4 Ways Positive Affirmations can Backfire

I remember the first time I heard about positive thinking. I was a young child complaining to my mother about how I shouldn’t have to help wash the dishes. She said, “Whining and complaining will never get you anywhere, you need to look on the bright side.” Outraged I rebelled, ” What do you mean? There is no bright side about washing dishes.” She shook her head at me and sighed like I really didn’t get it. Something in life was completely hidden from me and for now I would just have to stew in my misery.

As I got older, I learned that as humans we each interpret the world differently and some of us have better lives than others. Some of us are more positive than others. It wasn’t until the film ‘The Secret’ came out explaining that if you think ‘it'(whatever it is you want) and focus on ‘it’ you can have ‘it’, so of course, if you have a ton of negative thoughts then you end up with a crap life manifesting the negative. Suddenly, I had been handed the keys to the kingdom, the human race is endowed with magical powers.The ball has been bounced back to our court. We are no longer at the mercy of a random universe.

The ‘Secret’ was incredibly popular at my work place. My co-workers and I jumped on that bandwagon creatively constructing gigantic vision boards with pictures of mansions and sports cars, hot pictures of men and women we wanted to marry.We became a world of possibilities. I tuned into more and more self help information and spiritual teachers. They were all saying that if you change your thoughts to the positive you can have the life you want.

So I did it: daily positive affirmations while staring at my vision board. I had felt like such a failure in the relationship department, recently divorced and still single. But I cheered myself up by putting a hot picture of Javier Bardem on the right hand corner of my board. He became my daily virtual boyfriend. Next to him I had a picture of two wedding rings linked and another picture of me and my future partner riding bikes together. Of course, I did not know who my future partner was going to be, but I believed that as long as I focused and stayed positive, I would get what I asked for.

Within 3 months of practicing my positive affirmations in front of my vision board, N asked me out. He even looked like Javier Bardem. We were a couple within a week. I thought it was kismet. In hindsight, maybe I should have been careful for what I wished for because even though I got it, I wasn’t very specific in my request for the type of partner (except for the picture of Javier). I definitely got somebody, but it was not the partner I had hoped for. Perhaps, it was the partner I needed? Maybe the universe knew better than I? Or the affirmations and vision board had nothing whatsoever to do with anything? Anyway, I can go around and around with these questions and never know the answer.

So now that I am healing after divorcing the N, I have decided to use positive affirmations and visualization again, but in a different way. I do not want my efforts to backfire.But, I am curious how they work. Most importantly I have learned that bypassing pain only prolongs the healing process.

I have found it to be helpful to be in a  positive environment surrounded by positive loving supportive people. In fact there has been some research that a positive outlook contributes to better health and well being.  This still makes sense to me, but there is something else I have found to be true this time around. Being positive does not mean that we deny negative emotions. In the past as I mentioned I used the affirmations as a way to try to get what I want rather than as part of a healing process.

One of the ways positive affirmations can backfire is when we use positive statements to drown out negative statements and painful feelings. This causes us to push the negative feelings even farther away creating even more problems. When we deny we are experiencing anything painful this requires a lot of energy to push the feelings away. It depletes our life energy force and can cause anxiety and depression because the energy has to go somewhere it will come out in symptomatic ways and also interfere with us actually being able to focus on the positive.

It can also make someone feel even worse about themselves, if they end up not believing the positive statement. Then they feel bad because they are not even able to feel positive. An antidote to this may be to reflect views that you actually hold and make the statements very specific and realistic. For example, saying a statement like ‘I am always loving.’ This sounds impossible. Instead how about: “I enjoy spending time with close friends.” This will bring positive memories, create gratitude about the friendships you have, and is doable.

Some psychologists argue that trying to correct negative thoughts can actually increase them. For example, have you noticed that when you try not to think about something you end up thinking about it even more? Steven C. Hayes is a psychologist who wrote a piece published in Time magazine titled “Happiness isn’t Normal” believes we should concentrate on identifying and committing to our values in life. He explained that once we are willing to feel our negative emotions, we’ll find it easier to commit ourselves to what we want in life. This is because even the negative emotions are informative and can help us create the life we want. We just need to know how to work with them, so that we don’t allow ourselves to self-sabotage.

Another way affirmations can backfire is by creating a lack of action. Visualizing and repeating affirmations must include some inspired action. We can get really comfortable with these practices and never actually do anything. One of my affirmations is ‘I have a healthy exercise routine and feel great.’ So I started a yoga practice that has finally become a habit. Every time I go, I really don’t want to, but I make myself because it is the habit that creates a positive mental state. Without the action then I am not receiving the benefit of the new habit.

The third way affirmations can backfire is by making us feel overly responsible about having to be a super happy positive person and guilty for not being more positive. We would have been better off not trying to be positive in the first place because now we have an additional emotion to deal with, on top of what was bothering us in the first place: the guilt for being unable to convince ourselves to be optimistic about our situation. Instead of accepting our negative feelings in the beginning and dealing with the problem directly, we waste our time and energy by judging ourselves over having perfectly normal emotions.

The last thing to watch out for when using affirmations has to do with creating expectations about how the universe is going to unfold. The notion that only good things can happen. The illusion that we are GOD and create all of reality. This idea can create powerful expectations that can be incredibly disappointing. I refer to the Serenity prayer to help keep myself more balanced. ‘God grant me the Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.’

We can always look for the wisdom and compassion within us when using tools in healing. We do the best we can becoming aware of our thoughts and how they affect our feelings. Then we can take action.

Meditation can conjure compassion and something more….

I began a fledgling meditation practice with very little background or training except for some research online. One evening, I decide to go meditate in a group setting. I chose a Tibetan Buddhist meditation called Chenrezig because the time and location are convenient. I have no idea what this type of meditation is, so I google it. Google explains ‘Chenrezig’ as a meditation devoted to the Lord of Compassion. I think I can really use an injection of compassion and perhaps get out of my own head by generating some concern for others. I have been so absorbed in my own pain. I want to change this and feed myself something good. I am hungry for any kind of relief or comfort. Pain still vibrates in my heart. N’s meat hooks are still so far into me; I feel like I am stuck hanging by my chest locked in a butcher freezer.

The meditation takes place in a lovely old craftsman house covered in prayer flags, the obvious Tibetan house on the block. I walk up the rickety stairs. Take off my shoes at the entrance. When I walk in there are cushions set up in rows with small tables and a tablet on top of each table. There are already several people sitting on cushions with perfectly straight backs silently mouthing something to themselves. I could only hear slight whispering.

I notice right away that I am the only person in the group without gray hair and am nervous about standing out as the inexperienced meditator.

Luckily, I had read the Chenrezig meditation instructions online.

‘The essence of the mind of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas is the bodhichitta, the awakened mind. When this bodhichitta assumes a form, it appears as Chenrezig, Avalokiteshvara.
Whenever we practice Avalokiteshvara, the most important aspect of the practice is the generation and development of the bodhicitta, which is the compassion that Avalokiteshvara experiences for all sentient beings. So, if we also generate this same compassion, this same awakened mind, it will be very easy for us to accomplish Avalokiteshvara because the essence of Avalokiteshvara is the bodhichitta. Thus, the blessings and the results will be very swift.’

One of the women wrapped in a deep maroon robe shows me where to sit and points out the tablet on top of the small table. She explains that we will be reciting each syllable. The syllables make up blessings in the Tibetan language and when recited out loud have powerful effects on those receiving the blessings. I am confused. Why do we recite a blessing in a language we do not understand? And if we don’t understand what we are saying then how can it have any effect on anything?

I sit down on the cushion and cross my legs. Trying to listen to the man’s prayers next to me, so I know what I am supposed to do. At least, I think he is praying. There is an altar in front of the room with three large gold Buddhas and incense burning in between the statues. I stare at one of the buddhas for a moment and then close my eyes and try to focus on my breathing.

“Hey Marin in the back. You need to behave yourself tonight ok.” The woman in the maroon robe says. She is standing to the side of the altar. I turn around and there is a long haired older man who looks like he has just fallen down and is having difficulty getting up. “Look I am here to meditate.” he shouts with his back still on the floor. “Where is my cushion?” he shouts even louder. His words are kind of slurry. The man sitting next to him tries to help him up onto a cushion, but instead has to walk him outside eventually.

The robed woman calls the meeting to order.“Ok” she says. “Welcome everyone. Let’s start the blessing by asking for names of beings.” People in the group shout out first names. Then instead of names of individual people they wish to bless, they also mention groups of people stuck in the middle of wars and natural disasters, refugees in Africa. I merely ask to bless my husband N.

N, N, N his name is my current mantra. I repeat it to myself as regularly as my heart beat. I tell the group he is struggling with mental illness and truly needs to be blessed.

We are then told by the woman in the maroon robe to read each syllable out loud and do our best to keep up with the rhythm of the group. I hope at least for the next hour these syllables would replace N’s name giving my mind something else to ponder.

I find the focus of reciting foreign syllables even more difficult than meditation. The reading and pronunciation of unintelligible syllables forces my mouth and tongue into unfamiliar positions. I try so hard to make familiar each syllable, it does the trick though because my mind is not able to wander. As we keep reciting, I do notice thoughts creep in around the syllables sneaking through the little rests begging for attention. I smile because mostly it is thoughts of boredom and not N.

A bell dings and the chanting stops abruptly. I breathe in and out and then open my eyes to look around. The room is silent and people are sitting on their cushions with their eyes closed.

I go back to my breath. It seems easier now. A bright light is slowly filling up my head, like I had lived in a dark tunnel all of my life and my insides are lighting up for the first time.

OK meditation time. I close my eyes and feel the warmth of a light and see it getting brighter.

It is strange because it looks like the light is inside my head, but there is so much space. Just then Anne my previous therapist whom I deeply respect and love blows in my head like a powerful wind. Her blonde hair disheveled, her piercing blue eyes boring into me, her powerful presence fills my mind.

First, she tries to write something to me on a dry erase board that just happens to be available in the space of my head, but for some reason I can’t quite decipher it and try to tell her so. This frustrates her greatly. She seems to have something so vital to tell me like my life or maybe her life depends on it. I believe she is about to write in her own blood to get the point across.

She grabs my face hard and looks at me deep in the eyes. I can see her perfectly sculpted lips and big white teeth coming in closer mouthing one word over and over. Finally, I get it. “FOCUS, FOCUS FOCUS” she enunciates slowly. She pulls my chin closer to her mouth and then forms the next three words carefully with her lips“ I love you!” With the emphasis on the You. She says this several times and will not allow me to look away even for a moment, snapping her fingers at me if I dare.

“FOCUS” she says again this time as she walks away. She gestures for me to follow her. Suddenly, N appears behind her. He is speaking but his words cannot be heard. I can see his face contorted with expressions of rage. She walks right up to him definitely a woman used to taming beasts and nonchalantly hits him with a stick. Not really hard just a bit of a firm tap. He collapses in a puddle of tears like a terrified child. She points at him and in a harsh matter of fact tone says while turning around and looking at me “See he is useless. This is who he is and there is nothing more.”

I begin to cry with relief. My head still full of the bright light envelops Anne. Her image disappears, but I sense her near. Then I look to my side. There is a long tunnel with more light coming out of it and a big strapping man coming toward me. I cannot see his face.

Anne whispers soothingly in my ear. I can hear her even though I can no longer see her. “Don’t worry you will meet your Tom. He is waiting for you, but for now you need to FOCUS.” (Tom is her husband and a man I adore and admire. He was also my therapist.) I cry some more “But I don’t want to be alone.” She whispers in my ear again. “You are never alone. I am always here.”

The group is reciting the syllables again. I join in after a bit because I lost track of where we are in the tablet.

This is the vision I keep close to my heart. It came at a perfect time, keeps me going and encourages me to continue meditating. I have never had another vision since and am aware that this is not the norm. I feel very grateful to have had this experience early on and to be able to use meditation as a vehicle to help transform myself. Even if one never receives a vision like this, helpful supportive information can come in many different forms to keep us going.

I divorced the N, chose a more empowering life; one based on freedom rather than fear. It was only after this vision that I knew I had the strength to create a different life. Like someone in a really bad car wreck that has to go through extensive rehabilitation to get their body back. I had to rescue myself once and for all and move on. I look at the long road ahead and have a little less resistance and something to hold onto when times get rough.

RULE # 10 Stay out of drama! This includes all other people’s drama

After going no contact with my ex N, I thought I had gotten rid of my problems. But I began having troubles with a friend. I invited him over one night for drinks. Things got a little sloppy and in our drunkenness he declared his love for me. He had a girlfriend. I played along with it a bit not caring for his girlfriend’s feelings or respecting my own boundaries. I just ate up the attention out of loneliness, desperate for love and affection. I hadn’t realized how much I missed male attention. I knew I was not interested in him as more than a friend and had felt this from the beginning of our friendship.  But I let him hit on me anyway. I lied to him by leading him on. I got in between a guy and his girlfriend. I made excuses by saying things to myself like this is OK because he had cheated on his girlfriend before. He had told his friends repeatedly that he was going to break up with her anyway. I blamed it on the alcohol.

A few days later he confessed to her that he hit on me and blamed me for encouraging him to stray. I felt really bad for her especially after the betrayal I had been through with my ex N, so I broke off the friendship with him and avoided him as much as possible. This is not the first time that I had allowed his drama to affect me with me going along with it. He tried contacting me for a while after this incident, but I ignored him. 

I have a powerful tendency to distract myself with drama. Drama consists of engaging, interfering, and gossiping regarding other people’s business that has nothing to do with me and my focus on creating a positive environment. It is difficult and painful to deal with feelings of fear, loneliness, or vulnerability, but I can’t heal unless I give myself the space to do it and face all of my fears. When I get bored or want to avoid sitting with my own discomfort I will go looking for distractions. I will make friends with people who don’t really care about me, but need a lot of attention and help. This keeps me busy and therefore distracted from my own suffering or discomfort. If I am not careful, I can let other people’s problems become my own.

After that dramatic distraction, I decided that it is time to pay attention to my rules and get my head clear . Thankfully, within a few weeks, I was rewarded with a steadiness, a peace growing within me, a quiet confidence. Sometimes it is just there like a gentle wind. I feel it blow in, like an old friend. I don’t even have to think about it, but if try to hold on to it like most things it fades.

For me it takes effort cultivated daily to remind myself not to slip into my habits and stories. I do not want to fall into suffering. I  do not want to rely on the outside world to solve my problems.  ‘Everything in the external world is impermanent’ as the Buddhists say. When I revert to my old dramas I rely on the external world to define me whether it is through escape with addiction, distraction with drama, or even material objects. It is all attachment and this always breeds suffering (the first noble truth of Buddhism).  It creates the perpetrators and the victims among us. But the good news is suffering can wake us up, so that it is no longer meaningless and remind us of who we really are, but we have to avoid being distracted by drama.

 

RULE # 6 Do not assume the warm feelings I have for the Narcissist are at all reciprocated

I want to be loved and feel close to someone I am really attracted to. Now here is the catch: when I say ‘attracted to’, I mean someone I think I am attracted to. I must remind myself how well I know the N because mostly what I am attracted to is unconscious. I am not aware of the role I am playing or the role I expect the other person to play.  I am recreating a familiar situation in the present that is similar to my childhood experiences. Not everyone in a relationship with a narcissist has familiar childhood experiences. But for me when I looked at my past relationships, I noticed a similar pattern of care taking in order to not be left by my partner. I connected this to my parental models and the role I played in my family.

Also, the chemical aspect of the attraction is like heroin and just like any drug it creates a lull in the mental mind where the rational part ceases and the part of me that desperately wants to reenact (the sad neglected inner child who is not good enough) is in control of picking my partners. All of us are susceptible to this. We just have different past patterns. The more unaware I am of my past and the more I neglect this small child part of me, the needier it becomes. Then the more likely I am to repeat the past again with another scary guy at the helm of my ship. I mean would you let a toddler pick your husband?

Even if an N appears to be loving in the moment, the N won’t be loving long term and can switch moods on a dime. It is during the Devalue/Discard phase in the relationship that they begin to chase after newer shinier objects; other victims to fulfill their need for validation.

My N told me after we broke up that he never had any feelings for me. He saw the relationship like a business transaction. I found an unusual N who actually admitted truths about himself after we broke up. He pretended the feelings because he thought that was what he was supposed to do to get what he wanted.

Again an N does not think like me. In fact it is questionable if my ex N felt anything beyond rage and contempt. The charm and good looks wear off fast and I was left with a very sick and sad person. The worst part of it is I blamed myself for not being good enough.

 

Rule #5 Do not fix, care take, mend, or use any kind of psychological tools to change a Narcissist

AGAIN I REPEAT: Do not go to fixing, helping, and explaining. Ns will suck you in. This will result in basically explaining away all of their negative treatment. Receiving help from me was typically used in this manner. George K. Simon discusses in his book regarding dealing with disturbed characters, “Help is not chasing after someone to give them something we think is of value even when they haven’t asked for it and show no appreciation for it.” He goes on to explain that in offering help to someone who shows no willingness to change and has probably already heard the same thing many times, we inevitably end up in a position to be hurt and increase their ability to continue their bad behavior.

I choose men that need my help. According to my therapists, I fear real intimacy. The therapists say I feel unworthy of it in my own right, so this working and care taking, hitting my head against a wall of sheer impossibility is like crack to me. I see someone floundering and he is attractive. This lights my need to feel indispensable by fixing and helping. It creates a bond of attachment and dependency that many times I misinterpret as love or connection. The minute I find myself having discussions about bad childhoods, or really bad horrible traumas or mean exes or scary drug addictions especially mixed with bad behavior (e.g. lying, withholding pertinent information, sex addiction) is a signal to me that I should be walking away not helping.

We all have baggage. The N has to take care of his. The best way to take care of him anyway is to be strong and centered and to not feed bad behavior through my pattern of care taking behaviors.  Be ready to walk away in face of bad behavior because it is not worth it.

Trying to help will make the behavior worse. Let me repeat this to myself because it is a very important point: helping him will hurt me and make him worse.

In my relationship with N there was constant crisis. He always needed something; from unrelenting emotional support to money loans. One night in the middle of winter he had driven us up to an outlet mall about 45 minutes from our home to do some Christmas shopping. On the way back we got pulled over by a state trooper. The trooper said that there was a warrant out for N’s arrest. N had thousands of dollars in unpaid parking tickets, had not paid his renewal for his car plates, and was driving with an expired driver’s license. The trooper kicked us out on the side of the freeway and told us to walk to the next rest station. It was below freezing outside. We walked to the rest station where there was still no heat and about an hour later a friend finally picked us up. The next day instead of taking care of these issues, he was driving again after getting his car out of tow. I never knew he had these tickets and we had been together for over a year. He needed help with all of these things, so I went with him to get his license and lent him money for the towing. This was just icing on the cake. The lies, rage and withholding of information only continued to get worse after this.

If I find myself in this situation again, I will  try to notice how much he blames me and how often I believe him. If my self talk becomes the following: ‘the problems in the relationship are my fault and there is tons of stuff wrong with me’, it is time to take a trip, get on a bus, or go to a friend’s house. Take a break in anyway possible.

I was so focused on N and his behavior that I never checked in with myself. I wanted to know whether  N’s motivation was conscious or not? I wanted  to predict his behavior, control it or in desperation attempt to get back the initial charming soul mate from the beginning of the relationship. I wanted to help him so much, so that he would never leave me.

I never looked at myself and asked why I was doing what I was doing. Why am I so exhausted and why are things getting worse? I needed to turn the lense on myself and look at my fears of abandonment and willingness to fix this relationship at the cost to myself; instead of heading straight down the road paved with previous codependents’ flesh and blood all sacrificed on the altar of N’s confused emptiness.

Rule #4 Never Question My Own Sanity

This is a most important rule for me to remember when an N is having a meltdown. For this rule to be applied, means I had to develop some awareness of the fact that the N does not think like me, wants to control the situation and get me to only believe their version of events. I must have compassion for myself, so that I don’t get sucked in. I am focused and taking care of my feelings first.I am holding to my belief that I am not on the planet to spend a lot of energy figuring out someone else’s stuff.

When N’s have meltdowns it is called narcissistic rage due to a narcissistic injury. Narcissistic rage is triggered by some perceived threat usually an insult or criticism that causes an injury. A typical N will react to any perceived threat in an out of control manner. They always assume the other person has hostile intention.

When people are angry, it is usually better to wait and talk when everyone has calmed down.The difference with an N is that to go through a discussion about the meltdown, argument or their bad behavior even if everybody has calmed down will result in the non-N questioning their sanity.

Gaslighting (a term for the psychological means of getting a person to question their own sanity) is a powerful method used by the N. This is a popular tool in the N toolbox. The way my N typically gaslighted was by withholding information, changing the subject, and denying something ever happened. What caused me the most confusion was the gaslighting combined with saying something to cut me down like ‘You are really selfish to think like that.’ or ‘You yelled at me and are always on me’ and ‘I don’t have a moment to breathe because you are so needy’ or ‘You have a problem with your temper.’ All of those statements have a grain of truth some bigger grains than others, so I would look at my own behavior and then blame myself for whatever happened.

Maintaining this rule prevents me from getting into discussions where I defend myself or believe what the N wants me to think about myself. It is preferable to avoid discussions or lectures with an N anyway, but if  I am in an unfortunate situation of having a discussion with an N, I keep my sentences short and to the point with no emotion. For example “You can have your feelings. It is ok. I do not agree with your version of reality. I have a different one.” Then end the discussion and walk away or keep repeating the above statements to them no matter what they say. Now the statement I use above can increase rage and confrontation, so it is better to walk away fast. If I cannot walk away then it is better to say something like “It is ok to have your feelings. Yes I hear you.” The N wants to be perceived as perfect, so they can feel safe again. Anything other than calmly agreeing with them will usually incite more rage.

It is a waste of time to discuss emotions with an N. They will not hear you because for them it is all about power and control, so discussions about another person’s feelings, wants, opinions, and thoughts are perceived as a threat to them. It is all about the N. Also, they will interpret any question regarding their own behavior as criticism and will act out defensively until they feel safe and in control.

 

 

 

 

Rule #2 Always hold Compassion for Myself

Rule # 2  Always hold compassion for myself 

Try not to judge. Shut that critical voice down. A judgmental critical voice does not allow me to have any real insight or clarity and that is what I am after. Judgement causes suffering in all of its ugly forms. Also, I do not want to allow anyone to become a negative mirror to me. This means a person who reflects back my bad feelings and beliefs about myself. I may not even be aware that I even have these thoughts and feelings because I am not observing or tuning into myself (recall rule #1).

If I do not have compassion for myself, then I allow another person to reflect back my negative beliefs and feelings and believe them. The effects of this is I try to get love and approval from somebody else, giving away my power to the other person and allowing them to take my energy.

One of the ways I generate compassion for myself  is through meditation. I will sit for a few minutes and picture a white light enveloping me and think of a moment I feel really loving like when I hang out with my two little nephews that I absolutely adore. When I feel like I am being hard on myself, I reflect back on the white light and a joyful moment. Also, mantras and positive affirmations can be helpful, but I use these with a nonjudgmental mind not attempting to override a negative thought or feeling.  So again Tara Brach’s RAIN technique is helpful here too (the A for allow things to be). Taking time for myself is important. Doing loving and caring things like exercise, eating healthy food, spending time in nature, gardening, massage, buying myself flowers or candles, taking baths, and spending time with a good friend or family member. 

RULE # 1 Observe the Behavior. Stay in the Present

If you think you may be hanging out with a narcissist then the sooner these rules are applied the better. Even if you don’t know for sure whether the person is a narcissist or not, applying these rules may be a good way to find out. These rules are a helpful way to set boundaries with people in general. To the opportunistic narcissist, boundaries are nasty little barbs that interfere with their need to be in total control. They don’t like making the extra effort to step over these pesty barbs either, so they will tend to avoid a person with strong boundaries.

The very best way to alleviate suffering for the long term is to get rid of the narcissist altogether. But if you are anything like me, when you find yourself already immersed in a relationship then you might feel compelled to stick around for the fun and games. Because while you are enmeshed with the narcissist, leaving can feel worse than staying.

There are all sorts of reasons for this, but one I will mention is that there is so much confusion that it is incredibly difficult to navigate this type of abusive relationship and yes, my friends, it is abusive.

It took me a while to come to the realization that yes I was being abused because I always said to myself ‘it takes two to tango, I am an aggressive button pusher, all relationships are 50/50. To make matters worse, a narcissist has a lovely way of enhancing these beliefs and making everything feel not just 50/50, but 100 to 0 in their favor.

Rule #1 Observe the behavior. Stay in the present

Never try to convince myself of something other than what is there in the moment. Do not under any circumstances create a story around a situation. I have a tendency to care take and also have a very kind imagination, so I will come up with excuses or reasons for behavior and spin stories out of them. For example, I will say to myself, the person is just afraid of intimacy or maybe they had a hard childhood. Even if it is true the person is afraid or something painful from their childhood was triggered, does it really matter what caused their behavior if they treat me badly? When I look at the behavior without the reasons or excuses, I can swiftly set boundaries. Again, it is important to observe the behavior in general without a story line like ‘oh he thinks I am so special, we have everything in common’. Do not fall for romantic hype or ego stroking anymore than making excuses for bad behavior. The romantic hype also called love bombing, usually occurs in the beginning of an intimate relationship with a narcissist. The narcissist studies its prey very carefully. The N can seem incredibly interested in you, your interests, they are like a chameleon and will even mold themselves to be the ideal match for you. They will charm you, make you feel loved and adored. It will feel like you met the best listener in the world and the person who really gets you. It is difficult to discern what is going on at this stage, but the relationship will seem too perfect and too good to be true. The N also will want to get close really fast, like wanting to move in together or even get married. Keep your wits about you during this phase also known in narcissist land as the Idealization phase and try not to get hooked.

It is important to be present to the situation in order to be able to observe. To be tuned in to my feelings, my body, and investigating myself as much as I can. Early on in my relationship I had feelings of hair standing up on the back of my neck that I ignored, feelings of fear in my stomach and chest, not knowing why. I knew I was having these feelings, but I was completely following a story that I allowed to override all of the signs that something was wrong. I told myself this relationship is going to work no matter what he does or how he behaves. Because he doesn’t mean to be mean. He was hurt as a child. I went so far as to eventually believe that all bad things that happen must have to do with my faults and weaknesses, therefore I have to fix myself in order to make this relationship work.

Being tuned in and able to observe without attaching myself to a story is something I have really had to practice. I use Tara Brach’s RAIN as a mindfulness tool. She adapted this acronym from her book ‘True Refuge’.  Even when I have a hard time tuning into my emotions and feelings in my body, I try  to keep it simple using the acronym as my prompt. I state the behavior.I observe first using the R in RAIN to Recognize what is going on , A is to Allow things to just be,  I is for Investigate: how do I feel, think, believe about a situation without identifying with or judging any of it, the N is for Non-identification. All stories explaining behavior eventually cause suffering, so stop right there. Stick to the facts please.

 

An Introduction to 10 Rules to School a Narcissist and Sever the Tie

This is an introduction for my next post because I want to explain how I use the term Narcissism, why I created  10 rules and use the word ‘rules’ instead of guidelines and the importance of their application.

What do I mean when I use the term Narcissist? I refer to my ex-husband as N for Narcissist throughout my story, so how did he get that label anyway? From my own research and experience, the traits can be exhibited across a long spectrum.

On the extreme end there is psychopathy, then malignant narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder (DSM Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.), to narcissistic traits which many of us can manifest. Also there are different types of narcissists, for example there is the overt narcissist and the covert narcissist, the somatic and the cerebral narcissist. I would say my ex husband N falls between Narcissistic Personality Disorder (he meets all of the criteria in the DSM 5 for the personality disorder diagnosis) and the Malignant Narcissist on the spectrum. Researcher and therapist Steve Becker in his paper ‘Differentiating Narcissists from Psychopaths’ makes a distinction between Narcissism and Psychopathy by referring to all psychopaths as having narcissistic personality disorder, but not all narcissists are psychopaths. Narcissists need validation and psychopaths seek to destroy. My interpretation is the farther along a person is on the spectrum toward psychopathy the more dangerous because they truly seek to destroy for the thrill of it.

I attracted three other narcissists while I was healing from my abusive marriage. I learned that I did not have any radar. I must have looked like a sitting duck to them. This gave me the idea to come up with rules of behavior and healthy ways for me to process my thoughts and feelings. Something I can do to help me set boundaries with people. That remind me I am responsible for and accountable to myself and give me the ability to find out if a person is toxic, narcissistic, psychopathic, or anyone along this spectrum and swiftly get rid of them. I learned the hard way that a narcissist will give up on a person with strong boundaries rather quickly.

I regularly put my rules to work out in the land of the free roaming narcissists and have even found these rules to work on run of the mill toxic people. There is no particular order. Any of them can and should be applied at any time, although at certain points in a relationship with a Narcissist one rule may be more feasible than another. They are great tools to screen people while dating, making new friends, for starting a new relationship or even if embedded in a relationship with a possible narcissist. These rules also helped me establish no contact with my narcissistic ex.

I use the word ‘Rules’ instead of guidelines because, for me, they must be followed. Narcissistic abuse is very serious and narcissists wreak so much havoc that for those of us who don’t have a good radar these rules are a great protection device. As I will convey in future posts about my story, I do not always follow them myself and show what happens when I don’t. The rules aren’t a recipe to lower self esteem or an invitation to be hard on oneself. I created them to protect myself like a shield from the wolves in sheep’s clothing (the narcissist, psychopath, malignant narcissist, and toxic people). It also encourages a mindful practice for developing a healthy relationship with myself and therefore others.

 

Nothing left to Barter

 

For every light there is a dark. For every high there is a low. This is the natural balance of the universe in all things. Ok I expect the highs and lows with drugs and alcohol, but should a relationship have similar elements? C’mon is this the universe’s cruel joke? I legitimately fell in love with someone who loved me too. Or at least he said he did. What is wrong with that?

I would eventually see the ebb and flow of dark and light in my relationship become almost total darkness. I trembled alone for long periods in the dark waiting to be loved. I was like an abandoned child desperate for even the slightest sign of acknowledgement. The narcissist doesn’t stay in a relationship without using intermittent love and affection as a method to control. This caused me severe withdrawal symptoms from what was becoming the few and far between blissful times in the relationship.But I believed I could be patient and tough and could survive on his mere crumbs in exchange for a slim hope of love. I told myself we were just going through a phase.  

The Devalue/Discard phase is the next level of narcissistic treatment.  My narcissist had reliably set up a pattern of raising me to a pedestal only to cruelly toss me into a dark pit of despair when I did not reflect back to him the image he demanded or when I did not live up to his ideal, or just to be cruel. He would easily replace me with someone else playing the correct role, all the while punishing me by throwing it in my face. In my case he liked to date other women.He would leave clues around that something was going on. When I would question it he would deny deny deny. I eventually learned my behavior didn’t matter. This pattern reared its ugly head more faithfully than anything else in our relationship. And each time I went through the gauntlet it only strengthened my desire to do everything in my power to recreate the bliss, to make everything ok, to live up to his ideal, and to be a perfect mirror for him.

I was losing myself, slipping into a full blown addiction that was sapping my life force. From my research, I learned that this dynamic creates what is called trauma bonding (see Peter Walker and Patrick Carnes) and like drugs and alcohol can cause all sorts of chemical reactions in the body that are extremely addictive and can be just as powerful as any drug abuse if not more so. An important point here is that this process is so difficult to kick that it is better to nip the relationship in the bud before any real attachment begins. If you are early on in a relationship and begin to suspect that he/she is a narcissist check out my rules on this blog. They can also be used for screening and then blocking.