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Old Cold Blues October 14, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Teaching.
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4 comments

It’s Day 13 of my not-so-common cold, and today I lost my voice.  This does not bode well as when you’re a teacher you have to talk all day long. I’d like to believe my voice sounds sultry, even sexy, but in reality, I sound like a bullfrog in mating season one minute and Mickey Mouse the next.

For a week now, I’ve been taking anything that ends with -Quil, so I’m officially on Elvis Time. (see Quotation Rotation #1).  “Why don’t you just use sign language,” my oh-so-thoughtful students suggested. Yes, I do sign a lot of directions in my class.  But really, it’s not like I know how to sign, “Quit thumping that pencil.” (or I’m going to stick it in your ear). That, by the way, is an imperative sentence – something my students need to know next week for The Test.

I get two colds a year.  It could be worse, considering I’m surrounded by 20 kids whose first impulse when they feel like throwing up is to run toward me. “Teacher!  I feel sick!”  With outstretched arms, I form a cross with my fingers, as if to ward off vampires.  “Move away from the teacher, ” I repeat calmly, as I back away from them and toss them a plastic grocery bag. Whew! Another ticking biological bomb diffused.

The classroom is one big germfest, so I’m not the only one sick.  I looked over today and saw that my new student from Korea had a stalactite of snot hanging from his nose. We were just finishing the spelling pretest.  I’ve got some really good spellers who asked, “What about a challenge word?”  I didn’t hesitate. “Snotty,” I said, straight-faced, as I handed Mr. Stalactite a tissue.  In my class you get one tissue per day.  “Uno solamente,” I told him, forgetting, in my -Quil induced haze, that he speaks Korean.  If I didn’t ration tissues, the kids would go through two boxes a day, just so they can get out of their seat to get one, and then get out of their seat again to throw it away.  Repeat this ritual ten times a day – you get the picture.

I like to look at the glass (of Robitussin, that is) as half full, so I’m trying to look on the bright side. All my students spelled “snotty” correctly.

Cockroach Confidential September 20, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Life.
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5 comments

There were cockroaches everywhere. A biblical plague had descended on the Holy Land – the Holy Land being our overpriced New York City apartment. (Yes, I realize that using the word “holy” in the same sentence as “New York City” amounts to blasphemy.) The final straw came when we found them crawling in the cereal that my sons ate. Cereal killers! Drastic times call for drastic measures. We decided it was time to call in the professionals. Who you gonna call? – (No, not them) – Lady Killers!

I can’t remember how I found out about Lady Killers, but the woman on the phone assured me she could take care of “the problem.” I envisioned a highly-trained entomological exorcist who could banish these six-legged demons that had turned our lives into a living hell.

We’d exhausted the traditional “final solutions.” We’d already sprinkled crop circles of boric acid around the apartment, and all of the Roach Motels had vacancy signs. We’d taken to wiping down the kitchen counter hourly and keeping all food in tightly sealed plastic containers. It was like we were living in a bomb shelter and dipping into rations when we ate.

I eagerly awaited the arrival of the Lady Killer. So I was a bit taken aback when a dowdy, overweight woman arrived and introduced herself as Elaine. This was the Lady Killer? She had an unusually firm handshake. That’s when I realized the Lady Killers were not just ladies, they were lesbians. Talk about a niche market.

As Elaine regaled us with tales of the German Brown cockroach’s superpowers, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the crusty old shark hunter Robert Shaw played in Jaws. All she was missing was the bite out of her forearm. She informed us a cockroach could live off a single drop of grease in the air for a year. And just like those starving Russians during the Siege of Leningrad, cockroaches could survive by eating the glue from book bindings. We had an entire wall of books, which I now realized was a virtual Hometown Buffet.

From her purse, Elaine produced several unmarked plastic squeeze bottles containing a mysterious white powder. Boric acid?  “No,” she scoffed. She informed us that eating boric acid only made THEM stronger. To be honest, I was afraid to ask her what was in the bottles. Although Elaine assured us it was non-toxic to humans, where was the label? This was obviously some home brewed concoction. But we were desperate. Sometimes it’s best not to know.

For the next two hours, Elaine ransacked our apartment squirting the white powder into every nook and cranny. The entire time, we raptly listened as she detailed the down and dirty habits of the German army that had been occupying our apartment and holding us hostage. She informed us the reason THEY were inside the kitchen clock is that they liked the warmth, and it provided an excellent base camp to launch their expeditions. If I’m ever a contestant on Jeopardy, I can only hope that one of the categories is Cockroaches. I’ll take Cockroaches for $500 please!

We wrote out a check for a couple of hundred dollars and waited. Elaine had said it would take a week before we’d see results. My husband was convinced the white powder was plain old boric acid and the “wait a week” ploy was just to give Elaine time to cash the check. He of little faith.

After a week, THEY began dying. Within two weeks our apartment was roach-free (knock on wood!). The down side was that every time we opened a file cabinet or drawer, a plume of white powder would rise up, leaving traces of white powder on our face and hair. This was New York City in the 80s, so I’m sure our neighbors just thought we had a serious cocaine problem. Any New Yorker can tell you that’s not nearly as bad as a serious roach problem.

We didn’t see a cockroach for six blissful months. Six months may not seem like a long time. But after eight years of daily hand-to-hand combat, this was a dream come true vacation. I actually began to relax. We still kept all of the food in plastic containers; but I no longer swatted anything that moved in my peripheral vision, including my children.

After six months, the clock struck midnight and the spell was broken. The roaches began straggling back. So Elaine returned once again with the magic powder. By then, she knew the most intimate details of our lives – as she’d been through every drawer and cabinet in our apartment.

By the time we finally decided to leave New York City, the cockroaches were back in full force. If I had any second thoughts about our flight from the Holy Land, these were put to rest when I saw baby roaches crawling inside the digital display on the microwave oven. Gross! We waved the white surrender flag and were escorted safely out of the combat zone aka New York City.

We were excited to be moving to Mexico. Little did we know that a welcoming committee was already forming to greet us – of scorpions.

Close Encounter With A Narcissist – Part 3 August 15, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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548 comments

Please read/reread “Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Parts 1 & 2” before reading Part 3.  These are usually featured in Top Posts in the column at the right.  If not, you can access them through Tags or Categories under Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Scroll down through Part 3 to reach Parts 1 & 2. Note: In Part 3, I’ll refer to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) simply as a narcissist.  Again, I’ll refer to the narcissist as “he,” as the majority of narcissists are male.

Looking back on my own close encounter with a narcissist, I can see the Red Flags were there early on. In my gut, I knew there was something “off” about my friend Joe. But I had trouble putting my finger on just what IT was. The more time I spent with him, it became painfully obvious how illogical Joe’s reasoning was – it just didn’t jibe with “human” logic. He also seemed enamored with himself and professed to having many talents. I once teased Joe that he was “self-absorbed.”  But I wasn’t teasing – merely making an observation. For the first time, the word narcissist popped into my head.

Red Flag #1 – Grandiosity

Ah, yes.  Grandiosity and its sidekick Magical Thinking. While there is an overlap with other personality disorders when it comes to Lack of Empathy, it is Grandiosity that distinguishes Narcissistic Personality Disorder from all of the other personality disorders. Grandiosity is the jewel in the crown that makes the narcissist so very special.

According to the DSM-IV, “The essential feature of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.

“Individuals with NPD routinely overestimate their abilities and inflate their accomplishments, often appearing boastful and pretentious. They may blithely assume others attribute the same value to their efforts and may be surprised when the praise they expect and feel they deserve is not forthcoming.”

An admitted “seminar junkie,”  Joe shared with me a dizzying array of plans he had that would bring him money, recognition, or just a change in scenery. After hearing these change weekly, I began writing down all of the things Joe was going to do “some day.”  When you’re a teenager, or even in your twenties, this kind of daydreaming is normal. But not in your 40s.

Narcissists love to envision grand scenarios starring – themselves! What they lack is the follow-through to make them reality. Why do narcissists indulge in this kind of thinking?  Just thinking of all of the great things they’re “going to do” brings a smile to their face. Think of it as mental masturbation.

One day I told Joe I believed the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Not that people can’t change, but barring some life-changing epiphany, most people are creatures of habit. Joe vehemently disagreed. You see, the narcissist’s grandiosity goes hand-in-hand with Magical Thinking. Joe was big on the book The Secret, which holds that all you have to do is think positive thoughts and good things will happen. Now, I’m all for positive thinking and I like to think karma will come round, but Magical Thinking goes above and beyond. When you’re a narcissist, though, fairy tales can come true (besides, they’re already wearing that crown).

Here’s an example of grandiosity. Joe was considering taking a freelance job on the side. He’d never done this sort of work, but narcissists are convinced they can do anything. I warned Joe he could be getting in over his head, but he took the job anyway. Three weeks later, he came to me in a panic. Not only had he screwed up the job, he was being asked to refund the money he’d been paid, since someone else would now have to fix his mess. His client had mentioned the “L” word – lawyer. It was the first time I’d seen Joe visibly shaken.

Now, on some level, Joe knew he’d screwed up, but he refused to accept any responsibility. As I listened to him talk aloud about the botched job, I watched him mentally rewrite the scenario of what happened. It wasn’t his fault – it was that stupid woman who hired him. You see, narcissists are NEVER, EVER wrong. So, if a narcissist ever tells you he was wrong about something (a very human trait), brace yourself. Most likely he’s getting ready to do something really nasty – to you.

Red Flag #2 – Lack of Empathy

Empathy is what makes us human. We can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and share their joy or feel their pain. But a narcissist has only one one pair of shoes – and they fit PERFECTLY. Human emotions confound narcissists and make them uncomfortable. They don’t know the right thing to say. They’ve watched humans, so they know what they’re supposed to say, but it doesn’t come naturally. This explains their often odd and insensitive comments (The Inappropriate Effect). Any talk of feelings is just so – icky!  Joe was quick to point out he hated “girlie girls” or anyone who was “touchy feely.” He dismissed anything tinged with emotion as “drama.” What was funny was although Joe said he hated drama, it was his own bad behavior that sparked all of the drama in his life.

Joe often said he was “too nice.” He could talk a good game, lamenting the injustices in the world, as if he genuinely cared. But it was just that – talk.

I once listened to Joe make a comment to a young woman. They’d worked together and supposedly were friends. The comment was about her body and had a sexual undertone. It left her visibly distressed. Now, any normal person, seeing her reaction would have immediately apologized for hurting her feelings. But what did “I’m too nice” Joe do? He sat across the table from her for the next hour and never opened his mouth. Later, I asked why he would say such an insensitive thing. He shrugged and admitted it was a cheap shot, but added, smiling, “It was so easy – that’s what made it so much fun.” It was creepy.

When I talked to the woman several days later, SHE apologized to me!  “I’m sorry I got so upset,” she said. “I know the way Joe is, so I shouldn’t have let it bother me so much.” Can you see how a narcissist gets away with such behavior? People make excuses for him!  “That’s just the way he is,” they say, while mentally adding another tally mark after the word @sshole.

Asking a narcissist to “have a heart” has just the opposite effect. Reasoning with them also falls on deaf ears. A narcissist doesn’t want to change because there’s nothing wrong with him. YOU are the one with the problem, remember?

Red Flag #3 –  Confusing Communication

Communication (or should I say lack of genuine communication) with a narcissist is a crazy-making experience. Humans communicate to share information, ideas, and feelings. Not so the narcissist who uses words to confuse and paralyze his victim. Narcissists don’t like to play their nasty games on a level playing field. Their cryptic comments are designed to keep their victim constantly confused and wondering, “What did THAT mean?” This tactic gives the narcissist the home team advantage.

Any attempt to discuss feelings with a narcissist is doomed to leave the victim not knowing left from right. Joe had a short list of pronouncements that could derail any conversation: “Can’t you take a joke?”  “But no one got hurt!”  “Why do you bother talking about that?  It’s in the past!” (yesterday constituted ‘the past’) “If you’d just behave!”  “I’m really busy, so is this life or death?” or his ultimate putdown, “You’re such a drama queen!”

If you know a narcissist, you already know the kind of comments I’m talking about. They’re the equivalent to a teenager’s dismissive, “Whatever!” or the “Talk to the Hand” gesture.

When cornered, a narcissist is like the cartoon character who, when in danger, magically produces a pencil, quickly draws a door, and makes a hasty exit. When I read Stalking the Soul by Marie-France Hirigoyen, a French psychiatrist whose specialty is victimology, it was her chapter on Communication and the narcissist that hit a nerve. The verbal roller coaster, with all its twists and turns, came to a screeching halt and I decided then it was time to get off the ride. It was no longer exciting – it was making me sick.

Cerebral and Somatic – Sex as in “Table for One, Please”

Narcissists get their admiration, or Narcissistic Supply (NS), in one of two forms. Cerebral narcissists gain NS through their intellect, that is, by being “an authority.” Somatic narcissists may be equally intelligent, but they satisfy their need for NS through sexual conquests.

Both kinds of narcissist prefer autoerotic sex – masturbation – to sex with a flesh-and-blood woman. That’s because a real woman expects you to talk to her, or even worse, cuddle, after the main event. Remember, the narcissist can’t establish a genuine emotional bond with another human, so he finds these feelings unnatural and awkward. Faking it is hard work, and he’d just as soon get up and watch TV or check his email. You served your purpose and now he’s done with you. It’s like he had to blow his nose – and the Kleenex? Well, that would be you. He’ll toss it/you aside until he needs to blow his nose again. Romantic, huh?

Cerebral narcissists can put on a show during the idealization phase, but quickly lose all interest in sex. They’re essentially asexual. They derive pleasure from frustrating their partner by withholding sex. This gives them a feeling of power. Besides, to them, not only is sex down and dirty – it’s just so common. They’re way too special to engage in such a common pursuit. So they can do without.

Despite Joe’s love of sexual innuendo, I realized when it came to women, he was like my dogs when it comes to cats. My dogs love the chase, but if the cat stops running, they just stand there, looking rather embarrassed about what to do next. After a short impasse, they wander off to look for another cat that will run from them. Remember, it’s the chase that the narcissist loves.

A somatic narcissist, on the other hand, is like the town dog always making his rounds. But it’s not just his infidelity, and the accompanying lies, that are so disturbing. It’s his irrational rationale. “You made me do it” so “It’s not my fault.” (I apologize to all dogs for comparing them to a narcissist. Dogs are infinitely more caring and human than any narcissist could ever hope to be.)

The Myth of Curing the Narcissist

Remember the blanket analogy from Part 1?  A person doesn’t HAVE a personality disorder, they ARE the personality disorder. Narcissism in interwoven into every fiber of that blanket. Unravel the blanket and you unravel their personality.

If you’re a woman, you’re most likely a nurturer and think that with enough patience and love, someone or something can be helped. It’s that “I’ll nurse this fallen baby bird back to health using a medicine dropper!” thing. Sound familiar?

Even after I figured out that Joe had NPD, I was convinced if I could just reconnect with that inner child that was hiding deep inside, he’d feel safe to come out and show me his real face. Olly, olly, oxen free! Some call this logic “Peeling an Onion.” The rescuer thinks, “If I can just peel away the layers of hurt, I can get to the core of the problem, and I can help him heal.” But what’s at the core of an onion?  Ah ha! That’s a trick question, because an onion has no core.  Not to mention that peeling an onion makes YOU cry, while the onion feels nothing.

Know this. That wounded child’s True Self might as well be preserved in amber. It’s fossilized and will never ever develop. Besides, a narcissist doesn’t want to be fixed because he’s convinced he’s fine just the way he is. It’s YOU who has the problem, remember?

So, least you forget, write this on a post-it note and put it up on the refrigerator:  NO NARCISSIST HAS EVER BEEN CURED!  (I’ve since written more about this.  See Can a Narcissist be Cured?)

Discarded and Scarred – Life After the Narcissist

I was only involved with Joe for four months and we were just “friends.” (Friends is in quotations because narcissists don’t have any real friends). Joe had proven himself to be a first class @sshole on so many occasions. He showed absolutely no interest in me as a person – only in what I could do for him. He’d solicited advice, ignored it, then punished me for offering it. So why couldn’t I just “move on?”  I knew WHAT he was. I knew there was NO CURE. But still…

First, it was hard to forget how much I enjoyed Joe’s company during the Idealization phase. He’d bound up to me like an eager puppy wagging its tail. It was hard to believe this was an act, or just the giddiness that went with honing in on a new source of NS. It seemed so real – to me.

But, the most painful part was the feeling of betrayal – of being duped. It’s hard to admit that you were just a “thing” with an expiration date, especially to a person you genuinely cared about. You want to think that when all is said and done, at the end of the day you were special. But you are special, and that’s why the narcissist targeted you.

I was angry with Joe, but I was angriest with myself. I’m a confident person with strong boundaries, so how could I have let this happen?  This was all a game for Joe. But then he had an advantage because he’d played this game many times before. He knew the rules. Hell, I didn’t even know it was a game!

A word of warning: A narcissist will never give his victim the validation they so desperately seek or closure. This final act of control and cruelty leaves his victim hanging and twisting in the wind. This brings a smile to the narcissist’s face.

I’ve since forgiven myself. As a caring person, I only did what came naturally. I saw someone who was lonely and seemed to be in pain, and I reached out to help them. But Joe didn’t want or need my help, because he’s perfect just the way he is. So, you see, I’m the one with the problem. But it’s a problem I can live with. It’s called being human. And that, my friends, is what I learned from MY close encounter with a narcissist.

Acknowledgements

It was Joe’s self-involvement that led me to Google “narcissism.” Who would have known there were so many others online looking for answers?

Sam Vaknin’s book Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited was a revelation. How could anyone not know Sam?  A narcissist, he’s everywhere on the internet. I’m just glad a life crisis forced him to venture out into the light of day long enough to write this seminal book. Although I jokingly refer to Sam as the Head Vampire, he has shed such light into the darkness that is NPD. I’m only sorry I forwarded my highlighted version to Joe, who will never read it (I imagine he uses it to prop up one very short leg of a table.)

Marie-France Hirigoyen’s book, Stalking the Soul, was a godsend. I ordered a used copy from Amazon.

I first found on-line support through Careplace’s NPD community. Several of the online friends I met there are now my real-life friends, and I kiss the ground for my good fortune.

The members of MSN Groups Narcissistic Personality Disorder Forum constantly amaze me with their wisdom, insight, and yes, humor. It’s inspiring to see how people can gain strength from each other’s experiences, cry, learn, laugh, and move forward. Special thanks to Femfree, the forum manager, for posting the link to my blog.

Finally, thanks to all those near and dear to me. You know who your are. Your patience and support has made me realize how incredibly rich I am.

Looking to the Future

I always thought that as soon as I finished writing Close Encounter with a Narcissist I’d be DONE! But I’m a teacher, remember?  And there’s still so much work to be done to educate the public about this devastating disorder. So, I WILL be writing future posts on NPD. If you’d like to check in from time to time, please bookmark my site.  Peace.

Posts since written – You’ll find them in Categories or Tags under Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Can a Narcissist be Cured?
The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #1, 2, and 3.

You’ll find these in Categories under Narcissistic Personality Disorder.


Coke for Breakfast August 12, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Food, Health.
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4 comments

When my computer starts up in the morning, my husband likes to say, “That’s Jan booting up.” When I snap open the can of Coke that’s part of my not-so-balanced breakfast, he adds, “There’s the second sound that tells me she’s alive!” It’s pathetic, I know, but I’m a creature of habit. Besides, I’m a third generation Coca-Cola drinker.

I never knew my dad’s mom, as she died when he was a teenager. But he inherited her sterling silver coffee urn and liked to tell how she kept it filled with Coca-Cola. I thought this might have been because back then, it WAS the real thing. But Wikipedia set me straight. Although the formula for Coca-Cola was originally intended as a patent medicine (and did once contain an estimated 9 mg. of cocaine per glass), the “real thing” was removed in 1903. So my grandmother wasn’t a junkie – not unless that’s what YOU call someone who enjoys a Coke for breakfast. (For additional “Cokelore,” click here.)

The other story that was oft repeated about my grandmother was what happened when her daughter, after an argument, announced she was leaving home. My grandmother said, if that were the case, her daughter would leave the same way she arrived. She then proceeded to strip her naked and shove her out the front door. I think I would have had a lot more in common with my grandmother than just our love of Coca-Cola.

My mother liked to drink Coke. But once she switched to diet, I had no choice but to disown her. There’s only so much one can take and I don’t do diet. Really, my highly evolved taste buds can taste the difference.

When I was growing up, you could order a cherry Coke at the soda fountain and watch them squirt in the cherry syrup. It’s not the same in a can, so I don’t do Cherry Coke either. My friend, Kristina, likes to tease me that I’m old school as I’m the only one at school who keeps a Coca-Cola Classic in the fridge. At least I don’t have to worry about anyone else drinking it.

I actually drank Dr. Pepper for years. But after I was pregnant, I developed a craving for Coke. We were living in New York City when New Coke was introduced on April 23, 1985. This was a red letter date, as all dates pertaining to Coca-Cola are “red letter” dates. My taste buds knew instantly that New Coke was just a sad-ass version of Pepsi. What I loved about Coca-Cola was its battery acid tang.

Disgusted, I switched back to Dr. Pepper and cultivated a friendship with a woman whose husband managed the Gramercy Park Hotel, because the hotel had a stockpile of “old” Coke. It was like Prohibition, only the stakes were higher. When the New Coke fiasco ended (a little less than three months later on July 10th), old Coke was re-christened Coca-Cola Classic. Ah! It was back to my daily 14 ounces of sugar, caramel syrup, and caffeine – which I personally think deserves its own category on the food pyramid.

Yeah, I’ve heard all the stories about how, if you put a metal spoon in a glass of Coke overnight, it will be eaten away by the morning. But, I have an iron-clad stomach and am of the opinion that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. So I take take my Coke like I take my vitamins – once a day.

Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 2 July 31, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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51 comments

Please read/reread “Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 1” before reading Part 2.  You’ll find it in Top Posts in the column at the right.  If you access it through Tags or Categories under Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you have to scroll down past Part 2 to reach Part 1.  Note: In Part 2, I’ll refer to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) simply as a narcissist.

I was mulling over how to begin Part 2 when I happened upon a card in a shop. On the front it said, “Wonder if you looked deep inside yourself and found out no one was home?” The inside of the card was blank. What a perfect analogy for a narcissist!

Remember, that to avoid further hurt and abandonment, the child’s True Self retreated into a virtual human “panic room” to hide. There the immature child remains protected, but mortally wounded. His ability to emotionally bond with another human has been “disabled.”  The carefully crafted social mask, known as the False Self, is now firmly in place.

The False Self embodies everything the child is not, so the narcissist often projects an image of being all knowing and all powerful. I’m in charge here! I’m an authority! The narcissist is able to fly under most people’s radar because he can actually be quite charming when it suits him, or if he needs something from someone. You might even be tempted to think he is “normal.” Think again. Although the narcissist has matured physically and intellectually, emotionally he is a kindergartener who won’t share and doesn’t play well with others.

There’s a reason I chose the title Close Encounter with a Narcissist, and it’s not because I’m a big Stephen Spielberg fan. Only those people who dare to get too “close” to a narcissist see him drop his social mask. Since most of the narcissist’s abuse takes place behind closed doors, there are no witnesses.

For four months, I was Joe’s confidante and “go to” person. After my encounter with Joe, I talked to several people who knew him. These were people whom Joe regarded as part of his “inner circle,” yet when I asked them about Joe, they confessed they actually knew very little about him. Oh, there were those odd and inappropriate comments he’d make from time to time. “But, that’s just the way Joe is,” they shrugged, adding, “Besides, who’d want to get to know him better. He’s so weird!” Sheepishly, I raised my hand.

Humans – What are they good for?

Now I want to share the ugliest secret of the narcissist, the thing I found impossible to imagine, let alone to believe.

If the narcissist doesn’t think of other humans as caring others, then how does he view them? The answer is as things, i.e., mirrors. The mirror has one purpose. It’s to reflect back to the narcissist the image his False Self projects to the world. Period.

When I first read about this, the idea that a human = a thing just didn’t make sense. I’d spent hours listening to Joe recount stories of traumatic events from his childhood. Never mind that if I brought up my family or my life, Joe could barely stifle a yawn. I imagined myself as Joe’s safe haven. And I have to admit, I enjoyed this role. Maybe it’s a maternal thing. I have two sons and also have a younger brother. I imagined Joe thought, “I can be myself with her.” So I wasn’t a THING! Things are to be used. But that’s just what Joe did. He used me.

Let’s face it. One mirror is as good as the next and I was just one of Joe’s many mirrors. Every time I listened attentively and nodded my head or smiled, this was confirmation to Joe that the grandiose image his False Self projected to the world was, in fact, real. He liked the reflection of himself that he saw in my mirror. He found it flattering.

Joe’s co-workers and neighbors were also mirrors. The narcissist thinks of all these lesser people as human “wallpaper” like you’d have on your computer or cell phone. Something pleasant to look at in the background. Period.

My attention – anyone’s attention, whether it be positive or negative, verified to Joe that he existed. This is what’s known as Narcissistic Supply (NS). Drugs are to an addict as NS is to a narcissist.

Narcissists as Emotional Vampires

Narcissists are frequently compared to vampires and it’s not just because of that mirror thing. Narcissists are eternally seeking the life force of another, that perfect someone who will fill their inner void. They’re drawn to people who are vital and possess the very qualities they’re sadly lacking – empathy and a love of life.

I realized there were many things about me and my life that Joe envied. My energy. My social ease. My creativity. It was as though Joe hoped to expropriate these qualities by associating with me.

What the narcissist doesn’t understand is that what’s missing from his life is not someone, but something. It’s that something he never received in childhood, and it’s not something that can be “found.” Although their False Self projects confidence and knowledge, the inner life of the narcissist is emotionally barren. Their True Self is locked away. No one is at home.

D&D or Humans as Disposable Plastic Forks

Since most narcissists are men, that perfect someone is most likely a woman. But when it comes to relationships, narcissists are like robots with one foot nailed to the floor, destined to go round and round in a circle. This cycle has three phases: Idealization, Devalue, and Discard (D&D). This is the script and it never varies. Because of the narcissist’s magical thinking, he actually believes it’s possible do the same thing over and over again and each time the result will be different.

During the initial Idealization phase, the woman is put on a pedestal by the narcissist, who is almost giddy with excitement. He is like a small child anticipating a present. The narcissist is on his best behavior – charming, energetic, and seemingly caring.

Joe was a chronic flirt and always kept his phone on speakerphone. So I got to hear his convoluted conversations with women he was pursuing. It was painful listening to a woman explain to Joe that she wasn’t interested in him romantically as he looked over and gave me a knowing wink. “So what time should I pick you up?” he’d ask. Narcissists don’t like it when people say “No” to them. Joe even admitted he’d been told he had “boundary issues.”

Another woman told Joe he lacked basic conversational skills, so he went out and purchased a package of instructional tapes to boost his vocabulary. I tried to explain to Joe that his vocabulary wasn’t the issue, but he really didn’t get it. “Did you notice how I already inserted the word ‘cache’ into the conversation,” he said proudly. He continued to badger this woman until she finally stood him up.

You see, what a narcissist loves most is the chase. Once a woman actually shows any real interest in him, well, this is the beginning of the end. Huh?

As a Cross is to a Vampire: Emotional Intimacy is to a Narcissist

Whether you’re someone’s friend or their lover, there’s an expectation that as you get to know each other, you’ll grow closer. Ideally, familiarity breeds content. Not so with a narcissist. Remember, the narcissist is not capable of establishing a genuine emotional bond with another human. So for a narcissist, familiarity breeds contempt. A narcissist dreads emotional intimacy because it requires him to actually care and the best he can do is feign caring. When you are someone’s friend or lover, they naturally have expectations. Narcissists hate expectations and feel suffocated by them.

I have a close friend who was involved with a narcissist. A therapist told her that anyone involved with a narcissist should know that person is always looking over their shoulder. No, not backwards, but over YOUR shoulder, because a narcissist is always on the lookout for the next best thing. Like small children, they’re easily bored.

So when the idealized woman begins to exhibit “human” traits, e.g., caring, emotions, or expectations of emotional intimacy, the narcissist is repulsed and prepares to move on.

Remember, the narcissist’s mother emotionally abandoned him, so he is determined to never be abandoned again. This time he’ll abandon HER first. (Again, any woman can play the role of Mom) In fact, he’ll even engage in crazy-making behavior to hasten this cycle. If you apply “human” logic to sort this out, you’re doomed to get one very large headache. It’s just their nature. It’s how they’re hardwired.

When a Mirror Malfunctions

If you’re a narcissist, you want your mirrors to reflect a flattering image of you. Personally, I like mirrors that take 10 pounds off, and avoid one mirror in particular that highlights the scowl line on my forehead. So it is with the narcissist. When the image his mirror reflects back to him is less than flattering, it’s time to trade up. You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” But what if the messenger (that annoying mirror) is delivering a message you don’t want to hear? If you’re a narcissist, this is a no brainer. Reach for the ammo.

Shooting the messenger aka Devaluation takes many forms: A snide or dismissive remark here, a sarcastic jab there, an odd, critical comment, or an inappropriate sexual innuendo. Each designed to chip away at the other’s self-esteem and allow the narcissist to gain the upper hand. The victim is left reeling and wondering, “Why would he say something so cruel?”

When Joe would say something mean out of the blue, it totally took me off guard. By the time I recovered from the sheer shock of this hit, he’d already moved on. It left me doubting my own sanity. I thought we were friends. So what was THAT about?

Time and time again, Joe sought me out just to talk or to solicit my advice. I’m a natural nurturer so when someone asks for my help, I spring to action. When Joe had questions about a shaky real estate venture, I hooked him up with a friend who knew that market. When he was considering taking another job, I arranged for Joe to meet with someone who’d actually overseen that job, so he could get the inside track.

What I didn’t realize was that a narcissist is most likely to devalue someone he owes gratitude to because asking for help damages his image. So the narcissist repays help (even though he asked for it) as though it were an insult. He must devalue the giver or it, as if such a contemptible person is incapable of really helping someone as grand as he. And that’s exactly what Joe did.

Let me give you an example from my own D&D experience.  This occurred behind closed doors so there are no witnesses, but I was there and this conversation is seared in my memory.

I’d been working in my garden pruning roses and hadn’t bothered to wear gloves. As a result, my forearms were crisscrossed with scratches.

Joe sauntered in.  “It looks like you tried to slit your wrists!” he said.

“As you can see, I’m directionally challenged!” was my reply. (I’m a hopeless smartass)

“Well, next time you want do it let me know and I’ll help you,”  Joe said, matter-of-factly.

Then smiling, he continued, “Better yet, I’ll do it for you to make sure you get the job done!”

Now, I’d had a very difficult day, so I actually winced when Joe said that. It didn’t strike me as funny. It hurt my feelings. I felt my face turn red and my eyes welled up with tears.

“What’s the matter?  Joe asked. “Are we thin-skinned?” He had a smirk on his face.

I dried my eyes and told Joe he reminded me of a child who professes to love animals then pokes the old bear in the cage at the zoo with a stick. Joe began laughing hysterically. I’d never seen him laugh so loud and so long.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

Joe was so doubled over with laughter he could barely get the words out. “It’s not an old bear,” he said. “It’s an old toothless lion with no fur left on its tail!” This sent him into another hysterical fit of laughter.

Now, I’m older than Joe and have a mane of red hair, so I instinctively knew “who” the lion was. Watching his glee at my expense was a revelation. Joe had dropped his mask and what was behind the mask? A cruel, selfish child, reduced to taunting another human.

Joe was my friend, but friends don’t hurt each other, at least not on purpose. The hardest part was realizing that I never really “knew” Joe at all. “Wonder if you looked deep inside yourself and found out no one was home?” What a sad life, indeed. But don’t feel sorry for the narcissist. Feel sorry for his victims because the narcissist doesn’t give them a second thought. He’s already moved on to the next best thing.

I know I didn’t tell you there was going to be a quiz, but I’m a teacher. It’s MY nature. Besides, I know you got a perfect score on the quiz at the end of Part 1. To pass, all you have to do is complete the following analogy:

As a cross is to a vampire; ________ __________ is to a narcissist.

Sorry, but I don’t have the technical capabilities to put the answer upside down at the bottom. So, if you’re stumped, you can scroll back and reread. Only you know that you’re cheating. To be honest, I don’t care. What’s important to me is that, in the end, you get it.

Part 3 (The final installment): Three BIG Red Flags of NPD; Grandiosity and Lack of Empathy; Cerebral vs. Somatic Narcissists; The Myth of Healing the Narcissist; Life After the Narcissist; and Acknowledgments.

Photo credit:  Unicorn Mask by Matty on flickr.

Click on this link to read Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 3.

Done with the Sun July 23, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Health.
Tags: , , , , , ,
2 comments

It’s no secret.  I’m white, but not white like raw chicken.  I like to point out that although I have red hair, I don’t have freckles. My mother always said I was lucky to get my father’s olive complexion.  As a child, I found this confusing because when I held up a cocktail olive next to my skin, I couldn’t see a match.

Last year I decided that a hat, sunglasses, and sun block were no longer enough.  I bought a lacquer-coated paper parasol like the ones I’ve seen Asian women carrying.  I read that for many Asians, it’s more of a cultural thing.  Historically, having a tan was a dead giveaway that you worked in the fields.  In the store, all folded up, the parasol looked like it had Chinese characters on it.  I imagined they said “Prosperity” or “Abundance.” But when I got the parasol home and opened it, those Chinese characters said “Skull and Crossbones.”  Oops!

I wondered if this image, which I associate with a label that screams POISON, might alarm my students, so I worked on my comeback line.  “The sun is like poison to my skin,” I’d say.  I needn’t have bothered.  The first day I carried my parasol, a crowd of children yelled, Pirates of the Caribbean!  

When students asked where I’d gotten my parasol, I took to telling them I got it from a pirate who was in touch with his feminine side.  They’d walk off looking rather confused, but then I like to give kids something to think about.

What I’m going to say next is a little awkward seeing as I’m always the person reminding everyone to put on that SPF 60 sun block 30 minutes before they even think of going outside.  

Right now the skin on my back is the color of the pimento in that cocktail olive from so long ago.  Yes, I have a sunburn.  How could this have happened?

I went to the beach to meet my friends.  I don’t even like to go to the beach unless it’s at sunset or during the winter, but I do like my friends so I made what’s called a Small Sacrifice.  But then I did a bad, bad thing.  It was a gray cloudy day.  I was wearing a top with spaghetti straps and had my back to where the sun should have been.  By the time it occurred to me that maybe I should put on sun block, my back was toast. 

I’ve never understood those people who could spend an inordinate amount of time just lying in the sun with their eyes shut.  It’s like being a professional napper.  Growing up in Omaha, laying out on a towel in the grass just left you looking like a piece of meat set out on a place mat for the mosquitoes.  

My Aunt Lou from California used to come for a visit.  She was a bonafide sun worshipper and could have played “Leatherface” in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies sans make-up.  She was what you call a walking Cautionary Tale.

I did have a great tan – once.  One Spring Break in college, five of us drove 18 hours from Lawrence, Kansas to Padre Island, Texas, where we proceeded to dedicate ourselves to getting a tan the first day.  We were young and full of attitude, so we failed to factor in the change in latitude.  If so, we might have realized that laying out in the mid-day sun for four hours sauteeing in baby oil wasn’t a good idea.  

Sometime in the middle of that first night, I was awakened by the anguished cries of my friends, who’d cast off their sheets.  They now resembled two-legged lobsters hissing in a pot of boiling water.  By the next morning, I felt like the night watchman at the morgue.  I was flushed, but thanks to my olive complexion, at least I could stand up.  My friends pleaded with me to go find a remedy for this hell that was called Spring Break.

I walked over to the manager’s apartment and explained our dilemma to an elderly couple.  I could tell they’d heard this story before.  They motioned for me to follow them outside where they they hacked off a spike from a gigantic green alien life form.  

Now, you have to understand that we didn’t have succulents in Kansas, except for small potted ones at the dime store, and they could have been made of rubber for all I know.  I learned that this miraculous plant had a name – Aloe Vera.  I was informed that it worked on nuclear burns as well. This was before you could buy aloe vera at every grocery and drugstore, so it all seemed very exotic.  When I’d left my friends they were nearing nuclear meltdown, so I figured it was worth a try.

I returned brandishing the foot-long green pointy thing and announced that THIS was the cure.  I’m not sure what my friends expected, but it wasn’t THAT! I slit open the spike and scraped out the gooey green insides.  My friends lined up and I slathered the sticky paste over their backs, one-by-one, as they yelped in pain. Then, one-by-one, they stopped crying.  I’d found the cure!  

We avoided the beach the rest of our Spring Break.  Later, I heard about two students who had such bad sunburns, they were flown by helicopter to the nearest hospital.  So, in hindsight, my friends got off easy.  It also helped that this was pre Girls Gone Wild

A week after we’d returned to Kansas, I was sporting a bleached muslin Mexican shirt and the ultimate tan.  By the time it began peeling a week later, I didn’t care cause I was back to wearing long sleeves.  For some things, once is enough.  So, I’m done with the sun.  That is, as soon as my back is done peeling.

 

 

 

Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 1 July 5, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Tags: , , , , ,
46 comments

When you’re used to writing with a humorous edge, there’s always the danger that when you have something important, albeit serious, to say, no one will take you seriously. I’m willing to take that chance.

I’m writing this because, first, I want to expunge any lingering demons from my own close encounter with a narcissist. Even more important, as an educator, I’d like to see information about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) become common knowledge. Can you remember back to when you first heard about ADHD or OCD? Even now, you might not know all there is to know (that’s what Wikipedia is for!), but at least you know these disorders are for real. So is NPD. There will be a quiz at the end. Hey, I’m a teacher, and I need to check for understanding.

When most people think of a narcissist, they picture someone obsessed with their physical appearance. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…” I’d certainly never heard of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a real-deal condition laid out in the DSM-IV. But being an experiential learner, I had to learn the hard way. Now I’m an armchair detective in the study of this condition, and I’m finally ready to talk.

I make no excuses for lacking medical or psychological credentials. Narcissists are an elusive breed, so you won’t find them in a therapist’s office embarking on a journey of introspection. When my husband was on jury duty, another potential juror was a therapist. When asked about NPD, the therapist sadly shook his head. “I’ve actually never seen a client with NPD because they’re convinced they don’t have a problem,”  he said. “But they leave a high body count,” he added. “Their victims are the people who come to see me.”

No wonder. A close encounter with a narcissist can leave you doubting your own sanity. The victim, and there is a victim, is left shaking her head wondering, “What just happened?”  (I’ll use the female pronoun since it’s believed that the 50-75 percent of those with NPD are men).  Want to get those party guests who’ve overstayed their welcome to leave?  Just start talking about NPD. If you try to explain the disorder to friends or family, they’ll look at you like you’re discussing alien abduction or as if you’ve grown another head.

I haven’t sprouted another head yet have I? Good. Because it’s highly likely you know someone who has NPD. Most likely, they’re flying under your radar. Narcissists make nice to people who are in the position to do something for them, or to people who just don’t have a speaking role in the grand production that is their life. Only those who dare to get emotionally close to a narcissist get to see them drop their carefully crafted social mask.

The DSM  – Not A Summer Read

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) is a hefty tome and the handbook for mental health professionals. I once trekked to the public library to consult it, after I was told by a therapist that a mutual friend suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. What on earth? I imagined someone teetering on the edge of sanity, in danger of falling overboard. When I finally read the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, all of the pieces fell into place. There was my friend. I had to sit down to catch my breath. If only I’d kept reading, I would have learned about NPD as well.

My friend with NPD, I’ll call him Joe, entered my orbit through a shared common interest. He seemed intrigued by my enthusiasm and talent. In retrospect, I think he was most drawn to me because although I’m a natural talker, I can also be a good listener. He struck me as someone who needed to talk, but was socially awkward. Initially, I found this endearing. If there was a lull in the conversation, he’d blurt out the strangest comment that had nothing whatsoever to do with what we’d been talking about. I overlooked these gaffes or mentally made excuses for them. He’s obviously uncomfortable talking to women. He’s from a different culture. English is his second language. He had a difficult childhood. He’s just outspoken.

Then one day Joe said something so cruel to me, I can still feel its sting. My eyes welled up with tears. “What’s the matter?” he asked, still smiling. “Are we thin-skinned?” I realized he was relishing my discomfort. It was creepy. After he left, I replayed the encounter in my head. Then replayed it again. Maybe I’d read too much into it. Later, I would be angry that I didn’t listen to my gut instinct.

Two days later, Joe stopped by to talk. It was as though nothing had ever happened. When I tried to bring the subject up, he dismissed my concern with a wave of the hand, “Nobody got hurt,” he proclaimed. What an odd comment to make, I thought. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Then, based on a hunch, I googled “narcissism.” I discovered there was so much I didn’t know.

DSM–IV Criteria for Diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

To make a diagnosis of NPD, at least five of the following nine behaviors must be evident.Remember that most narcissists are diagnosed in absentia since they’re loath to seek professional help. The comments in bold italics are mine.

1.  An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements) Think- Grandiosity accompanied by its sidekick Magical Thinking.  He’s so full of himself, he’s convinced he can do anything.

2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. Think “The Secret.” My talents know no bounds!

3. Believes he is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions) Think – I’m unique, therefore I’m misunderstood.

4. Requires excessive admiration  Think – Look at me Mom! (Any woman can play the role of Mom.)

5. Has a sense of entitlement Think – That doesn’t apply to me!

6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends Think – You’re just lucky I chose you to be of service to me, as spending time in my presence is reward enough.

7. Lacks empathy Think – It’s killing me to even pretend that I’m interested in your life or concerns. Your feelings make me feel uncomfortable so get over it!

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him. Think-You have something I want. Can I borrow it so it can become mine?

9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes. Think – All this time I just thought he was an @sshole!

Developmental Narcissism

Narcissism, itself, is not inherently bad and is even developmentally appropriate. Children until the age of six are naturally narcissistic. They’re inherently egocentric and “Mine!” is their mantra. This is normal. As children grow older, they become more aware of the needs of others. Prodded by their parents, they learn to share. They learn to take turns. Reluctantly, they relinquish the spotlight.

Adolescents are also prone to narcissistic behavior. “You can’t tell me anything I don’t already know!” punctuated with a slamming door. This kind of narcissism is remedied when real life smacks them with a dose of reality. Mom and dad sever the financial pipeline, or their boss doesn’t find it cute that they were late to work again. Adolescents don’t grow out of it. They grow up.

Many adults show narcissistic traits, which can render them fairly obnoxious at times. But that doesn’t mean they have NPD. If you’re wondering about some of your own less-than-admirable traits, that’s proof positive that you’re NOT a narcissist. Narcissists are convinced that they’re perfect just the way they are. It’s other people who have the problem. Other people, as in the rest of the world. You just need to accept them the way they are. But that’s your problem.

Personality Disorder vs. Mental Illness

How is a personality disorder different from mental illness? I had a hard time initially wrapping my head around this one. A mental illness (schizophrenia being the most widely known) can be treated, with varying degrees of success with medications or cognitive therapy. Most mental illnesses are caused by brain cell synaptic disruptions, most of which are believed to be genetic in origin. I have friends who are bipolar and as long as they take their meds, any symptoms subside and they feel and act relatively “normal.” Mental illnesses typically present themselves in late adolescence or early adulthood. The onset of the mental illness is often sudden and profound. A mental illness descends over a person’s personality like a heavy wool blanket feels on an already warm summer night.

A personality disorder, on the other hand, is all pervasive. The DSM-IV describes a personality disorder as “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectation of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment.”

With mental illness, a person’s personality is blanketed, or suffocated, by the onset of the mental illness. But the personality of someone with a personality disorder is virtually interwoven into every fiber of that blanket. Unravel the blanket and you unravel their personality.

So someone doesn’t have a personality disorder; they ARE the personality disorder. These personality traits are so deeply ingrained that they defy change. That brings me to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

An Analogy

Calcutta, India has the highest population density of any city on Earth, most of whom live in wretched poverty. Because only central Calcutta is serviced by sewers, during the monsoon season, raw sewage floods the streets. Helping the poor of Calcutta was Mother Teresa’s life’s work.

I had a friend who spent most of his childhood in Calcutta. One day we were shopping and he asked me to tell him which cologne smelled the best. He claimed to have no sense of smell. I was incredulous. My friend said rather matter-of-factly that he’d lost his sense of smell when he lived in India. He didn’t seem to view this as any sort of disability, for this “loss” he said had spared him from smelling the stench of humanity in Calcutta.

Now, I lived in New York City for 11 years, so I know first hand that there are smells worse than death. I saw how one homeless man, passed out and simmering in his own juices, could empty an entire subway car during the peak of rush hour. Just a whiff of a decomposing rat could make me retch.

But though this “loss” protected my friend against the putrid odors of Calcutta, it also robbed him of the ability to enjoy the sweet fragrance of night-blooming jasmine, the crisp smell of fresh basil, or the garlicky preview of a dinner to come. It was all or nothing. A package deal.

Are you still with me?  Because I’m going to ask you to take a big step now.

Picture a small child, totally dependent on his mother to meet his emotional needs. Now what if it’s not putrid odors that assault the child’s senses, but human interactions themselves?  A neglectful, abusive, or even an indifferent mother who leaves the child constantly feeling emotionally adrift.  Or a dominating mother who won’t allow the child to be himself.

Just like my friend, who “lost” his sense of smell, some children, as a coping mechanism to survive the pain of emotional abandonment, tune out the very people who are inflicting the injury. But again, it’s a package deal, because the child tunes out all other humans as well. It’s as though the child “loses” his sense of people. People in the sense that they are caring others. It’s a high price to pay, but it protects the child from future emotional hurt. The child’s immature True Self is “safe” behind a psychological mask. This mask is what’s referred to in psychiatry as the False Self. Unable to trust those who should be nearest and dearest, the child turns his attention to someone who will never abandon him  – himself.

The False Self not only protects the child from further injury. It embodies everything the child is not. While the child is powerless and vulnerable, the False Self of the narcissist presents itself as all knowing and all powerful. But behind the mask of the False Self lies an injured child – an emotional embryo.

Now if you’re a caring person, at this point you probably feel sorry for this child. Don’t bother – it’s too late. The child doesn’t feel sorry for you. This poor little child is now an adult. And it’s time for the victim to become the victimizer.

After I learned about NPD, I continued to be Joe’s “go to” person for several months. I so wanted to be wrong. It was only with my newly gained knowledge that I was able to fully see him for what he was, or more importantly, for what he wasn’t.

But what about the quiz, you ask?   Just answer one simple question.  If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a  _ _ _ _. Congratulations! You passed!

PART 2 The End Game of Devalue and Discard; Meet the Adult Narcissist; Humans = Things, Emotional Vampirism, and the answer to this analogy:  As a CROSS is to a VAMPIRE;  ____________ _____________ is to a NARCISSIST.

Click on the this link to read “Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 2″

Photo credit:  Unicorn Mask by Matty on flickr.


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