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Narcissism—it’s Not Your Friend… But Narcissists need Friends. Real Ones.

February 2, 2014 1 comment

The experts believe narcissism is caused by a wound to the developing psyche. The diagnostic manual DSM IV (used for billing –not for anything useful by way if helping people) includes these traits:

  Lacks the ability to empathize with the feelings or desires of others

  Is arrogant in attitudes and behavior

And “Narcissists have such an elevated sense of self-worth that they value themselves as inherently better than others, when in reality they have a fragile self-esteem, cannot handle criticism, and often try to compensate for this inner fragility by belittling or disparaging others in an attempt to validate their own self-worth”

I happen to know these traits well. I was surrounded by them as a child. I was often puzzled. For example: Riding in the car with my sister, who had long hair. (I probably did too—but I cannot recall for sure.) No air conditioning in those days- so I have the widow open and am happily enjoying the breeze. My sister commands me to close the window as that is how She wants it. (Why is that more important than how I want it? I wonder..)

My mother used to take us to Howard Johnson’s and eat peppermint ice cream with fudge sauce. None for  us kids—“it’s for grownups” she would say. Oddly, I sort of accepted that, at the time.

As soon as we were tall enough to wash dishes my mother bought a set of Melamine dishes so she would not ever have to wash dishes again,. And she didn’t. But I didn’t understand any if this at the tome—except that I could not see why what my sister wanted trumped what I wanted for no reason.

Here’s what the (not authoritative) Wikipedia article says about  the way the works: “Two factors that cause self-view to remain unrealistic are dysfunctional interactions with parents that can be either excessive attention or a lack thereof. For example but not limited to, the excessive attention and lack of attention go hand in hand when a child’s parents are divorced. Usually, one is overindulgent (typically the one seeing the child less) and the other shows less affection.[5] The child either compensates for lack of attention or acts in terms of unrealistic self-perception.

 “The cause of this disorder is unknown; however, Groopman and Cooper (2006) listed the following factors identified by various researchers as possibilities:[2]

  1. An oversensitive temperament (personality traits) at birth. (see HSP…)
  2. Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback.
  3. Excessive praise for good behaviors or excessive criticism for bad behaviors in childhood.
  4. Overindulgence and overvaluation by parents, other family members, or peers. (see schools…)
  5. Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or abilities by adults. (Ditto)
  6. Severe emotional abuse in childhood.
  7. Unpredictable or unreliable care giving from parents.
  8. Learning manipulative behaviors from parents.
  9. Valued by parents as a means to regulate their own self-esteem.”I suspect my mother had 1,6, 7 and9 in the bag,


Then there’s also a thing called “parentification”. “Emotional Parentification: This type of parentification forces the child to meet the emotional needs of their parent and usually other siblings also. This kind of parentification is the most destructive. It robs the child of his/her childhood and sets him/her up to have a series of dysfunctions that will incapacitate him/her in life. In this role, the child is put into the practically impossible role of meeting the emotional and psychological needs of the parent. The child becomes the parent’s confidant.”
This was done by my mother—to both my sister and to me, but, I now see, more to my sister. My mother told us details of her sex life with daddy that we never should have heard—for example. My mother and Noel had a secret relationship I only heard about after her death. My sister had hoped the role reversal would be undone– and it was not. My sister was very angry. That much she coped to. The  reasons the mother was never a mother–but became more childlike–and the anger was so huge?? Not so much.

What I was not able to  see until I was much older is that Noel had been enlisted as my mother’s ally, confident and… parent. Unfortunately,  they also used me to meet their needs as a unit. It was a mess. (In many ways, it still is.)

For my part, having no real parenting, and very off and on care giving of any sort, I became the opposite—so perfectionist that, at about age 50, I realized this was a form of “reverse narcissism.” By what set of rules must I be better than everyone else—blameworthy for even the smallest error?

That has been a long battle to fight. Feeling I am defective—and being told don’t be 1) so hard on yourself 2) so analytical 3) so idealistic.

But I eventually did see that this was a shadow form of narcissism, and it released MOST of its hold on me. (It’s still a reflex though—I have to say “YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST PERSON TO _____”. (Lose the Netflix mailed liner for example.)

So why am I telling you all this? Well, for one, I have no one to tell my story to. But that aside, this is all too common- and all too often tied with divorce. (Both as cause and effect.)  Oversimplification seems rampant in law—but then, it’s also rampant on television  and I don’t think Twitter is helping. This is the not-so-simple stuff.

But the truth is the truth and the truth is wounded human beings abound. Wounded humans create other wounded human beings. And punishing the wounded human beings does  not unwound them.  And in family law, it unravels families. It does not, and cannot, knit them up.

So, except for Bill Eddy (whose work has tremendous potential for helping the wounded people in the divorce arena –he has coined the term “High Conflict Personality” ,which I am sure he would agree has the above characteristics—as he is both a therapist and an attorney, has created a communication model that  includes empathetic listening)  no one seems to care. Thanks to Bill… some new s tools are coming into the picture. I quote:

“Everyone gets upset some of the time. High conflict people get upset a lot of the time. A simple technique called an “E.A.R. Statement” can help you calm others down. This is especially helpful if you are in a close relationship or a position of authority. High conflict people tend to emotionally attack those closest to them and those in authority, especially when they are frustrated and can’t manage their own emotions. The intensity of their uncontrolled emotions can really catch you off-guard. But if you practice making E.A.R. statements you can connect with upset people and usually help them calm down.

E.A.R. Statements

E.A.R. stands for Empathy, Attention and Respect. It is the opposite of what you feel like giving someone when he or she is upset and verbally attacking YOU! Yet you will be amazed at how effective this is when you do it right.

An E.A.R. Statement connects with the person’s experience, with their feelings. For example, let’s say that someone verbally attacks you for not returning a phone call as quickly as he or she would have liked. “You don’t respect me! You don’t care how long I have to wait to deal with this problem! You’re not doing your job!”

Rather than defending yourself, give the person an E.A.R. Statement, such as: “Wow, I can hear how upset you are. Tell me what’s going on. I share your concerns about this problem and respect your efforts to solve it.” This statement included:
EMPATHY:         “I can hear how upset you are.”
ATTENTION:     “Tell me what’s going on.”
RESPECT:         “I respect your efforts.”

OK, So I admit I am still working on this when it comes to my own family—but I know they are wounded, so I guess I will forgive myself for not feeling all that warm and fuzzy about them. In any case, this technique works. Note that EMPATHY, not blame, is the key. The missing link.

Last but not least—I want to add that it might be a good idea of we stopped idolizing the really high functioning narcissists who make lots of money—at our expense. See the “The Wolf of Wall Street”.  (I like House and Sherlock and Patrick Jane though… Hey—to me it seems they have a real side, a kind side.. .  and people LISTEN TO THEM. So I want to be like them. But they are fiction. I know. Sigh.)

But me—I just want the world to know 1) this is real and common, and 2) If you are arrogant and condescending toward me- I WILL “overreact”. You can count on it.

An Inconvenient Truth

November 9, 2013 Leave a comment

I am active on the highly market-effective but (IMHO utterly toxic website Avvo every day. Yes, I climb it because it is there.

It is populated (I have been able to discover) by people who go looking for an answer to a legal question and up there due to heavy SEO action by the site. Their SEO really is that good. Some of the googlers could find the correct answer to their question if they were better researchers, but many (probably most) don’t know the words that fit their situation. But if it involves a family member they go to “Family Law’ and there they are in my feed.

If it is something I don’t know (The details of loss of parental rights, for example) I can always fin the answer in seconds using Google—but I know the magic words. Being a lawyer, I do. The public does not.

So for the vent portion of this blog I will point out that once I Avvo they are met with responses that in a majority of cases are self serving—lawyers are on there trolling for paying work. Their responses are not designed to provide service to the public. (Yes, Virginia lawyers are asked to provide our expertise “pro bono publico”). These responses are often simplistic—“file for a court hearing”—or wrong. (”Your judgment may have expired.”)

Others just don’t know anything but the few things they have picked up doing whatever they do. Litigated divorce, mostly. But family law brings in tax issues, real estate issues, bankruptcy issues, immigration issues (fraudulent marriage), collections (Family law judgments are “evergreen” and never expire) and many other areas of law.

Silly me, I have always made it a point to know stuff. Especially stuff that is relevant to the practice of family law—and any other area that keeps people out of court, like prenuptial agreements and trusts.

As I say—silly me.

But the one area I am still passionate about, although I have moved out if California and have VERY FEW paying clients is getting the word out that fighting a court battle is not helpful and that alternatives exist. (I have not seen a single other attorney inform the “asker” of this fact—EVER. Recently a few have chimed in after I did, bless them.)

So my new mission is to help the many people who find them selves entangled with what Bill Eddy, problem solver extraordinaire, calls the “High Conflict Personality.” These are the bane of courts and all around them,

A brief bio:
“William A. (“Bill”) Eddy IS CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF HIGH CONFLICT INSTITUTE, LLC, IN San Diego, California, AND Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California with over FIFTEEN years’ experience representing clients in family court. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics.”

He is very clear that this—the “HCP” is a common obstacle to courts and litigants alike.
“An Observable High Conflict Pattern
High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in many different situations with many different people. The issue that seems in conflict at the time is not what is increasing the conflict. The “issue” is not the issue. With HCPs the high-conflict pattern of behavior is the issue, including a lot of:
All-or-nothing thinking
Unmanaged emotions
Extreme behaviors
Blaming others

All-or-nothing thinking: HCPs tend to see conflicts in terms of one simple solution rather than taking time to analyze the situation, hear different points of view and consider several possible solutions. Compromise and flexibility seem impossible to them, as though they could not survive if things did not turn out absolutely their way. They often predict extreme outcomes if others do not handle things the way that they want. And if friends disagree on a minor issue, they may end their friendships on the spot – an all-or-nothing solution.”

But it gets better- he has tools for helping courts, ex-spouses and even governments deal with this pattern of behavior.

I downloaded and am internalizing his book “Biff: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns [Kindle Edition]” available here:

BIFF is an acronym for Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm.” The trick to making headway with these people is to have, wait for it… empathetic listening skills. I full understand that most people who have been enmeshed with this conflict for what seem like forever will have a tough time with the empathy—I count myself prone to this myself. But the tools for communicating in the way Bill describes are learnable. And, in my opinion, this the only hope for the ex spouse and co-parent of such a person. (It also works with obnoxious friends and family too, of course.) It takes practice, as this review by a lawyer acknowledges: By David J. Spellman
This is an excellent book.
Bill Eddy, an experienced lawyer and LCSW, is an expert on “High Conflict People.” In fact, the chart on Axis II on page 15 is alone worth the price of the book! Bill advises that we respond to communications from High Conflict People with BIFF…a response that is Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.
I see the wisdom in Bill’s approach. But it is a challenge to my lawyerly instincts, because of the old legal maxim that “silence is assent” I tend to be sure to address and refute each allegation, point-by-point. But that just feeds into the dynamic of the High Conflict Person with whom I am communicating! This is a very wise and helpful book.

The hardest part (after mastering the tools) is that the system—courts—is do not yet begin to grasp that there is no hope that punishing these people will reform them. So I have Bill’s blessing to blog my heart out in hopes the PUBLIC will get the word.

Finding this quote yesterday inspired me to FINALLY write this first such blog:

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained. “
o Mahatma Gandhi Young India 1924-1926 (1927), p. 1285

You see, some lawyers are High Conflict People too. And one of those was my tipping point. He lives to insist I am wrong– it matter not what I say, it is wrong. He is blind to irony, humor or EVEN BEING AGREED WITH. He will find a point to argue. Happily for me another women lawyer has begun to call him out. (He is unfazed but it tickles me. But I digress..)
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It is an error to think and act as though punishing an HCP will stop their flawed thinking and bad acting. (Reasoning also does not work.) Heaven help this lawyer’s clients.

But in any case, if you are wondering why your (ex) wife wants to make an issue of some book fines from school, even when you did nothing to incur them, or in any way bring them about—like a frustrated dad I spoke with via Avvo… this may restore your sanity.

I dare hope so.