Recently, I have had a couple of encounters that made me realise that in the core of the nightmare of dealing with someone with a disordered personality is the fact that they really cannot face their emotions and have to blame them on you.
I had an exchange with my sister over Christmas. I have not spoken to her for more than five years. But what I have realised is that in the world of my sister, I am not a human being but a target for the most vile projections. I have no right for empathy, it’s OK talk to me like shit, it’s OK to kick me in the gut and spit on me in my weakest moment. It’s all fine because I deserve it.
My sister approached me under the pretext of wanting to ‘fix our relationship’. But it soon transpired that her goal was not to fix our relationship but to make me get back into line and recommit to my scapegoat role, the role which I had been trained to full-fill from my earliest childhood. It was a very triggering but ultimately liberating conversation.
My sister, absolutely oblivious to the fact that her communication style is at best inappropriate (but better to be described as absolutely rude and offensive, she probably considers her vile attacks as a sense of humorous), at some point confessed to me all the things she had done in the past decade to deliberately hurt me. Among her grievances were things such as the fact that some guys on a beach in Greece flirted with me and not with her. I was supposed to apologise for that as well as for all the situations when I dared to have a conversations during family gatherings about matters that interested me but not her. She even confessed to slamming a door into my face deliberately that it almost crushed my head to ‘give me a lesson.’
It was unbelievable. I felt like a character in a story inspired by Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. The amount of my sister’s hatred and her inability to distinguish what belongs to her and what belongs to me was insane. She feels jealousy because some guys prefer me but I am to blame. It doesn’t compute for her that she should face her jealousy and deal with it like an adult human being. It’s OK to be jealous, we all sometimes feel inferior, it’s about what you do with it. But my sister needed to give me a lesson for my transgression by throwing the door at me. She has been encouraged to think this way her entire life by my mother, the person who assigned the role of a scapegoat to me in the first place.
My mother is another good example of someone totally out of touch with her emotions. She is and has always been a hard woman. Empathy is not a word she would be familiar with. She likes to put up a stoic facade in which there is no room for feeling fear, pain or anxiety. But is she really so stoic? She has a serious alcohol problem and it is possible that her alcohol consumption is essentially self-medication. But she is not stoic even with that alcohol. She has a hair trigger temper and always had. She is the woman who spent my childhood yelling at me, slamming doors. She is the woman who once walked into my room uninvited, grabbed the guitar lying on my bed and slammed it into the wardrobe, breaking its neck. Yet, she loves to give advice to people on handling their emotions (you have to stop thinking about that…). But her erratic behaviour is a result of exactly that – not thinking about it, it’s a result of emotional suppression, the unwillingness to face and healthily deal with her emotions. Not just her own but those of others too. She is controlled by her suppressed emotional impulses but at the same time on the surface has no room for emotions at all.
My third recent experience in this field was in the professional setting. This one is a bit humbling to admit but in spite of all my research and past experience with narcissists, I have once again found myself falling into the narc trap – this time in a professional setting. Once again, I ignored the red flags and subsequently found myself on the pedestal – devaluation – discard toboggan with a highly insecure, erratic, grandiose and controlling company owner. This individual also liked to give people feedback and advise on their behaviour, acting like some sort of a God figure, and threatening to fire people on the spur of a moment and exhibiting a whole range of inappropriate behaviours.
All these three examples have one thing in common – a total detachment from their own emotions, a complete detachment from their internal life and the subsequent need to find a scapegoat to blame for their internal discomfort.
We all might sometimes be guilty of that. We all have our blind spots. But the difference between most of us and people who meet the criteria for a pathology is the absolute inability to self-reflect, an absolute lack of insight and awareness of how inappropriate their own behaviour is and the godlike certainty that the other party must be the problem. Their reluctance to face any guilt or responsibility is staggering. Confrontation and bringing their behaviour to their attention doesn’t seem to accomplish anything because they are too married to their story. They don’t seem to get better with age.
As they say, we should condemn a behaviour but not a person. A part of me would like to have empathy and through this empathy perhaps help achieve some sort of a healing for these people. But most of the time it turns out that the safest thing is to keep strict boundaries and for the sake of your own personal health minimise the exposure to these individuals. I certainly didn’t emerge from my uninvited interaction with my sister feeling that our relationship had been repaired. I emerged shocked to the core at the amount of hatred that she feels towards me and her absolute inability to comprehend that out of the people involved in the drama of our childhood, I was the one least responsible. Surprisingly enough, she feels no hatred towards my parents, has forgiven them and they’re fine. She also prefers not to make judgements about the abuse that I suffered from my father because it’s none of her business (I am a bit scared how this woman is going to react if her husband starts abusing her children, will that also be none of her business?)
The strange thing is how intuitively people with these disorders back and support each other. They might subconsciously identify with each other, see themselves in another narcissist or psychopath, recognise their own patterns and behaviour in them, which then means that any attack on another disordered is an attack on them, which they need to deflect.