The Doc Answers 20

The Doc's Answers 20


Tuesday February 10, 2004
01:43 PM

Hello,My name is Mary. Hi Mary. I suffered emotional and physical abuse from my mother. My father was not very involved and my brothers sexually molested me until I was 15. :(  My mom told me she never wanted me as a baby. At age 16 I left home and somehow managed to survive on my own.

I married at 24 to a narcissist who completely engulfed me for 20 years. I'm afraid I am an inverted narcissist, but I think I have felt real love many times in my life. Well, that argues again being a narcissist. When I get scared, I immediately feel disconnected from that person. I think I'm getting much worse as I go from one failed relationship into another. This tendency simply tells me you are terrified of men and have difficulty trusting.

I began a new relationship with what I think is the most congenial narcissist I've ever known, and the passion was red hot. I have never felt that way about anyone. A short 7 weeks later he started to pull away but not leave me. The fire soon dwindled and his criticism started to make me feel bad. His distance feels like torture. He maintained a certain amount of commitment and we communicated about twice a week for several months but rarely saw each other. I later found out that he went on a blind date out of town and I was crushed. He denied it. I guess I thought he was struggling with commitment, but fought back the fear that he was interested in someone else.

I followed the advice from my two friends, and broke things off (even though he is the one that left me emotionally) and wrote him an exquisite poem about how heart broken I was and how much I loved him, but that I needed to move on and find someone willing to share his life with me and wished him happiness. Your friends gave you good advice.

I think I need a narcissist in my life? All I can think about is how much I want him in my life at any level, I don't care if he lies, cheats, uses me and completely neglects my needs. I just want him back. I can't function without him involved at some level with me. I read everything I could on this site and am hoping you can shed some light to my situation. Maybe the best I can do now is find a narcissist I can cope with and hope that he finds me acceptable as a mate. Should I come to term with the fact that I need this man more that I've ever needed anyone before and go to him to beg his forgiveness. Will he ever forgive me and let me in again? Thank you for the information on inverted narcissist, it has helped me to understand myself and my failed relationships better.

Dear Mary,

Oh boy... Please be very careful about diagnosing yourself under any circumstances, but especially when using diagnostic categories that are not established by The American Psychiatric Association. This group relies on a critical research base in grouping together a conglomeration of symptoms into a coherent picture.

Narcissism is a bona fide diagnostic category. Inverted Narcissism is not! This means that the IN diagnostic category may or may not exist in reality. It means that if the category does exist, we don't collectively understand it enough at the present time to derive value from it's subdivision; or it may not be useful to subcategorize.

An IN, whatever that is, may not be a narcissist at all! Keep in mind that Dr. Vaknin, an author whose wonderful work appears on this site, has proposed or popularized that term - yet Dr. Vaknin makes no bones about the fact that he is not trained or licensed/certified in any mental health profession!  Personally, I have difficulty with some of the psychodynamic literature he uses to back his hypotheses, however compelling, and I'm not sure I buy into IN.

That said, let's keep going.

The popular literature makes a case that Inverted Narcissism is NPD (without the grandiosity feature) plus Dependent Personality Disorder. Do you have DPD? Well,  you certainly have dependent traits, but I wouldn't go as far as diagnosing you with Dependent Personality Disorder. I can't. Personality disorders are difficult to diagnose and often take time to assess, even by seasoned clinicians.

Codependency, like IN, is not a diagnostic category. It is a broad way of describing an individual who tends to victimize themselves by depending on other's love and approval for their self esteem, without feeling deserving of reciprocity. Unlike IN, which assumes the individual meets criteria for NPD and DPD, codependency does not assume you have any personality disorder.

I agree that the description you're giving me is codependent.

Are you also narcissistic? Again, I don't know. I see no evidence in your story, for what that's worth - given the difficulty of accurate diagnosis of personality disorders. You have an abuse history, and that can certainly account for your relational fears. Just in case you were using this tendency to justify your NPD diagnosis, your relational fears are not diagnostic of or exclusive to narcissism. 

My explanation on Personality Disorders is not nearly complete, nor is this forum the venue to explain the topic. I got into some of these issues to demonstrate why you should not attempt to diagnose yourself. Plus, even if you did? Then what?

Your statement, "All I can think about is how much I want him in my life at any level, I don't care if he lies, cheats, uses me and completely neglects my needs. I just want him back." does little to convince me you are IN.

The IN is said to live through their narcissist and cannot live without the narcissist; feels dead and empty without the narcissist, etc. Is this another reason you are diagnosing yourself? Even a little codependency can make someone sound like this after a breakup!

So, doomed to your self-diagnosis, before you go looking for another narcissist who "finds me acceptable as a mate" (Ouchhh! And, of course you shouldn't go looking for another one!), why not instead get some professional help and work on your self-esteem and codependency stuff? You are probably selling yourself way short. You are most probably also depressed - and all these are issues that respond to treatment!

Finally, if the person you work with determines that you do have narcissistic traits or NPD in addition to the codependent stuff, well, take it from there: with a little professional guidance.

I hope this helped you Mary, though I know it wasn't the kind of answer you were seeking. Dr. Irene

Monday February 16, 2004
01:16 PM

Hi Doc,Thank you for your frank response to my last inquiry. Hi again Mary. I wanted to tell you a little bit more about my history and my symptoms, so that maybe you can give more insight into what I'm dealing with. I understand you cannot diagnose and treat in two short messages, so I'm really just looking for more of your input and information that might be of help to me. When I was four, I can remember clearly my mom always seemed to be angry with me, and my brothers were molesting me every opportunity they could, which was a lot since they babysat me whenever mom and dad were out. My older sisters participated by watching this, I was the youngest. I tried to tell my mom what was happening when I was five, and I was the one punished for lying and being hateful to my brothers.  I was beaten at least once a day for something, anything, many times brutally with a belt buckle, a high healed shoe, a broken plate on my head, or being forced to kneel on corn kernels for hours in the corner on marble floors. One time I ate a candy bar without asking and I was forced to eat the entire bag until I threw up.  I was anorexic (sp) by the age of 8 and was forced to eat corn flakes 5 times a day, again until I would gag because it was soggy and warm. If I couldn't finish it I had to eat it before I could eat anything else, even if it was hours later on hot days. Ouchhh! You want to rule our Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is horrible child abuse - the kind of stuff that can leave you with PTSD! PTSD symptoms include the symptoms you present and is treatable.

One day my mom was angry with me because I didn't clean my room enough and she was very nice to my sister. I asked her why she didn't love me as much (I was 6 at the time), and she answered "I never wanted you and after I had you I was willing to be ex-communicated from the catholic church to go on birth control, I never want any more babies!" I was number 5 and she was a very young mom (23 when she had me) with many problems of her own. By the time I was in 9th grade I was suicidal and in constant depression. I'm so sorry... But are you surprised you were depressed and suicidal? What kid wouldn't be? I left home and was homeless, worked cleaning stalls on a race track at four in the morning for a living along with two other jobs to fill in. You certainly are a survivor. I had three boyfriends who showed signs of being narcissists ( I know this now ) and finally married the one that completely controlled me. You were so young, so in need of the parenting you never had. Control must have looked like love to you.

I managed to be more functional with him even thought I was basically miserable all the time and felt I never did enough to make him happy with me. I am now 48 and cannot function on my own, I stayed married for 20 years and have been divorced for four. I have been fairly dysfunctional on my own, though I try really hard, it's like I can't juggle more than one or two responsibilities without overloading. Overloaded and overwhelmed? That's very suggestive of depression/anxiety (by itself or as part of PTSD), which you're basically telling me you've had most of your life. I have dated two guys, yep, narcissistic as well, and this last man is the nicest and most successful I ever known.

I have few social skills and am mostly phobic of getting close to people, for fear they will see it's all an act. Social skills are things you can learn, and the biggest problem with your fear that people will see through your act is that you are not OK with the person you are.  There is nothing about being shy that is not OK! Nevertheless, if a social phobia is in your way, there is psychological and psychiatric treatment for that as well. (It's possible to have a number of diagnoses all at the same time.)

I am told I am very attractive (I did some modeling when I was younger ) I have a high IQ, I worked hard and saved enough to live very well Excellent! You have some wonderful strengths., but I still feel like I'm losing ground.  I've been to therapists for years, I've been on antidepressants, I've had ten major surgeries, all stress related You probably need antidepressants /whatever psychotropics are prescribed for you all the time. , and I can see now that I am only functional when I have a narcissist controlling me.

I hate what I've become Then become someone you don't hate. You can do this., I feel like I did when I left home and was homeless. Frightened, scared, and terrified, I bet.  I had three miscarriages and one wonderful son How wonderful! , I tried really hard to be a good mom, but I can see his dysfunctions and it pains me deeply. I found I was very distant and expected way too much from him. You are no different from any parent who looks back and sees the (inevitable) errors of their ways. This is why I think I am an IN. Sorry, you still haven't convinced me of this. This is why I search for answers that might help me, because nothing else has worked. It's like I've been so broken, I will never completely mend and I need a crutch. Mary What upsets me is how resigned and depressed you sound. I would bet that you read Dr. Vaknin's stuff on if you are a narcissist then just resign yourself to it and do the best you can. Please don't go here!

You are symptomatic Mary. You are clearly depressed. More than likely you suffer from PTSD, which often manifests with episodic depression and it's cohort anxiety. You may also experience periodic panic attacks. You will feel overloaded, as though you cannot cope at times. Maybe you self medicate with alcohol or drugs from time to time to mitigate your symptoms. You probably should be on psychotropics all the time. (Did you know abuse early in life predisposes one to anxiety and depression in adulthood?) About 20% of the time, they don't work as well as they should. That means you need to talk to your MD and let him or her titrate you. You may want to seek out a psychiatrist who specializes in psychopharmacology. Even though all psychiatrists are experts in psychotropic drugs, some are better than others.

You are very bright, so you've managed to do pretty well, despite a low stress tolerance. You don't feel you can handle of the stress of making it on your own with your son, and why should you? You were never cared for at home, and you went out into the world before you were emotionally ready to. Add to that your early marriage. When young people who are better prepared than you were are finally just getting out of the house, you'd been unsteadily on your feet for years and then were married.

That you seek out controlling types does not surprise me. First, they are unfortunately plentiful and all over the place. Many controlling types have narcissistic tendencies.  Particularly for a woman who was literally thrown into the streets in childhood, there is an amount of comfort in having someone lead you around, hence the codependency stuff I spoke about above. If you never  made it alone successfully (being 9 years old doesn't count; a child can't handle being independence! The world is too frightening and unsafe for a child!), why do you think that being independent now will feel good? Especially given your depression/anxiety! You are likely to feel overwhelmed if you have a chemical imbalance, for lack of a better work. In any case, your symptoms are physical and need to be treated that way. By an MD. 

And, I still don't get IN.  Because you were a mom with high expectations who was too emotionally un-OK to be less distant? You are too bright and resourceful to resign yourself to finding a narcissist! (Unfortunately, you probably won't have to look too far; too many single ones out there.) 

Instead of searching for Mr. Narcissist, why not make the coming year Mary's Year. Spend one year doing everything in your power to make yourself the best you can be. Don't look for a man. Do things that increase your integrity or self-esteem. Learn to enjoy the freedom of being on your own with nobody to direct you. Where is it you want to go? Exercise, eat right, get back into therapy/psychiatry. Find a psychiatrist and a therapist you feel comfortable with. If you've been with the same clinicians for a long time and feel that little has been accomplished, try working with someone else (but speak with them first about why you want to change). Learn some more social skills and deal with the people phobia, or learn to be OK with being shy!

Loving What Is: Four questions that can change your life  by Byron Katie would be a good book for you to read. The premise is that it's all coming from inside of you. And it is Mary.

Let's assume you are IN. A man is not the solution. Work on Mary first. Let everything else flow from there.

bulletIf you get nothing else from this reply, please get that you are at least suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression, which may be part of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder picture, all of which respond to biological and talk therapy. You may also have social anxiety, also treatable. You may or may not have a personality disorder. Look around and find the best psychiatric diagnostician you can. (May take some doing to find this person.) At the very least, go for a diagnostic consultation. Don't make assumptions about how to run your life before you do this. Getting proper treatment may very well alter how you see yourself.

Good luck to you. Dr. Irene