A Hiatus from Examining and Fixing

I considered deleting this blog as I haven’t written in a while. Then I realized that I might arrive at a point where it will serve as a crucial outlet. I have two other blogs to maintain, and this one came without a goal, other than to share what I have come to understand about the impact of being exposed to family dysfunction, especially personality disorders.

I had to do something with all that obsessive reading that helped me from going off the deep end during a terrible series of events in 2014. Better to share what I’ve learned than keep it to myself, especially since it was clear that other people were in dire need of some answers and insights. The wonderful feedback I got, even in my answers in mental health forums, spurred me on.

In some strange way, I thought that once I discovered certain truths, that everyone else must know them, too. But that wasn’t the case. And each time I came across someone’s story, I could truly feel their pain and had an urge to share what I learned so they could speed up their recovery and not wait till age 50 or older to really see what’s going on.

I might be repeating myself from a previous post here, but I saw two different people. The kind that just want to lay out every irrelevant detail of events with a disordered family member, the kind of person who wants to be stuck in this cataloging of behaviors. Then there’s the other kind of person who is in touch with the pain and reality of what’s happening and is struggling to make sense of it for their own good. It’s these latter people that moved me.

I feel like I’m an empathetic person. But I can also be a “just DO something” kind of person when I get impatient over another person’s refusal to address whatever their plight is, big or small. Being confronted with other people’s stories of exposure to borderlines and narcissists tapped a deep well of empathy that was sort of relief for me to realize was there. I have empathy even for the whiners who focus too much on the other party, but it’s the ones who are aware of their role and their pain that make me want to help.

I’ve often worried that what I grew up with (nay, have experienced all through adulthood!) has left me missing something. An ability to feel deep emotion. To just sit with someone else’s joy or pain, to experience it without immediately putting in my two cents, or telling my own story or trying to fix something—all things that I tend to do.

But when I talk with someone, and in the course of the conversation, I discover that they’ve been exposed to mental dysfunction, especially in a family member, I feel not just a connection, but a sense of wanting to just shut up. There’s almost a feeling of quiet awe at the idea that you can, without really even sharing one another’s stories, feel what the other person feels and have them do the same for you.

Maybe most people feel this often but I don’t. I’m not thrilled with the idea that the one place where I “get it” and someone else “gets it” is around the issue of fucked-up family members but I’ll take my connections where they’re offered.

Of course, everything I’ve said up to this point seems to have little to do with the title, except that part of me wants to keep this blog for the very reasons I describe above, while another part of me doesn’t want my life to be over-examined anymore. Whenever I feel the pull to write about something, I ask myself, “Is this where I want to put my energies?”

Truth be told, writing in this blog feels, not like addressing issues of personal transformation, but of avoiding connection with the outside world, spending time with friends, working on my art, being outside in nature.

Having this blog feels more like a connection to the past than a step into the future. Because let’s face it, it’s more interesting to talk and write about challenges. The main source of inspiration, if you can even call it that, was my narcissistic mother and my BPD sister and their impact on me. Both are out of the picture but never far away from the mind. There is much healing still do be done. All my ways of being in the world that I know aren’t ultimately good for me are constant reminders of the impacts of all that dysfunction. Tons of material for a lifetime of blogging!

But something pulls me away. I need to follow that tug. The tug of the outside world. The tug of art making as a healing activity. The tug of basic self acceptance, of not constantly worrying that you’ve said or done something wrong.

Sometimes wanting to write a blog post or visit a mental health forum is, curiously, a little like wanting a drink. Indeed, writing is a great way to free stuck thought from your head so you can move on. But it can also, for me, feel like scratching an itch or avoiding something else, something better for me. I wasn’t aware of all this till I found myself writing about it.

And so, with that, I’m going to indefinitely sign off and wish you well on your journey.




You’re Entitled to Your Red Flags

How do you know when you should follow your instincts and not embark on a new relationship? Here are a few ideas:

  • When you start to obsess over researching his disorder (ADHD) so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
  • When you’re already anticipating how exhausted you might be with an extroverted ADHDer.
  • When you’re worrying about how his disorder might manifest itself. Will it be paying bills late? Is his place a mess? Will he bark at me? Forget appointments?
  • When you can’t enjoy the intoxication of meeting someone you click with because you’re trying to balance his over-enthusiasm.
  • When you’re already anticipating the withdrawal of attention and affection once the initial high is over.
  • When you’ve already broken your rule about not moving too fast.

If it’s all so obvious, why even think about, much less write about it? Good question.

Both the pull towards him, not enforcing a slower getting-to-know you, mixed with anxiety about how life would play out, I have recreated a bit of the drama I’ve been trying to leave behind after the last drama-ridden year. Life can feel pretty great, which it does right now. But it’s easy to think all is well, until someone comes in an upsets an apple cart that shouldn’t be so easily upset.

The apple cart in this case is:

  • The desire for a good relationship coupled with a fear there is no such thing, or that you don’t deserve one, making it hard to avoid diving into something too quickly.
  • Remaining centered and engaged, but healthily detached, making promises to no one, and honoring what you know you need to thrive in this world.

All my life I’ve had the hardest time feeling comfortable saying, without shame, fear or obligation, “It was nice to meet you but I don’t think this will work out.” I will actually let myself get into a relationship that I am almost certain will be a disaster just to avoid that discomfort. I see my own needs as weaknesses I should get over.

As an introvert, for example, I can become very overwhelmed and exhausted around certain people. I have always known I couldn’t be with someone very extroverted, especially if there were other issues. In this case, he’s ADHD and very extroverted. The weakness isn’t needing time alone, it’s feeling guilty or worrying about shutting out the other person.

I know my limitations and yet, time and again, I put them aside. I’m convinced it’s the family dysfunction I experienced and the subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions I received about falling in line, meeting people’s unmeetable needs, having to hide my delight or happiness to protect the miserable around me. It’s so hard to pluck out all the maladaptive ways you function when you’re exposed to a slow drip over the course of your life. This is why, even if you know yourself pretty well, you can go along feeling fine and all it takes is one individual with familiar traits to send you off the rails.

The good news is that I didn’t, and haven’t, gone off the rails. Success is having sensed both the delight of meeting someone at a time when I never thought I wanted to be in another relationship, while also being wary of where things could go wrong. I have to work hard not to fear disappointing him or disappointing the people we discovered we have in common. I barely know him but I have this profound dislike at the idea of contributing to his sadness since I know how much he wants to be in a relationship. I suppose it’s empathy, but it might also be my own fear that maybe I’m unnecessarily pushing a good person away. The latter is exactly how I, and we in general, overrule our instincts. Instead of viewing them as trusted allies, we think our instincts are enemies to defeat.

So in my mind, I fast forward to a year down the road. He’s living in my apartment. We have dinner plans with friends and I’m worried once again about his lack of filters, wondering what he’ll blurt out (I’ve already seen that.). I’ll look at him and think how cute and funny and creative and resourceful he is, but that I can no longer bear his curt, testy responses (I’ve gotten a small taste of that). I’ll realize that I have only myself to blame for the resentment I feel at over-functioning for someone who never asked me to. And I’ll think to myself, Jody, you saw all his red flags and felt all your red flags within the first week. Why on earth did you not follow your instincts yet again?

I haven’t had the conversation yet, and I do dread it. What is a shocker, is how easily I was almost tempted away from what feels calm and good and necessary for me right now.

Honoring a Difficult Mother

In an exercise class yesterday on Mother’s Day, the instructor talked about how wonderful her mother was. At one point, as we did a movement on one side, we were asked to think of a positive trait that we very much appreciated in our mothers. For a moment, I felt cynical and wanted to roll my eyes at the sentiment. But then I realized that was a defensive reaction.

A year ago, I could have named a number of positive traits in my mother. Now that she’s gone and now that I fit the pieces together about her narcissism, I have a totally different take on my mother. But why should I? The behaviors were the same either way. Yes, naming something can give you a critical nudge forward to a different level of awareness. But each new awareness almost sets you back as much as it does move you forward.

My setback has been this more developed sense of anger towards my mother. But in that moment of reach to the right in the exercise class, I thought, “sense of humor.” My mother had a solid wit. She enjoyed being entertained and she enjoyed my sense of humor, which is mostly of the wordplay variety. I don’t go in for slapstick. But I do love puns.

But then we were asked to do the same movement to the left and think of a trait that our mother appreciated in us.

Uh, if part of my reason for blogging is do somehow deal with and move beyond a confusing life of being undermined all along the way, what DID I do that my mother truly enjoyed? Each thing I thought of was something that I like about myself and though, at times, my mother might “marvel” at something, I wasn’t sure she really celebrated it. I put marvel in scare quotes because sometimes a person, well, marvels, at something you do but you can’t tell if it’s a complement.

My mother often told me I was wise. (No, not a wise ass!) And I think she said it knowing my wisdom could reveal our family secret of dysfunction.

I’ll go with wise.

I felt better participating, sans cynicism, in the activity because I believe we disempower ourselves when we hold on to resentment too much. There’s a fine line between letting it go (and risk not being aware) and holding on to anger and other toxic emotions. Moving on means you have to go through all the steps. Skip any and it’ll just bite you in the ass later.

Why People Can’t Believe Your Story

And why you shouldn’t totally despair.

One of the more painful aspects of dealing with emotional abuse is when people don’t believe you. These can be well-meaning folks—good friends, relatives who like you. This lack of belief creates a fresh new round of wondering if it was all in your imagination.

Here, I’ll talk about the role that cognitive dissonance plays in what appears to be a lack of support when you try to share the truth of your experiences.

When I split with my narcissistic partner, I was particularly afraid to tell one aunt who had put him on a pedestal despite having met him only twice. Her dismissal of my experience was painful. It was as if I had betrayed her by leaving an abusive relationship. (We often make our pain worse by trying to get support where we shouldn’t expect it. Note to self.)

It still disturbs me when I think of her support of him instead of me, even though I know this aunt likes me very much. Very little prepares us for these kinds of betrayals. I had consistently experienced this same sort of denial from my mother.

But part of being a whole and healthy individual is realizing that weaknesses, not malice, drive most behavior like this. By realizing that it’s a common way that peoples’ brains work, you can minimize some of the pain. Continue reading Why People Can’t Believe Your Story

Your Autonomy As a Threat to the Family System

Growing up in a liberal household with well-educated parents, and where we each pursued our personal interests, I would never have thought that exercising autonomy would be viewed as a threat to the system.

Of course, families are systems in the the most basic sense. But I didn’t always understand or appreciate how powerful the system could be in ways that were nearly impossible to detect. Many systems are created intentionally. Some family systems are, too. But systems can exist in unintentional ways, as well.

The unintentional systems are the worst kind because they have a mind of their own. In dysfunctional family systems, the rules are often unintentional, and those who enforce the rules often don’t realize they are doing so. Continue reading Your Autonomy As a Threat to the Family System

Who’s the Expert Here on Personality Disorders? You Can’t Diagnose Someone!

I’m not an expert, but the experts will tell you you can’t diagnose someone as having a personality disorder. True enough. It is ill advised to tell someone they are personality disordered. For one, you have no real clinical proof, and for two, you are likely to get hit over the head. You should also check your motives. What you might think you’re doing is caring, when actually your intervention might mask an [understandable] desire to hurt that person, rather than help. If you’re reading this, and related to someone you suspect has a personality disorder, you’ve no doubt been hurt badly.

I’m concerned about this warning not to diagnose someone for a few reasons. Continue reading Who’s the Expert Here on Personality Disorders? You Can’t Diagnose Someone!

What if there’s no there there?

I thought if I was spending so much time thinking about the suspected personality disorders in my family that I owed it to my growth as an individual—in the spirit of being open minded and challenging my assumptions—to hear from people with diagnosed disorders who are owning their own shit.

So I found a number of bloggers writing about their recovery. Interestingly, what they write about their own thoughts and behaviors matches exactly what I have experienced with the PDs around me. Yay for validation. Continue reading What if there’s no there there?

When Narcissists Are Joy Killers

Once while swimming laps several years ago, I was struck by this thought: That if I were to be happy, I’d be betraying my mother and sister. So long had I drunk the Koolaid that I thought this.

My sister’s narcissism was more overt, actually saying things like, “If you really cared about me, you’d know exactly what type of gift to buy me.” Or, “You’re not a loyal enough family member,” without actually defining what loyal meant.

For much of my life, I’d focused my anger onto my sister because her behavior was more obvious. She produced feelings in me of despair, fear, anger and guilt.

My mother’s scourge was so much more subtle and therefore insidious. I would even feel inclined to apologize to my sister for blocking her out as much as I did, except that I finally realized how much in collusion they were. I fear her whole world would come crashing down if I were to point out that our mother was largely responsible for our family’s dysfunction. My sister bathes in the idea that our mother was good and that my brother and I are bad. Who am I to spoil things? Continue reading When Narcissists Are Joy Killers

Shame’s Extremes and Finding the Middleground

I just got word that I lost a project I had bid on. The would-be client was a friend and we’d worked together before. I never assumed the project would be mine, even though he dangled it like a carrot. Not counting chickens before they hatch is always a good plan.

I asked why I wasn’t chosen, more as a good practice, followup kind of thing. He read me what I’d call a riot act. In all my years, I don’t think a friend has really given me criticism like that. He can be a little harsh but I didn’t sense that he enjoyed it.

The truth is, I knew I delivered a less-than-perfect proposal. I had waited till the last minute. I had drunk wine the nights before my major pushes at the end to finish the proposal. I was feeling foggy and confused.

Still, his criticism stung. He had gone to bat for me and looked bad to his boss who, no doubt, questioned his judgement. That wasn’t as bad as the next thing. He actually asked me if there was something going on personally that prevented me from writing a sub-par proposal. He said that he was worried.

That’s when the shame spread across my whole body. Continue reading Shame’s Extremes and Finding the Middleground

Why “My Own Keeper”?

Because all the others were taken?

With millions of blogs, the likelihood of getting a name you want is slim. So as I typed in words and phrases and discovered all were taken, I started to think about what were my essential truths. What is the one thing that I know in having been exposed to so much dysfunction early in my life (continuing into my adult life)?

It’s that there is simply no get-out-of-jail-free card. There is no way around; only through. There is no one who can fix you. You can’t fix them.

Realizing you really are your own keeper, and they theirs, is both scary and liberating. It is both/and. Continue reading Why “My Own Keeper”?