The Lovely Addict

Are you a Situational Narcissist?

When I was at my lowest point, I complained incessantly to anyone who would listen. I bemoaned my unhappy marriage and struggled to figure out why I was “doomed” to relationship failure. Poor me! I obsessed over my husband’s every action: if only he were more loving, if only he didn’t avoid me so much, if only he helped out more, if only I could teach him to be more attentive to my needs

One day, my mother invited me out to lunch. Just us girls. Within five minutes of me getting into the car, I began: “You’ll never guess what my husband did,” and “I’m so sick of this,” and “Why do I put up with these crumbs…” and…

She slammed on the breaks. “Enough!” she said. “This is supposed to be a happy, peaceful, fun day out for you and me. And your complaining is making me sick. If you don’t like your marriage, then get out, but stop complaining and dragging me and everyone else down with you.”

I sat there stunned for a bit. It felt like someone dunked me in a tank of freezing cold water or slapped me hard across the face. The sting of her words cut deep.  And, as I sat there mildly processing what she said (at this point in my life I had a very hard time listening to anything anyone said that didn’t fit into my toxic worldview), the first thing that came to mind was a defense against my own behavior. Hey! I’m going through a really rough time. My husband is avoiding me and his responsibilities in the marriage and treating me and the kids horribly. I don’t have a job. I have two babies I have to take care of. I don’t even have a Bachelor’s degree to go get a job if I wanted one. Worse, this is coming from my mother. I thought she was supposed to be supportive. If we can’t depend on those who love us, on who can we depend?

As I sat there crying and grumbling back, “You don’t support me!” her response, yet again, shook me. “I support you and will always support you. What I do not support is excessive venting, whining and complaining. You’re not taking any action to support yourself. You’re not doing anything to improve your situation. You are simply drowning in a pool of toxicity and you’re pulling everyone else down with you.”

I guess it took someone to finally yell at me and put me in my place so that I could hear what I needed to hear. My mother was right. I was doing nothing to help myself so, why did I expect everyone else to to help and support me? More than doing nothing, I was so wrapped up in my problems I couldn’t see that I was harming my relationships with others. Not just my mother, but my friends and family as well. In my miserable, obsessive state, I could not see the world around me. I didn’t care about anyone else’s problems but my own. I never asked how anyone else was doing. I was enraged, depressed and needed excessive amounts of approval. The only thing that mattered, was…me!

This is called acquired situational narcissism. The term first appeared around 2001 and it was applied to famous wealthy individuals who had “acquired” narcissistic tendencies once they became wealthy or famous. Classic narcissism didn’t apply to them because they had not always been narcissists. Their situation, being their fame and fortune, was what brought on the tendencies. Remove the fame and fortune, and they should function without narcissistic behavior.

The first time I heard this term applied to love addicts was from Susan Peabody, who writes about her own experience with it here. The situation for us is the relationship, or the person of addiction.  In this case, my crappy marriage. Not only was I fraught with pain and suffering as I remained in a relationship with a man who treated me so poorly, but I also used my suffering as a narcissist would–to gain excessive amounts of support, attention and comfort from others even if that meant that I was dragging them down with me. I used the support of others to elevate me. And when I didn’t get support someone, I blamed them for being cold and heartless, and quickly found others who would listen.

Of course, this tale ends on a positive note. This was one of the greatest lessons of my life, which ultimately led me to realize I needed to stop venting, stop dragging other down into my personal misery, and start taking action that could actually change my situation for the better. Once I did those things, little by little, my perspective changed. My level of neediness changed. And life was no longer just about me. I had room in my brain and my heart for others.

So, here’s a few questions for you to help determine if you might be a Situational Narcissist:

  1. You are severely wrapped up in your own problems and have been for six months or more.
  2. When you are with friends and family you find that you always seem to make the conversation about you and whatever issues you’re dealing with.
  3. You have a hard time recalling what others have said or done lately, or what interests or activities your friends are up to, and you haven’t participated fully in others’ events.
  4. You recognize that you are venting and complaining a lot/ You have been accused of venting and complaining too much.
  5. You have lost friends who you claim don’t “support” you, or you blame others for not supporting you
  6. You are not exactly taking any concrete action to fix your problems but rather, wallowing in the situation as if you have no control over it.
  7. You feel incredibly hurt and judged when others give you advice or suggest you might be wrong.

The good news is, situational narcissism is only situational. It will not last. It is typically dependent on the situation. And situations tend to be temporary, malleable, changing. The bad news is, YOU are the one that needs to fix it. And until you harness all that energy you’ve been wasting by dragging others into your drama you will remain helpless and wrapped up in yourself. Create real solutions and stop depending on friends who are complicit of your narcissistic behavior. The ones–like my mother–who yell and feed you a dose of tough love might be the ones to listen to.

Are we built to avoid love?

The longer you’ve been reading my blog, the more you get that it’s not exactly love addiction that’s your problem (oh sure, that’s the outward manifestation of it!). It’s self avoidance. Plain and simple.

The more you chase after a toxic, unavailable, abusive partner and focus on fixing something that will most likely never be fixed, the more you are avoiding yourself. The more you commit fully to a fully non-committed individual, the more you are refusing to focus on meeting your essential needs. And the more you remain anchored to fantasy land (he’ll come around someday...), the more you are denying yourself reality worth living. Worse, you are avoiding taking care of yourself, mentally, emotionally and physically. You are avoiding making responsible, safe choices for yourself by choosing people who respect you, who are kind to you and who really deeply want to be around you.  And you are avoiding growing up and all that entails.

That you love him is merely a distraction.

So, the other night, while I was devouring my new book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, PhD, I came across a few paragraphs about avoidance and where it comes from. Hanson writes that our “brain is built more for avoiding than for approaching.” Yikes! He says that’s because “it’s the negative experiences, not the positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival.” He goes on to give examples. For example, if you miss your opportunity to hook up with a sexy excruciatingly, you can always find another one. But if you miss your opportunity to dodge a charging sabertooth tiger, you’re dead. No second chance. But, how does that prehistoric behavior apply to today’s world where there’s virtually no threat of charging tigers?

Well, according to scientific research, we still desperately try to control and protect ourselves from perceived threats. It’s almost as if our brain doesn’t distinguish between a charging tiger or a partner who is placing a pretty serious demand for commitment on us. Our brain doesn’t see the difference between an attacking mammoth and a nagging heap of responsibilities that overwhelm and distress us. In the avoidant brain, these scenarios are all seen as equally unpleasant threats that need to be avoided.

The reality is, however, that while we may be prone to our biology, we have evolved enough to know better. And we now have the tools to change and re-evaluate what is truly life-threatening versus what is merely uncomfortable (excruciatingly uncomfortable for some). The first step towards avoiding avoidance is, like it or not, to face your fears and recognize that they won’t kill you. Being alone is a big fear. Many people avoid getting out of a bad relationship simply because the fear of being alone is overwhelming. Finding a job and supporting yourself financially is another. The fear of entrapment in a nine to five job can really keep people paralyzed from seeking out any work. And let’s face it, when we are obsessing over a chaotic, toxic relationship, we have little time to focus on our responsibilities.

If this sounds remotely familiar try “exposure therapy.” Expose yourself little by little to that which frightens you, that which you are avoiding. If it is fear of being alone, then, while still in a relationship, schedule one day of solitude per week. Go see a movie by yourself. Go out to a restaurant by yourself. Curl up on the sofa and binge watch your favorite Netflix series. You might find that during your alone time you learn more about who you are and what you like. You are also strengthening your survival skills to be able to emotionally handle time on your own.

Procrastination is one thing; complete avoidance is another. Whatever you are trying to avoid won’t go away. Chances are, it’ll get worse. More than that, obsessing over your relationship won’t help you resolve the real problem: self avoidance.

Dating: do you have too many rules?

Dating is such an enormous challenge for people coming out of bad, toxic relationships.  We get signals crossed, often don’t pick up on subtle clues and,  because we’re still a little flinchy, we try desperately to dodge any future problems by creating a set of dating rules or expectations, just so as not to get burned again. And while a certain amount of protection in the form of guidelines or boundaries is always a good thing, too many will insure that you pretty much never date again. here’s how to cut back on a few of those iron clad rules…

Don’t make assumptions about people before you know them: My mother used to say, Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. And that especially goes for dating. Dating between two healthy individuals is tricky, tricky, tricky, but for those who come from abusive or dysfunctional families, or are newly healing from a bad break-up it can seem hopeless. Many of us come from a world where our circle of friends or family members didn’t teach us healthy dating. We’ve learned to mistrust people, we’ve learned that people can be unreliable, and we’ve learned to protect ourselves from people who might hurt us. So, when we come out of unhealthy and try to find healthy, we tend to bring with us all that mistrust, fear and skepticism about the world, and often, we make  blanket assumptions about people that lean toward the negative because that’s all we know.  Here are a few examples:

  • Assuming all people lie
  • Assuming you will be rejected because, “he’s too good” for you
  • Assuming he’s not the one because of the way he dresses or looks
  • Assuming he/she will be boring because of their [job], [lifestyle], [interests] (fill in the blanks)
  • Assuming you should not date someone who has only be single for a few months
  • Assuming you should not date someone who has been single for a few years
  • Assuming you should not date someone because they don’t “seem” like your type

When we pull information about people from our fantasy-brain, we may or may not be correct about our assumptions, because, like I said, your assumptions come from what you’ve learned in the past.

But keep in mind that the healthier you become through self healing, the better quality people you will meet and attract. And so, you don’t want to write off someone for the same reasons you wrote off past partners. Why? Because, YOU’VE changed. Because you’re different. And because the process of dating is getting to know someone first, before making decisions about them. Remember, you’re not looking for perfect. Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist. You are looking for shared values, attraction, compatibility, kindness, respect and so on. And because you’re not omniscient, you are unable to know who people are until you actually do the work of getting to know them.

Don’t be a Seinfeld: There’s a great episode of Seinfeld where he breaks up with a woman because he doesn’t like the fact that she eats her peas one at a time. In fact, part of the humor of that show is that all the characters on Seinfeld all suffer from the same neurotic attribute of fault-finding in others. No one is ever good enough for them; and so, they’re eternally stuck with just themselves. Perfect for a sitcom, horrible if it’s your real-life situation.

Extreme pickiness is an unhealthy state. When you find fault in everyone you meet you are either a.) attracted to and pursuing the wrong type of person, or b.) you are unable to accept people and relationships as they are. We all have faults. You do too! And usually, extreme pickiness comes from a place of insecurity within ourselves, and fear of commitment. When we do not accept, tolerate or forgive our own faults, how can we do so in others? When we cannot tolerate little things like the way a person eats, or the way they laugh, or the length of their fingers, we need to ask ourselves if we are creating these barriers to attraction because we’re really not attracted to this person, or, because we are afraid of being available and vulnerable in a relationship. If it happens once in a while–say, you meet someone and they have an unappealing laugh, then, most likely, you’re not picky. You really just don’t like their laugh. If it happens all the time, and you always seem to find something wrong with people, then you’re picky. It’s you.

Remember too, that there’s a healthy level of pickiness. We want to have relatively high standards of people, we want to make sure their values match ours as close as possible. We want to take it slow, get to know people and not dive into something too quickly. And we certainly want to be attracted to our partner and like who they are. But we don’t want to be so extreme that we dump a really great guy simply because he has a crooked smile or wears baseball caps sideways. Don’t let pickiness be your way of over-protecting yourself from a relationship.

Don’t give up too quickly: People are strange. They hold back. They don’t always make good first impressions. A while back, there was a friend of mine who would date a guy and if he didn’t impress her, or say the magic words (who knows what they were!) by the second date, she would not go out with him again. In her mind, she didn’t want to “waste” her time. In retrospect, she was lazy. Dating is work. It takes time. It takes effort. You have to be willing to put in that work, time and effort if you want to successfully find someone right for you, and that means hanging on through a few possibly awkward dates, to see if there’s anything deeper there. If you find yourself breezing through men the way you skim through Instagram, you’re probably doing it wrong.  And keep in mind there’s always obvious moments where giving up quickly is a good thing–if you find yourself really turned off by someone, that might be a good sign that you don’t need to give this a second go. But, think of your friendships. I am sure you have friends that you didn’t click with right away, but eventually grew to love. It’s the same with dating. Don’t set your expectations so high that no one can reach them. Dating is absolutely NOT about clicking and falling in love on the first date. It’s a slow, somewhat awkward, but exciting process of getting to know someone. A good rule of thumb is three to five. Three dates aught to tell you whether or not this person is worth investing in. Five dates is usually the amount of time it takes for some of the more glaring red flags to make themselves known.

Don’t hang on for dear life if it’s time to go: Watch out for your own red flags. Don’t let “don’t give up too quickly” turn into “hang on for dear life.” Remember it takes two to date. If he bails out before you’ve determined whether he’s right for you, then, he’s not right for you!  You don’t get to go chasing after him in a moment of “Wait, we could be perfect together!” He has his own ability to determine if someone is perfect for him or not, and you need to respect that, just as you would hope he’d respect you. Dating is not a game of trying desperately to hold on or convince someone of your worth. You are worthy! Your worth has nothing to do with someone wanting to continue dating you or not. And vice versa.

Don’t create impossible hurdles to your heart: While protecting yourself is very important and, let’s face it, we all want to avoid the dreaded broken heart, we cannot get back in the ring and expect to win if we don’t throw a few punches and get knocked down a time or two. Wanting and needing love makes us vulnerable, but just as we cannot impulsively spew out all our emotions and hope to instantly click with our soulmate on the first or second date, we cannot operate from behind a steel barrier either. You need to let people in. Trust me. Letting down some of your walls will not rob you of anything. Your beauty and energy and spirit will all still be intact. You are only sharing it. Leo Buscaglia, the famous “Love Doctor” used to say, I can love and love and love and love and the more people I love, I never lose the power to love. On the one hand this sounds like a recipe for spreading yourself way too thin, but, the truth is, we can share ourselves without losing ourselves. Protect yourself, yes. But, don’t entomb yourself in a bomb shelter with 10 feet thick steel walls. Not only will you hurt yourself, you will deny others the beauty that is you.

Bottom line: dating is all about balance. You need to be able to negotiate your way through the dating world by using your logic brain and your heart, and quite often your gut too. When we only use our emotions (never a good idea), or haven’t yet learned how to trust our brain, we fail to approach dating in a healthy, holistic way. So, we need to give people time and not make quick assumptions about them either for good or bad. We also need to remove the “fantasy” idea that dating is all about love and sex. It’s not. It’s about learning. Having fun. Experiencing the world with this one particular person. No quick investment. And no quick write off. And lastly, we need to take a look at our own behavior and our own level of pickiness about people. If you’re finding fault in every potential partner, you’re doing so for a reason: to protect yourself from a deeper,  more intimate connection with someone for fear of getting hurt. If that’s the case, it’s time to do a little more work on yourself before heading out into the world of dating. It’s rough out there!

 

 

 

Look for a partner who Does this…Not that

Sometimes we lose sight of our priorities. Or maybe, we don’t exactly know what our priorities are. Especially when it comes to dating. We can often meet a really good looking guy who lavishes a mound of attention upon us and, poof! Just like that, we forget what we’re looking for, what we need and what will ultimately serve us well in the long run. Worse yet, we can easily get caught up in a fantasy of what we think we want and need. For the sake of immediate gratification, we forget all our values and fling ourselves into what we hope will be the relationship of our dreams.

For love addicts, we tend not to know our values. We tend to have a very immature, superficial idea of love that is not so much based on health, as it is on neediness, an urgency to fill a void, and a desperation to use people and relationships as a way to cope or worse, to avoid the reality of our lives.

But having a healthy relationship takes patience and the courage to say no to the wrong people. It takes a strong sense of self to be able to recognize good qualities in others, and not so good qualities. And above all, it takes the determination to love yourself to the point where you want healthy people, places and things in your life.

So, how do you know good qualities from bad? How do you recognize healthy people versus unhealthy? Well, you look for people who do this…and not that…

  • DOES THIS: Asks you out on a date. NOT THIS: Waits around for you to ask him out on a date
  • DOES THIS: Calls you and/or calls you back  NOT THIS: Doesn’t call you or call you back, and if he does it’s five days later.
  • DOES THIS: Makes time for you, wants to spend time with you. NOT THIS: barely has time for you and when he does it’s usually in the bedroom.
  • DOES THIS: Lives a clean, healthy life. NOT THIS: smokes, drinks to excess, does drugs, doesn’t face or deal with his health issues, eats poorly, etc.
  • DOES THIS: Takes care of himself financially. NOT THIS: Still lives with parents, borrows money, in debt, doesn’t work, or doesn’t have a stable job where he can pay his bills and pay for a roof over his head without depending on others.
  • DOES THIS: Communicates well.  NOT THIS: Bottles everything up and won’t talk, or communicates only minimally, refuses to face emotional discussion, poor listener.
  • DOES THIS: Lives an honest, respectful life. NOT THIS: Cheats, lies, is evasive and deceptive, dishonest in business, in personal matters or with strangers.
  • DOES THIS: Treats you (and others) with respect, care, kindness and dignity NOT THIS: treats you poorly, ignores you, avoids you, repeatedly unkind to you, controls you, etc.
  • DOES THIS: Enjoys you and likes you for who you are, not what you could or should be NOT THIS: Expects you to be something or someone you are not.
  • DOES THIS: Is a genuinely happy person NOT THIS: is a genuinely unhappy or angry person
  • DOES THIS: Feels and acts passionate towards you NOT THIS: doesn’t feel or act passionate towards you, withholds sex, love or affection, cold or inappropriate behavior, fear of intimacy
  • DOES THIS: Is a grown up and acts like one. NOT THIS: is immature and refuses to grow up.

 

 

 

The Break Up Journal: Let’s talk about sex

August 15: I dreamed that P and I took the Audi and drove over to Carmela’s house into the driveway and saw her working and saw her husband with his long hair and John Lennon glasses. We looked around, but didn’t get out of the car to stir anything up. When we left, we realized her husband latched onto the bumper and was riding with us, asking what we were up to. I was quite surprised but I told him, “Your wife cheated on you with someone I was in love with. She threw herself at him.” He said he was aware, but told me not to gossip about it. I said OK and he left. I looked at P afterwards and we said, “That was creepy.” …Read More

Love addict’s wishful thought #47: if only he went to therapy…

Who hasn’t had this thought pop into her head: If only my boyfriend saw a therapist, everything would be different.

I can’t tell you how many times I wished this exact thing. And why did I wish it? Because I believed that after all the self-help books I’d read, therapy was the answer.  Not to my problems, of course, but my boyfriend’s. And if my bf would just go to a therapist, said therapists would back me up and convince my guy that he needs to change, (just like I said he should) or he would risk losing a relationship with me.

Looking back over all the men I dated, only two were willing to go to therapy “for me,” my ex husband and G. Both therapy sessions went horribly wrong.

The first time my ex husband and I went to a therapist he lied about his cheating and had no real interest in changing his behavior. He merely did it to appease me, and probably because he felt bullied by me and just gave in. I was desperately trying to save my marriage, singlehandedly, and the only advice we left with was “You two need to date again.” This didn’t exactly resolve anything. But, it did delay the inevitable. And the inevitable came with a flip flop. It was now me who wanted out of the relationship. And so,  the second time we went, it was on his instance to save the marriage. But, by the time I got to therapy, I was completely unable to be “convinced” to stay in the marriage and we divorced shortly after.

When I dated G, I was in therapy because I was unable to accept G’s “flaws” and I was trying to figure out why I was always so frustrated and depressed. He always said he loved me, and he called all the time. What was my problem? Well, my problem was he smoked pot and never wanted to have sex with me. So, I thought if I could get him to meet with a therapist, she would convince him these things were interfering in our relationship and he should change his ways to save the relationship.

This didn’t work. He liked smoking pot and he had an extremely low libido (most likely because of the pot), and he had no desire to change.

So what did these men learn from therapy? Probably nothing. What did I learn? That’s more important here. I learned that just because a well-educated relationship specialist understands what it takes to have a healthy relationship, they could not convince someone to love me or to BE what I wanted them to be. Just because my therapist and I agreed that my boyfriend’s behavior was not acceptable, it didn’t mean he also agreed or even cared. And therein lies the problem.

Therapy doesn’t convince anyone to love you, especially if they don’t want to be convinced. And believing in therapy as a way to “fix” a relationship that is founded on neglect, disrespect, avoidance or any other ingrained behavior is wishful, unrealistic thinking.

Therapy ONLY works when two people are committed to each other and when those two people share the same value in working on the relationship. More importantly, what we learn from therapy is often something we don’t particularly want to learn: that we cannot control or convince others to love us. And the “everything will be different” fantasy typically comes when you ditch the guy who clearly doesn’t love you and replace him for one who does. And, surprise! When that happens, you typically find yourself not needing therapy at all!

The Break Up Journal: Enabling

August 14: Wow! What an amazing night of crazy dreams. I spent the whole day at the shore and laid on the beach from ten till two. At 3ish, we got off the beach and I went over to say hi to Guy Petersen who was setting up to play guitar at the Shell for his weekly gig. Chit chatted with him for a while about C and then left and went out to dinner, then arcade with kids, then shopping. At about that point, I got horrible pains in my stomach. Anyway, we made it home by 7:30pm and I was even able to shower, finish up some work, and write P back some silliness about Che Guevera.

So, the dreams…Read more

The Break Up Journal: Closeness

August 13: I have to say that yesterday was the closest I felt to P in a long while. He touched me all over, and massaged my neck, and took care of me, all because I had an excruciating headache. And I mean excruciating. He called me in the afternoon and asked if I could come down and eat with him since he didn’t have to be at work until 10:30pm. I said sure, but once I got there, the headache turned ugly and I felt horrible. And yet, it felt so nice to have his hands on me like that. He even insisted on driving. We ended up at Applebees eating bad food that we regretted eating. Before that, I…Read More

The Break Up Journal: Atlantic City

August 9: Martha Wainwright was great last night. I was so high on life and P and I both looked so cute. Him in his suit and me in my 1950’s yellow dress. We laughed on the way down to AC, then talked to some woman sitting in the row behind us. Martha was fabulous. I practically cried when she sang BMFA. It has always been such an empowerment song for me. My divorce theme song, actually, you bloody motherfucking assholeRead More…

The Break Up Journal: Anniversary Blues

henry-cavill-supermanAugust 8

Long day yesterday. Spent the morning on the computer. Got the boys lunch and then my sister-in-law was over by 1:30. We were at the airport by 2:30. We waited two hours until they finally cleared customs at 4:30. We didn’t get home until almost 7 due to traffic. We had a quick dinner while Abuelo and Abuela played with the kids. They left by 7:30!

I talked to P a bit at night. We laughed. I tried to just keep things light. He so resists help though. He’s cutting back on cable and I said, “Well, you can always come here and watch TV.” He said, “Or just go down to the bar and watch.” Dear Lord.

I feel like telling him that he is so out of touch with himself. And almost completely incapable of handling a relationship [Irony?!]. It’s sad. It’s sad when a man holds on to…Read More