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Do Narcissists Know They are Narcissists? November 11, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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“The Scorpion and the Frog” by artist Jake Beckman @akajake.com

Someone recently commented –  it was more of a rant actually. The person said that since Narcissists don’t know what they’re doing, it’s rather “mid-evil” (yes, that was the spelling) to hold them accountable for their actions. They went on to say that being critical of Narcissists should make us take a long look in the mirror at ourselves. How dare we be so judgemental toward those who know no better? To their thinking, this made the victims of a Narcissist no better than the Narcissist themselves. I heartily disagree.

Although I enjoy the dialogue with my readers, the tone of the comment was so confrontational, I felt a sense of relief as I hit the Delete button, (and I can count on one hand the times I’ve done this.)

How ironic that only days later I came across “You Probably Think this Paper’s About You: Narcissist’s Perceptions of their Personality and Reputation,” a peer-reviewed article published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in 2011 that addresses this very question. Does a Narcissist recognize their own narcissism and how it interferes with their life? FYI: We’re talking Pathological Narcissists here, Malignant Narcissists, or Clinical Narcissists, as the researchers refer to them. These are not your garden variety of narcissists – blowhards who dominate the conversation and enter the room with an implicit “TADA”!)

It took me several days to wade through the paper as it reactivated my PTSD from taking a statistics class. So, if you’re not up for the read, here’s the gist of the article. (To read the research paper in its entirety, hit the above link and then press on the Free PMC Article feature.)

“Lack of insight is believed to be a hallmark of narcissism…” begins the paper. When it comes to Narcissists’ self-insight, there are two competing views.

The Narcissist Ignorance view argues that narcissists, ” lack insight into their personality and reputation and overestimate how positively others see them.” This is akin to “ignorance is bliss.”

The Narcissistic Awareness view, however, finds that narcissists do have insight into their personality and reputation. The researchers predicted that ultimately the Narcissistic Awareness view is correct. (Bold type is mine.) Narcissists tend to recognize some of their own narcissistic traits but are more likely to see these negative qualities in a positive light. They’re masters of spin.

The Narcissistic Awareness model finds that although narcissists are likely to make a positive first impression, even the narcissist realizes that over time others do not view their performance as positive as their own self-perception.

This provides one reason why Narcissists continually seek out new people to impress. They know from experience that as people get to know them, their impression of the N will not be as positive.

“Narcissists’ failure to pursue long-term relationships and friendships may reflect their awareness that only new acquaintances see them in a positive light.”

Ultimately, “Narcissists understand that others do not see them as positively as they see themselves. Second, they understand that their reputation is more positive in a first impression context than among people who know them well. Third, narcissists describe themselves and their reputation as narcissistic.” (But they don’t necessarily view this as a bad thing.)

Narcissists have a degree of self-awareness. It’s just that they don’t/won’t change.

So even if you are clinging to the idea that a Narcissist behaves badly because they don’t know any better, you need to get your head out of your arse. Too many women (in particular) believe they are The One who can help the N see the err of their ways – only to find themselves ultimately cast aside, chastised for daring to think they had anything to offer so someone so great. Think The Scorpion and the Frog.

If you haven’t heard this tale, I’ll make it short. A scorpion asks a frog for a ride across the river. The frog knows the scorpion could sting him, so he declines. The scorpion reassures the frog. After all, if the scorpion stings the frog then they’d both drown. This seems logical, so the frog agrees to ferry the scorpion across the river. Halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog, who cries, “Why did you do that? Now we’ll both die?” The scorpion’s reply? “I couldn’t help myself. It’s just my nature.”

Know this about Narcissists. It’s just their nature. Don’t be stung again.

The Psychopath Test – Pass or Fail? September 16, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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Okay, I’ll tell you straight off that my personal book shopper told me this book was “all over the place” when she handed it to me on the playground. I tucked it under a stack of fliers to send home, so as not to appear callous and indifferent to my young charges.

The last book she slipped me was Taft 2012, a rolicking fun read. Most of the books she slips me are a bit “off the beam” as my Scottish friend Lesley would say. Author Jon Ronson also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was made into a movie starring George Clooney. I was disappointed with the movie as I expected way more  footage of adorable goats. Alas.

The subtitle of The Psychopath Test is “A Journey Through the Madness Industry.” The quote on the front from The New York Times Book Review calls it, “Engagingly Irreverent.” That’s something I’d like to have on my tombstone only I plan to be scattered. Alas.

The premise of the book is….well, that’s where it all gets a bit complicated.

Here goes. Ronson meets Tony who feigned insanity to avoid prison and ended up at Broadmoor in the UK. Tony has found it’s much harder to get out of the nuthouse than the Big House.

Trying to root out whether Tony is in fact a psychopath, Ronson finds himself meeting with those psychology-hating Scientologists. I admit to a certain bias here as the Church of Scientology bought an entire building where my favorite restaurant used to be and promptly evicted all the tenants. No, me/and he thinks these are strange people indeed though I perked up when I read that L. Ron Hubbard loved Coca-cola.

Armed with Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, or PCL-R, which was designed by Candadian psychologist Robert Hare, Ronson sets out to meet famous and notorious personages to see if they meet the criteria. Here a check, there a check….you get the picture.

Along the way he meets some incredibly charming and predatory people. We also learn how the DSM-3 walked out of the primordial soup as a 30-something page booklet that evolved into the 943-page bible for the American Psychiatric Association. At the onset, Ronson cracks open the DSM-IV and promptly diagnoses himself with 12 different mental disorders.

We learn how Big Pharma has an interest in new diagnoses as there’s certainly got to be a pill to swallow for THAT disorder. (No surprise there.) And many of those people at the top of the food chain are indeed psychopaths. (Ditto.)

While Ronson did attend one of Robert Hare’s seminars and interviewed him, he’s inserted Hare as an ongoing character throughout the book and I have to admit I wondered how much of this actually happened. I do have a link to Robert Hare’s Site on Psychopathy (Without Conscience) on my blog and sure enough, “Bob” Hare, as Ronson refers to him, offers a disclaimer to the book “On Ronson.”

A book reviewer on Amazon thought the book had all the makings, but….  Oh, here’s a link to The Most Helpful Positive Review and The Most Helpful Negative Review of the book.

After reading the book, this was one thing that stuck in my mind. Two researchers in the early 1990s undertook a detailed study of the long-term recidivism rates of psychopaths who’d been through a program at Oak Ridge run by Elliot Barker in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It involved a hefty dose of LSD and a lot of hugging it out to learn empathy, something both psychopaths and narcissists lack. Barker’s program was viewed by many as proof that psychopaths can indeed change and develop empathy. Some were released.

Now in regular circumstances, 60 percent of incarcerated psychopaths released into the outside world go on to reoffend. So what did the researchers find about those psychopaths who’d been through Barker’s program and “learned” empathy?  A whopping 80 percent went on to reoffend. Ultimately, the psychopaths only became better at feigning empathy/not learning it.

It’s a cautionary tale for those who think that anyone lacking empathy, whether they be a psychopath or a narcissist, can truly change. But those who’ve had A Close Encounter with a Narcissist already know this.

“Both terrifying and hilarious.” – O, The Oprah Magazine

Narcissists Are Mad Men – Episode 3 September 3, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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I’m not a diehard Mad Men fan, but when I ran across a copy of Sterling’s Gold – Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Manmy first thought was, “Forget Sterling, this is NPD Gold!” The book is ostensibly written by Roger Sterling, Jr., better known as Don Draper’s boss. If you follow my blog, you know I’ve written about Don Draper in Is Don Draper the Devil or a Narcissist?

I thought some of the quotes in the book would make excellent jumping off points to discuss questions that keep appearing via the Search Engines that churn 24/7. I’ve been addressing some of those questions in my The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism series, but it’s summer so I’m down for something different. (Since I’m officially back at school, summer is SO over for me, so this will be the final episode.)

What Is Narcissistic Supply? 

A Narcissist would rather get a reaction from a total stranger than receive a genuine compliment from someone near and dear. And the more someone “runs” from them, the more they’ve gotta have IT. What is IT? Well, it’s not love as in “Love is the Drug” by Roxy Music. No, IT is new blood to feast on. Okay, that’s sounding a little vampirish, but let’s face it, a Narcissist without supply would shrivel up and die as sure as a vampire on a sunny California day.

Narcissistic Supply is the attention given to the Narcissist from other people, whether it be from you, the cashier in the checkout line, or total strangers. It doesn’t really matter who these people are (though more important people, more desirable people do yield more of a supply high) as long as they mirror back to the Narcissist the image he’s worked so hard to perfect, project, and to protect. A Narcissist will accept positive or negative attention as long as they’re at the center of it.

Meanwhile, a Narcissist is forever on the lookout for new supply, even when they’re supposedly in a “relationship.” Why?  For a narcissist, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. More is always better. You can be at a party with the N yet feel suddenly invisible as the N hones in on a new person to dazzle. Hey, remember me –  the person you came with? Could you at least introduce me?

And oh how a Narcissist loves the chase. When someone new comes into their orbit, someone who has not “succumbed” to their act, they fire up the charm and it’s full speed ahead. But here’s the rub. The minute that someone stops running and expresses real interest in the Narcissist, their days are numbered. The N has no desire for a genuine relationship as that would require (dare I say it?) emotional intimacy. They just need to know that you’re willing to take their calls. They like knowing that  the door is always open  – even just a crack –  because they can get their foot back in for a quick fix when they’re between chase-worthy people.

You have to understand that like children, Narcissists love novelty. Picture a child at a birthday party opening one gift and exclaiming over it only to toss that toy aside to open the next gift. (This is why in NYC when my boys were small, people no longer allowed the birthday boy/girl to open gifts in front of others. It was just too hard to watch.)

If you insist on hanging around, the Narcissist will devalue you and put you (his once new toy) on the shelf. He may take you down from time to time to play with you, but then back on the shelf you go. Or if he’s not a tidy child, he’ll just toss you onto the heap of other toys he’s grown bored with. Now you’ve been demoted to being Secondary Supply. Those in this category still interact with the Narcissist on a regular basis, but that new car smell is gone. They exist to remind the N that he’s already conquered them. Next!

That’s why the N is always on the lookout for the next best thing. Even though you love them, care about them, and would do virtually anything for them, that’s just SO not what turns them on. They’d rather have a total stranger smile at them because they’re sure it’s because that stranger thinks they’re charming, sexy, clever, fill in the blank.

No matter what you do to try and inject excitement or drama into the relationship to return to that Idealization Phase, it’s not gonna happen. The N will be happy to use you, abuse you, and even lose you as often as you’ll allow them to.  You know there’s lots more where you came from!

So here’s the question. Do you really want to be used by someone who views you as “old business?”

On My 9th Year of Teaching – Looking Back at Year 1 August 19, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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This week I’ll go back to school. It will be my 9th year working as a credentialed teacher in a public school.

I took the scenic route to becoming a teacher. I taught art in NYC. I worked as a substitute on and off. I was a District Intern with the Los Angeles Unified School District for 10 months teaching in a modified bilingual classroom. There was no toilet paper. The jello made the kids sick. My own sons were acting up. I quit and sold my blue pocket charts at a yard sale.

Two years later, I tried another alternative program to credentialing and was placed in a classroom of high risk 5th grade students. I didn’t have the experience at that time to deal with them. Every day after school the custodian would push his broom through my classroom and say, “These are bad kids, very bad kids.” The enrollment numbers were down, so I was first to go. After only 15 days in the classroom, I couldn’t leave fast enough as I was done – or more accurately, done in.

Yet, no matter how many times I decided I was DONE with teaching, I always returned. No sooner had I sold those blue pocket charts than I was out buying more. Ultimately, I realized that it’s when I’m in the classroom that I feel most alive.

In 2004, I finally earned my California Teaching Credential. I was 50 years old. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.

Did you know that half of all teachers leave teaching within the first five years? Looking back, it’s a wonder I even made it through my first year. It’s a year still seared in my memory as no class in pedagogy could have prepared me for what was in store.

It was only the second week of school when the principal came to the door of my classroom. This was not a good sign. Had I filled out the attendance incorrectly? He led me to the office where I met the father of one of my students. The man, head in hands, was weeping.”She was just so stressed,” he kept saying. I wasn’t quite sure what this was about.

It was only the next day that we learned his wife had committed suicide by shooting herself in the garage. And the kids? They were still at home watching TV as he had told them their mother was at work. I’d never felt so at a loss for what to do/say in my life. Several days passed and the boy returned to school. I bought a heart-shaped pillow where he could sometimes rest back in the library when he felt sad.

A new boy, Ezekiel, joined our class. He was adorable and so smart that he’d skipped first grade. He immediately befriended the boy who’d lost his mother. I remember thinking, “This is a good thing” as they were both such bright and kind-hearted boys.

But after Thanksgiving, Ezekiel did not come back to school. Could he have gone on a trip to see relatives I wondered? Then came the call. He’d collapsed at home and was at the hospital on life support. Could the children pray for him? They did – with all the strength their little second-grade hearts could muster.

The next day the principal and I drove to the hospital to see this precious boy. When a child was pushed by us in the hall on a gurney, the principal asked, “Was that him?” I honestly didn’t know. I was used to seeing Ezekiel in his school uniform with those big sparkly eyes. The family was gathered. The mood was somber. He’d just collapsed one evening at home. It all happened in the blink of an eye.

Ezekiel was taken off life support the next day. Crisis counselors from the district descended on my classroom. I’d never felt so at a loss for what to do/say in my life. But the words eventually came to me. We wrote a poem. We talked about how someone is never really gone unless you forget them.

At Ezekiel’s funeral, his first grade teacher was the first to speak. I will never forget what she said.

“Teaching is a dangerous job because you can fall in love with other people’s children.”

That’s the truth. And so begins another year.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

Book Review of Mr. Unavailable & the Fallback Girl August 13, 2012

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Several months ago some of my readers turned me on to Baggage Reclaim, a great relationship site out of the UK, which you’ll find on my blogroll. I find Natalie Lue’s writing on that site to be crisp, no nonsense, and on the money. She’s also got that Brit wit thing going for her. (Let’s face it – “shag” sounds so much more polite than the American translation.)

Natalie, who recently married and turned 35, spent her 20s as a “Fallback Girl” – accepting crumbs from guys who never seemed to have two feet in the door at the same time unless it was for a shag. Disappearing only to reappear as they knew the door was always open. She also played the part of the Other Woman. It wasn’t until she realized that the common denominator in all of these liaisons was… herself, that things began to click.

Mr. Unavailable & the Fallback Girl was first published as an eBook in 2008. I did not read this edition. The 2nd Edition is available as an eBook/book through Amazon and has been greatly “expanded.” Select bloggers were sent a complimentary eBook to read and review, so I’ve spent the last few sweltering days at my computer reading and taking notes.

Since most people who come to my blog are searching for information on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I want to say straight out that this is NOT a book about narcissism though Natalie does list the DSM’s diagnostic criteria. She fears too many are too eager to embrace this diagnosis as the excuse for why their relationship failed.

She points out that Narcissists are always emotionally unavailable, whereas, Mr. Unavailables are not necessarily narcissistic. And she makes it clear that if you are dealing with a Narcissist, you should not walk, but RUN as they wreak so much havoc in your life. She does provide a lot of information though as to why women seek out and stay with men who are clearly not emotionally available, so this could/would apply to some of you who seem to keep dating the same “type.” (That type being a man who is incapable of committing to a healthy relationship.)

I so wanted to love this book, but I’m afraid I’m only “in like” with it. Here’s why. Between the covers is probably all you need to know if you’re someone who has repeatedly hooked up with a guy who is just not that into you and you’re virtually trying to walk on water to convince him (either overtly or covertly) that you are The One.

But at 370 pages, the book is longer than either of the two Pulitzer Prize-winning novels I’ve read this summer. As I was reading it, I began to feel like I was going in loops. Maybe it was the heat? Reading it on the computer? It was like sitting in a movie and starting to look at your watch. Shouldn’t this have ended by now? Hey, I thought that WAS the ending.

Even the same clever phrases reappeared one too many times. And I found the number of typos annoying. At one point I thought the real Mr. Unavailable was an editor! I hate to sound snarky, but Natalie knows her stuff, so this had the potential to be a virtual bible for those who’ve struggled with creating healthy relationships.

At some point, all the clever monikers, e.g., Floggers, Stonewallers, Lobbyists, Bad Pennies, Dreamers, MIMS (for Miss Independent/Miss Self Sufficient) start to seem like too many people at a noisy party. I felt like I tuned into Game of Thrones mid-season and was confused as to who was who without Peter Dinklage to help me get my bearings. I needed  a flow chart to keep track.

Whenever Natalie returns to her personal narrative, however, the writing immediately becomes more compelling. She knows her stuff and to be sure there is great wisdom in this book, it’s just that sometimes less is more. This is such a case.

Do check out Baggage Reclaim for some of that Brit wit though.

Close to Home August 7, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Entertainment, Personal, Uncategorized.
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5 comments

As a child, I couldn’t for the life of me sell Girl Scout cookies. My next door neighbor, Mrs. Dodge, would buy two boxes from me every year and I suspect my mother called her ahead of time.

So, when my filmmaker husband asked me to blog about his film End of the Beginning because he’s looking to raise $23,000 via crowdfunding on Indiegogo, I visibly winced.

What can I say, filmmaking is his passion. The script is great (I know because I did the final edit.) and those involved are professionals of the highest caliber. Want to buy a cookie?

Check it out. Click End of the Beginning. Even only one box of cookies would help. Boxes of cookies start at $20.

Listening to Your Gut – A Cautionary Tale July 30, 2012

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My dear friend in Suffolk texted, “Very interesting article in The Mail on Sunday about a famous novelist and her very strange relationship with a very odd man…it definitely read like he was a Narcissist. I felt like I should write to her and try to explain what she was dealing with.” She added, “She does not mention personality disorders. Quite a famous writer over here.”

So, I read Why did I convince myself that he loved me? by novelist Lesley Lokko and published yesterday in The Mail. Yikes! It’s like watching a horror movie and wanting to yell at the protagonist to, “Get out of the house NOW!” If you’ve had a Close Encounter with a Narcissist you know exactly where the bogeyman is hiding – in plain sight.

It’s a very interesting read indeed in the “He Swept Me Off My Feet” genre. It also shows what happens when you avoid that feeling in your gut that something is not quite right. If you’ve got time on your hands, count the Red Flags.

As Summer Sets July 22, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Personal.
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Idaho – This is where God lives.

There’s no denying it. The end of summer is in sight, especially since this year the first day of school has been moved up to August 20th. How can this be? I just emerged from my school-induced coma! My husband said I could become a professional sleeper, but I like to think of my inert state as similar to a medically induced coma. I’m allowing the swelling to go down, so my brain cells can regenerate.

It’s no secret that most visitors to my blog are seeking information on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I don’t often write as much about school or my personal life. But there are times when I, too, need a respite. So please hear me out.

I feel the need to take stock in what I HAVE accomplished so far this summer. Mind you, it doesn’t help that I set the bar so low that I literally trip over it when I get out of bed. My summer mantra is “Things to do – get dressed by 2.”

1) I’ve watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey so I can hold up my end of the conversation in the Teacher’s Lounge. I did make the mistake of calling my husband “Carson.” I won’t make that mistake again.

2) I flew back to the Midwest to help my mother write a zillion thank you notes to friends and family who helped when my father died in early March. My sidekick was my niece, whose job it was to provide me with comic relief. Well done, Ali! While rummaging through drawers, I stumbled upon my report card from Second Grade. I was happy to see that I “read with comprehension.”

We ate at the wonderful Bluebird Cafe in Kansas City then wandered around the neighborhood. Cathy said that a lot of scenes from “The United States of Tara” were shot in this locale. What a find!

3) While back in the Midwest, I drove down to Kansas City to visit my college roommate, Cathy aka Catherine Sherman on my blogroll. She took me off to explore parts of Kansas City I never could have imagined. Way cool. Old friends are gold friends indeed.

4) At 1/2 Price Books in Omaha, I picked up two books, Olive Kitteridge and Year of WondersI read both. Olive Kitteridge is a collection of overlapping stories that revolve around a retired teacher living in a small town in Maine. Most of the characters would qualify for the senior discount, so when the going gets rough they cheer themselves up with the thought that if things get any worse, they can always commit suicide. Did I mention that this book won the Pulitzer Prize? Year of Wonders is set in the plague years in England. I highly recommend it.

5) We drove (with the younger kiddo) to Idaho to visit my husband’s family and celebrate his father’s 88th birthday. I haven’t done long haul driving in years, and our younger son was barred from driving my husband’s car, so it was just the two of us and all those Starbucks gift cards I received from students at the end of the year. The photo of the sunset was taken as we drove by McCammon, Idaho. All three of us had our iPhones out and then I remember asking, “Hey, who’s driving the car?!!!)

One of the musical chairs from the Extreme Makeover house made from the piano that was salvaged from the fire.

We stayed with my husband’s sister Jane in her Extreme Makeover house. She’s since opened a Montessori school, The Morningside House,  in her basement. My husband said when I saw it, he thought I was going to cry. There were actually TWO sinks and some newfangled things called electrical outlets.

6) While in Idaho we saw my oldest son and his girlfriend. We laughed so hard at the new Japanese restaurant, Sumisu, that the waitress declared that we were her Number One table for the night. It also helps that we Californians are accustomed to tipping 20 percent, whereas the local Mormons tend to only tip 10 percent. Is this what it feels like to be a “whale” in Las Vegas?

7) Having returned home, I’ve already (with a lot of help from my husband) repainted out bedroom in the same color that I loved in the Extreme Makeover house. It’s Sherwin Williams “Seascape.” When the guy told me how much the paint cost  (it was already mixed at that point) my jaw dropped. It must have flecks of gold in it!

Now that the end of Summer Vacation is in sight, I’m trying to make the most of every day. In no time at all, I’ll be sitting in the Teacher’s Lounge eating a partially defrosted Lean Cuisine. Up next is working on a picture book that I’ve had in mind for quite some time. I might have to start sleeping in my clothes so as to get a head start on each day.

Here’s to sitting out on the front porch and watching the world go by.

Photo Credits: Jan Marshall

Narcissists Are Mad Men – Episode 2 July 15, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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18 comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not a diehard Mad Men fan, but when I ran across a copy of Sterling’s Gold – Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Manmy first thought was, “Forget Sterling, this is NPD Gold!” The book is ostensibly written by Roger Sterling, Jr., better known as Don Draper’s boss. If you follow my blog, you know I’ve written about Don Draper in Is Don Draper the Devil or a Narcissist?

I thought some of the quotes in the book would make excellent jumping off points to discuss questions that keep appearing via the Search Engines that churn 24/7. I’ve been addressing some of those questions in my The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism series, but it’s summer so I’m down for something different.

 “Lack of Empathy”

It is the Narcissist’s lack of empathy that is their trump card. No matter what you do or say, that bored/put upon look on their faces (sometimes accompanied by an eye roll) says it all. Your concerns are so utterly trivial. You’re boring me! It’s the Narcissist’s lack of empathy that ultimately reveals who they are and more importantly, who they aren’t.

We recently had a lively discussion on Empathy vs. Sympathy on my blog. Thanks to those who put in their two cents. I believe we now have enough to buy a cup of coffee or a cuppa. Make no mistake – it is the Narcissist’s lack of empathy that reveals their inner void. They are literally unable to see beyond their own noses due to their stunted egos. They can be like cranky children who need a nap and can argue endlessly contradicting themselves as they go. It’s all about them. It’s their party and they’ll cry if they want to, but don’t you dare cry!

When you call the N on their bad behavior, whether it be blatant lies, lies by omission, cheating on you, or just not showing the teeniest bit of interest in the things that matter most to you, you become a nattering needy nuisance. Make no mistake. It’s not love or anger that will kill your soul – it’s indifference. The Narcissist has an uncanny ability to deny that your concerns are real. It’s all in your imagination!

No matter how carefully you try to frame your concerns, you’ll be accused of being “too sensitive” “too needy” or “a drama queen.”

Women (especially) often resort to writing a letter so they can be heard. Since the Narcissist won’t indulge in a genuine conversation, they hope to say what’s really on their minds minus the rolling of the eyes. They choose their words oh-so carefully, so as not to inflame or offend. They mail the letter only to get no response. Nada.

The real danger is that where your thoughts are routinely dismissed or belittled, you begin to stop expressing your thoughts. No one wants to say something only to have it shot down. You begin to self censor. The N has literally “got your tongue.”

Most Ns sling their verbal arrows behind closed doors. So if you dare tell someone what you’re experiencing – they’ll give you that look. The look that tells you that perhaps YOU are the one with the problem. Some people have said it would have been better to have been physically abused – at least they’d have visible scars to prove the abuse they suffered.

I once confided in my friend “Joe” that I’d just learned that one of my students was being sexually abused by her father. He’d met the girl, so I thought he’d find this news upsetting. A simple, “That’s awful” would have sufficed. Instead, his reaction was, “I hope you’re not going to get all emotional about this because that will just get in the way of our project.” He couldn’t be bothered.

To the  N, a genuine emotion is a Level Red Security Alert. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! They don’t know how to respond. Instead, they tend to have comeback lines that they can deliver with chilling detachment. Their response is designed to shut down any meaningful conversation. When a person does not have a voice, they slowly cease to exist. They begin to fade into the background like a TV set left on. This is fine with the Narcissist as they really could care less about your concerns. If you think otherwise, they’ll just change the channel and up the volume to drown you out – and leave you to lick your “imaginary wounds.”

When Bloggers Die – A Belated Thank You July 10, 2012

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Teachers are frequently reminded that we DO Make a Difference (and I’ve got the mugs to prove it!). But as I write this, it’s not teachers I have in mind. Summer is my time to get organized. I was recently updating links on my blog and going through the myriad of websites I’ve bookmarked over the last five years in reference to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

I’ve referred so many of my readers to Halcyon. So I was surprised to revisit the site and find that a page had been added in 2011 informing readers that its creator, Joanna M. Ashmun, died in 2009. How could I not have known? Halycon is written with style, heart, and professionalism. Joanna’s website (with footnotes, no less!) is so carefully researched that it’s hard to believe she is/was not a mental health professional.

Then I came across another blog I’d bookmarked, Operation Doubles, which I also found extremely helpful back when I was reeling from my close encounter with a narcissist. It was written by a Kathy Krajo, a professional tennis instructor and editor. When I pressed the link, I was referred to The Path Whisperer where I learned that Kathy died in 2008. Say it ain’t so.

While Joanna’s site Halycon still stands and a Facebook memorial site has been set up, Kathy’s blogs have been reprinted on a variety of other sites including Sanctuary for the Abused.  Both Joanna and Kathy were civilians in the trenches –  people who’d encountered more than their share of narcissists and felt a need to inform and warn the rest of us.

I just want to say kudos to two women who illuminated those dark corners of this disorder with their writing. They helped countless people (myself included) and showed how one doesn’t have to have a bunch of letters after one’s name to write coherently and oh so bravely about a subject that was rarely discussed even five years ago. I knew neither woman personally, but through their writing, I felt like I did.

Although I said this wasn’t about teachers, ultimately, that’s what both Joanna and Kathy were – teachers. They shared their experiences and observations so that the rest of us could learn from them. I’m deeply indebted to them. Their legacy is lasting.

Photo Credit: Leadsmall.org

Narcissists Are Mad Men – Episode 1 July 6, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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I’m not a diehard Mad Men fan, but when I ran across a copy of Sterling’s Gold – Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Manmy first thought was, “Forget Sterling, this is NPD Gold!” The book is ostensibly written by Roger Sterling, Jr., better known as Don Draper’s boss. If you follow my blog, you know I’ve written about Don Draper in Is Don Draper the Devil or a Narcissist?

I thought some of the quotes in the book would make excellent jumping off points to discuss questions that keep appearing via the Search Engines that churn 24/7. I’ve been addressing some of those questions in my The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism series, but it’s summer, so I’m down for something different.

First of all, you might be wondering, ” Are narcissists actually mad men?” I believe that although they would deny that they’re actually “mad” (as in angry, not crazy), their all-encompassing envy of others leads them to be angry, unsettling men/women who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to avoid and deny the inner conflict that rages. Their anger is like a pot put on the back burner left to simmer. It informs their every move.

I thought the above quote was especially appropriate for all my readers who ask:

Is it possible for a narcissist to find happiness with another person? 

Although you want me to say NO, and yes, NO is ultimately the right answer (wow, that was confusing) you must KNOW this. It IS possible for “your N” to find someone who will tolerate their BS  better than you. You’re not the only doormat in town, and they’re happy to wipe their feet on anyone who leaves the door open so they can gain entry.

Dysfunction – oh, let me count the ways! There’s the Meanie/Martyr relationship dynamic, which is self explanatory. Then there’s the Pursuer/Distancer variation where when one partner tries to get close, the other withdraws emotionally, creating a perpetual chase. Another variation is Responsible/Irresponsible, which is akin to a parent-child partnering. All of these exist in couples (narcissistic or not) and are not conducive to a healthy long-term relationship that will meet both partners’ individual needs.

So, although it might appear that a Narcissist has found happiness with another, remember that for the N, “happiness” is only to be found in the dictionary. For somatic narcissists, the new car smell wears off quickly, so they’ll soon be on the prowl. Cerebral Ns will begin to withhold sex leaving their partner feeling confused and abused. Most likely you know what I’m talking about because you’ve been there.

And just in case you’re tempted, there’s no point in warning the new person (though it might seem like the right/righteous thing to do). Don’t. Can you imagine if someone had taken you aside when you were in the throes of the Idealization Phase and told you the emperor had no clothes? You’d have thought they were mad and questioned their motives. You don’t want to come off looking like the crazy one, so bite your tongue. The train wreck is going to happen, so you don’t want to be playing on the tracks.

Ns ultimately live and die alone despite appearances to the contrary. Their life is like a film viewed over and over with the quality of the tape (okay, that reference is SO 20th Century!) degrading with each viewing, so that after years of their antics, the show is barely watchable.

Yes, Narcissists are mad men. But if you believe otherwise, you’re the one who is mad (as in crazy). Peace and Summer Dreaming.

Click here to read Narcissists Are Mad Men – Episode 2.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

1/4 of July June 13, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
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6 comments

A friend recently asked me about my family’s sojourn in Mexico. I told her I’d send a link to this post which I published in 2007. But, low and behold, it  had vanished! As in “Gone Baby Gone.” Fortunately, in my early days of blogging, I  printed out a copy of everything…just in case.  So here it is again in all of its “Old Glory.”

When I was a kid growing up in Omaha, the days leading up the 4th of July included a pilgrimage just outside the city limits to buy fireworks. These were piddly-ass fireworks by today’s standards; sparklers, snakes, pinwheels, pop-bottle rockets, and the real show stopper – the Roman candle. My brother always managed to secure some M80s and cherry bombs. These served to remind us that it WAS possible to blow your hand off with one of these babies.

Neighborhood families would pool their fireworks and put on a show. My father arrived carrying a length of a tin downspout to these gatherings, which did double duty as a poor man’s rocket launcher.

As kids, we were only allowed to play with the snakes and sparklers on our own. We wrote our names in the air, immune to the bacon-grease snap, snap, snapping on our arms. On July 5th, the air smelled vaguely like gunpowder and the driveway had black spots where the snakes that grown, writhed, then turned to ash.

The 4th of July I’m thinking about today though was spent in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. We were desperately looking for Puente Numero Dos – Bridge Number Two, the only route, save wading crossing the Rio Grande, to get back into the U.S.

My family; husband Richard and sons, Taylor, 10, and Ian, 6, and I had moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to escape the high cost of living in New York. We’d had a ridiculously fun time in Zihuataneo, Mexico a year before and Mexico and the ghost of Frido Kahlo beckoned. Never mind that we’d never actually set foot in San Miguel. Hey, I’d done the research.

“You mean you’re moving to NEW Mexico,” friends queried.  “No, Mexico!”  we replied rather enjoying the look of shock on their faces. We were ready for a change, and we were up for anything, short of moving to New Jersey. A sojourn in Mexico sounded exotic and the price was right.

San Miguel de Allende is a gorgeous colonial gem nestled in the mountains three hours north of Mexico City. It’s long been a mecca for artists and has an established colony of American expats, who are drawn by San Miguel’s beauty and cheap real estate.

I flew to San Miguel two weeks before the arrival of the troops. It was my job to secure the beachhead and lease a house. “Remember,” my husband implored. “Only rent a house that’s already furnished and has a telephone.”

Well, can you imagine what kind of house I rented?  Three floors stacked like a stucco layer cake. No furniture and no phone. It was the garage that was the deal maker. Richard and the boys were flying to Omaha so my parents could give us their 4-cylinder Oldsmobile Firenza station wagon. We hadn’t had  a car in 11 years so this was a BIG deal. We couldn’t park our new/old car on the street!

My family arrived. It was then I realized it wasn’t New York that made me feel stressed. It was my family. Not a good sign. The house I’d rented had recently been remodeled and all of the construction had stirred up the scorpions. Every time we took a shower, a scorpion climbed out of the drain. Just the anticipation of their appearance made the shower scene in “Psycho” seem G-rated. There were so many scorpions that I took to sleeping with a flashlight on and aimed at the ceiling. Just in case.

Four days after we’d moved in, the toilet on the second floor wouldn’t flush. We tied a dog leash to a bucket and lowered it into the cistern beneath the patio to get water while awaiting the eminent arrival of the “handyman.” We carried the bucket of water up two flights of stairs just so we could use the toilet. I was starting to feel like I lived in Africa – my life was starting to revolve around obtaining water. All I needed was a jar to transport it on my head.

I’d first been shown the house during siesta time, the only time of day it turned out that the aerobic studio across the street was not open. We were awakened at 6 a.m. each morning by a pulsating disco beat and a woman yelling, “Uno, dos, tres!”  They knocked off for siesta then continued until 10 p.m. Disco was still alive in San Miguel.

The burro next door began braying at the crack of dawn. This was followed by ten minutes of silence and then the braying started in earnest. We joked that it was the Mexican snooze alarm. And the coyote tethered to the roof on the other side of us howled at night. We laid awake in bed. Less than three weeks into our sojourn, we’d lapsed into severe culture shock. For the first time I uttered the “L word” – leave.

There was one small problem. I’d signed a two-year lease and our landlord, Pat, had no intention of letting us wriggle out of it. Pat was a widow from Michigan who’d retired to Mexico. She’d married a local attorney, a certain Sr. Caballero. Pat bore more than a passing resemblance to Marjorie Mane’s “Ma Kettle” character. Finally, we told Pat we needed to talk about our situation.  I’d paid first and last month’s rent plus a security/cleaning deposit, so I thought that just maybe, she’d let us off the hook.

Just in case she wanted to play hardball, I was the designated weeper. The trouble was, once I started crying, “I want to go home,” it was no longer an act. I really wanted to go home. Pat was unfazed. “You know what you need?” she said matter of factly. “You need to go to the corn roast over at the Presbyterian church and meet some nice folks.” She added that if we did try and break the lease, her husband, Sr. Caberro, would have our car impounded so we COULDN’T leave.

Panicking, I ran up to the U.S. Consulate to talk to Colonel Maher, an ex-CIA op, whom I’d met with once before. It was siesta time and the consulate was officially closed, but the shuttered windows to his office were open. I could see him sitting in the dark, feet up on his desk, and smoking a cigar. He looked like he was plotting to overthrow a mid-sized country.

I called to him and he came over to the window. I breathlessly explained our predicament. He listened attentively, chomping on the cigar before giving me his best legal advice.  “I know Sr. Cabellero,” he said. “He’s well connected. So my advice to you is to disappear.” The shutters snapped shut.

Now when I’d leased the house, we’d also inherited a maid, Lara, from the previous tenants. Lara was incredibly kind and was paid so little I would have felt guilty not to keep her on. We’d never had a maid before and I felt so awkward about having someone clean up after me that I walked around and helped her clean. Lara told me the previous tenants, two American women, had left suddenly in the middle of the night after only two months. A pattern was beginning to emerge..

We frantically began packing up the car with Lara’s help. Pat lived just up the street and had a clear view of our house so there was an air of urgency. All of the furniture I’d bought at the mercado would go to Lara, and all of the housewares as well. To my mind it was not much, but I came to realize that to Lara, it was the world.  We knew her husband had cancer and she was supporting an unknown number of children.

A relative of Lara’s arrived with a truck to cart off the furniture. Lara’s husband sat in the back of the truck, too weak to help. I wrote out a letter and in my broken Spanish bequeathed all of our personal items to Lara as regalos, or gifts. Lara cried with happiness. Her children would sleep in beds for the first time that night. We kept one small side table with a hand carved top, which we tied to the top of the car.

When Richard and the boys had arrived three weeks earlier, the car was packed to the gills. Now I had to squeeze in along with my luggage and a set of Mexican pottery that I couldn’t bear to leave behind. The car was essentially a low-rider heaving under the added weight. Richard took the hills out of town slowly. With every bump, we could hear the bottom of the car scrape against the cobblestoned street. We headed north. From time to time we looked in the rear view mirror, half expecting to see Sr. Caballero chasing us with a posse.

Richard was retracing the route he’s already driven to get to San Miguel, but for me this was uncharted terrain. I was trying to take in the surreal landscape that is northern Mexico. In the middle of nowhere, a person would appear alongside of the road. We passed people who sold dried rattlesnake skins for a living. They lived in “houses” with organ cactus as walls.

The first night we stopped at motel that had never seen better days. When the guy at the front desk asked for our address, we mumbled something about being in transition. “Hippies!” he ascertained. This was the early 90s and the mere mention of “hippies” made me feel like we’d fallen through a rip in some time continuum. But, Taylor set him straight. “We’re homeless!” he announced.

The plan was to cross the border into Laredo, Texas. On the south side of the Rio Grande lies the sprawling bastard child city that is Nuevo Laredo. It’s the equivilent to living on the wrong side of the tracks. Nuevo Laredo has been plagued by the kind of violence that accompanies drug trafficking. Wearing a badge is akin to wearing a target.

It was summer and the temperature hadn’t fallen below 100 for days. Even after the sun had finally set, there was no relief from the heat. When we finally saw the lights of Nuevo Laredo we cheered. In the distance, we could see the lights of Laredo, Texas – the promised land. All we had to do now was find Puente Numero Dos, or Bridge #2, and we’d be home free. It was then that steam from the radiator began billowing out from the hood. We cursed the universe. Then cursed it some more. We pulled over and waited for the temperature gauge to go down then drove another mile. We stopped and repeated the ritual. It was slow going.

The boys’ survival instincts had obviously kicked in because they’d stopped talking altogether. They knew the next thing to blow was going to be mom or dad. Finally, we saw the sign; Puente Numero Dos.

A huge American flag waved on the Texas side of the bridge. I’d never felt such a surge of patriotism. That’s my flag! I felt like the character Sally Field played in Not Without My Daughter after she’s recovered her kidnapped child and is running toward the American flag at the embassy.

Only 40 feet from the border, plumes of steam engulfed the car and we shut off the engine. I steered and Richard pushed. Slowly, we inched toward American soil. A U.S. Customs agent walked over to greet us. Never had English sounded so melodic. We stood there sweating and shell shocked. As the border agent checked our papers, we heard what sounded like a series of explosions. “What’s going on?” we asked. The border agent looked at us, incredulously. “It’s the Fourth of July!“ he said. We looked up to see the sky filled with fireworks.  We didn’t care that they were red, white, and green.

We got the last room at La Quinta, only a stone’s throw from the bridge on the American side. Taylor walked into the room and promptly threw up. He then rinsed out his mouth (“Mom, can I drink the water now?”) and announced, “I’m hungry.  Can we go somewhere and eat?”  Richard took the boys to the Denny’s next door where they gorged on chicken-fried steak. Me, I laid on the bed in the air-conditioned room and turned on the TV. The sound of Ted Koppel’s voice was the sweetest lullaby I’d ever heard.

Ted Bundy’s Third Grade Teacher May 17, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Teaching.
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I don’t know who Ted Bundy‘s teacher was, but I can’t help but wonder if she (sorry, but the majority of elementary teachers do have that XX chromosome thing going), noticed anything off about young Ted? Serial killers may take a while to reach their full potential (ouch!), but from those who’ve been studied, it’s clear that there was something off early on. Perhaps the class hamster met an untimely death?  Or maybe, like so many psychopaths, Ted skated by on superficial charm. Think Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver.

‘Wally’ Cleaver: [at the bottom of the staircase, calling out to his mother upstairs] Hey, Mom!
June Cleaver: Yes, Wally.
‘Wally’ Cleaver: Could Eddie spend the night here?
June Cleaver: Not while your father’s away.
‘Eddie’ Haskell: [dejected] Boy. Everybody around here is wise to me. I might just have to move to a new town and start all over.

Historically, the Big Three predictors of aberrant behavior are bed wetting, cruelty to animals, and fire starting. Personally, I’d add laughing when other children are hurt and inappropriate remarks showing callowness and a lack of empathy. Yet while most people associate psychopaths with serial killers, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Feb 19, 2011 issue of New Scientist, a crackerjack science magazine, featured an interview with Kent Keihl, who’s studied the origin in the brain of psychopathic behavior. Kent also grew up down the street from Ted Bundy which only stoked his interest in how two people in the same zip code take such different trajectories in life.

I couldn’t help but fixate on his comment, “There are probably many psychopaths out there who are not necessarily violent, but are leading very disruptive lives in the sense that they are getting involved in shady business deals, moving from job to job, or relationship to relationship, always using resources everywhere they go but never contributing. Such people inevitably leave a path of confusion, and often destruction behind them. ” (Bold face mine.)

Robert Hare, the Godfather of Psychopathy, wrote Sharks in Suits detailing how psychopaths have been able to thrive on Wall Street and as CEOs.  Think Bernie Madoff and the path of destruction he left behind. And he didn’t even need duct tape!

I found Can You Call a 9 Year Old a Psychopath?  featured last Sunday in The New York Times Magazine to be a fascinating read. The Huffington Post did a follow-up piece 9-Year-Old Psychopaths – Dr. Alan Ravitz on How to Diagnose Children as Psychopaths.

Okay, I teach 9-year-olds. Have I had any students who I thought were psychopaths?  I can think of one, maybe two. But only time will tell. As teachers, we’re forever hopeful that we can make a difference. But still, I document everything so when America’s Most Wanted comes knocking, I’m ready.

The thinking has always been that it is irresponsible to diagnose/label a developing child as a psychopath. So children exhibiting symptoms that would be considered psychopathic traits in the adult population are diagnosed instead with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and then graduate to having Conduct Disorder (CD). Rhoda, the character from the cult movie The Bad Seed, was so cloyingly sweet and manipulative, she could have evaded that ODD diagnosis altogether. While not all of those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are psychopaths, all psychopaths have strong narcissistic traits. But this does not factor in as children are inherently narcissistic, so narcissism is a given. Bottom Line – Psychopathy, Anti-Social Personality (Sociopathy) and Narcissism are like close kin all dancing around that same May Pole of Lack of Empathy.

Some children diagnosed with these disorders eventually “grow out of them” and become functioning adults. The psychiatric community has always erred on the side of caution, as there’s much we don’t know about the developing human brain and/or the genetic predisposition for psychopathy. It’s the old nature vs. nurture, or possibly a N&N cocktail of circumstances. Just like drinking, you can’t officially become a psychopath until you’re 18.

That said, I’ve got stories. I’ve had students whose parents thought I was the teacher who could turn their child around. And I tried mightliy – but the Mississippi flows south. I have a friend who carries a mug that says Miracle Worker, but as teachers, we can only do so much. We’d all like to think that we can be The One who makes a difference, but more often than not the die is cast. I take no joy in saying this.

When I tell people I teach third grade, their response is often, “Oh, they’re so cute at that age. They don’t have all the problems that come with older kids.” What rock have they been hiding under? We have students who have had IEPs (Individual Education Plans) since Kindergarten to deal with a variety of emotional issues (frequently a result of abuse), but sometimes not.

I’ve had students who laughed when another child was hurt (and not the nervous laugh), or go out of their way to inflict physical or emotional pain on their peers. I’ve also had students who were bald faced liars and master manipulators – at 7 years of age. I even had a student who so terrified his babysitter that he made her pay him $5 day to go to school! And I’ve had parents in denial while others were at wit’s end as to how to deal with their child’s behavior.

I’ve seen some scary s*it, so I remain vigilant – and I document everything. And I’ve also never had a class hamster – just in case.


History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part 2 May 1, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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When I wrote History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us PartI ended by saying that I would NEVER do this project again. Not with 28 students. Well, as my mother always said, “Never say never,” or as I like to say, “Crow is best eaten while warm.”

Fast forward a year. I now have 31 third graders and History Wax Museum is HAPPENING! Why? Two teachers are new to 3rd grade, so they don’t have any lingering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from last year. And those of us who are veterans? Well, what can I say? I’d like having a baby. Once you pop the little booger out, you tend to forget all that came before.

It also helps that History Wax Museum is performed at Open House. For teachers this means no Dog and Pony Show (my dog has been dead for years and the pony is out to pasture). No attempts to out-cutesy the teacher next door and NO cleaning the classroom. Can you say bliss?

This year a parent suggested that students should be able to explain just what a history wax museum is to the uninitiated. Okay, here’s what you need to know. NO WAX is harmed in the making of  the History Wax Museum. The students stand frozen in a pose in front of their tri-fold board. There is a button on the floor (okay, it’s a fake button – a red paper circle actually) that visitors step on to activate the character. The student then “comes to life” and tells their story.

Last year, I found myself doing a lot of things that weren’t covered in my teacher credentialing program like throwing together costumes for kids whose parents couldn’t pull it together. Galileo showed up with a piece of a white t-shirt to wear as a beard. It looked a bit like a do-rag. Really? That’s the best you could do?

I sprinted to the local Out of the Closet and found a woman’s frilly shirt. It was supposed to be for Florence Nightingale, but she pulled a costume together at the last minute. Florence (The “Lady with the Lamp”) Nightingale even had a lantern thanks to my neighbors. Galileo ended up wearing the frilly shirt. He did manage to drag in a HUGE telescope for visitors to trip over.

I also helped Abe Lincoln, who was portrayed by a girl, make a stove pipe hat from a paper plate and some black paper. It turned out way better than I ever imaged. Abe’s mom found a “beard” at Michael’s. The girl looked like she had a furry hamster clinging to her face!

This year, I’ve got a new group of kids who are doing a lot of different people. I’m thinking I might sandwich George Carlin between Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. LOVE IT!

Both Picasso and Gandhi are being played by girls. Gandhi has nixed wearing a skull cap. She asked me for advice on her costume. Another teacher suggested, “How about a diaper?” Okay, that is SO not happening. A lovely parent from last year from India stopped by for a costume consultation. All I know is it involves bedsheets. With another kid’s John Lennon glasses, I believe we have lift off for Gandhi!

I couldn’t resist taking the photo of the Secret Lives of Great Artists. Last year’s Frido Kahlo (I  have Frida “dos” this year.) was surprised to learn that she’d had affairs with women as well as men. I have learned to deftly handle these delicate questions. I’ve found that, “Whatever floats your boat” accompanied by a wink explains so much about the human condition. And to be honest, my Frida was more distressed that Diego was so fat.

Queen Elizabeth I took me aside the other day to let me know that her father Henry VIII was behaving very inappropriately with her – something about spanking and tickling. I suggested she just skip to the beheading of her mother, Anne Boleyn. Nudity – no. Violence – yes. That said, what about Annie Oakley? How can you be a sharpshooter without a gun? Annie made one out of paper, but it looked like a Saturday night special. Now if we can just get a 2×4 and get carving…

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #6 April 7, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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85 comments

mirror2

I never could have imagined that so many people would read my 3-part series Close Encounter with a Narcissist. Or imagined how many people would leave comments detailing their own often heart-wrenching “close encounters.”

When I check my blog stats (something us bloggers obsessively do), I like to check the “search engine terms” people typed in before they were electronically dropped off at my blog’s doorstep.

In this series, The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism, I’ll use a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping off point for a discussion. (Please read the Close Encounter with a Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started. Shhhh!)  Here goes.

Why do I Miss the Narcissist?

When a Narcissist zeros in on a new source of supply, he (or she) is on their best behavior. The Academy Award-winning performance they give has been perfected by years of being “on stage”  – in the sense that they are literally performing a role in what the rest of us call “life.” They cling to this role and rarely vary from the script. It’s worked before, and it will work again. There’s not a lot of improvisation involved. That First Impression of them is seared into your memory. They can be so endearing or (substitute appropriate adjective).

So a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) can be charming, seductive, endearing, and even appear to be compassionate and caring. But again, this is all an act calculated to disarm their victim’s defenses. Is it conscious? I don’t know. I’m not sure if they even know. But it’s what they do best. It’s how they roll. And it can seem incredibly genuine…at the time.

The article, Narcissists Often Ace Job Interviews, Study Findsilluminates how Narcissists can turn on the charm in any given situation to close the deal. It’s only later that their true colors emerge.

So when the Narcissist tires of Act 1 (Idealization) and goes to Act 2 (Devaluation & Discard aka D&D), the change in their manner towards you can leave you with a wicked case of emotional whiplash. WTF? Why did they say that? Why are they playing games with me? Why would…(fill in the blank)?

Who doesn’t want to cling to that first impression? Or memories of the “good times?” You’d like to think that they could return to being THAT person, not realizing that THAT person was only a ruse.

When I asked my sister-in-law, who was married to a Narcissist for 14 years, when her husband changed, she said (without hesitation) “the day after we married.”

During the Idealization Phase, the Narcissist is anything, no make that EVERYTHING, you want him to be. But then the novelty wears off and real life enters into the equation. The D&D begins.

I can understand those who struggle to get over a Close Encounter with a Narcissist. They want that person back. The person they thought they knew. But time travel is not possible, so there’s NO going back. You have to be able to see the Narcissist for what they were/are  – an imposter.

What makes it even more difficult to recover from such an encounter is the feeling that you’ve been duped – or played. You’re an intelligent person, but now you feel like somebody’s fool. What can I say? Do not expect any apologies or closure. You may understand what happened intellectually while you’re still hurting emotionally. It takes time. And more time. But, you CAN move on and flourish.

It’s a painful scenario, but the curtain falls after Act 3. The show’s over. Are you ready to move on?

Why Teachers Kick Ass January 12, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching, Uncategorized.
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9 comments

Thanks to Michelle, my former student teacher who is now gainfully employed, for sharing this. Today was a very long day and even though I’ve heard versions of this, with the graphics and the voiceover, it was just what I needed after another day of “making a difference.”

“How was it coming back after break,” some idiot asked. Well, actually, it was like getting slapped in the face with a cold fish. It didn’t help that no sooner had school started than Student #32 was dropped off on my doorstep. He’s from Korea and doesn’t know a word of English. I didn’t have a desk for him and ended up rearranging the entire classroom to handle what is beginning to resemble a small city of rather small people.

Here’s the difference I’ve made in the three days I’ve been back.
1)  Said student from Korea can now say, “Teacher!” I’ve had to discourage him from getting other students’ attention by pinching them. (Though it DOES do the trick.) He’s obviously bright, so I pull out my iPhone and use my translation app for words like “crazy.” I’ve taught my students what the expression “lightning in a bottle” means, as I believe this best describes the new kid. He’s got a ready smile and the gung ho enthusiasm of a puppy.

2) Nature Club, my resident group of tree huggers, was elated today to hear they would not lose their beloved clubhouse. Their “clubhouse” is actually a narrow passage behind the chain link backstop on the baseball diamond. (I hesitate even calling it this, as it implies there’s some sort of diamond – there’s not.) I’m not exactly sure what it is that Nature Club does. I do know it involves carrying a basket of seed pods and twigs out to the playground to decorate the “clubhouse.” They had been told by a yard supervisor that they would have to move and were outraged. They asked me about getting a lawyer. I convinced them that a persuasive letter was more in their price range. They got to writing. I was so glad to hear today that they got their “clubhouse” back, as I was envisioning a peaceful protest involving them dressed as leaves. I’m counting that as one more crisis averted. Did I mention that they keep logs in my classroom?

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. For friends who’ve asked, I’m once again posting my a favorite video Ideal Class Size from my post The Rising Body Count. Notice how things start to go downhill after 23. Oh yeah…

Steve Jobs, iNarcissist December 12, 2011

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Free Candle Ap available through Poets Mobile. You can swipe the candle to extinguish the flame or actually blow it out! Way cool.

Steve Jobs was obsessed with beauty. He was a perfectionist who did not suffer fools. He could be a tyrannical boss who brought out the best in some, while humiliating others deemed less worthy. He could be incredibly charming. More frequently, he could be a pompous ass given to fits of crying when he didn’t get his way. Yes, he changed the world. But make no mistake, Steve Jobs was a classic narcissist.

I was surprised when I read The Limits of Magical Thinking, an otherwise insightful article by Maureen Dowd, and there was no mention of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). She had read the Walter Isaacson biography. There’s one mention of him suffering from possible mild bi-polarity. Hello? How could she have not seen the red flags?

I have to admit was a bit perplexed when I heard Jobs had asked Walter Isaacson to write his biography so his children might better know him and why he often wasn’t there for them.

I bought the book the day it was released, so I, too, might better know Steve Jobs. I’m an avid Apple consumer, dare I say devotee. Upon learning of his death, I wrote Steve Jobs – The Real Big Apple  as a tribute.  But, I have to admit that my knowledge about Steve Jobs as a person was sketchy. What can I say? I must have been busy breastfeeding and changing diapers when he was on the cover of TIME. And speaking of covers, Steve Jobs personally approved the cover design for his biography. (He was a control freak to the end.)

It’s been a while since I parted with $32 for a hardcover book, so as I was reading, I hesitated marking up the book. But after the umpteenth reference to his ability to “manipulate” others, I pulled out a pencil. The book now looks like a dot-to-dot drawing. If you connect them, you have yourself a world-class narcissist, albeit an extremely productive one.

Most telling was Jobs’ relationship with Tina Redse which ran hot and cold for five years. After one argument, she scrawled “Neglect is a form of abuse,” on the wall to his bedroom. According to Isaacson, “She was entranced by him, but she was also baffled by how uncaring he could be. She would later recall how incredibly painful it was to be in love with someone so self-centered. Caring deeply about someone who seemed incapable of caring was a particular kind of hell that she wouldn’t wish on anyone, she said.”

It was only after they broke up that Redse helped found OpenMind, a mental health resource network in California. She read about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and realized that Jobs met the criteria – perfectly. “It fits so well and explained so much of what we had struggled with, that I realized expecting him to be nicer or less self-centered was like expecting a blind man to see,” she said. “It also explained some of the choices he’d made about his daughter Lisa (born out of wedlock just like Jobs was) at that time. I think the issue is empathy – the capacity for empathy is lacking.”

Even as Jobs contemplated marrying his wife Laurene, he still had not decided if he was going to put all of his apples in one basket. (Sorry, that’s one pun I couldn’t resist!) He asked friends who they thought was more beautiful, Tina or Laurene. What’s funny is Tina was so not available at that point.

Though married for 20 years, I believe that Steve Jobs’ “Ideal Love” was not his wife, Laurene, but Apple, the baby he’d created back in that garage with Steve Wozniak. Laurene was obviously a strong woman with a life of her own. She makes brief cameos in his biography always playing the consummate nurturer. At one point, she and one of their daughters appear in beekeepers suits. She was obviously warm and giving and made up for his physical and emotional absence. It’s an all too familiar dynamic.

If you’ve had a close encounter with a narcissist, you’ll see red flags everywhere in the book. The only difference between your garden variety narcissist and Steve Jobs is that his magical thinking served him well, at least in business. He was a millionaire at 25. Imagine how that fueled his NPD? Though he walked around barefoot, he still couldn’t walk on water though there are those who would argue that I’m wrong. Since first writing this, I’ve read Was Steve Jobs’ Narcissism Justified? on the Psychology Today site. It’s an excellent read. If the jury was out in regards to Jobs’ narcissism, it’s now IN.

I found Walter Isaacson’s biography to be an interesting read. But will his book help Jobs’ children better understand their father? I think not. Steve Jobs remains an emotional enigma even in death.

I came across another great article Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons by Michael Maccoby and originally published in the Harvard Business Review. Very interesting reading indeed.

One more thing…This post was written on my beloved MacBook, the photo was taken with my iPhone, and as I write this I’m listening to music on my iPod. Oh, the iRony.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

Lockdown! November 27, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching, Uncategorized.
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For the teachers in your life on Etsy.

Forget Black Friday. Crowd control? Violence? People trying to claw their way to the front of the line? Hell, every day is Black Friday when you’re a teacher.

In keeping with my mantra, “I expect chaos, so I’m never disappointed” mantra, my school recently went into lockdown mode.

Never mind that what used to be called “Lockdown” is now referred to as “Shelter in Place.” When things got dicey, the voice over the PA made it clear. “Teachers we are in lockdown. This is not a drill!”

I dutifully locked the door to the classroom (Thank god I could find my keys on the mess that is my desk!) One student asked if someone might be coming into the school with a gun. “That’s unlikely,” I replied. “But if anyone does, I’ll take a bullet for you. That’s why I make the big bucks.” My students seemed relieved. “Now let’s get back to those Thanksgiving turkeys,” I chirped.

It helped immensely that half of my class (31 students, yes 31!) was out of the class on the Woodworking Bus. I was busily dipping the coffee filters that had been colored with magic markers into a glass of water. These would be the turkey’s feathers. “Ooh! Aah!” Kids never cease to be amazed at the results. But the sound of helicopters nearby was hard to ignore. Someone jiggled the doorknob and students froze. ‘They’re just checking to make sure we’re safe,” I said. I casually strolled over to the glass just to make sure Michael Myers was not lurking outside.

An hour passed. The kids complained that recess had come and gone, like it was MY fault that we couldn’t go outside. After another 20 minutes had passed, some started in on their snacks. It was then that one boy said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” I ordered him to quit sucking on his juice pack, but it was too late. “I really have to go,” he repeated.

For six years, I’ve had an emergency potty in my room. It’s basically a plastic waste paper basket with a rubber lid. A bin of books is balanced on it, so the kids hadn’t even noticed it. We popped it open to see what was inside: a blue plastic tarp, pairs of latex gloves, plastic bags, a bag of kitty litter, and a roll of toilet paper.

“I really have to go,” moaned the juice-slurper. I figured out how to drape the plastic tarp – one end on the metal cabinets and the other on my easel. Not bad. The boy was now doing the potty dance, a sight that strikes fear into the heart of all teachers.

I had all of the kids move to the far side of the class. “Keep coloring those turkeys!” I ordered. You could have heard a pin drop. And that was the problem. No one wants to have everyone hear them “go.” I found my Muse CD and cranked it up LOUD, guitar riffs and all.

The first boy went. He emerged smiling from the makeshift restroom. I handed him a leftover Halloween cup half-filled with kitty litter and instructed him to go back and toss it in. A second boy came forward. He used the potty. More kitty litter. Finally, another boy said, “Oh, I might as well.” He complained that there was kitty litter around the rim and requested a wipe to clean it off. No sooner had he gone than there was a knock at our door. Security was escorting children to the bathrooms for a quick break.

The three boys stayed behind. “We don’t need to go because we went IN CLASS!” they bragged. I gave them a Sharpie and let them autograph the toilet. They insisted on writing the date beside their names.

I’m afraid the children who were most traumatized by the lockdown were those out in the Woodworking Bus. They were forced to go into a kindergarten classroom and then herded into the auditorium where they were, according to them, forced to sing the “Hokey Pokey” over and over. Their eyes were glassy.

Later we learned the lockdown was due to three pipe bombs found in the apartment of a parolee who’d been arrested the night before. His apartment was a block from the school, but the Fire Department issued the lockdown as a precaution as the Bomb Squad went in and detonated the bombs. The parolee had served time in prison for methamphetamine use. “Boy, meth will make your teeth fall out,” I warned the kids. “Never an attractive look.” This is what’s called a Teachable Moment.

Later, a custodian came in to remove the emergency potty for cleaning. Another teacher asked if I put the plastic bag inside the potty. Plastic bag? I asked. Oh crap! That’s what they were for? Said potty has yet to be returned, but we’ll know it when we see it cause it’s got our names written all over it.

Just another day in Paradise.

Day of the Dead or Dia de Los Muertos for Dummies November 3, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Art Education, Holidays, Personal.
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I’d planned to write the definitive post on Day of the Dead aka Dia de Los Muertos, a holiday that is near and dear to my heart. But the reality (surreality?) of having 31 students killed that. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then I have a table reserved front row center.

I’d never heard of the Day of the Dead until I moved to SoCal. I grew up in the Midwest. There was no talk of death when I was a child. Death was just so downright-morbid.

So when I moved to Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s with all of these figures of skeletons partying and drinking cerveza and tequila?”

Then a friend and I happened to visit Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles where Dia de Los Muertos merchandise was everywhere. We came upon an empty storefront that featured a community exhibit of ofrendas (altars).

There were the usual ofrendas for beloved relatives, but also one for battered women, a young child who died at the hands of his mother, and even one for a beloved dog that featured the dog’s collar and treats. The ofrendas were beautiful in their simplicity and originality. I found myself weeping tears of…joy?

There was also a huge wooden box filed with sand. People were urged to write a message to a loved one who had passed. The message was wrapped around a stick, tied with a piece of embroidery thread, and then planted in the sand.  I can’t remember now who I wrote a note to. But when I planted my stick with a hundred or so others, I felt a connection to all of the people who’d taken the time to write a message to someone they missed. How often do we get to do that in real life?

Unlike Halloween, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the temporal nature of life. Each ofrenda is created from scratch each year. They’re not dragged off to be stored with the artificial Christmas tree and trotted out the next year. That’s one of the things that I love about this holiday.

Several years ago, I decided to host a Dia de los Muertos celebration. Several friends who came were Mexican Americans, but they’d grown up in regions of Mexico where the holiday was not celebrated. This was a first for them, so I wanted to get it right.

My friend, Martha, who is from a close knit Mexican family, talked to her parents, and they came up with some “musts” for a traditional altar. (But, keep in mind, that each altar is open to individual interpretation.)

Basic Structure of an altar:

Four Levels to represent:
earth,wind, water, fire
north, south, east,west
summer, fall, winter, spring
birth, childhood, adult life, death

A picture of the loved one is placed at the highest point

Symbols of the 4 elements
a jar/dish of water for the thirsty soul
a shell – symbolizes water
a flute –  symbolizes wind
Corn, shiles, tomatillos, and cacao –  symbolize earth
candles – to light the way, to symbolize fire
marigolds for their scent & brevity of life
copal (incense) – a dish of worship, its scent
calaveras (sugar skulls with names) to mock death
dog – to guard the soul, to accompany the soul to its afterlife
dish of salt – for purification of the soul

Food

Pan de muerto – to nourish the soul (Sweet with anise seeds)
Any favorite food of the deceased
Money – to pay the dog for guarding the soul and the fare to be paid for crossing to the other world
Petate (Mat) on the floor – a place for the soul to rest after the long journey.
Mirror – to scare evil spirits & so they won’t eat the food
A frog – signifies twilight of another day.

Optional: Papel picado (cut paper banners), masks, an arch, calaveras, mementos.

The biggest problem was that year the marigolds bloomed early. There was not a marigold to be found. But then I spotted a huge clump of them at an apartment complex and went out late one night to do a little hunting and gathering. Problem solved.

Martha, a dog lover like myself, brought over the collars of some of her beloved dogs. She said with utmost sincerity, “We’ll need a bowl of water because they’ll be thirsty after their long journey.” I fetched it, while she lit what seemed like a zillion candles.

That year I’d googled the name of my first true love only to learn he’d died four years earlier. He’d never married. So it was his picture that I put on the ofrenda along with a shot a whiskey, something that would sooth his soul after a long journey. One of my friends made killer tacos and another brought pan de muerto from a neighborhood bakery that was way better than mine.

I’m afraid that this year, Day of the Dead drew the short stick, what with Halloween on a Monday. I had warned parents that I thought Dia de los Muertos was of cultural relevance ahead of time and we’d be doing an activity. (I’ve got a group of parents at a local seminary, so I tread lightly.)

I brought in my box of sand on Tuesday. Most of my students were zombified from trick-or-treating except for the ones who believe it’s the Devil’s birthday. I suppose I should have given THOSE students homework. I was not too together. I asked my students to collect twigs off the playground and we made an arch that was held together with paper marigolds.

Students had the option of writing a message to a loved one who’d died. One girl wrote three for various goldfish who were last seen swimming in the toilet bowl. I was most touched when one of my students asked if she could write a note to her mother. Everyone knows her mother died when she was in kindergarten. She was worried because her mother only spoke Spanish, and she’d forgotten most of her Spanish. I was fortunate to have an aide in the room who translated her message into Spanish. I helped her wrap it around the stick, noticing that she’d drawn a lot of hearts on it. “I see a lot of love in this message,” I said. The girl smiled.

The students loved how the box turned out. “It looks like a little graveyard!” someone said. Tomorrow, I’ll bring home the messages. They’re ritually burned. I’ll never know the words of love that they contain, but my students do. And that’s what’s most important.

As I originally said, I’d hoped to write the definitive post on Day of the Dead, but that didn’t happen. A fellow teacher told me a hilarious story in The New Yorker about a preschool teacher who decided to celebrate Day of the Dead with disastrous results. The entire incident is told in a series of painful, yet hilarious emails that should give any teacher the will to get up and go to work tomorrow. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I know the writer of the article will be sitting at my table. Mas cerveza por favor!