This guest blog is by Mark Sichel, a psychotherapist, writer, and speaker based in New York City. He is also the author of the popular self-help book, Healing from Family Rifts. (McGraw-Hill, 2004). He has dealt with BPD and NPD on both a personal and professional basis.
When we live with someone who has the outward-acting type of borderline or narcissistic personality disorder, we learn to tolerate ongoing oppression by an abusive bully. I felt this way growing up with a borderline father who used me (figuratively) as his punching bag. I experienced him as powerful and frightening and went to great lengths to dodge his bullets. I also put great effort into pleasing him, a futile tactic family members use (especially the people pleasers) to contain conflict. In this blog post, we'll talk about why this doesn't work and go over some alternatives.
As I’ve grown as a person and a therapist, I've realized that underneath the perceived authoritative monster my father had a profound fear of abandonment and feelings of fragility and anxiety. He always thought he was being treated unjustly. His self-esteem was shattered, so he projected his own feelings of worthlessness onto me, accusing me of treating him disrespectfully.
When we interacted, as far as he was concerned he was always right. Why? Because he truly believed he couldn't be wrong. That was his only way to cope with self-doubt and shame.
I was not the only recipient of his accusations of unjust behavior. My father had a list of "bad" people who had insulted, injured, or treated him unfairly.
In my therapy practice, I hear similar stories from patients living with the challenges and struggles of having an outward-attacking borderline or narcissistic personality in their life (as opposed to those of the conventional type who are more inwardly focused, needy, and self-hating).
The aggressive behavior of some people diagnosed with these disorders makes it difficult for us to understand that usually this person is profoundly needy, anxious, easily wounded, and chronically fearful of acknowledging weakness. While they masquerade as a giant, they feel like a kid living in a world of Goliaths.
Our experience of “walking on eggshells” around some BPs/NPs is quite accurate. What is more difficult to understand is that the eggshells we walk upon are also descriptive of the tormented inner world of our family member: someone who may be, in fact, as brittle and easily breakable as an eggshell.
Because this feeling of fragility is too threatening to be acknowledged, the rage that ensues is akin to the cries and tantrums of a small child. In fact, developmentally they may have the defenses (such as splitting) of a toddler.
This does not mean, of course, that our strategies of living with this person should be to try to meet their needs. That's because their needs are endless and internally generated, making it impossible for us (or any other individual) to "cure" them with love and attention, no matter how well intentioned.
No matter what your actions, your borderline or narcissistic family member remains fixated on real or imagined unforgiveable insults and slights.
1. What they feel people did to them that was unnecessarily mean, hurtful, and thoughtless.
2. What they believe other people did not do for them that they feel they should have done.
3. Times when they feel that someone in their life hasn't done enough for them.
There is no way to anyone else to satisfy them because their discomfort comes from inside them. No matter what you do, it will never be enough.
We’ve all tried to please the borderline or narcissist in our lives, and we know this isn't helpful in managing the relationship. It’s not good for us psychologically: it diminishes our self-esteem, is self-denigrating, and only invites further abuse.
There are, however, other methods that aren't instinctual to people pleasers that you can use to help make life more manageable, and even, at times, satisfying, with the difficult and explosive person in our life. Try replacing your people-pleasing behaviors with these tips:
Psychotherapist Mark Sichel is a graduate of the Hunter College School of Social Work, Mark has been admitted to the Academy of Certified Social Workers, and is also a Board Certified Diplomate of the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work. He taught psychopathology and treatment of the borderline and narcissistic patient at the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health for many years. Mark is also the founder and editor of the award winning online self-help site www.psybersquare.com.
Copyright © 2015, Randi Kreger. This post (or any part of it) may not be reproduced without prior written permission.
Randi Kreger is the owner of BPDCentral.com and the Welcome to Oz online family community. You can find her books "The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder," "The Stop Walking on Eggshells Workbook," "Stop Walking on Eggshells," and "Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist," at her store at BPDCentral.com.