I am going to try to write about something that is painful for me to say. I want to say something about the kinds of relationships terribly wounded adults get into with one another. This is a very real topic for me today, and very little that anyone could say to me right now could possibly make anything any better.
Although I am in no way ready at this point in my life to give specific details, I will say that I am nearing the end of a relationship with a man I dearly love that could hardly be more complicated, difficult or painful. In the end, it will end, as all things upon this earth must do. Some day, far in the future perhaps in the next world, both he and I will be able to know what this relationship was always about.
Right now I want to say that I think this man has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As I understand it the personality disorders run on a spectrum from histrionic, through narcissistic, through borderline, to sociopathic to psychopathic on the farther end of the continuum. I believe these personality disorders are really formed within a person to offer a form of structure, organization, orientation and visibility that then masks completely the existence of the wounded person behind and within the disorder. These people are so able to project forms onto others and onto their version of reality that they cannot (usually) ever escape this ‘second person’ that they have become.
I discovered the term “Malignant Self Love” about a year and a half ago. A wealth of information is available on the website, http://www.healthyplace.com/. This page deals specifically not only with the narcissistic disorder itself, but also with the complications of being in a relationship with a person who has it: A journal of Sam Vaknin, a self proclaimed narcissist. Read his story about living with narcissism and all life as a narcissist entails.
For anyone who is still entrenched emotionally with someone who fits the description that Sam Vaknin presents, reading this information will change your life from the inside of who you are. It is brutally honest and I believe exactly correct, yet does not provide any guarantee that you will be able to extricate yourself from the relationship. I know. But once we HAVE this information a platform of understanding can begin to grow within us. From that platform we can begin to see the relationship differently.
Maybe some day I will write the story of my relationship with this man, Ernie. He is the love of my life. Nothing I learn about Narcissistic Personality Disorder changes this fact. I’ve always know the relationship is ‘hopeless’. Now I know more about why. (Importantly, there is no physical violence in this relationship.)
I am blessed to have the unconditional love of my children, my siblings, and my closest friends, who respect and honor me enough that they have NEVER shamed or blamed me for being in this relationship. I imagine on some levels my relationship pain has caused my loved ones as much pain as my having cancer gave them. My one difficulty is not much different than the other.
It is out of my pain and my tears that I say that I now know exactly what it was about my having survived an extremely abusive childhood with my mother that put me so at risk for this relationship. Being raised by and formed by a mother with a severe Borderline Personality Disorder created a condition within me that left me wide open PARTICULARLY AND ESPECIALLY with someone that has a personality disorder.
This is why: I never was able to be a self or to develop my self. I was forced to be a ‘blank slate’, an empty shell, a vacant space within which Linda was not allowed to reside. I existed for my entire childhood not only as my mother’s target of hate and rage, but more specifically for HER PROJECTIONS from her own mind.
I see it this way: If you can imagine an invisible person that has a body but is in no way at home in it. I picture this body as being both like a form of liquid mercury and liquid water. If the sadness has been truly overwhelming, we might as well think of this body as being made up of nothing but tears.
This invisible person (me in this case) only existed in childhood to ‘wear the cloak of visibility’ that was thrown over me by my mother. She projected all her own badness onto me, and that is what I was to her. That is all she ever really saw.
If you read the recommended readings above, you will begin to see that someone with a narcissistic personality disorder projects their own needs out of themselves onto EVERYONE in their lives on some level, just as my mother did. I was an invisible person, blank, waiting and primed to receive the projections of another personality disordered person so that I COULD TAKE FORM. I could know – again – who I was by the form of the ‘blanket of projection’ that someone else would throw over me.
To make this concept perhaps a little less difficult to understand, I will also say that I was especially at risk to get more deeply involved with Ernie because at the same time I was in a transition time when my last child was leaving home. I have never lived with this man and I never will. That was not the issue. What mattered was that for the entire 35 years since I had left home I always knew who I was – because I was a mother. I wore the motherhood cloak as a blanket that gave me form over my invisibility. I was visible to myself primarily BECAUSE I was a mother.
I have always known of myself by what others ‘needed’ me to become in their lives because I, myself, was and still nearly am, invisible. I believe this is directly tied to my disorganized-disoriented insecure attachment disorder. I organize and orient my self — become visible — through my attachment interactions with those who I care about most deeply.
Today I understand that even my childhood connection to the homestead and to the natural world was even then operating according to this process. I was so non-existent as an individual person that I could ‘assume the form’ of nature as happened in the ‘vision’ I had as a teen. In the end of that ‘story’ I did have a body, but I only existed as the personification of song. I also suspect that this is the reason some severely wounded people commit suicide: They never truly existed as a person separate from overwhelming sadness in the first place.
As the cloak-form of motherhood was vanishing and as I was disappearing with it, I was wide open to receive this new visibility cloak as…..well…..one of Ernie’s girlfriends. It has taken me 9 years of being on this road for me to begin to see this pattern more clearly.
The specific facts of ongoing interaction within this strange, complicated and tragic relationship do not matter at this moment. I will say that because I have a 7-week summer series of trips out of town to visit my family, leaving here July 9 and returning August 29, that my ‘role’ of providing narcissistic supply to Ernie will be ‘upset’ – and the relationship has thus become equally ‘upset’ the closer the day comes to my date of departure. (It is especially at time when the security of these relationships is threatened that a ‘reaction’, even a nuclear one, is most likely to occur.)
His projection onto me, as a source of his narcissistic supply, is to participate in the never ending job of making his terribly wounded sense of self feel worthy. And I was so well prepared for taking on that job. I could be the woman who missed him like his mother should have (he left home at age 10 due to problems with his father) so that she would have brought him home. I could be the woman who loved him unconditionally no matter what.
Like I say, right now the specifics do not matter. What does matter is that I am writing this page today to at least ‘come clean’ about what I know about the continued tragedy I still have in my life. I will do my best to adjust to the inevitable ending that will have to happen here, and it is and will be terribly, terribly painful. But I wanted to offer the link to the information on Narcissistic Personality Disorder in case it can help someone to take a new, different look at any painful relationship they might be in today – or have been in before.
This is all very real. No amount of being ‘scolded’ by others helps someone ‘escape’ the pain of a terrible relationship. Information, love, caring support, unconditional love, being able to listen, to let the suffering person know someone is there beside them every step of the way, MATTERS, even if the situations do not change – soon if ever.
There is so much I was NEVER told about the longterm damaging consequences to the abuse I suffered from as I grew up. I never knew I was invisible. I never knew that I was a waiting blank form for someone else to throw their projections on. I never knew that my own disorganized-disoriented insecure attachment disorder would feed itself into every single relationship I ever have with ANYONE in my life time.
The pain of this relationship triggered my own research. I knew the pain of the relationship was NOT ENOUGH to make me feel the way I do. I found out that there was a terrific burden of OLD pain that was carried right along with the present pain (in my body-memories) into my present life. I wanted to know exactly how that happened. I do know so much more now, and what I am writing here tonight is only the tip of the iceberg. But it is enough to show that the iceberg does exist. (How sad it will be to me when this image becomes obsolete!)
I know in most circumstances the solution are not immediate. There is no quick-fix for deep young childhood woundedness that leads to personality disorders. Nor is there a quick fix for people like me who have an almost polar opposite problem – I could not develop ANY PERSONALITY at all. That’s why I have a dissociative identity disorder without the identities. Believe me, it’s possible.
But, DO I have the feelings!! They are present, powerful, intense, and very difficult for me to regulate. That is also a direct result of the abuse I suffered. I can only do the same thing that everyone else does – the best that I can at any given point in time.
But I crave peace. Simple peace. Right now I crave it more than happiness, because without the experience of peace, everything else is just out of reach. The deep and overwhelming pain and sadness from early childhood lies at the root of the brokenness of personality disorders, I believe. Their disorder is a protection against feeling this pain. There are others such as I am who do not have this protection. I have what the dissociation offers, but I try hard not to allow the dissociation to manage my life. So then I am left with the pain – until I can grow and heal out of it. Just because the odds are stacked against me does not mean I can’t do this. I live trying.
I know more and more clearly what I want now. I want peace. Simple, pure peace. I am not there yet. I am not there.
Being abused is always a dehumanizing experience. The nature of the consequence of being the recipient of severe abuse varies, but always involves some required adjustment to being dehumanized. The dehumanization of personality disorders manifests as insecure attachment that requires all people close to this person to assume some form of a projection that in turn dehumanizes them.
Abused young children are at highest risk for losing their ability to have a true well-formed and clear connection to their own self. No matter how difficult any stage of our healing is to move through, all of them have the potential for humanizing our self. I think in terms of ‘human’ because it is our ability to form a conscious self that allows us to live a life that belongs truly to us as an individual, a life that is not vulnerable to being dehumanized by others.
Securely-attached-from-birth people do not have the same risk of assuming cloaks of visibility because they already have a clearly visible self. They will never suffer the devastating experience of either not having a self at all, or of having only a ‘partial’ one.
I believe it is severe trauma of early abuse, neglect, and abusive conditional love that so wounds a developing child that it causes this fundamental breach to occur between one’s being in a body in this world and being the self one was meant to be. This breach is the source of our overwhelming, unbearable sadness, sorrow, grief and pain. All the ongoing efforts in our lives are meant to enable us to live with this wound, and if at all possible, to heal it.
Please access these pages on Domestic Violence and Abuse for important additional information —
From the Mayo Clinic on: Domestic violence against women: Recognize patterns, seek help
The Silent Treatment