby who instinctively loves his or her parent unconditionally provides a narcissistic mother with a constant and wholly dependent source of narcissistic supply. A child who can be intimidated and controlled is another fantastic source; a captive audience with few resources and lacking in experience and physical strength.

'Malignant narcissists' are those who seek to injure others for personal gain. A prime example of a malignant narcissist is the sexually/physically abusive narcissistic father who delights in the suffering of their child. Some malignant narcissists feed off of your 'fear' of them; it is reasonable to say that there are some disordered people who prefer infamy to anything else.

The term 'malignant narcissism' is generally used by ACoNs to denote a dangerous narcissist. Malignant narcissism can be overt (for example, your parent beat you, sexually abused you, locked you in a closet, or refused to provide you with the necessities of life such as food, shelter and clothing). It can also be covert (for example, your mother calls the dentist with a lie to prevent you from receiving novocaine when having your cavities drilled, but denies having any involvement. Or she whacks you hard over the head with a wooden hairbrush without provocation to gleefully 'demonstrate' what her mom used to do to her. Or she intentionally hires dodgy male babysitters and refuses to report it to the police when you are raped. These are some of my personal experiences).

NPD is (and isn't) treatable through psychotherapy or counselling. Theoretically, therapy could help the narcissist immensely, but people with NPD are famous for avoiding shrinks like the plague. They are often openly critical and dismissive of the field of psychology. According to some reports, narcissists who find themselves in therapy discontinue the process when their initial 'issue' is satisfactorily resolved, unwilling (or incapable) of delving any farther into their own psyches. It is probably best to say that NPD is 'practically untreatable' given the reluctance of a narcissist to undertake the therapeutic process, and their extreme hubris; their pride of epic proportions prevents them from seeing their selves as anything other than 'perfect'.

A beautifully written document explaining what it is to be raised by a narcissistic mother can be found here:

The anonymous author is unknown, and this work has been republished on the website in an effort to preserve it.

References and further reading:

The ACoN Acorn

Volvo Longe Abs Arbor: Roll Far from the Tree


Apart from the obvious similarities between the acronym "ACoN" and the word 'acorn', the acorn is a good representative of the ACoN experience.

A small seed from a large, strong oak tree doesn't have much in the way of power, influence or ability. As the saying goes, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree". But let us not assume that this means we are doomed to become carbon copies of our troubled parents; we are each a unique creation.

Though we begin small and fall helplessly to earth under the imposing shadow of the mighty oak, we are not completely without hope. And so, we say to one another, "Roll Far from the Tree"! Let's help each other to gain momentum and to move out from under the shade of our biological source.

Another nice mental picture to keep in mind is that each mighty oak began with a single acorn. In time, the powerless become the powerful. Let's always vow to use our power for the benefit of others and not for selfish or abusive purposes. We are each completely unique in our compositions. We may even have inherited a beneficial combination of traits as a combination of a dominant narcissist and a passive enabler. The difference is that we live our lives by a very different credo, perhaps bravely going into territory that members of our family of origin fear to tread. We are explorers into unknown lands, seeking a better life for ourselves and those we hold dear.

If your parent ever said to you "It's all downhill from where you are!", have hope! And continue to roll ever farther from that toxic tree!