I know any readers I have left are probably tired of hearing about my problems with other people, my loss of friends, my hard feelings, my anger. I'm tired of it, too. So this will be my last post about my issues with people I know or knew. I'm hoping, in this post, to purge all that crap so I can move on, make new (and, hopefully, better) friends and stop wallowing in my huge, huge trough of self pity in the face of having lost about two-thirds of my "friends" seemingly all at once.
Doing this, though, will require a thoroughness on my part here today, and, probably, several sessions with my therapist devoted solely to this subject.
Is it them, or is it me? Is it a combination of the two? Do I not cut people enough slack? Am I too sensitive? Am I too direct? Competitive? Aggressive? Are jerks drawn to me as my therapist says? Am I drawn to jerks? I certainly don't enjoy the fruits of their labor. Am I a masochist?
The several biggest things I fail to understand are:
1) People who treat others as if they were disposable
2) Some people expect you to treat them like gold but want to wipe their feet on you in return - and expect to still be buddies
3) When you let people know you are mad at them and why, some people turn it around and get mad at you for being mad at them for what they did to you. They don't want to discuss what they did, they just want to discuss why they are now mad at you for bringing up the fact that you are mad at them
4) Many people have a HUGE problem apologizing to anyone for anything and refuse to do so
I'm going to illustrate my point using Jeremy as an example since we have recently agreed to never talk to each other again at his suggestion. Some of you may remember that I stayed with Jeremy for a weekend in Minneapolis in June and wrote about the weekend in my blog when I got back. Jeremy was a complete stranger to me except for several unsettling phone conversations and a slew of e-mails before my visit. You would think we would have both been on our best behavior considering the uncomfortable circumstances. I was. He most definitely wasn't. Or, if he was, he's a really huge asshole.
I didn't write about all the fucked up things he said and did while I was there in my posts about the visit, but these things involved yelling at me, cursing at me, threatening to leave me stranded somewhere, griping endlessly about our museum experience (even after I paid for him to get into the museum since I knew he didn't necessarily want to go), repeatedly embarrassing me in front of his family and basically leaving me walking on eggshells by the time I left because I was scared I'd do something to anger him - again. Why did he always have such a problem with me?
I took photographs of him. I took him to a museum. I played a few games on a slot machine while he was in the bathroom at the casino. I talked to a homeless person. I wanted to dance to the music of a blues band playing in downtown Minneapolis.
Wow. I'm a monster.
In the face of what I saw as his brutishness, I remained nice. After all, I was staying in his home. I should have been more prepared for what he had to offer, though, especially after the first conversation we had in person that involved him ranting on and on about not giving a fuck what anyone thinks of him and that he's always right, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, after leaving there, my anger began to surface. He had been a jerk. More than a jerk. He had been abusive. Instead of confronting him directly, I wrote a few negative things on my blog about my experience there. I attempted to comment to some of his posts in ways that were negative towards him. Finally, I apologized for how I handled my anger.
In turn, he said that he would be more than happy to discuss things in private but that he wasn't going to make things public. I responded by beginning an e-conversation about why I was upset in an effort to finally come up with some kind of resolution. He responded to what I thought would be a beginning with an ending by saying that we just didn't "get" each other and that it would be best to "cut our ties" and go our separate ways.
That's how eager he was to discuss things, I guess. I replied, "Sounds good." Who wants THAT for a friend?
I tell you all this as an example of my frustration but there are many more. The way Jeremy acted was just par for the course as far as my friends have been concerned. I chalk it up to ignorance. I chalk it up to personality disorder. I chalk it up to control issues. I chalk it up to immaturity. I chalk it up to selfishness. But is it more? Does it have to do with me - something about me that pushes people's buttons? I've seen how people I have a problem with treat others. I can tell you it's not the same as the way they treated me. That leads me to think it's something about me, in particular. Or maybe it's something about the other people that prompts better treatment? Maybe they are nicer? More tolerant? More pliable? More compliant and complimentary? After all, my therapist says I attract narcissists.
I have known this for a long time and have read every book and Internet site about narcissists that I can get my eyes on - including the leading Web site dedicated to malignant self-love by Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. This hasn't protected me from the next narcissist and the next, however, as no two narcissists are equal, and it takes a while to figure out who is a narcissist and who isn't. Also, I have, at various times, convinced myself that I am an inverted narcissist, someone who likely grew up with narcissistic parents who doesn't feel complete or alive unless he or she is actively involved in relationships with narcissists. This thought is too scary to hold on to, so I have a tendency to let it go. And if it ever WAS true, that I only feel alive or comfortable in a relationship with a narcissist, it's not true anymore. So how do I reform my signals to let narcissists know their ways are no longer welcome here?
Interestingly enough, today I stumbled upon the Institute for Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy of New Jersey's Web site , which has this to say about narcissists and their inability to apologize:
The Inability to Apologize
Ever since the pioneering work of Klein (e.g., 1937), analysts have been interested in the process of reparation, with both internal and external objects. In a loving relationship perceived as temporarily damaged by one party's hunger or aggression, the (actual or fantasied) injuring party ordinarily seeks to restore the loving tone of the relationship. In adults, the usual vehicle is the apology.
What intrigues us about the reparation process when a narcissistic defense is operating is that what is repaired is not the damage to the relationship, but the subject's illusion of perfection. Narcissistically impelled people may be at least temporarily incapable of genuine expressions of remorse, because inherent in an apology is the admission that one is not needless and faultless. In characterological narcissism, this defect is sometimes embraced as a virtue, as in Woody Hayes's boast that he never apologized to anybody, or in the peculiar belief of Erich Segal's heroine that "Love is never having to say you're sorry." In less gross manifestations of narcissism, the avoidance of apology is much more subtle, much less visible to those who might legitimately expect some expression of sincere contrition. What a narcissistically defended person seems to do instead of apologizing is to attempt a repair of the grandiose self in the guise of making reparation with the object. We have identified several different ways that narcissistically motivated people tend to substitute some other kind of interpersonal transaction for an apology. For the party on the receiving end of such a transaction, it also becomes a problem to restore intimacy, since it is difficult to forgive in the absence of the other person's genuine remorse.
When a narcissistically defended woman has inflicted some emotional injury upon her husband, instead of apologizing, she is likely to go out of her way later to be especially solicitous of him (initiating sex, making a special dinner, etc.). A father who has unfeelingly criticized a child may similarly avoid admitting his insensitivity but instead offer some attractive treat subsequent to his transgression. The object of the undoing can be expected to remain hurt, in the absence of an emotional expression of regret, and will suffer a natural reaction to the undoing that will lie somewhere between cold rejection and grudging acquiescence. If neither party can articulate the difference between making real emotional reparation to the object and engaging in the defense of undoing, they will both be further estranged by these operations. The undoing party will feel affronted and resentful that his or her ministrations are not appreciated, while the injured person may suffer attacks of self-criticism for an inability to forgive, forget, and warm up to the partner. Both people wind up lonelier than they were previously.
2. Appealing to Good Intentions
People who are engaged in defending their internal grandiosity may become adept at giving ostensible apologies that really amount to self-justifications. Narcissistically driven people do not seem to understand that saying one is sorry represents an expression of empathy with the injured party irrespective of whether the hurt was intentional or avoidable. The woman who is kept waiting and worrying when her husband is late coming home will feel immediately forgiving if he expresses genuine sorrow that she has suffered on his account. In narcissistically defensive states, however, people seem to go by the general rule that such expressions of sympathy and regret are called for only if they were "at fault" in some way. Thus, the tardy husband meets his wife's anxious greeting with, "It wasn't my fault; there was a traffic jam," communicating not remorse but resentment of her distress and rejection of its validity.
The organizing, overriding issue for people with narcissistic preoccupations is the preservation of their internal sense of self-cohesiveness or self-approval, not the quality of their relations with other people. As a result, when they feel their imperfections have been exposed, the pressing question for them is the repair of their inner self-concept, not the mending of the feelings of those in their external world (cf. Stolorow's [1979b] definitions of narcissism). They are consequently likely, in a state of defensiveness about exposed faults, to protest that they meant to do the right thing, as if the purity of their inner state is the pertinent issue - to others as well as to themselves.
One of our patients described how her close friend had failed to send her a wedding present. When she admitted her disappointment, the friend replied, "Gee, I meant to get you something - I even had a gift in mind, and I don't know why I didn't get to it." This was offered as if it were an exonerating explanation; interestingly, the woman never did buy a gift, even (or perhaps especially) in light of the explicit expression of its significance to her friend. This seemingly odd perseverance in a breach of etiquette might be explained by the observation that the rectification of an error is an admission that an error has in fact occurred. If one displaces the issue to the area of intention an error has in fact occurred. If one displaces the issue to the area of intention, an error has not occurred, since one's intentions were faultless.
A related substitute for apologizing is the practice of explaining. Unless the listener is particularly sensitive, an explanation can sound remarkably like an apology. In fact, a relationship between two people is apt to go on a considerable length of time before the party on the receiving end of explanations begins to feel a bothersome absence of genuine contrition in the other. The advantage of the explanation to the person protecting a grandiose self is that it avoids both asking for something (forgiveness) and admitting to a sphere of personal responsibility that includes the risk of inevitable shortcoming. Hence, the illusion of personal needlessness and guiltlessness is maintained. "I would have visited you in the hospital but my schedule got really crazy," or "I must've forgotten your birthday because it came right on the heels of my vacation this year," or "Your dog just ran in front of my car and I couldn't stop fast enough" are the kinds of apology-substitutes that may appear to connote remorse, but actually stop short of expressing sorrow and making emotional reparation.
A special case of the explanation sans apology is that of the person who has become adroit in offering his or her psychodynamics as explanatory, exculpating principles behind behavior that is remiss. "Maybe I was acting out my envy," or "I wonder if I did that because I'm going through an anniversary reaction to my sister's death," or "I must have been feeling unconsciously hostile toward you because you remind me of my father" are the kinds of nonapologies typically offered by the psychoanalytically sophisticated when protecting a grandiose self-concept. Evidence that a genuine apology has not been made can be found in the state of mind of the recipient of such commentaries: explanations without apology produce either pained confusion, or understanding without warmth. Because the explainer is defending his or her action to an internal critic who expects perfection, the listener often ends up, because of being the target of a projective-identification process, feeling inarticulately critical.
We have noticed the tendency for narcissistically vulnerable people to engage in a kind of ritual self-castigation in the wake of an undeniable or unrationalizable failing toward someone. This is a process even more elusive than explaining, and harder to distinguish from true apologizing. This recrimination is expressed to witnesses and objects of the transgression with the implicit invitation that the transgressor should be reassured that despite the lapse, he or she is really fine (i.e., perfect or perfectable), after all. In the case of a person with a narcissistic character disorder, recrimination is probably as close as he or she ever comes to apologizing, and is doubtless believed to constitute sorrow and reparation.
Self-castigating statements, mild ones such as "I can't understand why I did that!" and severe ones such as "I must be a terrible person," appear to manifest remorse, and may on that basis elicit sympathy and a wish to relieve the offender's apparent guilt and pain. A close look at the transaction, however, reveals that the subject is suffering self-condemnation mainly for a lack of perfection, and that the injured object has been switched into the position of comforting the person who inflicted the hurt. The party who is legitimately entitled to an apology goes without it, while the transgressor achieves reinforcement for a pathological belief about the self.
We have found that a good way to discriminate between narcissistic recrimination and object-related remorse is to ask the allegedly regretful person whether, under identical circumstances, he or she would do the same thing again. A truly repentant sinner will unhesitatingly and believably say no, while a person protecting the grandiose self will tend to launch into a series of hedges, rationalizations, or less than credible denials.
5. Deflecting Blame
The readiness of narcissistically vulnerable people to convey criticism is equaled only by their resistance to assimilating it. Frequently, they seem to have mastered the art of deflecting blame. As an example of this dynamic, let us consider the familiar situation of supervising a narcissistically preoccupied trainee in psychotherapy. If narcissistic patients are hard to treat (as is their reputation), narcissistic supervisees seem even harder to supervise. Except in certain phases of idealization of the supervisor, they react to honest feedback about their shortcomings and limits not just with defensiveness - a natural and universal response - but with a particular kind of defense: the effort to share their "badness" with the supervisor.
When the mentor has failed to support the grandiose self of a narcissistically impelled student, he or she can count on paying for it. A response to the effect of "I'll confess that I acted that out, but I think you have your part in this, too," is typical. And the supervisee is often right, or has a piece of the truth at least, but in such cases, the content of the criticism of the supervisor is usually not the point. The process boils down to: "I feel mortified that you saw a limitation in me because I aspire to perfection. You probably aspire to perfection, too, or should, so I'll point out that you haven't yet reached it, either." The supervisee thus perpetuates the false premise that perfect self-sufficiency is a legitimate goal. It seems not to occur to a narcissistically motivated person that comfort with imperfection might be both the supervisor's attitude toward his or her own work, and the attitude the supervisor wishes to instill in the trainee.
Several years ago, one of us worked with a brilliant, attractive, talented, and quite grandiose analyst-in-training. For about a year, the atmosphere of the supervision was delightful, as both parties engaged in what amounted to a folie a deux of mutual idealization. The supervisor, out of her own narcissistic pathology, joined this man believing that reported problems with previous supervisors derived from his having been insufficiently appreciated by, or even having been felt as threatening to, these therapists. Then he sought her collusion in overreporting his hours of control analysis to the institute. (He believed that he had had so much equivalent training that his background fulfilled the "spirit" if not the letter of the training provisions, and that the particulars of the program requirements were needlessly stringent.) She refused. He abruptly devalued her, as he had his previous instructors, but since it was in his interest to maintain the relationship until he had passed a Case Presentation requirement, he stayed in supervision. When she tried to make ego-alien his narcissistic entitlement, he accused her of acting out all kinds of unpleasant dynamics, including having contributed to his expectation of special favors by her prior warmth and support, which he now labeled seductive and transferential. He was, of course, right to a considerable extent, as narcissistically defensive people, with their hypervigilant sensitivity to others, often are.
He somehow structured the psychological situation as follows: "If you deny your part in the dynamic, you are self-deluded and therefore not worth listening to; if you admit it, you and I can lament your shortcomings together, construe my actions as responsive to your mistakes, and avoid looking at my own problems." It is very difficult to turn this bind into a learning situation for the trainee. We have seen examples of narcissistically preoccupied analysts-in-training who, by structuring their experience of supervision this way, develop a set of quite prescient beliefs about each of their teachers' dynamics, with no observable growth in their comprehension of their own.
I am intimately aware of all of these ways of NONapologizing as I've been on the receiving end of them my entire life. I could give so many examples of times friends or family members have offered these kinds of NONapologies. This paper is illuminating.
So, apparently, I'm a bigger piece of this whole puzzle than is outwardly apparent. My therapist says she thinks I'm perfectly nice and that I attract people who try to take advantage of that. But if I'm so "nice," how come I turn into a beast hungry for revenge when someone wrongs me? My therapist said I am acting in response to others' actions, as if that makes it OK. Why don't I, instead, just smile in the face of meanness and walk away? Why am I always looking for explanations, answers, apologies, promises? Why do I have a hard time just giving up on people? And why do I expect something better from someone who has shown me how he or she has been willing to treat me over and over and over?