Author Dana Killion joins Tony to discuss her memoir “Where the Shadows Dance,” available for pre-order at https://amzn.to/3yR0gIp Dana’s story is born of a life in turmoil and her husband’s addiction, a situation where the only way through was to write it. And as she wrote, the themes of her personal trauma became clear and loud. They screamed for attention because they are the themes of many women, not just women with an addict in their life, but women who have been silent and have set aside their truth for the benefit of another. Women who are ready to find the strength and solace Dana has found through her reinvention. Tony and Dana discuss similarities in Dana’s story with those of the women and men who find themselves in relationships with emotionally immature or narcissistic people in their lives and how vital the need for self-care and listening to one's instincts can literally be life-saving.
Dana Killion is the author of several fiction books in the mystery/thriller/suspense category, including the Andrea Kellner series “Lies in High Places” https://amzn.to/3FzQQF7 “The Last Lie” https://amzn.to/3yPhqGn and her latest offering, her memoir “Where the Shadows Dance” which can be pre-ordered on Amazon at https://amzn.to/3yR0gIp
And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel for a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here https://youtu.be/-RkRq8SrQy0
Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage.
You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.
Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ
Tony: Dana Killian, welcome to, and as I was sharing with you before, probably the Virtual Couch, Waking Up to Narcissism, I have a true crime meets therapy podcast, and I feel like your story's so good, I think that, welcome, welcome to the Virtual Couch Network. Let's put it that way.
Dana: Thank you so much. I'm thrilled to be here.
Tony: Yeah, it's nice to have you and my audience will know that I really like to just kind of go back and forth, but I actually wrote questions because I just feel like your story is so fascinating and there's something that I actually heard in another interview that you gave where you talked about you were journaling in addition to therapy. So there's a part of me that wants to just ease into your story but, as a therapist, I applaud you for journaling, and I'm curious, what was that process like and how did it differ from how you write fiction novels as well?
Dana: I do. Yeah. Journaling was something I wasn't immediately drawn to. I had a therapist suggest it and my first reaction was horror.
Tony: Tell me why. What, what came up for you?
Dana: I was still at that place, at that point of the fear of being discovered, my internal thoughts. I was still in the marriage at this point. I was still going through a great deal of pain and I wasn't ready to share. And I felt that journal would be discovered. And so it was a scary thing for me, but later on, I was in a different place. I was in a place of such emptiness that therapy was fine, but it really wasn't getting loosened up, all the stuff that kind of comes up in between the things that you can't cover in an hour, the things that were just really, for me, lots and lots of questioning. So I found a journal and I just started downloading and I, and I don't have any other way to, to frame it other than downloading questions, pain, how I'm feeling, without any purpose other than to get it out of my head and out of my heart.
Tony: No, I love that. To get it out of your head, I often find that people are so afraid of, and you can have all kinds of yeah, buts. The yeah, but it will get discovered or yeah, but it will just go darker or, yeah, but it will make me feel worse. And it sounds like you had those thoughts as well.
Dana: Once I actually started journaling, I was really excited to do it. Okay. It felt like I'd found a release and I was less afraid of discovery at that point. There'd been a lot of other conversations and I knew that at that point I needed to worry about myself and I needed to worry about finding a way to deal with the pain and the emptiness that was inside me and the journaling was something I was thrilled to do.
Tony: And did that happen pretty quickly after you started the process or did that take a little time? Okay. I love that. I'm going to cut this clip and then send it to every client that I have, everyone I will have in the future, so I appreciate you sharing that. You talked about that you needed to think more about or do that for yourself. And maybe that might be a nice transition into, I would love to just hear your story because, part of the, where I felt like this would fit in the narcissism world or emotional immature world, I often identify this, there's an author, Ross Rosenberg that calls it the human magnet syndrome, where there's a pathologically kind person who then is with an emotionally immature, narcissistic person. And then it forms this human magnet where you've got the kind person continually caretaking, buffering, you know, looking for it. And I'm curious, Dana, and maybe let's just let you tell your story, but I just wanted you to know that's what a lot of my listeners are probably, coming at that from their own experiences being that pathologically kind or caretaker that has felt in this human magnet. So I'm curious if that was a similar feeling that you had.
Dana: Well, so the, the quick version of my story is I was in a 25 year marriage to a very high functioning alcoholic. And he eventually went into inpatient treatment and did get sober. At that point, he had had therapy, but not rehab. But while he was at rehab, I then learned another part of our story that I hadn't known. He had been living a secret life, a life of other women throughout our marriage. An unknown number. This is kind of where the journaling process comes in. As I was trying to deal with the why's of all of that because he had gotten sober, he'd gotten sober for me, and now I've got this new hurt, this new problem, this new crushing blow to deal with. And journaling became a bigger part of my life at that point. And through the journaling, yes, I write fiction, so through the journaling, I began to see that I did have, and that writing that story, at least for me, was a good way to gain perspective on what had happened in my life. Because as you and all your listeners know, when you are in the middle of trauma and pain, you can't see the big picture, you can't step away from it. And there was so much in that stage of questioning myself and questioning him what has been real in my life. And the journaling gave me that opportunity to see that I had a story there, but I didn't know that was a story that I needed to write, but writing a book is not the same as publishing a book. That's how I incrementally got into this process. So I decided to write, and I wrote that awful dirty first draft, as we call it. And it was garbage and it was full of all this protective language. I tried to still, I tried to tell the story, I tried to use distancing language. I used every trick in the book to not face the reality of, and not to not say it all.
Tony: And Dana, at that point, did you feel, was it a, I didn't know what I didn't know, or I wasn't willing to confront, or were you aware that I am doing this because I don't want to get that close.
Dana: I was not aware that I was doing it until after that draft was done and I read it and went, oh no, this is not working. I can't do this if I am not as real and raw and honest as I can be. I mean, I can write it, but it's just therapy for me. I'm gonna do something else with this and I had to make that decision, the only way that it made any sense or had any value to me in the long run and to other people in the near term, was that I had to find a way to be as vulnerable and raw and human and full of flaws and embarrassment as I could, and I had to tell it from the truth.
Tony: I'm probably just making assumptions, but as a fiction writer I often assume that someone who writes fiction, there's a lot of their story or truth in those characters, or is that the case with your regular books and then was there a point where you thought about turning this story into a fictional story?
Dana: Those are really good questions. Yes. In my fiction, they're small parts of me, and interestingly enough, there's small parts of me that I wish I had; I could make my character a little more confident, a little bolder, a little more persistent than I was because some of this, a lot of the the most difficult parts of the drinking stage were happening as I was writing these books. So my real life inched in, but I couldn't admit to that. It's not a hundred percent representation, but small parts of who I was and who I wanted to be came in. Did I ever think about fictionalizing my personal story? Not for a second.
Tony: Okay. Oh, I love that. what you said a minute ago where even though this story is gonna be raw and vulnerable and full of flaws and you will most likely be open to others saying, well, why didn't you and I don't know if you've already had that reaction.
Dana: I've had, one of the things that, again, you know very well is that there's so much silence around an issue that we feel guilt and we feel remorse and shame. And we're just trying to be silent to protect ourselves and to protect others. And so as I've begun to talk about this book, you know, and I was no different. I was very silent about what was going on, but as I was beginning to share parts of my story with people who knew me, the thing I heard is I wish I had known, I could have helped you, I could have done something for you. But by that time that comes along, there's so much silence. The story is too big, you don't know how to break it down. It's almost better, easier for me to say, here, just read my book, you know?
Tony: I bet. Okay. So what I'm hearing Dana say is everyone that has gone through, but I mean, it really would, the journaling process alone, if you looked at it, if someday it would become a book, whatever it would take, I think to get that written out I think is such a good message.
Dana: It's immensely freeing. And that was, that was a wonderful surprise to me and as I've spoken to people who have been in difficult situations and who say, gosh, I've thought about writing a book, I just say, write it. You don't have to publish it. Take it in little steps. Get that stuff out of you, gain perspective.
Tony: How many years into your marriage was that moment where you found out about the second life?
Dana: We were 20 years in.
Tony: And then you stayed at another five, is that how long?
Dana: Yeah. There were, we made two attempts at divorce. Okay, of this is devastating information in marriage and, yeah. I was a mess. I was in shock. I was curled up in a ball on the floor for a year at least. And there was an eventual attempt at divorce, but there was still so much love between us, which sounds bizarre, even as I'm saying it about myself, but there was, and we hadn't played out all of that love. We hadn't played out all of the work that he had done in getting sober to try to keep me in his life.
Tony: Well, and I would love to talk about that. And I feel like I do, I hear you with that. And I think a lot of the people on the, I mentioned off air that I have this private women's Facebook group for women in relationships with emotionally immature or narcissistic, and I say, fill in the blank. It can be a spouse, it can be an adult child, it can be a parent, and there's that, just dance, the trauma bond, that there are good times and so we wanna look at those. So when you say we tried to divorce in that world of emotional immaturity or narcissism, when somebody gets to the point where they say, I'm done, you know, I feel like, man, none of us like to sit with that discomfort. And so we want that relief. And sometimes all it takes, I notice, is a partner to say, hey, I get it and I'm gonna change. And now that makes that person feel better. And then the person who is fed up feels relief. And I'm curious, was that playing out as well?
Dana: Absolutely. I think that when you've had a partner for so many years, and the most important thing, the thing that makes you safest is to be in his arms. How do you walk away or it's difficult to walk away. You love this person for a reason. And part of being in an addictive relationship is that you do understand you're forced to understand the compartmentalization that addicts are masters at. And so they put their drinking in a box over on the side and the whole of who they are is not the booze, it’s the bad behavior.
Tony: So of course you're gonna look for that, but here's this good, and would that, when I talk about the pathologically kind, I feel like it's in, in one's nature to want to just not focus on the negative but in you and be the cheerleader and you can do this and I see you. And would you, were you that role at all in the marriage?
Dana: I had part of that role. Certainly. I think, I think we all do. Again, this is, this is someone we love. And we know the reasons we love them and we also have this sense of responsibility that if I leave, he's going to die. You know? At its bottom line, we have, we take on some responsibility, but what we don't see is, if we stay, we are dying, we're dying emotionally. And it is this dance until one of you breaks. It’s the question of who’s gonna break first.
Tony: Amen. It is, and I talk often about the, there's a book about trauma, I dunno if you're familiar. It's called The Body Keeps the Score by Vessel VanDerKolk. And that's where I feel like when the person who is losing their sense of self continues to go back in and say, we can do this. Eventually their body says we can't, so well, let's give you some anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, hypertension, let's throw some, you know, chronic pain in there and whatever that takes. But the person says, man, I, but I love this person or we can make this work. So did you ever feel physical symptoms like that?
Dana: Absolutely. I had moments where I was passing out, I was losing my hair. I had thyroid problems. Yeah, absolutely. You cannot be in a long-term chronic stress situation and not have physical effects.
Tony: No, and I really do believe you, you know, I like to say the brain is a don't get killed device, so it's trying to say, this is not okay, this is not working. But I like when you mention, I mean, it's, again like is the wrong word at times. But as a therapist that wants people to feel heard and seen, that when you talked about that compartmentalization, just last night I ran a men's group for addiction and we really have been focusing lately on, in that moment when the person says, I will never do it again, again, it relieves that discomfort, their partner also is so grateful to hear that, so everybody feels good, but then they will never do it again until they do it again. Because once they get outta that discomfort, then that's where the work needs to occur. And I feel like that's the, but the person feels good now I'm not, I'm not gonna do it again. And then if the spouse says, okay, but what are you gonna do about it? Then all of a sudden, they're caretaking or they're, like they're overstepping their bounds. Would you have those moments where, I don't wanna say demand, but really ask him for recovery or what was that like?
Dana: Well, for us, there were just, there were kind of two stages. There was what was happening when I thought our only problem was the alcohol. And there was never a, I will never drink again conversation. It was, I will go to therapy, I'm gonna, I commit to doing this. Let me do this on my own. If I can't make this work, I will do rehab. And that continued, and he was honoring his promises. And of course there's always, oh, there it goes again. And the drinking becomes secret. And we reached a point where he only went into rehab when I said, you have a choice. You can have me or you can have vodka. That's when he went to rehab and he did get sober. So then our second stage was more, I will never hurt you again. And that was the sexual behavior. But there were lots of other, I had more guardrails I guess, around that behavior. I was far more cautious. I was far more distrustful. I had a private investigator ready, I had a postnup, I had all of these things in place and every time I erupted in any kind of fear, jealousy, concern, outrage, whatever it was, he behaved exactly as he should have. He was humble, he was contrite, he was empathetic. There was a shift in him once he got sober and that, and booze wasn't controlling his brain. He could then see some of these other behaviors. So I was still in the back and forth. What do I believe? What do I trust? What do I want? For that five year period of why am I doing this? You know? What kind of woman stays with a man who has been a serial cheater? Who was part of it and part of my own self-analysis and professional analysis too.
Tony: Well, and I so appreciate your vulnerability here because I know it's gonna speak to so many people that are going through things like this, and they go to the, what's wrong with me? And then, I often just say, man, we don't know what we don't know. And then we find out, but we don't know what to do about it. And then we eventually do more than we don't, and then finally we become, and I know that sounds maybe a little bit out there, but that process I feel can take as long as it takes yet another cliche. But do you feel like there was a certain point where something just turned or clicked or you had made a decision, or was that more of just this gradual shading of lived experience?
Dana: Well, as I said, we made two attempts at divorce. And the first attempt, I think the way I sum it up most succinctly is there was just simply too much love. We had not played out enough of who are you after? Is there something that we can, you know, salvage isn't quite the right word, but is there something that can be made anew? Is there anything there worth? So it was a cautious stage. And I went through a great deal of time, of having second thoughts, packing a bag, moving out for a few days. It was, it was torture. But every single time, he did exactly what I would've hoped, he had become a different kind of man, a different kind of husband to me in that stage. I'm still in this place of questioning myself. And the big impetus for me to really see how empty I had become was when covid hit. There was nothing else in our lives to distract us. We simply were forced to be with each other. No diversion and to look at, I had to look at the relationship and my own life and my own self in a very different way without anything else in the way. And that's when I realized that although I think I want this relationship to find a path forward. I was never gonna get back to that place where I had adored this man. I know he's doing everything that he can to try to keep me in his life. He's doing everything I could have asked of him as a husband at that point.
Tony: Okay, yeah.
Dana: But I was utterly empty. I opened my book with a scene where I'm standing from a 13th floor window looking out on Lake Michigan, wondering what it would feel like to stand on the edge of the water and just slip in. I wouldn't have done it. I wasn't dead. I wasn't suicidal. But to even have those thoughts because you're just so empty. You're desperate to feel something. That was what was the shift and the switch in me that said, this isn't the future I want. I want something better. I need something better for me. I still love this man. I don't love him the way I did. And we have played out everything we could play out in trying to save, protect, rebuild, however you wanna call it. A relationship that was largely wonderful.
Tony: So Dana, I love that story because that really is, that is at the end of the day, trusting your gut and doing something that is, is scary and difficult because it would've been easier to just say, okay, I guess I'll remain numb, but at least he's trying. No, I'm grateful to hear that because I feel like a lot of the people I work with are in, they're in some really unhealthy relationships and feel same flatness or apathetic state, but then feel like, well, I guess that's just my lot in life and the people that have the courage, I think, and that's maybe a strong word, but to go through with the, what you went through, I think, you know, how are you now what do you, I guess, what advice would you give to somebody in that scenario?
Dana: Well, that's part of why I wrote this book. Because I felt that one, I need personally, I needed to heal. And speaking about everything I'd experienced would help me heal. But publishing a book would help other people who have been in the situation. Sometimes we need someone else. We need to see it through someone else's eyes in a very personal way to understand that it's okay to take a little step. I have spoken to a lot of women who have had addictive relationships, and the one thing every single one of them says to me is, I regret my silence, for as long as I was silent. We do it to protect our families. We do it for very good reasons, but ultimately that silence destroys us. Yeah. So my advice to anybody when you are, whether you're still in the relationship and trying to figure out if you should stay or you are out of the relationship and still dealing with the guilt and the regret is start first with how do I give up my silence? Who can I talk to? And it, you know, a therapist is great, but a therapist is not the same as facing your sister. And having her look at you with pity and horror and you did what? What I found as I've spoken to people, people close to me who did not know, they feel bad that they didn't know.
They feel bad that they couldn't help me, and they are, for whatever judgment I thought might have been there in their eyes, it's not there. It was just me projecting it. That was me protecting myself. We cannot love another human being if we do not love ourselves. We can't have a decent relationship with anyone if we don't love ourselves first. And this for me, is part of going back to that place. I have to love myself. I have to be healthy myself. I have to be emotionally strong myself, and then the rest of the world will follow. And coming to the understanding that my husband's bad behavior, his drinking and his sexual behavior, were not about me. They were a hole inside of him that he was trying to fill. And he filled it in terrible ways. And his hole was, he did not believe he deserved to be loved. He didn't deserve my love. And then he just acted it out. He played it out. He made it true. And there's some comfort for me in understanding that.
Tony: Can I ask you a quick question? I love what you said about, because I think we are so afraid that if we share with people that we will be judged or there will be a lot of negative comments made. And I will say that to the narcissism or emotionally immature group, I've done a couple of episodes on what are called Switzerland friends. And what that is is when someone does open up to someone and they say, well, there's two sides in every story, or I'm sure that and that's where we talk about, if that is someone, then that isn't someone that maybe is the safest person to share with. But when you find someone that is gonna say, tell me more, or I wish I would've known or I could have helped. Did you run into any of those Switzerland type friends?
Dana: I didn't personally. But there are, I understand where some of that came from. As I've spoken to other women, particularly when it comes, my husband was a very high functioning alcoholic. And like a lot of high, high functioning alcoholics, very smart, very successful, very charismatic. And so this is not the image that the world sees of him. And so as we began to tell close friends, they kind of minimized the drinking. They minimized it as, that's not the guy I see. Can't you just stop it? It really must not be as big of a deal as you make it out to be.
Tony: Yeah. And that's where I like what you're saying. But at some point, you know what you know, and I love that message. I have a couple of things from your book that I want to talk about, and so that reminds me of one, if I'm gonna go not in the order, but Where the Shadows Dance a memoir, I've read a lot of it and I have to tell you, Dana, a lot of times when I do the interviews, I wanna just do a quick skim, but it's a really good read and I think I'm just seeing so many things that parallel this magnet syndrome, people that are trying to get out of these unhealthy, emotionally immature, narcissistic relationships. But when you just said, when people would say, that's not the person I see. There's a, let me pull this up. Toward the end, you have a, I should have marked the chapter, but it was where you were going to see your dad about your mystery boyfriend. And I just, I love that. So I did, I wrote this down where, you know, he said, I must have a boyfriend. Your elderly father, he was unable to comprehend the divorce even years after the incidents that caused it.
And then the quote you said, your father has concocted the only explanation that seems logical to him. I'm running off with another man. And I would love to hear what that was like. And then your sister reacted and said, dad, you know what he did.And then, and again, bless your dad's heart because I feel like this is what people, you know, we don't, none of us like to sit with discomfort. So I like when you said he concocted the only explanation that I often say, oh, we create a narrative to, you know, fit our view. But then, your dad said, yeah, but that was a while ago. I just, I don't understand. So, yeah, what was that like? And I mean, that whole dynamic, because it sounds like, you know, you were there taking care of your dad. What an admirable thing.
Dana: Yeah. It was at a stage that my father was very elderly, needing a lot of physical help. He was a man of the, you know, the John Wayne era. You don’t talk about your feelings. And this idea that I must be running off for another man. And this, to give some context, was after, you know, the real divorce and I was leaving and not only did I leave my marriage, but I moved cross country to Tucson. And he just was dumbfounded, but he couldn't say any of it to me. He could only say it to my sister because again, men of that era don't know how to discuss emotions and if I can't explain it to him in about two seconds, two, maybe two minutes. It just didn't mean anything to him. So he was just grasping for straws.
Tony: Well, and I sense that in the book, which I, that's why I just, I really feel like it's the story so well told, because I talk about this concept, this nonviolent communication where we make an observation and a judgment in an instant to try to make sense of the world. And so I think that is such a good explanation of that. And I almost feel like that's one of those tests of where you're at as an individual. If it can be a, bless his heart. You know, he was trying to make sense of that. Is that, and I felt that that was the case.
Dana: That's exactly. Exactly. At that point in his life, you know, he's an elderly man. He's set in his ways. I was not going to be able to convince him of anything.
Tony: Well then I loved that. I feel like that must have been, was that nice to see your sister? You know, how do you know? But, you don't understand. So I felt like you got to see your sister care and your dad, bless his heart, and you know, I think I'm good and I mean, that's what I was imagining.
Dana: Yes, that's, that was exactly it. It was at a point in time that all of the hard decisions had been made. There was still a great deal of healing to happen in my heart. But yeah, a lot of the family expectation and the dynamic of who's gonna judge me and my family, what can I say, what can't I say? I had already shed that. I was firm in my convictions of what I was doing, and I didn't really need them to understand.
Tony: That's powerful right there, Dana. I mean that, and that's, I think when I work with people and whatever that shift occurs or when that happens, that it's, you know, again, I, and I say that's adorable. Like that concern they show and they look really angry and those are a lot of words. And so, but I'm good, thank you. You know, and I just, I sensed that in your book. Kind of going outta order, there was another part, chapter 19 and there were a couple things here, your 25th anniversary passes and I love how you said, okay. At first I'm okay, and as a therapist, I'm so fascinated by some people they say, oh my gosh, this date is gonna hang forever. And other people will get past the date and they think, well, it wasn't so bad. And I love that yours, I'm reading it. At first it was like, hey, that wasn't so bad. And then, 4:18 in the morning, So, and I, and I do have a quote from you that I really thought was good. But what was that like? I mean, what do you remember?
Dana: I do remember that. I remember that very well. It was at a stage where I was caretaking for my father. I'm in this limbo stage where we are processing the divorce. I'm caring for my father. I'm in northern Wisconsin. I don't want to be there. I don't have a home. I don't know what my life and my future are gonna be. And I was back in this place of caring for another man who needed help, who was frail, and helpless and here I am repeating myself and my father also had started drinking at that point in his life in an unhealthy way. So it was a stage where I'm trying to sort through lots of complex emotions on my end, also feeling kind of frozen and stuck on where I couldn't move forward in my life yet. And so my emotions were really, a lot of rollercoaster, not stuck in the pain moments, largely. So I'm balancing out excitement for what could be and then, damn it, I'm dragged back into the past. And like anybody who's in some kind of traumatic, stressful situation, sleep can be elusive. And to wake up, four o'clock in the morning and go, here I am. Here I am. And if you, if you remember from that moment, I just, okay. I grabbed my computer and I just started downloading all the garbage that was in my head.
Tony: Again, I'm implying all these powerful therapeutic principles on you, whether you know it or not. And so that's why I love the I'm okay, now I'm not. And then I do, I say constantly when we ruminate and beat ourselves up and what's wrong with me, you know, we're looking for this certainty we won't find. So then I always say, you know, yeah, those are noted and now do, and you did. And you did, there's a quote that I really liked and you said, they say that time heals all wounds, does it heal or simply blunt the pain, the ache, instead of becoming a constant road that we no longer distinguish from the other roars, or roar, constant roar, that we no longer distinguish from the other roars assaulting our bodies and mines, I can't answer that. Not tonight, not on this day. Again, so well said. And I'm curious now, and I, you know, I have my answer that you need to say. I'm kidding, but you know, now, did that time, did it just simply blunt the pain or did time, what did time do for you?
Dana: I think what time did was give me distance and perspective. Time itself, I don't think changes everything. Anything. If you stay stuck in your pain and your trauma, people do that. They do. I didn't know how I was going to remove that pain. But I was, I knew early on that I was committed to not letting my husband's behavior destroy me. And time for me was, it gave me a tool. It was just part of the tool. I couldn't do it alone. Speaking, writing, giving myself perspective, not only on myself, but his behavior, his addiction, his compartmentalization. It all had to work together and so time kind of helps things marinate.
Tony: Oh, that's good. I like that. And, I want to now of course, jokingly say that was the correct answer, you know, that you, you did that correct, because I'm asked that question about time and how long, and then I unfortunately say as long as it takes and you're right where you need to be. And, but I know that can be helped when people are actively doing and then people say, do what? Well, kind of anything at first other than ruminating and thinking and so I just, I feel like your book, whether you know it or not, Dana, I mean it just laid that process out so well, and I think that it does often take longer than when people would like for it to take, but then when they're, they're through it, then it had to take as long as it takes. And I don't know if that was your experience as well.
Dana: I think that's one of the reasons that I've, or a conclusion I've come to as I sat with the attempt at divorce number one, finally doing it, number two, so we had this, we had this five year period of being in the middle. And to be honest, I think there was a lot of healing that was going on inside of me, although inside the marriage. A healing that led to divorce. And that processing was, I think, essential. Had we divorced at our first attempt, I don't know that I would've been as healthy about it. I would've, I would've been a mess still emotionally, I would've sat with that anger longer than I did.
Tony: That right there. I mean, that's where I will maybe go back in and edit me asking a question that sounded really smart. I'm kidding. I won't because that answer so sums up in my work as a therapist if someone wants to say, well, just tell me what I need to do and what do you think would be best? And, oh, don't hand me that power because then it will give you the opportunity that let's say, yeah. Well, I mean, I've seen that this is most 90 whatever percent of the time it won't work and you'll be happier out. But I'm not gonna say that because then if the person says, okay, because then they'll get out. And now if they don't feel good, the first thing they can do is say, well, the therapist said that it wasn't gonna work. What was I supposed to do? And I feel like what you just said there about that healing comes in that, there's a book that refers to it as the messy middle and I think that healing has to come, I mean, obviously within, but that might be within the marriage. And that is difficult because you're around the person that you're frustrated by, but you want to then talk about the frustration with the person.
Dana: Yeah, there is, and I certainly had a therapist who said, are you sure you wanna stay in this marriage?
Tony: Okay, yeah.
Dana: And I intellectually knew I needed to leave, but emotionally I wasn't ready to do it. And so, yeah, I think this whole issue of time and how we beat ourselves up, the part to remember for all of us is that this is not linear. There is not one thing, and we will do like the addict does one step forward, two steps backwards. We'll reverse it and we'll get two steps forward and one step back. And this is normal and this is okay. As long as there's some progress and some change, what won't work is not to hold onto the pain and to that awful place where you regret and you can't even talk about it. And I'm already running into women who like, I wanna give this book to my friend because she's there and she won't even go near it. She can't even acknowledge that this was part of her life. Those are not people that are in healthy places. And it's so sad.
Tony: And when you were talking before, when we talk about your, that opening scene and you're looking and thinking about being on the edge of the water, or I have people that will say, hey, I'm not suicidal, but I call it the, but if a meteor hits me, that's not a bad thing, you know, theory where it's that again, the I think the brain is an absolute don't get kill device. So it is gonna do anything it can to get your attention. And so when people don't open up about things, keep things in their head, then they, I feel like, you know, unfortunately people start to get to this place of feeling everything from suicidal thoughts and ideations and especially not being willing to open up about that because that is a shame filled process as well. So I just, I think your message is really gonna resonate and I feel like hearing it from people that have been through it, I don't know what, you know, I think it really speeds up the healing process for those in it. And as a therapist I can say all the right words and people feel heard and understood, but when somebody has gone through it like you have, I feel like that just that, that it does, it speeds up the healing.
So I'm, I really, I really appreciate you coming on and your book was really, I mean, I really like it a lot. I'm a huge audio book guy, so I've already got your fiction books and they're all, can I ask a couple of just nerdy author questions? Okay. So, okay and I'll talk about some of this stuff in the intro too, but, okay, your books are, it's a Andrea Kellner series, so Lies and High Places, The Last Lie, Lies of Men. Tell me about the, tell me about your interest in lying, Dana. Tell me about the honestly, sell those fiction books because I love audiobooks and I listen constantly, so I'm excited to listen to those.
Dana: And the memoir's gonna be in audio as well. I'm working on that now. So I was starting to write the fiction as the heaviness, the worst part of my husband's drinking was happening. And I was starting to find out what was going on, what had been going on in his life. I made the decision to start writing before I knew the truth and for me, writing mystery, what I enjoy is the psychological part, the puzzle. The why, the how. I can't wait. Who's doing it? You know? I'm not into the blood and gore part. I want the psychological, behind the scenes what motivates people and kind of the short answer to the lies is in those books, my character, Andrea, she could uncover lies that I wasn't uncovering in my real life.
Tony: Okay, now, now I have to listen.
Dana: And lying is at the core of all of these crimes.
Tony: Okay. Well that's exciting. Okay. Can I get you to, uh, I have a new true crime meets therapy podcast coming out in a couple of weeks, Murder on the Couch, I would love to maybe have you come on there and let's break down one of your books. I think that would be a lot of fun. All right, Dana, what a, what a pleasure. I really appreciate you coming on and I think this is gonna resonate with the overall mental health audience of the Virtual Couch and then the Waking Up to Narcissism. I think it's just gonna speak volumes to people that are experiencing that. So thank you. And I'll have all this in the show notes, but where can people find you?
Dana: I am danakillian.com, I have book pages for everything. There are links to purchase. It's available, the book is available for pre-order right now, and it will be available anywhere you like to buy books.
Tony: Okay, and I read some of your online journal as well, and I mean, you've got a lot on your website and you are a very good writer. So I highly encourage people to go check that out. All right, Dana, I hope we will get to talk again. Thanks a lot.
Tony discusses the differences between false memories and confabulation. He then reads a message from the "women in relationships with narcissistic 'fill in the blank'" Facebook group that leads to a breakdown of "Switzerland Friends," as well as how we deal with discomfort, as well as how "family systems theory" could provide an answer to the difficulty the "pathologically kind" person has in stepping out of their role in the various "families" they are in.
And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel for a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here https://youtu.be/-RkRq8SrQy0
Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/waking-up-to-narcissism-q-a/id1667287384
Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage.
You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.
Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ
Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 61 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, host of the Virtual Couch podcast, as well as the soon to be released Murder On the Couch, a true crime meets therapy podcast and Waking Up to Narcissism the Question and Answer premium podcast, and you'll find a link to all of those in the show notes of today's episode, or you can go to Tony Overbay underscore LMFT on Instagram. Or Tony Overbay licensed marriage and family therapist on Facebook. And you can find more information there, or just go to tonyoverbay.com and sign up for the newsletter. That really is coming soon. And there will be a lot of information in the newsletter. Let's get to today's, actually before we get to today's topic, I had a quick story that I wanted to talk about. And it has to do with something that I refer to often that I get questions about, because I think the genesis of the term confabulation is something that was many, many episodes ago. And I know a lot of people are, most people are not going back and starting at episode one.
So when I talk about confabulated memory, I recognize that I'm taking a little bit of license with that as well, what confabulation is, if we just purely go with a definition and here I'm looking at the national library of medicine, “confabulation is a neuro psychiatric disorder where in a patient generates a false memory without the intention of deceit.” The patient believes this statement to be truthful. Hence the descriptive term, honest lying. The hypothesis is that the patient generates information as a compensatory mechanism to fill holes in one's memory. And you can see then how that, when we talk about that in the case of someone with narcissism or extreme, extreme, emotional immaturity, the confabulated memory comes from a place of it can't be what you think that I did, because that might mean that I did something wrong or I did something bad so they can fabricate a memory in real time and then just believe with every fiber of their being that that is what happened. And if you go all the way back to childhood and look at that concept of gaslighting as a childhood defense mechanism, then it can make sense that if I was going to get in trouble as a kid, that I could, I could literally get physically beat. I could get emotionally starved. Or anything like that. Then, as a child, you will do anything to avoid that. So I definitely do not want to get in trouble. So, therefore I didn't do it. And as a matter of fact, I can't just get away with, I didn't do it. I didn't do it. My brother did it or the dog did it. And then over time that just becomes the air that emotionally immature or narcissists believe.
And so then it did not happen the way that you think that it happened. And it's believed with such veracity that then even trying to argue with somebody who has this confabulated memory, they now can absolutely validate the fact to themselves that you do not know what you're talking about. You must be crazy because it definitely didn't happen that way, because that would mean that I'm wrong and that I could have done something wrong. But if we, if we go a little bit, a softer example is if we're looking in the realm of just overall psychology is that when the person has these gaps in their memory, and maybe they're asked to remember described details of a past event. And rather than just saying, I'm not sure. I don't know. The person's mind does fill in missing details with confabulated memories of the event. And now let me add one more piece to the puzzle. There is often a question when you start talking about confabulation, that comes, that is, what is the difference between a false memory and confabulation? And I really appreciate this is where the nuance, the subtlety comes in, that memory errors are often looked at in a couple of categories. There's the air from omission. Or errors from commission. So emissions are forgetting errors and then commissions are in essence, false memories. So confabulation is a kind of commission error that occurs when somebody then fills in the gaps of their memory with stories. So that's what I think is pretty interesting. So with the narcissist or emotionally immature, you can see where that angle of, well, of course I know, and this is what happened. It's really hard for them to say, I don't know. Because if you are truly emotionally immature and narcissistic, then I feel like I have to weigh in and I'm probably right. So it probably happened this way. And so therefore I will congratulate this story or this narrative.
So here's where I now want to enter the pathologically kind person who is still trying desperately to figure out, wait a minute. Am I the narcissist? Because I confabulate. I do. And so that must mean that I'm a narcissist. And this is where I feel like the concept of confabulation is often just associated with this intense negative, you know, from the medical definition. To then the clinical psychology definition. And then we start getting into the concepts around just forgetting something versus creating a narrative. And so then does everybody that fills in the gaps with what they think happened then? Are they therefore a narcissist or emotionally immature? And this is where I feel like no, this happens and it's one of the main things of why when I lay out my four pillars of a connected conversation that after assuming good intentions or knowing, there's a reason why somebody does what they do and says what they say, shows up the way they show up, that my pillar two is I can't say, are you kidding me? That didn't happen. That isn't the way it happened. I don't believe you, even if you believe that that is not what happened and you don't believe the person. This is where I feel like confabulation as just part of the human experience needs to be discussed more.
Here's the story. This is the lead in to tell you this story. Earlier in the week I had someone come in and well, before they came in, they shot me a text and said, I'm going to be five minutes late. And I thought, oh, okay. That's kind of funny. This person will send me that kind of a text from time to time. They're not always late. But then when they do, they typically arrive a couple of minutes before whatever time that they say that they will be. So if they say I'm going to be 10 minutes late, they're there in seven, five minutes late, they're there in three. And then I will say, hey, you got here early, late. And the person will let me know that they've sped or something like that and hilarity ensues, and then the session begins. So it's a normal situation where the person says, hey, I'm gonna be five minutes late. I say, no problem. See you when you get here. They show up and I'm just working on some things at my desk. And then I say, hey, you're a minute late because they got there six minutes after, so I was being hilarious. Of course. And then this person said, oh no, I'm actually four minutes early. And I said, no, you said five, you were gonna be five minutes late. They said, no, I'm gonna be 10 minutes late. And then we both went to the proof. We pulled out our phones and this person literally texted, hey, I'm going to be a few minutes late. And I said, see you when you get here. So right in that moment, I thought that was such a good, simple example of where confabulation can occur just to regular human beings on a normal basis where there isn't something just incredibly important at stake. Because if you would have put me in, having me take a polygraph at that moment, I knew I was convinced. I absolutely could see it in my head as if I had photographic memory, which I do not, that it said five. He said five minutes late. And then this person was also convinced. Absolutely. Without a doubt he said 10 minutes late. So I really feel like that's such a good example of how I have this narrative that was already sitting in my mind about this person when he texts that he's normally early. And so if he says five, it's going to be three.
And so I believe that that plays a role in the concepts around confabulation. So if you're having a discussion with somebody, that's why I feel it's important if they said, no, you were, when we had that conversation, I remember very well, you were in the kitchen and because you were sitting by the table and then if you remember that, I really think we were in the living room and I was standing by the TV. That part of my four pillars, the reason why I say, okay, I don't, that's fine. If one of you remembers one way and the other remembers that the other way. Then okay, man, I appreciate that. So now let's get into more of the content of the conversation because I feel like so often now the argument goes off into the weeds and trying to prove that I am right. That we were in the kitchen and the other person saying, no, you're wrong. We were in the family room. And when somebody, typically this is where the more pathologically kind person is going to at some point say, you know what? It doesn't matter. And this person is going to stay on this until I finally agree. So then I say, no. Okay, fine. I'm probably wrong, yeah, we were probably in the kitchen, but just the mental calories spent on arguing a tit for tat back and forth fact that was most likely confabulated to begin with is where I feel like that is what can just zap the life out of somebody that's trying to stay present in a conversation.
And then the person that just hung on to I am right. Then that person ends that conversation feeling like I am right. They know I was right. And once again, I had to just keep hammering them until they remembered that I am right. And I feel like that can just be so damaging and destructive in a relationship. So I just thought that was a really interesting experience. Just as simple as a text, five minutes late, 10 minutes late. And in reality it was a few minutes late, but I often get people that are still trying to convince themselves that they must be the narcissist, even though they're the ones that have now sought out the podcast, the YouTube videos, they've emailed and they're the ones that are just, they're the ones doing the work to try to figure out, what is going on in the relationship, which again, if that is who you are, and you're asking that question of, am I the narcissist? You are not. You are a human being who is experiencing some events that have caused you to go on a journey to try and figure out what is going on in this relationship and in me. And so what an opportunity to start down this journey and get to this ultimate destination of just awareness and understanding that you are okay. You are lovable, you are enough, you are figuring things out. You're willing to do the work. And so on.
So let's get to the body of today's episode. We're going to go to the narcissistic women's Facebook group. Again, women who are in relationships with narcissistic fill in the blank whether it’s a spouse, a parent, an adult child, a boss, a coworker, an entity, a pet. That one kind of just came out. I've never really looked into the concepts around emotional immaturity or narcissism on a pet, but I guess a pet can be very anxious. Anyway, I do not want to go off on that tangent, so I'll change a few of the details just for the sake of confidentiality. And I will comment or I'll address some of the comments that people made to the post, which are just amazing. One of the things I find is so powerful, if you can find a group for whatever you may be struggling with or working through, when you can find a group of people that have been in similar situations, there's just definitely a, you don't know what you don't know component. And when people are just asking questions and offering suggestions, not saying, here's what you need to do, but here's what worked for me. It can just be incredibly empowering and it can really help people get out of their fight or flight part of their brain out of that amygdala hijack and really start looking at some alternative answers to maybe some of the things that they're dealing with. So I'll hit some of the answers too, because they're just, they're beautiful. They're brilliant.
But the person had said that they're feeling crazy right now, they said they had a really tough week and they were talking with some friends who had been some of their closest friends and most trusted people. Especially since she had gone through the divorce with her narcissistic partner. And she said, she's tried to be careful not to share too much. She was worried that it would sound like she was bashing him because she's noticing more and more that these people are starting to become more of these Switzerland friends. And if you're not familiar, the Switzerland friend concept, someday I worry that I'm not going to be welcome into Switzerland, but Switzerland is an amazing place. And it has the vibe or the stereotype that there's neutrality there. And so a Switzerland friend would be one that is saying, hey, I really don't want to get in the middle of anything. And I'm sure you both played a role in this and there's good and bad in everyone. And while that is a very good answer, if you have been in this type of a relationship, that isn't the correct answer and so, this is where I know it can sound complicated if somebody is listening to this and they haven't experienced being in a relationship with someone who is emotionally immature, has these narcissistic traits and tendencies.
And as a matter of fact, I found an article on goodpsychology.net. And it's an article about becoming a Switzerland friend when your friends divorce. And it is fascinating because if you read it from the lens of, hey, there's two sides to every story and you want to be there for both people and don't judge and don't diminish either friend's pain and don't act as the go-between and keep your agenda out of it. And don't trash the ex’s. And don't gossip and don't compare their new partners. It is all solid advice. But what I often say is there's an asterisk at some point. That says, except for personality disorders or emotional immaturity, narcissistic traits and tendencies. Because we're playing by a whole new set of rules that unfortunately only the people that have played that game know what the rules are. And it's really difficult to even get to the point where you have an awareness that there are different rules. So a Switzerland friend, I want you to know, is a very good thing in a lot of situations, but in this situation, it can feel like the person who gets out of this relationship with an emotionally immature person or a narcissist has been someone that their own thoughts, feelings, and emotions have been squelched and put down for the entire most, if not the entire relationship. So now when they are trying to open up to someone and that person is saying, yeah, but it feels like trauma, the complex post-traumatic stress disorder, the relationship trauma where once again, all of a sudden your body keeps the score. And that visceral, that gut reaction is going to just fire up and you are not going to feel very safe.
So she's talking about, she's noticing that these friends are becoming more and more Switzerland friends, but she said that she just had such an incredible experience that she wanted to share, and it was having to interact with this narcissistic ex partner. And, just being, in essence, forced to be around this person for a few days. And so she wanted to just share the things that are really interesting that she's noticed and that can be a real time for self-reflection. Because when you do find yourself outside of that unhealthy relationship and you can calm down your fight or flight response, then you can start to look at things with more curiosity and you can see how things were when you were in the context of where you were before. So you can, it's almost as if you're looking in on yourself and now you recognize, oh man, that's when I would try to manage my own anxiety by being a people pleaser or that's where, if I was trying to figure out the right thing to say to keep him calm. And so that can be a really interesting thing when you can step away from it enough to see that.
So she said I wanted to share these things, I really did. And so I started to tell a little bit, I didn't want to bash him, but she said it ended up being an incredibly, very invalidating and very validating of him and his situation and feelings. And I appreciate this. She said, I noticed at first that it didn't seem to affect me as if now I was immune and I could see it as a popcorn moment, which is one of those situations where I'm just sitting back and I'm eating popcorn. I'm watching the show, I'm watching the show of, oh, they have been bamboozled by this person and now they too are buying into that narrative. And isn't that adorable? Because I did that for 20 years. And so that makes sense. I can understand, but having a popcorn moment, but then the more that the conversation went on and on then it just started to not feel like so much of a popcorn moment, but we slip right back into that deeply rutted neural pathway of what is wrong with me? Maybe it is me. Maybe I am the problem. She said she just started to feel crazier than ever. She said he left me, he cheated on me still. He is being validated by everyone. He talks to even her friends and her family. So she started saying, I start feeling like there must be something wrong with me for not seeing myself in this. And she said, if everybody thinks he's fine and I am crazy, then that must mean that I am having very irrational reactions. Right? And then she said, then I thought, man, I am so glad that I'm seeing an amazing therapist tomorrow, but then she said, but then I even noticed that being broken because I kept thinking, well, my therapist, she's paid to validate me. It's her job. So I'm sure she actually thinks I'm acting crazy too. And it's been just total crazy-making. So she said I've gone deep into this feeling of not being in touch with reality. And I feel now, like I'm starting to lose it again completely. And she said, any advice on how to get out of this state?
And I just wanted to address that. And I want to start with a concept that I did a Virtual Couch episode a week or two ago. And I just went off on a little bit of a tangent, an intentional tangent, around managing our emotions, managing our anxiety. Especially if once you become aware, this is one of these concepts that I just love, because when you become aware of this, what we're going to talk about next, you can't unsee it. So, what that looks like is how often do you feel, let's say that you are talking, let's just go with an easy one. Let's say you're talking with a teenager, I will say one of my teenage daughters and one of my teenage daughters is really anxious and upset and she doesn't feel like her friends are listening to her. And if I say, first of all, one of the worst things I can do is say, well, it's not that big of a deal. Or, you know, well, I'm sure that they have some problems that they're working through too, then that is going to feel completely invalidating. So in my four pillars of a connected conversation, pillar one, I'm assuming good intentions that my daughter is expressing herself the way she is, or there's a reason why, because she may already be in that amygdala hijack. So pillar one is, I'm assuming those good intentions are there's a reason why she's saying what she's saying. Which leads to pillar two where if I'm telling you it's not a big deal, or just look at it this way, that is an indirect way of saying, hey, you're wrong. Your feelings and your emotions, they're wrong.
And so I need you to think in a different way. And here's where I want to jump into even more about today's topic. So part of why we like to tell people what to do or why we like to tell people that they're wrong, or why we like to tell people that you just need to look at it a different way, I believe if I am being selfish, self confronting, that that really is about me and my anxiety, my emotions. If my daughter is having a really difficult time and she's being emotionally expressive and she is just crying and sobbing and becoming inconsolable. That makes me feel uncomfortable. So what do I do with that discomfort? Then I want to tell her to calm down. I want to tell her it's not a big deal. I want to tell her, hey, they probably have a different side to this. So all of a sudden I've taken her pain and her emotions, what she's feeling, her reality, her experience. She knows those people better than I do, but I just made it about me. But without even really realizing that. Because I don't like the discomfort of seeing someone I care about upset. So I want to calm her anxiety down. I want to tell her to not worry about it as a way to calm my own feelings down.
And I think that is such a fascinating thing that when you, again, when you see that and learn that. That it just becomes prevalent. And you see that in so many different areas. I've got someone right now that I'm talking to that is having a struggle with their boss. And when they are talking with their boss, their boss doesn't want to take the time to listen to this person that I'm working with. And that can sound like, oh, it's just the way that businesses work. And they operate. But as we've broken down a little bit more of the game film of this person's workplace and the qualifications of their boss, it's pretty clear that their boss is there as more of a figurehead. And so this person knows the person I'm working with. They know what they're talking about, and when they try to express that to their boss, I believe their boss takes that as you're telling me I'm wrong and you're telling me that I don't know what I'm talking about. And quite frankly, I think the boss may not necessarily know exactly what they're talking about. So then that causes them anxiety. And instead of then saying, oh man, I don't know. I don't know. I don't know enough about this situation at work to yes, I would love your input. They feel like, oh my gosh, I'm the boss. And if I don't know, then I may get fired or that my boss, my boss might get upset with me. So it was a way to manage my anxiety. I am going to tell that person that is coming in and that they seem frustrated with me that I don't have time to talk with them, or I might even send them to do some busy work because that's a way to manage my own anxiety.
So I just think that's such a fascinating concept. And when I look back at the concepts around Switzerland friends, you know, I feel like, of course there's things that are on the spectrum, or I don't know what everyone is going through, but I feel like so often a Switzerland friend, what they truly are experiencing is they’re having you come to them and explain things about their ex partner that you weren't aware of. And so I believe that there are certain times where the Switzerland friend is sitting there and now all of a sudden they're uncomfortable because they're starting to even realize, and maybe it's at a subconscious level, I had no idea. And if I had no idea that means if I would have had an idea, then I could have helped, helped my friend more. I could help them early on. So I feel like often even the Switzerland friend concept is just a way for that person, this Switzerland friend to say, hey, but it's probably not as bad as you think, or I think he's probably hurting too. But if we're being really honest, speaking to the Switzerland friends is just a way, even if it doesn't feel like this is what I'm doing consciously, could there be a chance that that's a way to manage your own anxiety? Because if you have to sit there in the trenches with your friend and say, oh my gosh, I had no idea, then all of a sudden now, you know, that person is going to feel heard and understood and I'm going to have to sit with some discomfort. And I think at the core of when we want to get rid of our own discomfort, our own anxiety, our own emotions and feelings, that's when we start telling others how they need to feel or think or what the situation probably was.
That is really a place where it's, because I don't like sitting with discomfort. And if I look in the world, I do work a lot with addiction. And I really feel like at the core of addiction are people that feel discomfort. And they want to alleviate that discomfort by turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, whether it's pornography or gambling or alcohol or their phones, or you name it. That I just feel as a people, we don't do a good enough job. That sounds really judgmental. I feel like we can do a better job. That's reframed better. I think we can do a better job at learning how to sit with discomfort. Learning how to sit with uncomfortable emotions. And that is where the concepts around things like mindfulness come in. Can I sit and can I just acknowledge that I am noticing that I am feeling anxious, that I am noticing that I am feeling, I'm feeling sad for my friend. And so instead of me needing to alleviate my sadness or get rid of my anxiety by telling them that, hey, he's sad too. Or by saying you, you probably don't even know what he's going through or yeah, I'm sure that you played a role in this as well. That am I really saying that because it's coming from a place of, I don't want to sit with discomfort and at what layer, what level is that? That I don't want to sit with that discomfort. Is it because I don't know how to help this person, this friend of mine. Is it because I may actually be in a relationship that I don't feel is necessarily the best as well? On that note, I was talking with someone just a couple of days ago, not in a therapeutic setting, but I thought this was really fascinating. This person is starting to really figure out what they want to do with their life. And they're trying a lot of different things. And a friend of theirs had approached them and said, man, what's it like to really not feel like you're doing a lot with your life? And it really crushed this person that I was talking to.
And it really did break my heart because there was no curiosity. There was no, hey, what are you up to? What are you up to in your life? This person that had projected this, that was, I believe most likely already in a career or a situation or a relationship that they didn't really want to be in. But as a way for them to feel better about it, they felt like, okay, I can alleviate my pain or my discomfort by in essence, projecting this onto someone else. And if I can make them feel bad, it puts me in this one-up position. And I say all this stuff that so much of it happens at this subconscious level. And it's because I really feel like so many people aren't really willing to do that work, that self confrontation. Or the mindfulness practice or an ability to sit with that uncomfortable feeling or emotion and acknowledge it. And even thank my body for the feelings and the emotions I'm feeling. And this is because, you know, when we're young, it's so easy. Even the very best intention parent to tell a kid to, hey, don't worry about it, it's not a big deal, that's probably not what they meant. And so even when we mean that well, even in that parenting situation like that we may even say to ourselves, no I'm doing that because I really, I want to let them know that sometimes they don't need to worry about things, but what I'm saying is I'm telling them, hey, don't worry about your own feelings or emotions. And in essence, I don't really want to sit with this uncomfortable feeling of you expressing your emotions with me. How often do parents say things like, hey, you know, don't cry, buddy. Don't cry. It's not a big deal. It's okay. Everything's gonna be okay. And so we're just telling somebody, hey, get rid of those emotions as quick as you can, because I'm feeling really uncomfortable and you might embarrass me cause we're out in public. Nobody likes a kid crying at Chuck E Cheese. Although really there's like tons of kids crying at Chuck E Cheese because those giant animatronic mice.
But anyway. But I really want to help people learn to sit with that discomfort. And notice where that's at in my body. And even be able to say, hey, I appreciate my body giving me these emotions because my emotions are there for a reason. A lot of times, you know, anxiety, there's a warning. Or anger is there as a way to make sure that we're not being tread upon or that there's not injustice. And so those feelings, those emotions really do need to be felt and heard and understood. And so even a Switzerland friend getting back to that can often just be someone that is an essence communicating, hey, I don't like feeling uncomfortable and having to take a side, then I worry that somebody else is going to find out. And then they're going to tell me, I can't believe you took a side. When in reality, if you know that your friend has gone through a lot, and you've been able to hear her and listen to her and you know that spouse and you've witnessed that behavior as well. That it really is okay to be yourself, to be true to yourself. And be able to express to your friend that man, I hear you. And I see you and I'm here for you. And I can't believe, like, tell me more. What is that like? What are those things that you're observing? And what's that like for you? That must be crazy. It was, I don't even have to express my opinion. Because so often that expression of opinion. I want somebody to come from a confident place. And express their opinion. But not if it's only about alleviating their anxiety.
So I want to move on to another. And this is, these are today, what I'm talking about, in this article, this expert says this. I really feel like those concepts around alleviating anxiety, not sitting with discomfort or things that I feel confident of from the years of just helping people and spending time in the chair, getting the reps in, so to speak. But on that same note, there's another concept that I think is really interesting to explore. And someone in the group had responded and they were talking about doing some IFS or internal family systems work. And internal family systems is a really fascinating type of therapy. That I will, I would love to know more about, and an internal family system, it basically is taking a look at your whole person. Your personality is, there's almost these multiple sub personalities or families within each person's mental system. And in my recovery program, the path back, my online pornography recovery program. There's actually a module that I do in there where we address, we personify the sub personality. And the belief, just a real general overview of internal family systems. It really is fascinating that there were parts of your life where there had been trauma or abuse, that sort of thing. And then you almost break off this exiled emotion and then you have a protector there as well. And I think one of the easiest ways to the, one of the examples, I remember hearing at a training I went to once and again, I don't know enough about internal family systems and I would love to, because I think it sounds just fascinating.
But someone had talked about being, in essence, perfectionist and they had a, I didn't even realize you could get above a 4.0 in school and they had a four point whatever, 5, 6, 7. And particularly they were incredibly intelligent in math and those stem subjects. And when we were talking about it, this person had identified that their father had told him that he thought that she was dumb was the word he used and stupid. And these words when she was little, a lot. And so that just crushed her but the way to survive is through her internal family system breaking off this exiled emotion of just sadness and grief and pain and fear. And there was a protector, there was a protector there. This person out of the sub personality is a protector that then was going to do anything within its power to never to make sure that we never were called stupid again. So I will work harder. I will do better. I will become the very best and smartest. Because that hurts so bad to be called stupid or dumb by a parent when this person was young. So the internal family systems model talks about these sub-personalities that have developed as protectors for these exiled emotions. So one of the theories that I am working with is you've got internal family systems and then you've got family systems theory. And so with family systems theory, that is, in essence, talking about, and I think this is a, I think you'll maybe see where I'm going to go with this too. It is family systems theory, I believe applies to friendships and entire family organizations, whether it's your nuclear family, mom, dad, and the kids, or a blended family, or if it's, even if you're just, your work family. But family systems theory, it's a theory of human behavior that defines the family unit as a complex social system. Where the members interact and influence each other's behavior. And so I really believe that when you look at things like Switzerland friends, I think that again, we were dealing with the discomfort and people managing their emotions and anxiety through other people.
But then I also feel like if you're looking at the family systems theory and you look at your friendships as a family system, what role do you typically find yourself in? And I find that so many of the people that are pathologically kind people have these relationships with the emotionally immature narcissistic people in their lives. That they are often that scapegoat or there's a phrase that's been going around the world of things like Tik Tok of trauma dump, you know, trauma dumpster, or somebody that you are the person that people go to and dump their trauma because you'll listen and you're kind, and you'll say all the nice things. But then when it comes time for you to express yourself, then those people don't want to hear it. Why? It gives them anxiety. Because that's not the role that they play. They play that role where they say things to you. And you thank them for it. And you tell them they're handling it very well and you tell them they're amazing and wonderful, but now all of a sudden, if they are going through something, then those people that were the deliverers of the trauma in that family system, that was their role. So when somebody steps out of the family role that they have in this family systems theory, then it disrupts the entire family system. And this is where I believe that most of the people that are interacting in a lot of these family systems would be deemed a bit emotionally immature.
So if all of a sudden, one of you is waking up to this emotional immaturity or narcissism in the family system or in a relationship that is within the family system and you start to speak your mind, then you are disrupting that whole complex social system and other people will now react to get you back in alignment with the role that you play. Because if you are not there to continue to take their trauma or tell them that they're okay. Then they all the sudden feel discomfort. They feel uncomfortable. And so in that scenario, they're going to say things like, well, I'm sure that you played a role in that too. And that will put you right back into that same role that you play in the family. There's these different concepts. And the family systems theory is just looking at the families, this whole complex, single system where every member's behavior impacts another member and you start dealing with in the world of family systems, theory, things like boundaries, equilibrium are things bi-directional, are they reciprocal? And then what are the patterns and what are the roles that people play and the functions. So, just a little bit more. And I think that I just wanted to kind of express this or get a little bit of this out there today, just to recognize that so often why we start to feel crazy when we get out of these emotionally immature relationships is number one, now all of a sudden it really has. It has disrupted the apple cart, so to speak, the family system.
And so there will be people, especially the emotionally immature person, the partner that's part of what the whole popcorn moment scenario is. They need to get you back in enmeshment and alignment so they can have a fix, they can have their drug of choice. And if not, then that's why they continue to push more and more buttons as you try to step away from this relationship. That the more you find your voice. And again, this is why I'd love to go so big on it isn't just finding my voice. It's starting to recognize I am a human being that has feelings and emotions. And those are absolutely 100% okay to have and express. And that if I express them and someone else gets angry or tells me that, I shouldn't say that. Or look at how that makes me feel. That is them feeling uncomfortable because you have an opinion and a behavior and a thought. And an emotion that is something that they do not want to deal with. And that's where you start to look at the selfishness of control. And somebody's trying to control someone else's opinion, thought, or emotion. That is selfish because it is saying the person that is trying to do the controlling is saying, I don't like how you are acting. It makes me uncomfortable. So please stop it. When in reality, the answer needs to be, hey, tell me what's going on. I'm noticing you seem frustrated, I'm noticing, and that's where we get into all these other things. I love talking about so much that let's tap into what matters to you. You know, you go through life and you start to go through different experiences. And now of course, you're going to have different opinions. You're two human beings that have 3 billion neurons that are just, you know, you're walking around this human suit that's interacting to things, you know, for the first time in that very moment of your life. Of course, you're going to have different thoughts, feelings, and experiences. And how cool is that? If you're two emotionally mature people, then you realize, wow, this is amazing. What do you think? I mean, this is, these are my thoughts. So anyway, there's so much there.
But one of the things that can be a challenge, if you really look up the world of family systems theory, is that the couple of the criticisms there, one of the problems is that this kind of therapy family systems therapy, or it includes, failing to address these like neuro-biological things or mental health issues like personality disorders. So if you have severe emotional immaturity in the family system, then when you try to change up the family system, then that emotionally immature narcissistic person is going to lose their mind and trying to keep the family system intact because that's what they've set up to work for them to give them this again, this supply that they need for power and for validation. And that's the way that they feel like they are. That they matter is by having this control or power. So I'm going to leave it there. I'd promise that I would, well I mentioned that I would get to some of the comments that are in the group, but I realized this one is starting to go a little bit long and so I will wrap it up there and maybe we'll get a part two down the road or a bonus episode.
But, even for the people that are in the group that commented on this post, the comments were amazing. And really there were people that were talking about doing everything from, some somatic work, to breath work, to being able to stay in the present moment. To be able to reach out to friends, to just be able to go back through the narrative and know that you've done a lot of work to get to that place that you are and then just being able to say, hey, check this out. Here's what I learned today. I learned that when I really want to open up about some situations, that seems pretty crazy with me interacting with my narcissistic ex. Then in those scenarios, I need to make sure that I'm not talking to a Switzerland friend and maybe that's where you need a support group or a good therapist that you can talk to because the more that you put yourself out there and if you're met with this invalidation or these yeah but it could have been, you know, what about him? That that isn't going to be those aren't the friendships that are going to be necessarily there, over the long haul. And this is where you have this opportunity now to trust your gut and to create friendships, not just with people that are filled with yes-men, but people that are willing to understand where you're coming from. And not just immediately need to quell their own anxiety by saying, well, it could have been this, or it could have been that, you know, it could be something that you're not aware of instead of starting with the, tell me more about that. So I really appreciate, as always, people that are here and listening, and I appreciate your feedback, your comments, please continue to send your stories and your questions.
And I do, I read them. I see you. I hear you. If you're interested in joining a support group, I have the one with the women in the relationship with narcissistic fill in the blank entities. And I, after that last episode where I talked a lot about the men's experience, I've had more men reach out. So coming soon is going to be a men's group as well. And then I just, again, thank you for your support, the numbers continue to just grow and rise. And so I'm grateful that we're finding the people that are really looking to feel heard and understood. And it is, it is part of the process. How long does it take? It takes as long as it takes. And I know that's such a cheesy, horrible answer, but at some point it will change and things are gonna change for the better. And you are starting to understand and figure out that you are okay. And it's okay to have your own thoughts and feelings and emotions. You're not crazy at all. You've been made to think that, but you're not. And you're on that road to figuring that out. So send me your questions, I mean your stories, and we'll see you next time on Waking Up to Narcissism.
Tony reads an email from a listener who shares their “waking up” experience and how difficult it can be to break free from a “trauma bond” and stay strong when the narcissist/emotionally immature partner pushes all the buttons to get you back. He also discusses the origins of “pathological kindness” and shares more from Ross Rosenberg’s book, “The Human Magnetic Syndrome.” https://amzn.to/3iRBsvA Tony shares a theory of how the narcissist and the kind person meet based on the article “Discovery: Kindness Gene So Powerful It Can Be Detected by Strangers in 20 Seconds,” https://charterforcompassion.org/discovering-kindness/discovery-kindness-gene-so-powerful-it-can-be-detected-by-strangers-in-20-seconds
Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage.
You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.
Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ
Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 57 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I'm your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist and host of the Virtual Couch podcast. And soon, a brand new podcast called Murder on the Couch. I know, true crime. There's a lot of them, but this is one that I'm doing with my wonderful, amazing daughter, Sydney, who is a true crime aficionado. And we talk about this stuff often, whenever she's in town, we talk about cases, true crime podcasts. And then I can't help myself, I like to throw a little bit of a therapy or psychology spin. So at one point we decided let's just record some things. So if you go, I'll put it in the show notes, but if you go to the Virtual Couch YouTube channel, there's about a minute and a half sneak preview clip that I think that you will really enjoy, and that is going to be coming out pretty soon.
And thank you so much for all the feedback from episode 56 with Ashley Boyson. That episode, it just kind of went insane, but I know that she has a tremendous following, but even more so than just having a following, she has that because she is a powerful, powerful person. And just the mix that the feedback I've got has been really cool because it's people that are saying, here's somebody that has been through just one of the most horrific things that you could even imagine. Literally, the thing that true crime shows are made of. But she made no secret about how difficult things were, how she didn't know what she didn't know, how there was a process of waking up to the narcissism in the relationship of her husband that had been murdered and then also experiencing narcissism and the next relationship. And now she's in a really good place and she's doing big things with her life and helping people and being there for her kids. And so it just shows you that life will continue to move on, and this entire waking up to, whether it's the again, narcissism in a relationship with your spouse or with a parent or an in-law, an employer, any of that, that it's just a process that takes time. It's going to take a little bit longer than you probably would like for it to take and wherever you are, that's right where you're at and that's the place you need to be. Because if you're even listening to this, that means that at some point you weren't aware of what narcissism or emotional immaturity even was. And now you're aware and you're thinking about it more and you're listening to things and reading things.
And now you have a nice little confirmation bias. We're talking about the good kind. We're talking about the kind, when you buy a cool new car and then you see them everywhere and you feel pretty validated, I'm thinking, okay, that must be a good car. So now you're starting to recognize the emotional immaturity in the relationships around you and maybe not feeling as crazy. And again, it takes a little bit longer. A lot longer than we would like for it to start to really gel and feel like, okay, I think I'm going to be okay. So right now, if you're listening and you still feel like this whole thing is overwhelming, then you're a human being and you're going through a process and I will say this until the cows come home, wherever that phrase came from. But you did not know what you did not know. And now, you know. And you're starting to learn the tools, but guess what? You're probably not implementing the tools, and that's no shame or guilt intended again, it's because it's part of the process of being a human being, our brains like to go down the path of least resistance. And this is all new and scary.
So you go from, I didn't know what I didn't know, to I know, now I’m kind of not doing, and that's a pretty scary place to be because it can feel sometimes like, I wish I didn't know. But you do. And, you know, and eventually you're going to start doing more of the things that will help you raise that emotional baseline. Get that PhD in gaslighting, get out of those unproductive conversations, set healthy boundaries, and know that a boundary is a challenge to the emotionally immature or narcissist. And then, that last little lever is going to fall into place where you'll recognize that there is nothing that I can do, me, that I can do to cause them to have the aha moment or the epiphany. That needs to come from them. And so often, the more that I try to give them that aha moment or that epiphany, I'm an essence just saying, hey, I found a new page in this playbook of the buttons you can press later on. But, I'm going to hand it to you anyway, because I think maybe this one might be different. And that is the tale of the pathologically kind.
And that's maybe a little bit of a plug too, if you are someone that is in a relationship with the narcissistic, fill in the blank, fill in the blank does not mean “a hole”, fill in the blank can be a spouse, you know, again, an in law, an entity, an employer, a friend. And you just feel like you are made to feel insane. Reach out because I've got a private women's Facebook group now that is just amazing. I've got enough men now that are in these relationships as well, that I think we're ready to fire that group up in an even more interesting population.
And I'm grateful for this or the people that are saying, I think I might be the narcissist and not the one where you're the person saying, okay. I feel crazy in the relationship. And now am I the narcissist? Because I'm hearing all these things or if you are the person who is starting to say, oh, I am extremely emotionally immature, manipulative, I gaslight and I can't help myself. And my spouse probably is going through all of these things, then reach out, let me know, because we're putting a lot of groups together, which is actually a plug for next week, so that would be the week of January 20 something, then the Waking Up to Narcissism premium podcast question and answer podcast episode will be released and there is going to be, in essence, a trailer or a zero episode. And I'm going to explain a lot more about what that project is about. It is going to be a premium paid subscription-based podcast that will be nothing but questions and answers. And that's because of the questions that are coming in from this podcast. I think now we're up to maybe a hundred pages of single-spaced Google document questions. And I know that there's just not enough resources out there. And when people are in that “I'm starting to learn” phase, they really are just taking in so much data and have so many questions. And, if you can't find the right place to ask those questions, and if you are trying to work with a therapist who maybe doesn't really understand emotional immaturity personality disorders, it can be maddening. So I want to answer those questions and then the money from that premium podcast proceeds will go to fund the nonprofit that is going to be there to help people in these narcissistic or emotionally abusive relationships. So look for that. One of the quickest ways to know when that's going to be available is sign up for my newsletter at tonyoverbay.com or also you can follow me on social media, TonyOverbay underscore LMFT on Instagram is probably the easiest way. So, let me read the question. And then I want to talk about an article that I found that is so, so fascinating.
So the person says, “Hi, Tony. I just listened to my first Waking Up to Narcissism podcast last night. And I can't believe how accurate, absolutely spooky,” which I love that word spooky, “it was to hear your words. I recently became aware or more fully aware of what my husband is. So many of the tools for communicating and interacting with him I'd already come to understand and employ, but it was striking to hear them out loud from somebody else. I never knew before now what to label him and his behaviors. And I always felt like this was something unique to him or us. And that no one would ever understand or be able to help. And more than that, that it was all just me that I was overreacting or making anything a bigger deal than it really was. That if I just went along, agreed and complied with everything he wanted, everything will be fine. That we'd be able to make a nice home and raise our kids to be happy, healthy, and ready to take on their own life and embrace their path enthusiastically and well-balanced. So wrong. I feel I'm so overwhelmed with the amount of damage that's been done as a result of this 25 plus year engagement and marriage with a narcissist or an emotionally immature husband. Despite so many attempts to leave and repeated returns to this marriage, I was never able to fully disengage and I kept getting sucked back in his capacity to find and exploit vulnerability, fear and doubt has no end. I've been away from him and our home for the last six months. And now I never would have thought this, but I'm happy in the moment, day to day. I feel so much lighter, not being around him and subjected to his non-stop toxicity. And so now I'm looking for tools I need now that I'm in this space. Separated physically and living a life apart from him to stay apart. Try not to be drawn back into his conspiracies, his attempts to instill fear, doubt, or the syrupy pleading about how wonderful we are together and how foolish it is to throw away all of these years and how we're soulmates. And especially since our repeated history has been that I always do return. I want to, and I'm determined to break this cycle. I don't have any more time to waste on this relationship. So how do I maintain this long term? What resources or support is there for people like me that have sustained so many years of emotional abuse, gaslighting, mental abuse, and all the damage as a result. I would like my amygdala to return to normal, please. I appreciate the opportunity to reach out. And thankful to have happened upon your show.”
So much gold here. And I think these are, this is the framework of most of the emails that I get is someone that is finally recognized. And this person, she says so much, there's so much in just a couple of these sentences in particular. Where she talks about being sucked back in and his capacity to find an exploit, vulnerability, fear, and doubt has no end. And I've been going pretty big on this, I think the last few months. And that is the concept that as someone starts to wake up to that emotional immaturity or narcissism in the relationship and they start to recognize they have a voice that their opinions matter. And, and I don't, I'm going to say that I, you know, this might sound negative, but I'm kind of wanting to just normalize this process. That it's a real difficult thing to start to recognize this and not start to express yourself and start to try and do that fifth rule of interacting with the narcissist that I talk often about, still wanting to just try to give them that “aha” moment, but just the oh, an aggressive “aha” moment that they will understand now that it is okay for you to have your own opinion.
And that is okay for you to speak up and you are going to start doing that more. And unfortunately that isn't what is going to change that other person. As a matter of fact, you're handing them this data in real time of what other buttons to push and those buttons come reflexively from the narcissist or the emotionally immature. So when you say I finally am going to speak my voice, you can watch as a variety of responses that I could probably put on this wheel of narcissism could ensue. Finally, I've been begging you to say something our whole life. I ask your opinion all the time. You never give it or it could even be an oh, okay, so now you've got everything figured out. You're the smart one now, I guess I'm the dumb one. You know, or okay, well, yeah, you go and do whatever the heck it is you want to do and see how you like it there, because I'm going to tell your parents, I'm going to tell the courts or everybody that you're crazy. And you remember that one time that you didn't help the kids with their homework. And I'm going to show that you're an unfit mother. And so the emotional immature narcissist at that point is it's not like there's going to be anything different where that “aha” moment is still going to come. So unfortunately, when you get more angry and frustrated and fired up, then that is now just aggressively, just throwing these buttons over to your partner where maybe you used to hand them the buttons kind of kindly. Hey, you could talk a little nicer to the kids like that, and that's like a kind handing over of the button. And now you're just chucking those buttons at him as hard as you can. So yeah, they might hurt a little bit, but man, he's going to throw them right back at you and throw them back probably even harder.
And so I think this is one of the most difficult things is that the whole body keeps the score trauma vibe. When you finally feel like, I just can't take it anymore. And now I've been given a voice and I hear about other people that have a similar problem. And that my relationship isn't the only one. And that holy cow, I did not even know what I didn't know. I mean, even as I'm saying it right now, I feel like, you know, my own heart rate is elevating. And so that's that part where I like what she said at the end, I would like to be able to get my amygdala back to normal. So I feel like the unfortunate part is when somebody gets angry and frustrated, then their fight or flight response kicks in. We talk so often about the flight. You know, or even the fon where somebody just shuts down. But when you start to realize, oh my gosh, I did not have to be dealing with this my whole life, then that fight response kicks in. And unfortunately, when your heart rate elevates and you go into that fight or flight response, and it's that fight one in particular, then that is also triggering the person that you are now in conflict with.
And now their amygdala is right there, hijacked as well. But unfortunately now you're dealing with the emotional immaturity of a 10 year old boy who is now just going to throw out all kinds of things to try to hurt you at that moment. And it can be very, very bad. A thing is very bad accusations and words. So just know that unfortunately that's part of this process. So when you then are able to step back from that moment, that's the part where you’ve got to give yourself grace. You know, take a breather. And that's why I appreciate this person saying they did have to get away from this person to even start to feel like they were okay. And so when she said, when I left home, now I'm so happy in the moment, day to day, I feel so much lighter not being around him. And that goes back to that visceral or gut reaction that your emotions travel two and a half times faster than your logic. When data comes in through your eyes or your ears, it's converted these little electrical signals that go right to that amygdala and it says, okay, is this safe? And if you do not feel safe, then your brain is going to say, well, we don't even need those frontal lobes. We don't need logic or reason right now. We need adrenaline. We need cortisol. We need to shut down that logical part of the brain. Because there's no negotiating with a saber tooth tiger.
And now it is on. And so that is going to happen the more that you're around somebody that has been emotionally, physically, sexually, verbally, spiritually, financially abusive. So part of that waking up process is going to be this frustration. So if at any point when you recognize, oh, my amygdala is on its way to getting hijacked right now. I'm noticing people getting out of their seats on my amygdala plane and they look a little sketchy. They’re probably hijackers. At that point, we need to land that plane. You need to get out of the room and you will hear things on your way out of, okay. Fine, run. Leave. What about me? I mean, the buttons. That doesn't mean the buttons are not gonna be pushed. Again, if you're setting a boundary that whenever things are starting to go south, I'm going to exit the conversation. I'm going to exit the situation. I then know that that boundary now became a challenge. Oh, sure you will. Like you always do your runaway, this, the shows I'm going to tell everybody about this. All the buttons will just keep being pressed even on your way out. So back to when some determined to break this cycle, hey, you are, you know, you are because you're figuring it out. You're writing into a podcast, you're listening to a podcast, you're getting out of the environment. So your amygdala will calm down. I don't have any more time to waste on the relationship.
I can appreciate that. But how do I maintain this long term? I go back to the first rule of those five rules I like to talk about, and this is raising that emotional baseline. This is you time. This is self care, it is not a selfish time. So I want to talk about this big, big soapbox of mine is how we handle our thoughts. And so I feel like there's three things that I think that we just don't quite do correctly or we could do better with our thoughts. So the first thing is that when we are left to just ruminate and contemplate and try to figure out and try to make sense, that's not the most productive thing to do right now. Not, not at all as a matter of fact. Because right now, what you need to do is do things because the more that you try to just sit and figure out and stew and ruminate, then the more that you are going to start to feel that guilt, that shame that maybe it was me. Maybe I did something wrong. Okay. I understand. Now maybe I can go back in.
And Michael Twohig is a world-renowned acceptance and commitment therapy researcher that was on the Virtual Couch a few weeks ago. He had some amazing quotes. And one of those was he talked about healthy, happy people spend 80% of their time doing things that are important. And he made a point to say, it's not just doing things that are fun, but doing things that are important. So doing things that are important is not ruminating, doing things that are important are doing things. Things that are of value to you, things that will, at some point, even a healthy distraction, it will occupy your time. Because again, sitting in that discomfort of the relationship and the potential breaking of a relationship. Then that's where you're going to start to feel all those emotions and you're going to want to alleviate that feeling of discomfort by wanting to go and make peace with the emotionally immature person.
Now Michael Twohig also said that unhealthy, unhappy people spend 80% of their time in essence chasing pleasure or fun. And then I have since added to his quote. So, I'm hoping that he would be fine with this. But I have since added to his quote that then, yeah, 80% are unhappy, unhealthy people spend 80% of their time seeking this pleasure, but also trying to avoid discomfort or pain. And when we're trying to get rid of that, then it becomes even more prevalent and just upfront. So with that said, I feel like it is so important to just go and do, do things, do things that matter, do things that are important. Because that is going to keep you out of the rumination phase. And really at that point early on, you're trying to make sense of things that just don't make sense.But back to the concepts around things, I think we can do better when it comes to our thoughts. First thing that I think we do that is unproductive is we say, what's wrong with me? Why am I even thinking about this? Why am I doing this? Why am I going through this? Why is this so difficult? Why, why, why?
And let's start with, nothing's wrong with you. You're a human and you think and feel and behave the way you do because you're, you. Again, you are the product of your nature, your nurture, your birth order, your DNA, abandonment, rejection hopes, fears, dreams. That is what makes you, you. So guess what comes along with that? Your thoughts, your feelings and your emotions. Nothing's wrong with you. You're not broken. You're a human being. So when we say, what's wrong with me? Nothing. Part two is I need to stop thinking about this. I need to stop thinking about him. I need to stop thinking about how I can fix this, but then that's also saying I need to stop thinking about the plaid elephant wearing a tan, cowboy hat. So right now I'd imagine we all just thought of a plaid elephant wearing a tan cowboy hat and even tried to do one that I can't even quite muster up the image, but I sure did. So when you tell yourself, don't think of something, your brain's like, I will continue to think it. Psychological reactants, that instant negative reaction to being told what to do. It is built in, it’s innate, it's a survival mechanism. So instead of, what's wrong with me? Nothing. I need to stop thinking that. Now I just need to notice that I'm thinking that.
And then the other portion of that, that I think that we don't quite do as productive as we can, as we think is well, okay, instead of thinking about all the bad things or instead of trying to think about how it could work, I'm going to think about all the horrible things that he's done. But even then we're still paying way too much emotional, we're burning emotional calories, and spending this extra energy on still thinking about him. We have to think about the positive, but then think about the negative. So instead, this is just a moment to say, man, check that out. Look at what I'm thinking right now. Thinking about, I'm telling myself the old, “I can figure it out” story. I'm telling myself the old, “if I would have only done this” story, that's adorable. Thank you brain. That's what you've been doing. I appreciate it. Hasn't really worked very well. So now I'm going to go do. And then your brains going to say, oh, what are you going to do? You don't even know what to do. And there we go again. You know, oh, it's the old, “I'm not even sure what to do” story. So right now I'm going to do anything. I am going to walk outside and interact with the world. Life. I'm going to watch a show that I've heard about. I'm going to play a game. I mean, those don't sound like the most productive things in the world, but they are far more productive than trying to figure out how can I go back into the relationship and make it different when I've been trying that for two decades?
Okay. I want to shift gears a little bit because I found an article that I stumbled upon. And I know I use the phrase pathologically kind often, and I believe it was a couple of episodes ago where I was going through the five rules of interacting with a narcissist. And I might've answered that question about where did that pathologically kind concept come from, and it comes from Ross Rosenberg's work and the human magnet syndrome, but it turns out he didn't actually say pathologically kind, he was talking about that the kind people that are assuming the best or are thinking the best in others. And as a matter of fact, let me pull up human magnet syndrome. And I love Ross's work and he's been a guest on the podcast and here is what he says. So the human magnet syndrome thesis. He said, “Due to unconscious trauma based psychological forces, co-dependence and pathological narcissists are almost always attracted to each other. The resulting relationship is mostly breakup resistant and narcissists benefit the most from this situation.” And here's what I appreciate is he takes on the term codependency. He says, “Codependency is both a relationship and an individual condition that can only be resolved by the codependent. Many codependents are attracted to and maintain long term breakup resistant relationships with pathological narcissists.” And here's where I think I got the pathological kindness, this next concept that he talks about. He said, “Most codependents are selfless and deferential to the needs and desires of others over themselves. They are pathologically caring, responsible and sacrificing people whose altruism and good deeds are rarely reciprocated.”
So I love the concept. Even when we talk about confabulated memory, look at me. Confabulating that story right there. After reading that, and I had read it many times, then I jump on when I do an episode about pathological loneliness and I find his, the more about the human magnet syndrome and what Ross talks about as self-love deficit disorder, which is one of the things that he's bringing into the zeitgeists to address the almost formerly known as codependency. And so he talks about pathologically caring and then I moved forward from there calling the people pathologically kind, and I think it really does still fit. So he said that they are pathologically caring, responsible, and sacrificing people whose altruism and good deeds are rarely reciprocated. So he says, “While some codependents are resigned to their seemingly permanent relationship role, others actively, albeit unsuccessfully, attempt to change it. These people have become preoccupied with opportunities to avoid change and or control their narcissistic partners. And despite the inequities in their relationships and the consequence suffering, they do not end their partnerships.” So he said codependency is not just limited to romantic couplings as it manifests itself in varying degrees and most other significant relationships.
And so what I appreciate about that is that fits right into my number five rule, the nothing you will say or do will cause them to have the aha moment or the epiphany. And so I feel like that's where he talks about these in his view of codependency. Or these pathologically caring, or I call them now pathologically kind people. That they are almost what he says, resigned to the seemingly permanent relationship role, others actively albeit unsuccessfully attempting to change it. But the people become preoccupied where I would say you're spending a lot of emotional energy and burning a lot of emotional calories, which literally will leave people feeling absolutely exhausted and sometimes unable to show up as the best version of themselves with their kids or in their workplace or with their friends, because they are preoccupied with opportunities to avoid change and/or control their narcissistic partners. And again, he says, despite that inequity, because they can never cause that other person to have the aha moment. Then it leads to this consequence suffering, but they are not the ones to end the partnerships. And as a matter of fact, when you have that pathological narcissist, incredibly, emotionally immature person, when you provide them more data in your attempt to try and solve or fix the relationship in general, then that will come back to bite you.
I was talking with someone recently and they said that they, in a moment of just tenderness, it was a guy who said he reached out to his partner and said, hey, I realized that I wasn't the best person years ago. I didn't give you the attention or the love that you really desired and this is somebody who I think has continually gone back and tried to give that other person the aha moment. And then sure enough, this person said that it wasn't very long before that was then used against them. So now every time that, the all every time there's an all or nothing statement, but often now when they argue, then his spouse will bring up the, okay, see, you've already admitted that you weren't that great of a person or you didn't give me what I need. So now you must be doing that again. So here in a moment of tenderness where this person offered up this, you know, the guy itself confronted and he had really realized that he had, he played a role in this. That when he presented that to his partner, now it continually gets used against them. So that's the concept around that human magnet syndrome, the pathologically kind. And that is what has led to me wanting to break down this article because I think that this thing is just so fascinating because of that topic of kindness.
And kindness is a good thing. One of the women's group calls a couple of weeks ago I really tried to go into some depth about it's a form of betrayal when someone that takes that gift that you have, and then turns it around against you and then makes you feel like the gift of kindness or compassion is actually a negative thing because in a healthy, emotionally mature relationship, that kindness can be an amazing thing. Now, the kindness of trying to control or change others can be something that we could take a look at, but just a value of kindness or compassion, that is a beautiful, amazing thing. And will lead people to do really good things. But I think the part that, in this scenario pathologically kind, Ross talks about the codependent person. That kindness is putting the needs of others far ahead of the needs of themselves. And that's where I feel like when people are in healthy relationships, what happens over time is that kindness becomes nurtured and the person starts to feel like that really is one of their super powers. And they don't do that at the cost of their own self-esteem or their own self image, they raise their emotional baseline up so they can be the best version of themselves. And then use that kindness for good, not to try to explain or try to convince. And so, I'm going to read an article off of a website called charterforcompassion.org.
And just listen to this title alone, “Discovery: ‘Kindness’ Gene So Powerful It Can Be Detected by Strangers in 20 Seconds.” And this is some of that stuff that I really feel like three, four years ago, I would've looked at as, man, is that a little bit woowoo? Or now that we actually are finding the psychology and the science, the backup, the woowoo around energy and vibes and all of these things. I mean, whether it's mirror neurons or pheromones or whatever that looks like, but now, let's talk about your alleles and your DNA. So this is by Tima Vlasto, again, the article is titled “Discovery: ‘Kindness’ Gene So Powerful It Can Be Detected by Strangers in 20 Seconds.” Tima writes that man or woman across the bar, somebody you can trust or empathetic enough to spill out your story of pain and suffering to. “Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have found compelling evidence that healthy humans are hardwired to recognize empathetic strangers who can help them within 20 seconds. So if we go back to Ross's human magnet syndrome hypothesis, that the pathologically caring, pathologically kind person, if they are the ones that are putting out this kindness, energy vibe. And we're going to see if it's literally in their DNA. That then somebody can be hardwired to recognize that empathetic person within 20 seconds. So then is that where the human magnet begins to form. So there's a quote we've known that genotype can influence personality, but we'd only ever studied what goes on inside a person.
Things like behavioral scales and heart rate measurements, says Rodrigues Saturn PhD, A senior author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon state university in Corvallis. This is the first time anyone has observed how different genotypes manifest themselves and behaviors. That complete strangers can pick up on. So over the past five to seven years, researchers have been exploring how genetics affect emotions, says Alexander Cogan, lead author of the study, and a postdoctoral student at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. What we're learning is that to a certain extent, we have a genetic basis that supports a lot of the processes that make us nice. So you could have kindness and niceness, literally in your DNA in particular, researchers have focused on a hormone called oxytocin. I've done an episode on the Virtual Couch. It's called the cuddle hormone, the feel good drug, that brings us together. So oxytocin has been linked to emotions like love and trust, and it's found in a variety of animals. “Higher levels of oxytocin have been linked to higher levels of trustworthiness, empathy, and willingness to sacrifice,” Cogan said. Widely known as the cuddle or love hormone. Oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain. Where it promotes social interaction, bonding, and romantic love among other functions.
So in this UC Berkeley study, 24 couples provided their DNA and then researchers documented the couples while they discussed the times when they had suffered and video recorded the partner who was listening. So later a separate group of 116 observers viewed the 22nd video clips of the listeners. And it says then we asked to rate which seemed the most trustworthy kind and compassionate based on their facial expressions and body language. None of the viewers knew the video subjects and they watched the clips with the sound off. So they had no knowledge of the situation being discussed. They were then asked to rate how kind, caring, and trustworthy the listening partner seemed based only on visual cues. So the listeners who got the highest ratings for empathy, it turned out and here's where it gets kind of spooky, possess a particular variation of the oxytocin receptor gene known as the GG genotype. So, the article says all humans inherit a variation of this gene or an allele from each parent. So the UC Berkeley study looked at the three combinations of gene variations of the oxytocin receptor. The most empathetic, able to get an accurate read on other's emotions had two copies of this G allele. So in contrast, members of the AA and AG allele groups were found to be less capable of putting themselves in the shoes of others. And more likely to get stressed out in difficult situations. So, I mean, I'm not a genetics expert or aficionado, but here is where if you have these two G alleles and getting each one of those from a parent, then you will literally have a greater capacity to put yourself in the shoes of others. And it looks like that is something that then can be outwardly, I don't know if it's manifested, or if people just pick up on that. So, Cogan said people can't see genes, so there has to be something going on that is signaling these genetic differences to strangers.
He said, “What we found is that people who had two copies of the G version displayed more trustworthy behaviors, more head nods, more eye contact, more smiling, more open body posture. And it was these behaviors that signaled kindness to the strangers.” So I wonder then if this empathetic two GG alleles in their genetic makeup person. As they head nod, make more eye contact, more smiling, more open body posture, now meet up with the pathological narcissist or the incredibly, emotionally immature person who desperately subconsciously from childhood wanted that validation. And wanted to know that they matter. And if we look at deep attachment theory, if somebody didn't have a secure attachment with a parent, then they just need to know that they exist in the way that they know that they exist is to absolutely, I want to say ensnare or entrap someone, so that they will always have this person. They're there, period. Not saying a loving, mutually beneficial reciprocal relationship, but let's say, this is my hypothesis, that pathological narcissist meets this double G allele, oxytocin, super power, empathetic kind person who all of a sudden is putting out this vibe or energy to the person who desperately at their core just desires connection, but doesn't know how to do it accurately or correctly. They only know how to do that in a controlling way. Not taking ownership of things.
And then you've got the person continuing to head nod, make eye contact, smile, and open body posture. And it just seems like you can almost see the pieces starting to fit together of what creates this human magnet syndrome. So Cogan pointed out that having the AA or AG instead of the GG genotype does not mark a person as unsympathetic. So this isn't an all or nothing kind of concept. And he says, although scientists used to refer to the gene A variant as a risk variant because it increases risk of autism and social dysfunction. Many experts now think of the variation as just that variation that may along with other forces play out in personalities. Rodrigues, Saturn said it's important to understand that some people are naturally more held back or may be overcome by their own personal stresses and have a hard time relating to others. She says, “These are people who just may need to be coaxed out of their shells a little, it may not be that we need to fix people who exhibit less social traits, but that we recognize that they are overcoming a genetically influenced trait and they may need more understanding and encouragement.”
And this is where that just fine line or there's so much gray area where, when I like to say that, okay, let's start with almost the hypothesis with the assumption that we really, none of us have the right tools to communicate effectively. And so then it's a matter of, we go through things and then we have to find tools. We have to get help. But then that process now finding the right tool. And then implementing the tool. And now you've got two people in the relationship. So as one person changes the dynamic, the relationship, it really is up to them now to self confront and really say, okay, now I get it. It's my opportunity for me to be a better person to show up differently in this relationship and not try to fix the other person. But at that point then is the other person going to recognize they too don't know what they don't know. And is that going to be an opportunity to self confront. So I feel like that can start to sound a little bit overwhelming, but if we start knowing what we didn't know, then now we can have this opportunity to change. So Cogan said that many factors ultimately influenced kindness and cooperation. He said, “The oxytocin receptor gene is one of those factors, but there are many other forces in play, both genetic and non-genetics.” Here we go into nature or nurture. Cogan said, “How all these pieces fit together to create the coherent whole of an individual who is, or is not, kind is still a great mystery that we're only beginning to scratch.”
So I want to be very clear that I just found this fascinating in all of these, or I'm just throwing out some hypotheses, but when you combine this kindness, this kindness gene. And then you look at pathological narcissism and you look at pathological caring and kindness as Ross Rosenberg has talked about. I just feel like, okay. The picture is starting to become a little more clear, but then I find myself being guilty of what I say so often of, you know, sometimes we try to make sense of things that don't make sense. So it's nice to bring awareness, kind of a check this out. I wonder if it may be that helps us move forward as individuals on starting to recognize, okay. If I have two of these GG alleles and I have this superpower gift of empathy and my oxytocin is flowing, then that means I'm actually, I'm okay. And if the other person in the relationship is not someone who is able to recognize, appreciate, or support the emotionally kind person, then that doesn't mean that you can go against your genetic code, your DNA. If anything, man, what an opportunity to lean into that. So in an emotionally mature relationship, I would hope that the partner of somebody that is kind and compassionate can start to really recognize that as, that is them. What an amazing gift and opportunity it is to be in a relationship with somebody who is pathologically kind, who has these double GG alleles sitting in their DNA that makes that oxytocin flow. And if somebody, then let's say the more emotionally immature person can recognize, man, you know, I'm the one that is dealing with my discomfort in an unhealthy way. And I can recognize that my partner is my partner and what a gift. And then hopefully that will allow them to start to do their own work and self confront. And the two of you maybe can meet in both emotionally mature and healthy ways. And I find that even right now, as I'm saying that, what a mix. I'm sure the people that are hearing this, because there are people that still just desperately want to believe that this can be their situation, their relationship, and that's where I want to say this entire podcast is designed to meet you where you're at, but ultimately know that you are okay, that you are enough. That it's okay for you to have your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. And the more we start learning about the brain, DNA, alleles that are sitting on chromosomes, that it really is who you are. And so someone telling you not to be who you are is not a helpful, productive thought or exercise.
And the more that you are trying to defend who you are, or the more that you are shrinking so that others around you won't feel uncomfortable, then that is going against your very nature. You know, the very core of who you are all the way down to your chromosomal level. So, hopefully this is something that can help you feel a little bit more of acceptance of what a gift. And if someone is trying to say, I don't like that gift, well, bless their heart. They don't really know what that gift is like. And unfortunately they may spend so much time trying to control your gift, your thoughts, your experience, that they too are missing out on a whole important part of life, which is trying to figure out who they are, but that's not on you.
So, I would love to know your thoughts. If you have additional questions, comments, anything like that, feel free to send them to me. Through the website, tonyoverbay.com, or send them to me at email@example.com. Or you can interact with the post or the story that will go up about this on Instagram or on Facebook. And, I just appreciate you being here. And just know that man, you really, as cliche as that sounds, you're good. You're enough. I see you. And, wherever you're at is where you are right now. And that's okay. Check that out. You're not doing anything wrong. You're just starting to figure things out. And it can feel uncomfortable. A lot of the times we don't like discomfort. Sometimes being able to sit with a little bit of discomfort, you find out that, hey, I survived and I'm okay. And that'll start to give you a little bit of momentum. So work on that emotional baseline. Self care is not selfish. That's the first step. After recognizing that, okay, this is a thing, something's happening here. So get yourself in a place where you can do even more work to better yourself. To put yourself in a better position. And then either that person that you're in a relationship with is maybe going to say, all right, man, I don't want to miss out on that, but in reality, you're going to discover that, oh, I'm okay. I'm a pretty amazing person. And that's what's going to lift those around you as well as yourself. So, thanks again for joining me. We'll see you next week on Waking Up to Narcissism.
Susie Pettit is a Podcast Host (Love Your Life Show), the founder of Strength: Mind and Body, and a Mindfullness-Based Cognitive Life Coach. Susie has made a career helping women "live lives that feel as good on the inside as they look on the outside." But before finding her calling in helping others, she spent more than half her life living a life she did not love, as a people pleaser and a codependent perfectionist. Susie shares her story of growing up in a narcissistic home only to find herself in an emotionally, and financially abusive marriage, trying desperately to do whatever she could to keep peace in her home, her life, and in the lives of her children. Susie's story finds her hitting rock bottom, only to use her experiences to turn her into the "Midlife Warrior" she is today. You can find out more about Susie at http://smbwell.com/tony
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Tony: Okay, Susie Pettit, round two or three. What would we call this one? It's all been, let's call it two.
Susie: It's on me. Ok.
Tony: It's all part of one. You've been smiling the whole way.
Susie: It’s all going exactly as planned.
Tony: Absolutely. That's the case. So, welcome to the Virtual Couch, as well as probably the Waking Up to Narcissism podcast as well. So thanks for joining me.
Susie: Great. Thank you for having me. It’s exciting.
Tony: Yeah. I loved being on your podcast, and I just felt like, boy, we, I don't know, that felt like 10 minutes and I felt like we could have talked all day, and I think at that point we said, okay, let's continue this over on mine. So, yeah. So here we are and I'm looking forward to this. I would love to maybe, if you're open to it, just tell my listeners who you are and a little bit about you because there's a couple of really fascinating things about where you are and more. So why don't you lay that story out. So Susie, take us on your train of thought.
Susie: Okay. Well, my name is Susie Pettit and I am currently a 51 year old successful life coach for moms of teens, and I help women you know, really learn habits. I'm very into brain science and how our brain likes habits and ease and help women lay habits and create habits to live a life they love. Now the backstory of that is because I lived a life I did not love for many, many years. I grew up in a family. I was one of three daughters. I was the oldest and I grew up with a dad who, from my very earliest memories I remember him saying, you should have been a boy, and I wanted a boy. And even my third sister is named Jill, and he said, that's because I could never get my Bill. So I grew up in a very male dominated house. With a, you know, really we were tiptoeing around my dad the whole time. So that's where this might fit into your Waking Up to Narcissism podcast.
Tony: And Susie, I feel like this is one of those situations where if somebody hasn't experienced that, I would imagine if somebody was saying, well, I'm sure that he was joking, you know, or I'm sure that he didn't really mean it, but I mean, that was your everyday experience.
Susie: Well, and the tricky part is, is that when we're dealing with people who are narcissists or emotionally immature, they might say it in a joking way. Like, oh, I'm just joking, or, yeah. Or you know, one of the things, one of my memories, so, a lot of growing up with my dad was to be a woman, you needed to look a certain way. You needed to be a certain way or else, since you weren't a man and you're already starting back a step. Like if you weren't this perfect little image of a woman, then there you go. And, just thinking of jokes, one of the things my dad used to say is he used to be very controlling around food, and I can remember that when we were quote unquote allowed a treat, he would get two donuts and he would have one donut, and then the other donut, he would split in quarters. And he would give one to my mom and one quarter to me and my other two sisters and he would, you know, he would say like a moment on your lips, forever on your hips. And he'd just sort of be smiling in that like, you know, oh here you go. And here I am, I get to have the whole donut because I'm a man. So there's a lot of that joking. When people hear this for sure, you know, they may think, okay, well, you know, people have said this to me too, but the cumulative effect of years of this then led me into a marriage where I had a very similar relationship, where I was constantly looking for external approval and external approval and validation of is this okay? Can I, it's funny, I didn't even play on this today, Tony, but I'm wearing a button down shirt and my first husband said I could never wear button down shirts, that it was slutty and women don't wear those. And so I like now I wear button down shirts like all the time because I'm like, check me out. But it's, it is, I have come from a lot of programming and wounding.
Tony: Yeah. So, that shirt example is such a good one as well, because in that moment, because that's how you grew up and that's what you were hearing in the marriage. I mean, did you question that at first or did you just feel like this is the way the world works? I do need to check in and see if this is okay?
Susie: Yeah. I think what I don't want to skip over is the massive toll that many of us have, whether we had an upbringing like mine or not, where I do believe my dad was doing the best he could but whether we had that upbringing or not, the toll that it takes in getting the message that we don't know what's right for us and we need to look externally from ourselves for what is right, and that is not just me being raised with a narcissistic father. That is a lot of people raised in this society, whether you're a boy or a girl. Just this idea, you know, when we're talking about emotions, like, oh no, you're not, like, don't be sad about that. Or it can be to lesser degrees. Mine is obviously at one end of the spectrum. But having grown up in that household where I was absolutely programmed to think that I did not know what was right for me. That a quarter of a donut was the best thing. And that I am lucky that my dad isn't mad at me, that I'm, you know, playing my music too loud or something. When I was with a husband who said these same things, I was like, okay, okay, let's get in line, Susie. And I very much was looking back at what I think many of us define as a people pleaser. When he told me, and maybe he just told me twice, like, don't wear a button down shirt. It's not like that was a conversation we had every moment of our 26 years together but that's all I needed because I was so in, you know, as we know from narcissism, I was so in this lack of self-confidence in my own self regard, that I was like, okay, so if I can get his vote of approval by not wearing a button down, there you go. And the button down shirt is just one example. I mean, there was, I was not allowed to talk to certain people, and I say this, and yet he wasn't holding me down, I could have gone out of the house and talked to someone or bought a self-help book, or it was just more the emotional turmoil and backlash from that.
Tony: Well, I feel like that, that part, again, if anybody hasn't been in that situation, it does sound so easy to say, were you being held down? But there was so much, I can only imagine there was so much more to that as well and I do feel like when you're talking about that need for external validation or the people pleasing, tell me if this resonates because I think a lot of times when people stay, and I guess I'm just jumping right into the deep end as well, but when people stay in relationships, let's say for example for the kids because we hear that so often, and I feel like it's hard to say this to somebody that's trying their best, and they might be in this rough relationship, but I feel like often they are in essence teaching their kids, hey, here's how we manage dad's emotions, or here's how we manage mom's emotions. Almost like, this is all I know and so I'm going to teach that to my kid. And then what does it do? Then that's what they feel like that is what you do in a relationship, rather than, oh, I'm allowed to have my own feelings and emotion.
Susie: 100%. That's what I was taught as a kid. But it was, it was this, be careful. It was that walking on eggshells, you know? Oh, dad's had a tough day at work. So you know, when you get home on your best behavior, like I can influence his mood. I was taught very much that my behavior could be responsible for an adult's emotions, which we know it's their thoughts that are creating their feelings and yet, you know, I just tiptoed around so much. Don't play the music too loud, you know, and don't talk about your tough, so I was taught at a young age that my behavior could impact some, not even could, but like did, did impact some, you know, like he absolutely handed over his emotional control to me. And then when I moved into a more mature relationship, that absolutely was the case for me in marriage too. So your point to, you know, staying in this for the kids, what was another little factor in my life is that really was a turning point for me is I had a friend, a dear friend, who we were living sort of parallel lives. Like I had three kids, she had two kids. We would go to playgroups every week and we would complain about our husbands and our life and our you know, whatever. And then we'd get all our energy out and complain to each other, and then we'd go out in our lives, live the same life, like rinse, repeat, come back the next week. That woman was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and within several years passed, and it was a massive wake up call for me because she never got that chance to sort of look and be like, what kind of legacy am I leaving for my kids and for me that really was the moment where I feel like there was a part of me that just woke up, like, I came out of a trance. I speak of it in a recent podcast episode I just did where I felt like I woke up and saw this model that I was setting for my kids, which was very similar to the model that my family of origin that I had been raised in. And I actually, there was one day I was in a store called Marshalls, which I think people are familiar with. And there was a sign that said, “dysfunction stops here”. And I now have that in my house. And that is, I just drew a line in the sand. And I just, I knew from that moment forward, there was something that clicked in me that was you know, hold on. Like, yes, my kids matter so much to me and what am I modeling for them? And so that was a question I asked myself, is this a marriage that I would want for my three sons? And my answer was a big old, hell no. And so from that, I started to shift the marriage and I, you know, tried to do what I could do.
Tony: What'd you do? What do you remember about doing? Because I feel like you're so spot on. And I feel like the thing that's difficult in the women's Facebook group that I have or that sort of thing is, that I feel bad saying that when you start to stand up for yourself or know that it's okay for you to have thoughts, feelings, and emotions, that it's almost unfortunate that if you're doing it right, you're going to get more buttons pushed. So did that happen for you?
Susie: 100%. Yeah, 100% with everyone in my original circle, you know, like my mom, my dad, my sisters, my mother-in-law, like everyone who was, who mattered to me absolutely did turn on me. And it is something that I spoke about in that episode, it's SMBwell.com/230. But I speak of how you know, something I heard in that period of time when my friend passed and I was like, oh, something's gotta change, Susie. I heard about the idea of what happens to crabs in a bucket. Have you heard of this?
Tony: Oh, a little bit, but please talk to this.
Susie: I love it, so when you have crabs in a bucket, so imagine I'm a crab in a bucket and my mom is a crab in them by my dad and my husband and my, we're all in that bucket and we're all sort of living maybe in a like, and we know maybe that our end is soon because we're in this bucket. Like, why are we in a bucket? So we're in the bucket and if one of those crabs tries to get out of that uncomfortable situation and crawls up the other crabs instead of helping it or maybe thinking it can get out and help, they try to pull that crab down and they'll pull it down. They will not give up until they have pulled that crab down and torn that crab to shreds. That's what crabs will do. And so for me, I just was like, I'm that crab in the bucket and I need to get out. And so when I saw my parents, my parents did many things. My parents were incredibly, and still are incredibly wealthy, and said that they would support my husband's legal team. My sister turned over emails that I had written to her at different times, before we sort of had texts. And I would say, I had such a bad parenting moment. God today was really hard. She turned those over to my husband's lawyers to use against me in court showing that I was an inept mother. You know, just the root. I had some premarital earnings that I was, we were married in 1996 before, you know, electronic files. And there was one piece of paper that showed that it was in my maiden name, not my married name. And I needed that paper to give me that earning. And my dad on a video with me and he was with my sister, shredded that document. So $480,000. $480,000. Went to my ex, not a penny of the like, it wasn't split then because of the state I was living in, in America, Virginia, still at the time that I was divorced in 2014, you are the property of your husband. He got every penny, which rendered me essentially bankrupt. And I had, you know, little money for a legal team knowing that my dad also had massive money for my husband's legal team. So I spent a year in the basement of our unfinished house, the marital house where my kids were still living. I told them I had a bad back. Mom's sleeping downstairs. Because if I had left, the state could say that I was abandoning my children and I would've given up rights to see my three darling boys. And if I left with them, which two of them were begging me to do, they would've said I kidnapped them and I could have ended up in prison. So, I mean, those crabs are for real, Tony.
Tony: They really are Susie and it's so crazy because I say, probably on every one of the Waking Up to Narcissism podcasts of that, and we can't try to make sense of the nonsense, but yet I find myself wanting to ask you, you know, boy, why, why did your dad do that?
Susie: Oh, I get it. So my in-laws were in on that too, which I get more details too in that podcast episode. But yeah, all of them, I, you know, I call them sort of the four headed dragon, like my mother-in-law, father-in-law, dad, and mom. If they believed that what I was doing was possible, which was saying that this marriage is not okay for me, like if you think of my mom living with my father for however many years they were married and then when I went to my parents and said, you know, I am thinking of ending this, and they said, oh hell no. They were like, you cannot. If I was showing them a different way of living, they would have to address it. Maybe that could have been possible for them. And that is not something, they would rather close it off and fight against me. I mean, my mother said it would be easier if I had died like my friend. I don't know what they like, it's an interesting thing. I can see where they are coming from.
And it is, I guess another helpful story that I, I really like stories and I know that you do too. But one thing that has really helped me, and I don't know where I think I heard it from Tara Brock, so it might be a Buddhist story, but of a dog at a tree, and I think of my parents as a dog by this tree. And so you're walking through the forest and you see this dog by the tree and you go to pet the dog and the dog bites you and you're like, whoa, what's going on? And then you, when you back up, you see the dog is caught in this massive, extensive, awful trap. And there is nothing that you, as the person can do to get that dog out of the trap, like you cannot get it out. All I can do with my parents or that dog is decide whether I'm going to go back and keep getting my hand bit because and so it's that like the biting of the hand. So I heard that story first from Tara and that was so helpful. I thought, okay, my parents like they are not doing this to me. This is their wounding, their past, this harmful piece that's, you know, that is there. And that has brought me a lot of freedom. When I met with a coach, I was telling her my whole story and I was very much in the victim mindset and yeah, well, woe is me, look at all this and she just, she's like stop, Susie, stop. And I was like, whoop, I need to talk more about this. And I can still remember where I was sitting and the sunlight coming in, and she said, what if you had the exact parents you needed to have to become the woman you are today? And with that I was like, I'm the one, the dysfunction stops here. This is over. My boys are going to have a different future. We are not continuing this down the line. A lot of fear, a lot of terror .
Tony: How many, how many years were you into the recovery or the separation when you had that moment? I'm curious.
Susie: That was while I was still living in the house. So, I think to your point with the women in the Facebook group and people, when they're starting to see, yeah, you know, whether they're in that extreme narcissist relationship or whether they're listening on your other podcast, the Virtual Couch, and they're just sort of in an uncomfortable period. It's just, you just need to take that next right step. So for me, I didn't go from this, like all of these are sort of like little step posts to where I am now. I didn't go from that basement to living to right now I'm in Australia in a dream location with a man who's totally supportive and lets me wear anything I want. And eat as many donuts as I wanna eat. I didn't go from there to here, but it was more these little steps. You know, first I would, I talked my first husband into therapy, and then we got fired from that therapist when we moved to the next one. You know, and we just, so it's taking whatever step seems doable for you in the moment. Maybe it's just buying a self-help book. Maybe it's, I started, the reason why I podcast now is because I started with podcasts. That was something that my ex would not see me doing so I could do it. And it was sort of this, like, if he found out, he would've been raging mad, but I could do it in a safe way. So I always encourage people to just take that next step. Another big piece of that is your Facebook group to get that support because when you are doing things differently, like I was doing, you might be surrounded by crabs also. And, so saying like, anything, say it's not a massive marriage that you're trying to get out of, but just a boundary you're trying to set with, you know, your mother-in-law who's always dropping by unexpected and it's really infuriating. You know, so say you're trying to set that boundary like, hey mom, could you send me a text before you come over. You're going to feel physically uncomfortable if you've been raised in an environment where you need to.
Tony: Because you're, you're asking for your needs, right? And you want someone to say, okay, versus, I mean, even if they're not going to say, okay.
Susie: They’re not. You need podcasts like ours that are like, they're not going to say it. Like, you what, for 12 years, you've let your mother come by. You know, without any sort of, so why now would she be like, oh, okay, great idea. So, we need that sort of, the guidance of podcasts , and knowledge. But then we also need the support of a group to remind us you're not doing anything wrong. We want to have the like Tony or the Susie or the other women in there that are like, oh honey, I get it. That's hard.
Tony: Well, and I appreciate you saying that too because I feel like it's when people get out and then they feel liberated and they want to share that story and I almost feel like you've got so many in that group. For example, there are people that are just starting to, I mean, they're still scared to even log into Facebook at this point and worried that somebody's going to see or read or whatever and I feel like that person can all of a sudden hear, man, now you know I got out and I did this, and now I'm in this happy relationship. And it can just feel overwhelming even to I don't know if I can get there, you know, it's so easy.
Susie: Oh for sure. That's why it has to be that next little step. Like maybe it's just listening to a podcast or maybe it's, I would get a book from the library, but that was a little risky because then you could see it. So I actually just found, it’s so funny because I did move across, I moved internationally and so a lot of my stuff I had to get rid of. But I just found a book that I had had from back when I was married and it's, I can't get it now with my headphones, but I have duct tape over the cover of it, like white duct tape so that you can't see the type. I think it's, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers, but you can't see it. So, just whatever, like I've been scared, whoever's been scared, but we need to take that little step that seems okay.
Tony: Is that a library book, Susie? I mean, do you have a very late fee on that?
Susie: No, that's not a library book. But I'm sure, I mean, everything was controlled in my life. Finances, I'm sure it was a used book I got somewhere where I could sneak like maybe a dollar and change.
Tony: No, it's totally, but I like what you're saying that next little step because we did a group call a few weeks ago and I was talking about self-care and I realized even when people hear self-care, they think, okay, I need to go run a marathon. But it can be to dream. It can be to think. It can be to hope. I mean it can happen internally.
Susie: Without anyone knowing. And so that's a very good point because a lot of what I do are habits and we're recording this around the new year when people, you know, maybe sedentary people are like, I'm gonna go to the gym every day. And I'm like, let's not go that big. That's like saying, you know, you haven't spoken up to your husband of 19 years, and you're like, let's go to therapy. Like, that's, that's too big a jump. So it's this, you know, when I'm working with people, I'm like, well, what's the minimum thing that you could do? Could you walk for one minute a day? One minute a day? And they're like, that's not big enough. But it's actually, it is. I actually have a client who last year said she was gonna walk for five minutes a day every day. She walked for five minutes, and then she added five minutes every month. So by the end of the year, how much is she walking? An hour a day. Yeah. And she's, but because she started small it is that, we have to start small.
Tony: Yeah. And I love this. I really do. And I also like having people hear success stories and that and what was that like for your kids too? I'm curious when you got out of the relationship, what, I mean, what were those conversations like? You said that one of your sons wanted you to leave early on. Is that the case?
Susie: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think if I had looked back to me when I made the ultimate decision to leave and move forward with the divorce, because my self-confidence was so low that to say to do it for Susie was too far elite. But I saw myself doing it for my kids because my oldest son was entering preteen and teen years and there was a lot of conflict in parenting and how, you know, it sort of that my way is the right way authoritative. Which is why I now help parents of teens because we need to parent that age differently than we did the zero to 10 year olds. I mean, it is, my background is a master's of education. And it was interesting. I had a master's of education and then became the stay-at-home mom and then suddenly, you know, so there's this conflict in parenting. And that was the impetus for me to say, okay, enough. Like it stops here, and that started probably before my friend passed, that I would have the courage to speak up to my ex if it had things to do with parenting. Okay. And then, When that ball sort of started getting rolling, which it was not something that he was open to at all, but when that started to get rolling, it was continuing to return to my kids. Now, my kids now so much of my job is to recognize that they have a father and there is nothing I can do that can, like, I can't out mother their father, I can be the best mother I'm gonna be. And they are always going to have that father. And so I can help them, you know, we role play sort of how to speak up for yourself or how to say, okay, you know, I don't have that thought dad, or, but they're, I have three sons and they are still very much in the dance of figuring this out. They're 18, 20, and 24. I think I just did that wrong.
Tony: Well, and Susie, what I like, what I appreciate about that too is I think one of the things when I talk about co-parenting with a narcissist or an incredibly emotionally immature person, again, back to the, if somebody hasn't had that experience, it sounds like, this is not fair or you're throwing dad under the bus. But I love what you're saying about how we have to learn to validate the kids' emotions because I don't know if you made a lot of excuses for him, as you were growing up with the kids and I give this example often of somebody that the dad was really late to pick the daughter up from high school. The mom's sitting in the car and the dad's often, probably always late. And then this lady said that when her daughter got frustrated, you know, she said, I wanted to say, oh, I'm sure he cares, or I'm sure he's just running late. But she finally felt like, man, I'm not validating her experience. And said, man, what is that like? And it's frustrating. And then she shared, yeah, I get frustrated too. And it was a really powerful moment for her. And she said , she was coming in asking me did I do the wrong thing? You know, did I throw him under the bus? But I feel like we have to validate our kids' experience versus.
Susie: So that, I think it's very important. And I started to do that when I was still married to my first husband. If I look at what I used to do, I'd triangulate. So the kids would have, you know, maybe they'd wanna go to a skiing outing or something and they'd say I need to ask dad, but can you ask dad? Because they know that dad is probably, and so I would get involved in that triangle and I would ask dad and then, you know, and that what I have done is I've flattened that triangle because we know triangles are not great. So I started by, you know, like, you ask, you can do it. Let's role play. Let's think of how you can ask dad and then if dad said something like, no or yes, or you know what, no. Usually I would say, I'm really sorry. That's hard. There you go. I wouldn't, I would really try to step back from the advice. One of my favorite parenting tools I call sucks and handle, or stinks and handle. So it's like, all that stinks, how are you gonna handle it? And sometimes, the stink or the sucks part is where we are validating. And sometimes we need to stay there a little longer, so it's like, oh, I'm really sorry that he said no and I'm really sorry that that happened. How does that feel? Like, what are you thinking? And then maybe like a day passes, what are you gonna do about it? But that helps me stay away from throwing my ex under the bus. I used to throw him under the bus more when I was in the divorce and the contention because I was in a very angry place towards him. But I really was like, this is not fair to my kids, because this is the only dad they have. So they don't, they need to come to their awareness of who their dad is without me trying to sort of throw dirt on it.
Tony: And again, I appreciate your honesty because I feel like, you know, again you're bubbly, you're successful, you're in a happy relationship, you can feel that energy. And so I do feel like sometimes people think, oh man, well, when I try it's really difficult when I interact with the narcissist.
Susie: Well, I'm glad that you said that because I do wanna say that co-parenting is, I don't co-parent with him. I parallel parent.
Tony: Parallel parent. Talk about that, Susie. I realize I mentioned that I think in one episode a while ago, and it was brought up in, actually in a session earlier today and I thought to myself, oh I need to talk about that more. So talk about parallel parenting.
Susie: Because co-parenting, I wanted to do. Like the optimist in me and the self-help guru. I'm like, oh, this would be, and that possibly is the best path for children when they're not in a sort of contentious, or the relationship that me and my ex were in. But parallel parenting is absolutely, you are not co-anything. You are parallel. So the rules he has at his house are his rules. And mom has rules at my, you know, so like my kids plug their cell phones in downstairs, not in their room. Well dad lets us. I get it. Different rules, different houses, you know, and also we do not coordinate on discipline, because that was something that we couldn't absolutely coordinate on when we were in, you know, a marriage. So, it is like we don't do anything. And then I needed to have very strong boundaries with him so that he's not, he does not call. Unless, and I got very descriptive, unless there's a hospital involved. Like it's because an emergency wasn't enough. So an emergency could be like you didn't respond to the teachers. It's like that's not an emergency. So you can call me if there's a hospital involved and otherwise it is an email. There are no texts unless again, it's something urgent and needs a response within 24 days. I've gotten a little more lenient with that as we've moved out from, you know, the relationship, but that's also because I held that boundary strong and he got used to not being able to just ping me once.
Tony: Well talk about that too, Susie. So if you are saying, okay, only the phone call, if this under this scenario, then when he would text and what didn't fall under that, what would you do? Would you just ignore or would you respond back with that?
Susie: I needed to ignore, I put his text on silent because even the, as people you know in this sort of relationship will understand even seeing. It would trigger my nervous system. And so I needed to put it on silent, so I didn't even, like, somehow you could do it on our phones and I figured it out. And I'm not a tech guru, so it doesn't come up on the main, you know, you don't need the notification, what it looks like on the thing is like a number, I'll see number two and I'm like, oh, okay, that's him. And then I need to use my constraint and my willpower to, and I would set an internal boundary of saying in the early days, I would say, I'm only gonna check these at 4:00 PM or something. Actually for me it was more, I would only check these at 9:00 AM because 4:00 PM was right before the kids came home from school and I knew if I checked them I was probably gonna be in an agitated state. So I would wanna check them at 9:00 AM and have the whole day to manage whatever my emotions were gonna send my way and oftentimes I would really try not to reply or I would reply on email. Now email. I don't have any notifications. And then email. I have a podcast episode on my favorite narcissist tools. But, you know, one of them is, BIFF, brief, informative, formal, and firm. So when I'm writing an email, I'm trying to get out of my old pattern, which is to over explain. And so I'm just like firm, formal, informative it. There is none of that. Another tool that really helped me with him in terms of parenting and moving on was thinking of him. I would say to myself, I'm like, he's just another man, like to stop thinking of him as a father or like adding this sort of weight and expectation to how he should be acting or what he should be doing. Because whenever I was “shoulding” on him, I was getting into emotional drama. So like, he should be interested in that, you know, son B has a play tomorrow. It's like he's just another man. Like let's just, let's let him do him. Are you interested that son B has a play tomorrow? And let him act the way he's gonna act, which in my caring mind was like, oh, that's gonna harm my kids. But I'm like, but that is, he's the dad. In the same way my parents are the parents. I need to become the woman I am. He's the dad. My boys need to become the amazing human beings they're gonna become. And so they need that experience of maybe someone talking back to them or being more emotionally immature to learn tools so that they don't enter into, you know, a 26 year relationship with their own narcissist.
Tony: Well, I like the way you put that because I feel like that is where then they can learn, and this is where I feel like , if it's unhealthy and emotionally abusive, and your scenario, you get out. Kids, any kid, doesn't matter how old, gets their sense of self from external validation. And that comes primarily, it can be from the parent. And if the parent is continually spending emotional calories and energy trying to manage the emotions of the narcissist, then they, that is how their, that the kids get validation by also managing, you know, the emotions of the narcissist and then when you're in your best version of you that's where I explain to parents. Now you get to validate them in an incredibly healthy way and be there for them. And tell me more. And it's not always trying to manage the emotions of the emotionally immature. Because that, and I've never thought of it until you just said it that way, because now maybe they learn, oh, I'm not gonna open up emotionally to somebody that's unsafe, or I'm gonna learn to have a surface relationship for somebody and we'll talk about sports and we'll talk about the weather, and if I want this relationship, then it may be based off of that. And then I can trust my own intuition on who I really can't open up with.
Susie: Which is really hard. And yet, like my definition of suffering is resisting what is, like resisting reality. And so, for me, many years I suffered because I thought my dad should be a certain way. And should, I shouldn't say things that he says. But when I accepted that this is the man I have as my dad, I lost a lot of that suffering. So with my children, when I think of them, and I would say that my ex can be emotionally abusive. So when I think of them in that situation, my heart breaks. And I am like, I am not gonna be there to buffer or be that triangle anymore, and to hide from them what is with their father. Like they are now, you know, 18 and over, I do need to say that if the option had been there for me to get more custody, it would've been, but I had my father throw away, so I couldn't, you know, my hands were tied. So one thought that I had that may help your listeners that maybe are in a similar situation that you know, no matter what, like often we have some custody sharing. I would think that in the past I was married and the kids were in this environment a hundred percent of the time. And so then when we split, they're with me 50% of the time. And so then I like to think that at least 50% of the time, I am validating their emotions. I am pouring love on them. I am letting them know that no matter what they do, you know, all of that, and I'm doing that from a much less scared, more whole place, because I'm no longer in this environment and I can't control this, which is unfortunate. I mean, and that's where I need to get back to sort of my more universal belief that they have the exact, I am not God. I don't know why they're having this experience, but I need to believe that they are having this exact experience to become the amazing humans they're gonna become. And I do have the underlying belief that the universe supports me and my boys that things work out for us. I'm in frigging Australia living by the beach. Like I have so much evidence. My boys are thriving. You know, I mean, everyone has ups and downs. Sure. And yet I like to focus on the gain instead of the gap, like, yes, they still are around this man, I can't remove him as the father from their life. You know? And yet I have the gain that I have a new man in their life, you know, their stepfather, who can pour love on them. I have, I am showing a new model of marriage. I am showing a new model of validation and, and self-care.
Tony: As a better version of you. Hey, Susie, can you tell the story about how you met your current husband because that's what I loved when I was on your episode. Is that one you tell out in the open?
Susie: Yeah, it’s so fun. So speaking of habits, in 2015, for my birthday in October, I decided that I was gonna start meditating every day. I wanted to do it every day. I had heard from so many experts like you that like, okay, meditation's good. So I said I was gonna meditate for one minute a day. And that's what I committed to. I have, and now here it is, 2023 and I have been meditating every day. So that works, warriors. But so meditating one minute a day, and the app I chose to meditate on was Insight Timer. Which is a, they have a free edition and I got on the free edition. And so I would just meditate with that. So I would do my one minute a day, and then at times at night when I'm going through this turmoil of, you know, parallel parenting and all that, I would try a sleep meditation. And so one day in February I did a sleep meditation. I still remember it was Bethany Webster or something and I wrote a review on it that said like, great meditation. And then a couple days later, it was February, I looked at the review and there was a comment to my review on her review that said, Hey Susie, you know, if you liked this meditation, you might like this one. And it said, Paul from Wollongong. And I was like, okay. So I just replied back. Thanks, anyhow, we started a conversation, this Paul from Wollongong, who at the time I'm in Arlington, Virginia. I was like what kind of name did he make up? Like who is, I thought it was like some security measure. I'm like, yeah, you just make up like the name of a Paul from Wal, like, yes. Now, meanwhile my middle son is at the University of Wollongong, so it's so funny. Wollongong is a place, but, so we started going back and forth on the reviews, chatting, and then he, you know, and at some point I was, Hey, are you over the age of 18? We were like, let's move to WhatsApp. So I think that I possibly wanna go back, slide that meditation because I imagine we did wonders for her algorithm cause there were 40 different responses back and forth, but we just started talking on WhatsApp and sending videos and that was February 10th was when that first review was done. And then, I, you know, I really had changed the way I lived my life. That losing all that money again. Horrible. Yet also a really big wake up call for me, one of the best things that happened because I was such a saver and such a like, I must put this away for a rainy day and then it's gone and I'm like, okay, so what was that for? And so then I really thought, if that hadn't happened to me, I don't think there's any way I would've, which I did in June of 2016, chose to fly to Australia. I was like, well, what? See what's happened? Let's jump in with both feet. Like my word of the year for 2016 was joy. And I like to align my actions with joy. And so I just flew over and my friends were very concerned. They were like, Susie, he's gonna cut you into tiny pieces and send you back. I remember one of my best friends, I was in the airport getting ready to fly out of Dull International in Virginia and she said, well at least send me his address. And then I looked and I was, the only address I had, Tony was a PO Box, they do that a lot in Australia. But like, I don’t know, things work out for me. I am not a, this sounds like I'm an irresponsible woman. I'm very thorough and I, you know, I had been videoing and talking to him.
Tony: I would say right now, uh, Susie blinked twice if you're, if you're unsafe. Right. There we go. No, yeah, exactly. I'm safe. You're fine and that, no, I love that story because I will even have people that will say, I don't know how to meet somebody. I've tried the apps. I've tried whatever. And I even feel like I know that one is, I mean, I don't know if there's a lot of other people that met on the review page of Insight Timer, but I mean, just, just being and doing, just continuing to be and doing it.
Susie: I have a lot of people that I coach through divorce and with divorce and that's, so first of all, the thought that I can't find someone is a thought. And if we're thinking that thought, that's gonna create sort of our results. So let's think, I wonder how I can find it to just shift that thought around a little. I like thinking about dates and sometimes I have my clients make a chart of a hundred, and I'm like, so go on a hundred first dates, after you've done a hundred first dates, then maybe we can entertain that thought that you can't find anyone. But go and apps work. Everything works. Like Bumble works. Tinder, like all these things work. You can, like what we look for, we will find, we will find examples of like, look it, I've been on three dates and they haven't worked. That's focusing on the gap, focus on the gain. You can find, Susie met someone random. I need to add to that because it's so ironic. I had started dating again after my divorce and I had just broken up with someone who lived, I lived in Arlington and if anyone knows the Virginia area, he lived in Reston, which was like, 30 minutes away. And my excuse for breaking up with him is that he lived too far away. Then I go to the other side of the world.
Tony: That is funny though, because that, I mean the yeah, buts.
Susie: And that’s what I thought, like I thought, right. But it is, it's just examining our thoughts. I like having clients just do what they love. A lot of what you talk about, like turning back to yourself, learn about yourself, love yourself, go meditate. You might meet someone there. And again, with relationships, they're not here to complete us. They're not here to fill a gap like I was taught growing up that I am a woman, and being a girl is a subpar way of living. So you need a man to make you whole. We need to be whole. And then once we're whole, they augment us. They absolutely shine up. Like my husband helps me shine my light out now, but he doesn't make me, me.
Tony: And I feel like that's the message that is so hard to convey to somebody early or young. And I feel like that's where most people just don't know what they don't know. And so when, when right, when they wake up to this emotional immaturity or narcissism, I mean that is that opportunity to then test and see, okay, maybe did we both not have the tools, but all you can be responsible for is in how you start to wake up to that and how you show up. And I appreciate the way you started this today by saying it will change the dynamic in a relationship. And then are we looking at crabs or, I don't know. Something that would help lift somebody outta of the bucket.
Susie: And just like not spending too much time on regret. Like I couldn't absolutely sit here. One of my favorite exercises is like replaying my past and telling the doomsday and I could sit here and talk about like, why did I marry this man? Like what is going and how did this happen and what was, and sort of the self blame part. And I just think there is no point. And I like to retell my past and I had an amazing, you know, I had a father who supported travel and there's so many ways to tell our stories and to just make sure that the story you're telling is helpful for you. So when we look back and maybe we're waking up that we're in a narcissistic relationship. That is hard. That is awful. But we don't want to add to that, what I call it like, that sort of awfulness is clean pain. I say we often add in dirty pain. Let's not add the dirty pain that you should have known better. You shouldn't have, like you're exactly where you're meant to be. You're having the exact experience you're meant to have at the exact time you're meant to have it.
Tony: I love it. Hey, where can people find you? So you've got a podcast and where else?
Susie: Yeah, I have a podcast. I put together a page, smbwell.com/tony. Which will bring people to my podcast roadmap, which has really the foundations of a lot of the work that I do. Or just any platform, the Love Your Life show, Susie Pettit.
Tony: No, I'll promote that. And because I mean, your energy's fantastic. And then, what I really appreciate about somebody that's been in your situation is I can say these things and I can be confident of the way to help people, but I really do feel like somebody that's lived it and come through it, that I just believe you can help people, I don't know, get through it however many percent faster because you really do know.
Susie: I get it. And the parenting and just the nervous system response, I do get it. So also, connect with me on Instagram, SMB.Wellness because yeah, I answer my own DM’s and I know you're on there too, Tony and I love it. And I would love to support anyone. I love people.
Tony: We're gonna have you back on, so thanks so much for coming on. All right, thanks Susie.
Susie: Okay. Take care. I love the work you're doing.
Tony: Thanks so much. You too. All right. Bye. Bye-Bye.
Tony talks with Kristin Hill, a fellow therapist, about her “waking up” to the narcissism of an in-law and the challenges that come along with interrupting a “family system” that already has an established pattern of behavior around an emotionally immature individual. Kristin is a mental health counselor based in Washington specializing in postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and providing birth trauma support. Kristin is trained in EMDR and emotionally focused therapy, attachment, and working within a family system.
In October 2013, Kristin experienced a traumatic birth and birth injury. As a result, she suffered from Postpartum PTSD. Kristin said it took almost one year until she found a perinatal therapist to help her in her journey.
You can learn more about Kristin’s work at http://www.kristinhilltherapy.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tony referenced EMDR, and you can find a quick overview of EMDR here https://maibergerinstitute.com/emdr-training/
If you are interested in being coached in Tony's upcoming "Magnetic Marriage Podcast," please email him for more information. You will receive free marriage coaching and remain anonymous when the episode airs.
Tony: Okay. Kristen Hill, waking, waking. Take three at this point. Welcome. Here we go. Welcome to a podcast. I was going to say Waking Up to Narcissism, but part of me wonders, I think this might be a Virtual Couch and Waking Up to Narcissism material. But I love, here's a quick train of thought. I love going to movies and every now and again, I can go to one and I know nothing about the movie, and I just think it's so, I enjoy it a little bit more, but sometimes there's dud. That's not me saying that there's a potential dud in the interview. Don't get me wrong, but we had exchanged a couple emails and you have your own experiences around narcissism, and you are also a therapist. So I'm really just going to step back and say, okay, Kristin, take it away and tell me about who you are. And then tell me your story and I'm looking forward to this.
Kristin: Well, feel free to interject at any point. Well, I'm in Seattle. And I've been a therapist for, God, I don't know, like 14 years. I specialize in perinatal therapy, so any of the infertility, postpartum birth, trauma, all that stuff.
Tony: That's my, can I ask you, can I ask you a question about being in Seattle, and this might sound like a therapist hack bit, but do you find that people are more or less depressed because of the rain or the gloom or that sort of thing?
Kristin: I guess, I don't know because I don't have a lot to compare it to. You know, because I mean, I practiced briefly in Kansas City and then we moved. But I mean, everyone is definitely deficient in vitamin D, I mean I think that's just a thing.
Tony: Yeah. Do you, do you ever do you have people that use the light boxes or light therapy?
Tony: Ok. I just bought one. They’re very bright.
Kristin: Yeah. They're very bright. Yeah. I don't know. I don't know. It's hard because I think I'm seeing people too, under such specific depressed situations for the most part. So it's hard to know what's always what, but, yeah.
Tony: And what I don't, I haven't really worked with that population, so really what does your typical client come in and what are their challenges and how does that look?
Kristin: Yeah. Usually they come to me if they're pregnant and have had like, so I have a specific specialty in birth trauma. I came to it by way of myself experiencing it, and that's kind of how we sometimes do go through that. Right? We then find a passion. And so a lot of people come to me if they've had a traumatic birth, if they have had a previous one and are pregnant again. If they are having anxiety or depression while they're pregnant, wanting to kind of get ahead of it. Or often, most often after they're pregnant and really struggling with anxiety, depression and any ptsd symptoms from birth, which like one in three women view their birth as traumatic. So quite a few women, actually, that struggle with symptoms.
Tony: Okay I haven't really thought of it that way. So then if that's the case, somebody's just had this traumatic experience and now they are also supposed to now bond with this tiny human being. I can imagine what, that there's, that could be a challenge. What kind of therapy modality or what kind of things do you do in that situation?
Kristin: Well, I'm trained in emdr so that is super effective. Just any of the pieces of, you know, just using any parts of emdr, even if we don't always do reprocessing, any of the strategies connected to it are so, so helpful. So I really come from that lens. And then my history before getting trained and that is like attachment focused and yeah, I used to do more couples work, so I was trained in EFT so I kind of come from that space too, and a family, whole picture obviously, which as you know, cause you're a dad too, family issues, which is something I've noticed just really blow up after you have kids. And yeah, that's also what I kind of end up doing is helping these new mothers and fathers manage that aspect too, of family dynamics that they didn't see before. And a lot of it, I think I had mentioned to you in one of our messages is that a lot of my clients have parents with narcissistic tendencies, and so kind of, I'm like, wow, that's something that just kind of fell in my lap, but I've already had a lot of experience with it, so yeah, it's fine.
Tony: I like what you're, I like what you're saying though. It does come from experience because you start to see a pattern. Yeah. Is that what?
Kristin: Yeah. And so then I kind of end up also coaching them to like how to create their boundaries and, you know, just how to communicate with which, that's kind of how I found your podcast. Actually a client sent me your podcast cause we were working through some of that. And I was like, oh, cool. And I started listening to it and so I've sent it to other clients over the years, because it's nice to give them something to listen to more than just me.
Tony: I like what you're saying though too, because the part where people say, but our relationship was fine, and it was until, I like what you're saying and then whatever the traumatic life event is, which could be kids, moving, death, any of those, and then it's almost like that unlocks this part of this person and now how do they show up in the relationship? Okay. So what's your story? We could talk, I want to talk to you sometime real, real quick on the EMDR front too. I'm curious what your thoughts are, maybe this is, we'll have to dig into this in another episode sometime but do you feel like EMDR can work with relationship trauma as well?
Kristin: Actually I do. And I, yeah. I haven't been, I should say I haven't been specifically trained in that EMDR and relationship, but I use it with couples anyway. So, you know, anyone who's listening to this, if they're like, what are you doing? I know that there is training for relationships, EMDR, but I just, I do use it with them. Sometimes I'll have a client, she'll, he or she will do a set of reprocessing EMDR and have the partner there. Just to kind of be, I like it because it's like that attachment piece, like they're, it's creating that secure attachment within that space. So if they feel safe to do it I'll do that. But I often just use the tools from EMDR with the couple, like doing , I don't know how familiar you are and you know, with all of that.
Tony: I actually just bought all my equipment and I've done a couple of online trainings, but not the certification. So I'm very fascinated by this.
Kristin: Yeah. Well, and I think what's interesting is, like I learned, so I got trained in EMDR during the pandemic. So I haven't used any of the tools. I've just been doing virtual. And so we use bilateral tapping like this to do all the reprocessing. And so I use that with couples all the time just to help them regulate and you know, it's really effective and helps them just come down from, if they're in a space of strangulation and anger.
Tony: Yeah. And I like what you're saying, and I feel like it sounds like you've been doing this for a while. 14 years and I've been doing it, I don't know, 16, 17 years. And I feel like we do start to really find, based on our experiences a little bit of what a, I've been calling it lately in my head, a customized treatment plan. So yes, I may pull some attachment things, some EFT related things, some ACT things. And so I'm trying to look at the EMDR piece as something to maybe put into my repertoire, I guess in a sense. So, I like what you're saying, and if people are out hearing this, then they, that isn't part of their experience and they say, well, that you shouldn't do that, then that's where I go with a good old, bless your heart, because I'm going to do what works. And so I'll say this real quick and then I want to get your story because I'm looking up this document that I found that I really thought was interesting. So this is where I'm curious to know your thoughts around EMDR. It's from, are you familiar with Andrew Huberman? He's got a lot of, he's got a lot of videos on YouTube and his podcast is really good as well. And here it is. Okay, so I have a transcript of one of his, just a five minute YouTube video, and he said, “Talk therapy where people would feel a positive relationship with a therapist,” So he said, “that was the primary rationale and association with these traumatic, sometimes shameful type events. The idea is that you would simultaneously have two experiences, a negative one with the feeling of safety, and that would start to rewire the circuitry.” And so I liked how he said that, and then he talked about that with the EMDR that, and tell me if this is your thoughts too, but he said, so it's in essence speeding up that process of being able to have a traumatic experience with a safe experience. And then the part that sold me on it was where he said that when you were a kid and you're just up and you're moving forward, your eyes are moving back and forth , to scan for safety. And the cool way the brain works is according to what he said, and that's why I had to get the transcript of this is that it then suppresses like the fight or flight chemicals in the amygdala when we can see that I'm safe. And then, and this is where the stuff that I talk about with the brain that I'm now putting these pieces together. So I may be wrong, but then the brain starts to skip steps and it says, okay, I don't have to be up and looking back and forth, moving around. Eventually I trust that my eyes are moving back and forth. I must be safe. And so then, I'm suppressing the cortisol in the brain. Yeah. And so then, and then eventually it's like I don't even have to have my eyes doing it. I can be doing it with the tapping. I don't know. And I may be making all of that up.
Kristin: No, I think that's an interesting way to put it. Because I haven't used eye movement a whole lot. I look at it more as grounding and being really present. Like it's taking you away from that trauma memory, sucks you back like you think you're there again. It takes you back to the here and now. Like I'm not actually in that space anymore. And then you experience that groundedness with a safe other person that's you know, so, it's like you can experience the trauma in a safe place and remember that, oh, it's not actually happening now. It's over. So I don't know. I think that's interesting what he's saying though. For sure. Yeah. There's, yeah, I don't get, I don't nerd out super like a whole lot on all the scientific neurological, I wish I did more.
Tony: Okay. But what's funny is I realized the reason I do is because I want validation and I want people to think I'm smart because I was never very, right? So now that I'm coming to terms, but anyway. Okay. See we can just keep going. All right. So then that brings us to your story and working with narcissistic family systems. So now tell me more.
Kristin: Okay, well, okay, so before I worked with narcissistic families, I came into a situation where, very young, at 20, I started dating my husband and didn't know at the time, he didn't either, but his mom is a pathological narcissist. And this is what I'm finding with a lot of my clients who have narcissistic in-laws, you, you start dating someone and you're young and you don't know what's what, right? You don't, you're coming into a family or trying to respect their whole deal and make a good impression. And you know, I think generationally like we've all grown up, it's you know, family is important and respect family and there's been a lot of emphasis on don't make waves and just accept whatever's happening. So there's all that playing in the background.
Tony: Can I tell you, this is an ADHD joke, but I saw a shirt one time and it was this shirt and a bunch of people wearing it. It was a family reunion and it said “family over everything”. I know, right? And I said to my wife, I'm like, oh, family over emotional abuse, family over mental abuse, family over, and I thought, man, that is, but understand that's where people are coming from. So then it's like, yeah, I mean, you know, I can't, I can't question them or they're allowed to treat me like crap because they're family, and that's not okay.
Kristin: Yeah, and that is, I don't know if you've, I mean you've worked with tons of, you know, clients who've been in this situation. So it is kind of the, just accept it. Just deal. It's family, you know? So I came from some of that space, obviously like many of us did. And so in my twenties I'm like, okay, this, there's something off with this person, her son who I married was her kind of favorite golden child. Right. Gotcha. The one that was, he was the oldest, he was a musical performer. Like he just, he did all the things she wanted him to do. And so I come in and I'm, you know, I'm not like a docile, quiet person. So I come in and I'm like, wait, what? You know, kind of asking questions and, and respectfully, not really to her, but to my husband, so I married into this situation where you know, while we were dating, I had many strange experiences with her kind of trying to assert power and control. Like making me put my suitcase in the garage the first time I ever stayed at their house.
Tony: Okay. How, what, what was the rationale behind that?
Kristin: Because the room I was staying in was small, so she thought that it would be nice for me to have more space in the room. To then walk out in the winter, in the cold garage to get my clothes. So, and you know, when you're 20 and you're like, okay, like, I want to respect this person, so as you can imagine, over the years, lots of buildup of many things. And yet, because we were young, and navigating this dynamic for the first time, we tried to kind of go with the flow and not make a lot of waves. But it was hard because I'm like, this is weird, like the family really just kind of, she was the center and they tiptoed around her. I mean, the way they survived was how you do with a narcissist, you just don't make waves. You just kind of like go around her, go behind her because that's how his dad survived. And so that's how he and his brother survived also. And then I come in, I start going to grad school and I'm like, hey, you know, this is weird. I think your mom might be a narcissist, and we start having these conversations.
Tony: How did he take that initially? Was that like, I feel like sometimes it's the, was he okay with that?
Kristin: Oh he was okay because he knew she was weird and odd like, he knew that her behavior was strange and he was okay with it. But then it's like the dynamic of, okay, well how do we, and we were still, you know, mid twenties, he wants a relationship with his parents, you know, it's that whole thing where you feel that as the child you want to have a connection with the parent, even though there's this whole thing going on. Then that's dysfunctional. And of course he had all, I think it made sense to him suddenly, because he had all these stories with his mom of all this bizarre stuff she would do and put them through their whole life. And so I think it maybe in a way was a relief because he was like, oh, that's what's happening, right? But we lived far away from them, so we didn't have to deal with them a whole lot, you know? And so that was kind of nice, but then at the same time, we didn't have to learn, I think, how to push, how to set some boundaries, right? Because we would just kind of survive visits and then leave, and then there'd be all this residual stuff to the point where I would get really panicky when we would have to see them because she was so against me.
Tony: Yeah. And how many years into, how many years into the marriage was that when you started to really realize that?
Kristin: Oh, I mean, five years probably. I think I got panicky before then. It was a long time of me just trying to muscle through because I had a sister-in-law who is very sweet and didn't question things and just, and here I was like, what is happening? And I was kind of the black sheep being like, hey, this is weird. And everyone's like, let's just be cool.
Tony: Yeah, don't rock the boat.
Kristin: Yeah. And I couldn't, I couldn't not do it. So what kind of spurred everything on is we have a child. And she unfortunately happened to be in our home visiting a week after he was born, during just a really traumatic, horrible thing that I discovered from my birth and she was there. So then we were intertwined in this traumatic birth thing. And that wasn't great, right? So we had all this stuff, just like this ball of, I don't even know what to call it.
Tony: You said meshing, just a big old mess. Mesh. Yeah.
Kristin: Yeah. Just a mess. That and all this unspoken stuff, right? Because you don't talk about it because she's not safe. So then we went on this Christmas trip, all of us together, 2013, I had a one year old, almost one, and my husband's brother had two little, little kids like babies. And we're all staying in a house together. Not smart. And my mother-in-law, usually we start noticing a pattern around day three. She can't really hold back all of her narcissistic tendencies anymore. Like she tries to kind of behave. But then she can't anymore. And so around day three, she starts kind of acting up. So one of the things she does is she just wants to kind of, you know, find ways of having power and control over everyone.
So she's like, I'm going to heat up dinner for everyone. And so my sister-in-law every year, we all do the cooking because she's a terrible cook, she doesn't like to cook. So she made a big to-do about how she made dinner by heating the leftovers. And she had this unspoken expectation that we would all just come sit at the table and start to eat, and she just kept waiting and getting frustrated. Meanwhile, we're tending to little babies and she's like bubbling up with anger in the kitchen, and so my husband tries to kind of move things along, so he goes he gets a plate and puts some food on. He goes and sits at the table. She doesn't like that because it wasn't what she imagined, which was everyone sitting at the table with this nice meal she had prepared.
She walks over to his plate, she picks the food up off the plate with her hands, and she takes it back and puts it in the kitchen. She's mad. She's very mad and we're all just like, okay. Because, her sons don't often, you know, they don't really get into it with her a whole lot. But my husband was like, just kind of went off on her like, what are you doing? That is crazy and then they kind of talked it out and then everyone's just quiet and you just move on. Like it didn't happen.
Tony: What is the talk? Because I feel like the talk it out even is, what does that look like?
Kristin: It's, it's not, it's like fighting.
Tony: Agree to disagree or whatever it is. Okay. Yeah.
Kristin: Sorry, I shouldn't have said it. That was a nice way of putting it. It was like just a little back and forth. Snap, snap, snap. And then, and as you know, as you know, narcissists, they just move right on.
Tony: So, well that, and that's why I appreciate that, because I feel like I hear you with the, and then we talked it out because I feel like too, the narcissist that really is, I mean we did, we, we worked through what we're done. Now let's go ride bikes. Yeah. I mean, we're done. Yeah.
Kristin: Yeah. In fact, in your podcast the other day, I was just cracking up at so many things you said, cause it was so relatable. The narcissist wants you to confront them, they love it. And you'll see that in this story. So we all sit down, we have dinner, act like nothing happened, but I am like seething at this point because I'm like, this is not okay. We're grown up adults, you can't do that. And so we get through the evening and then the next morning, so she's, I think already a little, she's more and more heightened. Right? Wants more, I don't know. She feels very, I think out of the loop because she had this whole expectation. It's so many years of stuff, but my sister-in-law and I would be close with her and we would. You know, and so she, we're not, because she's not safe and so yeah, she feels outside, right? She feels very on the outside. So she begins to act up when she starts feeling that way, you know, after a few days. And so that morning we'd asked them if they would watch our kids while we go out, just the four of us for coffee or something, we think, oh they get the grandkids all to themselves, we get a little space, and she would not do it. She just wouldn't do it. It's like, I'm not going to do this thing you want me to do, just because I don't want to.
Tony: I'll show you.I’m hurt.
Kristin: I'm hurt, I'm angry and so no, I'm not going to do this thing. And so I hear my husband and his brother arguing with her, or my husband's arguing with her and his brother's kind of playing the younger child, let's just stop, you know? Everyone fighting, and I'm in the other room and I've had it, I've just had it. I couldn't, I couldn't deal with it anymore. And I'm, you know, I have a baby and I'm tired and so I go in there for the first time, the first time I've ever pushed back or stood up or anything to her, and I'm just like, I am done with this crap. I'm like, I just am like, you've gotta stop talking to my husband this way. He's your son. You can't treat him this way anymore. This is not okay. And then I looked at his brother cause I was frustrated with him, like, why don't you stick up for him? You know? And everyone's just like, what is happening? And because no one does this with her. And I of course, and I'm like, yeah 30 years old. And I still feel just young and naive in so many ways.
Tony: And well I think that's that part where it's like, man, I think I can get her to understand and Right. Do you feel like that, that if I just stand up to her?
Kristin: I don't even know if I was trying to do that. I don't think I was trying to get her to understand. I was just like, someone has to stop this. And I knew my husband wasn't there yet. Like I knew he couldn't do that yet. Right. Yeah. Like he wasn't. He was still trying to figure out his dynamic in the family and how to separate out. Right.
Tony: I feel bad even interrupting, but I'm curious about your opinion. So I, you know, I talk about these five steps or rules of, you know, raise your baseline, and PhD in gaslighting, and get out of unproductive conversations, set boundaries, and there's nothing you'll do or say that will cause the aha moment. But then I feel like I desperate, I desperately then want, not desperately, but then I want to go back and say, yeah there's a difference between, I'm not trying to cause them to have the aha moment, but now it does become a boundary that when they do this, I will do this. Do you feel like that was kind of more of the vibe that you were putting out?
Kristin: Yes. I definitely don't think I was trying to get through to her. But like I just wanted it to stop. And no one was stopping it, right? Because everyone was just operating as the family does. It's like the unspoken rule, right? And I'm just like, I'm not doing that anymore. So it was more I think about me and us, my husband than her.
Tony: Well, and what, and what I like about that, I just did an episode of why you don't confront the narcissist. And I was, you know, I laid down basically, right. And, I really felt confident about that. But then I also got some feedback that was people saying that, man, that makes sense. But then at some point, it, and it really was , how do I show others that there is hope almost to extricate themselves from the situation and I've been thinking about that. So, it's ironic that we're talking about this today because I feel like that one, it ended with basically saying don't even engage at all, period. But I feel like even if somebody now knows what they know is their room then to have this, again, not confrontation to change, but boundary to say, I like what you're saying like enough, you know, it is finished.
Kristin: And I would add to that when I work with clients, I, you know, I leave it up to them, obviously do they want to express anything to their parent or partner or whatever. But what we have to get really solid on is their own internal kind of self and expectations and they have to be clear, why am I doing this? What do I want to get from it? Am I solid in my own self enough to do that? So, and then it's like, okay, tell them what you wanna tell them, but just know you're not going to get the response you want. And so you have to be okay with that.
Tony: Yeah. Right. And then, no, I love it. And that's where , I had a lady at one point who was gonna confront her narcissistic dad in a particular situation. And she worked hard to get to the point where she felt like, I don't think I need to, to then feel like she was in a spot where she said, but now I can and even though, even if I get gas lit, even if I, you know, because yeah, cuz it can have a net negative effect if somebody goes in with expectations.
Kristin: It just is more injury. More injury, more injury, right? And I will say at this point, even though at that moment that I was like, we're done, we're not doing this. I wasn't trying to get to her necessarily. Later something happens where we really, we really made a mistake on that one. So it gets better. So I'm, anyway, I have that confrontation. Everyone's cried. I leave crying, I'm calling my mom like, I, you know, this is so bad, blah, blah, blah. And I'm like, we need to leave. You know, I just want to leave. And my husband comes out and he's like, so our sister-in-law, bless her heart. She thought, well, maybe it would be helpful if we all sit in the living room and talk.
Tony: That's adorable. Yes, of course I will. Yeah, she'll, she'll see the error of her ways. Everybody will work it out.
Kristin: And my only thinking was, I'm like, oh, this is not going to go great. Yeah. But I said to myself, for years I had known she had set her eyes on me as her, what do you call it?
Tony: Were you the hope?
Kristin: The foe.
Tony: Oh, you're talking about the mom.
Kristin: Yes. My mother-in-law. I'm the adversary. I'm the problem. And so I was like, kind of always trying to get everyone to really see it like you guys see how, but everyone would just like, no, I don't know. So I'm like, fine. This is an opportunity for everyone to see that this is true. And so we go in and everyone's sitting there and she just turns, my mother-in-law turns to me and just looks me dead in the eye and says, “well, my biggest problem is with you”. Oh, and in my mind she just says it and I'm like, okay. Everyone knows now that I'm, she has a problem with me. Of course it doesn't go great after that. Right. Everyone kind of proceeds to try to share various things and experiences. What is she doing? She's feeling attacked. Like you said, in that podcast the other day. She's feeling like you're bad, we’re good.
Tony: We're good. We're good. All or nothing. Black or white.
Kristin: Exactly. And so it doesn't go great, and even I get caught up in it, you know, because it's emotional and at some point I'm just like, this is not going anywhere. And I'm upset and angry and feeling still kind of alone. That was a lot. Being here a lot, it was very much feeling alone in the family because I was the one kind of saying, And, because, you know, I'm a therapist, I'm seeing it all, you know? Everyone doesn't have that background, but I'm trying to hold new boundaries and everyone's just like not trying that at all. I felt very alone in our family for many years. And so there, I'm just feeling it, feeling it, feeling it, and I'm just like, I'm done subjecting myself to this. And so I don't know how you feel about choice language in this episode.
Tony: I can, I can click a box that says explicit and we're good to go.
Kristin: Okay. I mean, I, I don't have to say the word, but I, I'm not a, like I grew up as a pastor's kid, so I'm not someone who's just like cussing people out or anything. But I just had it, and I just stood up in the room and I'm like, F this, I'm done, we're leaving. And she follows me into the room. I'm like, please don't follow me. Please stay away from me. You know, I'm just a mess. And I could tell in that moment, she's like, oh, shoot, if we don't fix this now, I might never see my son again, right?
Tony: Yeah. Yes, exactly.
Kristin: And so she's trying to like reel it in, reel it in, reel it in, and I'm literally like, leave me alone. Get out of this room. Like packing all the things. My husband comes in again, here comes that dysfunctional family dynamic, and he's like, let's just go for a drive and like then we'll figure stuff out. So we go for a drive and I'm just like sobbing. You know, we're talking and we get back to the house and my brother and sister-in-law are just upstairs, like nothing ever happened. We feel this feeling of like, if we leave, how does that look? We feel sort of this fear. I think he did more. But yeah, we ended up staying. And we shouldn't have. Yeah, we really shouldn't have. But it was like, well, everyone else is going to act like they're okay. And I felt a little bit of this. I was still struggling with like I'm always the bad guy in the family. I don't like that feeling. I don't want to be that. And here's my sister-in-law, just being loved and sweet and not ever making waves. And I'm kind of jealous and you know, I want to be like that. And so I'm like, well, we should maybe stay, I guess too, because I don't want to be the black sheep. I don't want to be that person. And so we stayed and that's one of the biggest regrets I have, honestly because I think that would've been a really clear boundary at that point. Like, we don't stay when this stuff happens but then we get through the next day and we leave and I could tell when we left that she was, my mother-in-law was internally scared about whether she would see any of us again.
Tony: And don't you feel like they take on that role of a little kid who got scolded and now they're bad, they're in trouble.
Kristin: Yeah, yes. I saw that from her so much. I have seen her, in fact, in the last few years we've had to deal with a lot of shit with her stuff, sorry. . . And we didn't see her for almost two and a half years. And this last time I saw her she was like a wounded bird around me. She was like, this just a crumpled little bird. And I just watched, watched it in amazement. It just was so interesting and I've seen her do that a few other times in our marriage. But, you know, I think what I learned from that whole thing was like, I feel empathy for that version of me. You know, because she just didn't know everything I know now. And I, and it's helped me to work with these other families because they could easily be in these situations on the holidays and Christmas. Had I known what I have known now, I never would've stayed home with them ever on a family vacation, there's so many things I would've done differently and because of that situation was just it was like the trauma that she was around after my birth, and then it was the family thing. I was then just an anxious wreck around her for a long time, I had to do a lot of therapy. We as a couple did a lot of therapy, I mean, this was 2013, so I think just in the last year and a half really, my husband has finally kind of come to a healthy place within himself around all of this. And there's so many things. It's complicated, but I just thought that's a fun holiday story because people are gonna find themselves in this.
Tony: They are. And just knowing that, and I, I appreciate this so much because yeah, you didn't know what you didn't know. You're giving yourself that compassion. But I feel like that part that I talk about on the podcast often is when you are standing up to the narcissist, it means they push more buttons and they get bigger. And, that's hard because typically it's the nice person that's trying to finally stand up for justice and what's right but then when the narcissist then goes big, I mean, I, yeah, that, that shows I appreciate your story because then that next day and you are feeling, I don't like being the bad guy and it shows you feel, shows how people fall in line. Yeah.
Kristin: Yeah. You feel like maybe I'm overreacting. So the gaslighting thing, right? Like there's a lot of that because everyone else in the family is like we're just going to move on. We're going to be fine. We don't, and I'm just like, wrecked inside. Yeah. And then I'm going, I spent years feeling like, am I overreacting? Am I making this too big of a thing, you know, just feeling like it was me and that is, that is not a fun place to be for that many years. And it was really hard. And yes, I dealt with tons of anxiety. I mean, every time we'd have any family visitor, my hands would sweat, my heart would be racing. It was traumatic for me, I think just because I didn't expect her to be the way she was from the get go, you know.
Tony: And how could you, I mean, especially when we just go in with these expectations and assumptions that people do think relatively similar to how we do. And, and I think that's hard because I feel like the people in my office spend so much time even trying to make sense of what doesn't make sense. Or you know, I'm sure they're hurting or I'm sure they're struggling too. And so I don't like that feeling, so maybe I need to let them know or reach out to them and you know, maybe we can just now have a conversation. All those things that are, it's part of that, I feel like that process that you have to go through and you have to go through it.
Kristin: Yeah, you kind of do. Yeah. Which is unfortunate.
Tony: Yeah, but I feel like stories like yours or when people can listen to podcasts or I've got this private women's group, or I feel like the more that they hear the stories I feel like it can maybe speed up the process, I don't know 10%, 15%, which I know doesn't sound incredible, but if that's a year or more that it can help somebody get through this quicker because boy, it does it when you think about all the emotional calories spent and energy spent on trying to figure out or what's wrong with, or yeah.
Kristin: And you know, I have to credit my, I had an EMDR therapist for four years. She's just, I love her to death and she helped me work through so much of that. And the thing, I think one of the things that really stuck with me is giving that negative energy to the person. Like I realized the more that I kept kind of ruminating , and hyper focusing on awful stuff she would do, right? Because she would do some awful stuff over the years, but all it did was hurt me because I wasn't helping anything by just trying to get justice or trying to fight back, or trying to get my husband to fight back. It only really hurt me and it actually continued to give her power in our marriage and I just was like, I don't want to do that anymore. I don't want to give that to her anymore.
Tony: , when I go back, even when we were talking earlier and I'm saying, okay, but can it be set in a boundary and not trying to have the aha moment , and I still feel like at, when somebody is through it, well past whatever , the break was with the narcissist mm-hmm.
that they often do almost find themselves in a spot where they feel like maybe if I would've been able to just pull this Zen mindfulness thing, . I would've calmly just grabbed my stuff and left, you know? And that I, yeah. But I feel like, again, we, but we have to go through it because I still feel like our brain's still trying , to make sense of things, even if we are aware, because, and I think that's why I struggle with that, going back from, all right, I promise I'm not trying to get them to understand, but, here's this boundary.
Even if it's to lead the people out of the wilderness or whatever. , but then I still kind of go back to this place of, but then I feel like down the road, We do, we kind of feel like, ah, , what would that have looked like if I could have , just left calmly and quietly and known that I never was gonna get that exactly right.
But then I don't think that can happen in the moment. I, I don't think it can. I don't know if that's something. Yeah.
Kristin: Cause we're just, no, I just think we're so heightened in our own emotional state. Right. We're human. We're human, we're not, yeah. , and especially when you have so many years built up of stuff, right?
Yeah. And then that situation like that where everyone's talking about all the things and the family that have happened, you just, you're human. You're gonna respond in a human way. Yeah. Even if you know the right way to be in that moment.
Tony: You know what's funny? I, I ran into one, , story of someone telling me about a friend of theirs.
And this is so funny cuz I feel like I've got one example of where a woman was in a relationship with a guy that had extreme narcissistic traits. And then when she was aware, Then she left. Mm-hmm. and, and it sounds so simplistic, but even then this person, this was saying, , , how did she do it?
And then she identified that she grew up , with a secure attachment at home, so Right. She had been taught that, well, you don't put up with that sort of thing. Yeah. You don't waste time or energy. And so I feel like it's almost sad to think that I've got one anecdotal , example of that, cuz I think maybe that's what my brain wants to say.
How do we help people get to the point where, oh, I'm not putting up with this at all, but Yes. Yeah. ,
Kristin: but if most people don't come from healthy attachments. Yeah. Which I would find, I have a curiosity about all of it too, the thing I wonder about, just because I have, I would say like 70% of who I see, they have some family member with narcissistic traits.
Yeah. You know, they're dealing with, I'm like, why is it so pervasive? Have you thought about this? Like,
Tony: no. All the time.
Kristin: is it like because of the generational stuff, like the parents in our, you know, parents' generation were just not very emotional and they didn't Yep. You know, I mean, I know why my mother-in-law's the way she is.
She came from a ton of abuse and yeah. All that stuff. But you know, , oh, oh,
Tony: Kristen. So I'm, I'm getting all excited now cuz I feel like this, I think about this constantly because yeah, when, when I started identifying this population, working more and more with it, identifying my own narcissistic traits, tendencies, uhhuh, emotional maturity, uh, then I think it was early on in the Waking Up the Narcissism podcast where I, I was very intentional , on shifting it to emotional immaturity versus.
Narcissistic traits and tendencies because I feel like when you look at it through the, , we're all emotionally immature until we're not uhhuh, , then I go uhhuh. I do, I do kind of call it generational narcissism because I feel like, , you go back to like my parents or my parents' parents, And , nobody dealt with emotion like that was weakness.
No. And so then you, the kids were growing up Absolutely not seeing it modeled and not having somebody take ownership and you don't, and you rub a little dirt in it. Mm-hmm. and, and I did one on the virtual couch recently about anxious attachment where it was kind of, you know, sorry, moms in a sense. Right.
But it was saying if the mom didn't. You know, when she needed , to feel like a good mom. She's like, come over here and gimme a hug. But when, but then she's managing dad's emotions. She's managing all these other things. So when the kid has a need for, , validation, she may say, man, not right now. Or, you know what, it's really not a big deal.
Or even a good mom is doing that. So now the, the kid then exits into a relationship and then they're saying, all I wanna do is be loved and heard. But then when somebody turns that on 'em, then they don't know what to do with it. And I think that's why almost every relationship I see the pursuer and the withdrawal kind of a concept.
Mm-hmm. . So yeah, , right? And then you gotta deal with that and self confront. So I still feel like if we can get this message out about, , Everybody is emotionally immature and start from that, then we can, I like that. Then we can realize that then we're all enmeshed and codependent. Then we go through the, and that's why I like what you're saying earlier, then we have life things happen and that's our opportunity to say, whoa, look at how I respond.
, and how do you respond? But boy, we gotta get that message out early, you know? Yes. Instead, yeah. So, so do you mind? Yeah. Like a couple more minutes or two, do you. Know that, so, so now what does that look like in your practice then? Because when you were saying about it earlier, there's a part of me wants to try to find patterns and everything, so, you know mm-hmm.
I don't know. Does somebody, but are the traumatic experiences a lot more medical trauma? Are they emotional trauma? Are they, you know, is there a correlation of somebody that is worried they're gonna do it wrong because of their family dynamic of, of birth or, or loving their kid, or, I don't know. You see where I'm, I I know.
I'm just throwing out.
Kristin: You just mean like in. . You're not talking about narcissism, you're just talking about in my birth. No. Yeah. Yeah. What am
Tony: I seeing? Yeah.
Kristin: , I mean all of those things, . Yeah. You know, , I think what's a, a through thread probably for every single one though, is , especially if there's birth trauma, you're playing out whatever.
, unhealthy attachment you had as a child in your birth room. So whether it's I'm not heard, I'm, or it's not you're playing it out, but , , it gets played out. Okay. , so. Most people in motherhood or birth are something from their childhood's gonna come up. So it's all family connected. . Yeah. Right.
So though we're working on minimizing initial really severe symptoms first, , let's get the depression under, you know, handled whether it's like meds or , more sport or whatever. Mm-hmm. . , and then it's like usually then there's space to be like, okay, well, , you know what? Internal, like, , with , emdr, it's like what's the internal negative belief about self, right?
Yes. So usually we'll go to that place. and, oh, where did that come from? And then we end up inevitably doing family work, Uhhuh, , because it's all connected.
Tony: That's it. So that's, no, Kristen, like that's, cause I did another thing on this limiting self-limiting beliefs. Mm-hmm. and like looking at where those come from.
And so I, yeah. So yeah, I can only imagine if somebody had a traumatic experience or they experienced depression , or any of those things that, , do they go right to the, what's wrong with me? Or I must not have been doing this right. Oh, always. Gotcha.
Kristin: Okay. Oh yeah. Especially with birth trauma, every woman goes immediately to, I did something.
Aw, it was me. Instead of, oh, that doctor messed up, or those nurses weren't, you know, or something just happened. It just happened. Just happened. Yeah. Yeah. It's always, and I experienced that within my own self with my birth traumas. Like, I must have done something wrong. Yeah. So, and that's because when we were ki you know, we, it's there is that through line of like, I already believe.
That I do stuff wrong or I'm bad, or you know, I'm whatever I deserve this, or if whatever that sort of negative internal belief is, it's gonna come back. It's gonna just come up in that moment. Right? Yes.
Tony: Oh, that, I think you just, you just said that, that makes so much sense of the Yeah. As a kid, I mean, we default the shame because we have that vibe of if my parents aren't responding to my needs and we don't understand, yep.
Then it's like, well, it must be me. I had to have done something wrong. It must be.
Kristin: So then if I'm in the birth room and people aren't responding to me or listening or , I'm not pushing right or I'm, you know, and there's so much like language that happens in a birth room from doctors and nurses.
They don't realize too how they pile on that like, , you know, you're not doing this enough, or you're blah blah, blah. You know, so it just piles on. Oh, all of that already. Yeah. So, yeah, it's pretty, it's intense. .
Tony: , well then I go back to that , and when I use , the acceptance and commitment therapy skills of how about you're doing nothing wrong, that's the first time you're in that moment.
Having that experience, whether it's your first kid or your eighth kid, it's still the first time you're. . And so, oh, I can't imagine. Oh yeah.
Kristin: Yes. But , till you gotta go back and clear out where that initial negative belief came from. It's hard for them to believe that in the birth. Yeah. Um, memory.
Yeah. So it's like they, you have to kind of go backward and say, oh, where did that start? Where did that come from? You know? And then kinda
Tony: look forward, do you just see people just get rid of a lot of. Heavy, heavy guilt and shame, then yes. Because of that work or that experie.
Kristin: Wow. Yes. I find that it's very effective.
Oh. Unless the person is somewhat personality disordered, which I have a few of. Yeah. You know, that's harder. That's really hard. . Um, cuz there's that lack of insight and awareness. , yeah. But for the most part, I mean, I have women all see like, Three times and we do that trauma work and it's like thumb cleared, you know?
Okay. Yeah. Doesn't mean they won't have other stuff come up, but like Right. Some of that really intense stuff. Yeah. They,
Tony: they, they needed permission to know that they were okay or that that happened. Yeah. Or, yeah, because, oh man, look at that one. Because we get our sense of self through external validation of parent.
So a parent is emotionally unavailable , or emotionally immature. Then we never got validation for much of anything, so sometimes, , you know, just having somebody say, Hey, you're okay. , that's all right. You did your best. Yes. Yeah. All that's stuff. But
Kristin: then getting them to say it to them Yeah.
Themselves, right? Yeah. They have to kind of parent their own self too. Not just from me. Well, you know, I'm saying and it's like I
Tony: give them permission. Yeah. Okay. And I like that cuz one of the things I'm, I've been writing about, and I haven't really talked about it much, but was the concept of where, so you take a, let's just take the stereotype, you know, cause I have guys that will say, you always talk about the guy being the narcissist, but just for the sake of argument, , the wife gets outta.
a narcissistic relationship. So one could, yeah, one could say that they got into that relationship because they didn't know what they didn't know, and they saw unhealthy. , relationship modeled in as a kid, which would probably come with the, they didn't get the external validation, so they were trying to fix and smooth and be the peacekeeper and they go into the relationship as the one that, you know, I gotta be kind and fix and be whoever I need to be.
Mm-hmm. to keep the peace. Mm-hmm. so no sense of self. And so then they get in the narcissistic relationship and then absolutely don't find themselves because they're continually trying to manage the emotions of a, you know, a 10 year old boy that's in an adult. Suit. Right? And so then they get outta that relationship.
And I've noticed that now when I'm helping that person. Now it says, I say, okay, you get to be whoever you wanna be, but then, yes, but then it's, there're saying, okay, who is that right? And I'm like, oh, no, no, no. This is you now. Uhhuh. , right? But now you're dealing with this adult person who has never had the validation from another human being.
Yes. And that can be a really scary. Yes.
Kristin: Yes. So I, that makes me think of a couple times that's similar.
Tony: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I like what you're saying, but then I also make, yes. Oh, you go. Yeah. No, go ahead, . Well, well, I was gonna say, so I saw it's nerding out here. I know, right? But I like what you're saying about though giving 'em permission, because I've been really looking at the fact of, okay, I don't want to step into a another narcissistic.
Space and then say, , I will volunteer to be the person to give you validation. But there is a right. A part where it's like, okay, but they do need to, as Sue Johnson says, in E F T, we we're designed to deal with motion and concert with another human, , but it's not supposed to be the human that's only dealing with us in concert to get their needs met.
You know? Yes. Yeah. Yeah. So, I don't know. Yeah. So we gotta figure out who that person is, but maybe if it's with the permission to then do and be, even if it doesn't feel like. the right thing mean. I would even challenge what that means. So you're right, we're nerding out. Yeah.
Kristin: Yeah. . Um, well, cause that made, go on another line.
Oh, sorry. No, I just was thinking about how, I'm noticing , the men, the men in the immaturity there in marriage
Tony: and it's pervasive. Yes. and that's where I feel like that one as a guy and dealing with a lot of that population, Uhhuh, and getting a lot of, I mean , the feedback from the Narcissism podcast is almost overwhelming with the amount of it, which I'm grateful for, but it's people that are pouring their heart out, wanting help because they finally feel heard or have a voice.
And so yeah, the men, the men that reach out to me, and I'm getting more of those, I'm gonna do something with , a men's group, but where they're saying, okay, I know I have this emotional immaturity or , these traits or tendencies. Mm-hmm. , but I don't know how to stop 'em because I feel like, you know, right.
Male brain is hardwired to, , yeah. Things go through this part of the brain that has , the emotional empathy. , it does such a brief stop to get right to the, but what do we do about it? So, and then, yes, I've been talking about like implicit memory or what it feels like to be you based off residue of lived experience year after year.
Mm-hmm. . And so their brain just jumps right to it. So even when I give somebody these four pillars and they're saying, no, I'm aware of my emotional maturity and I wanna change, it's like, it is hard to get 'em to pause long enough to say, tell me more. Or What does that feel like? Because even when they feel like they get it, it's like, No.
Okay, I get it. , so that's hard. , I'm glad she said it, but so now, you know, they go right to solution, which can still leave , the wife feeling unheard. Mm-hmm. and unseen. , and then when I stop the guy and say, man, you are doing great, but can you pause and really sit with that discomfort and try to feel what she's feeling.
That's the part where I watched somebody who's trying hard but go little kid-like, like, I don't want him like, ah-huh. just feels icky, you know? Yeah. Okay. Yes, I scheduled, I, I unfortunately scheduled a client after our interview. No worries. Else we talked.
Kristin: No, I actually, I also have
Tony: one. You do you.
Okay. So Kristen, so can people, can people get ahold of you? I mean, I was curious. , that was one of the things that was interesting. I love that , you sent like, Hey, I've got a story. And I, and now I feel like people are gonna listen to this and say, I would like to talk to her. So, or I mean, are you, oh, that's nice.
Yeah. Do you feel like you are open to people reaching out? . , yeah, sure. Okay. So , do you want 'em to contact you through my stuff or do you want, do you have a website or email? I can
Kristin: just email me. Ok. I mean, , I have a website. My website's just Kristen Hill Therapy. Perfect. Okay. , then I have an email, I think, and your assistant, I think has it too, but, okay.
, kristen health therapy gmail.com. Perfect.
Tony: Okay, so I'll put that in the show notes and then, , please come back on, , let's nerd out again. Oh yeah, that,, that was fun. Yeah, I love it. That was a lot of fun.
A growing body of research now shows how long-term narcissistic abuse affects the hippocampus and the amygdala of the brain, areas that regulate memory and control emotion. And while someone may not be your classic, malicious or malignant narcissist (there are several sub-types of narcissism), even someone with narcissistic tendencies, traits, or "dustings" can do emotional and physical damage to those they interact with. Tony also gives his five tips for surviving narcissistic abuse. Tony refers to the article "Neuroscience: The shocking impact narcissistic abuse has on the brain," by Lachlan Brown from https://hackspirit.com/3859-2/
With the continuing "sheltering" rules spreading across the country, PLEASE do not think you can't continue or begin therapy now. http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch can put you quickly in touch with licensed mental health professionals who can meet through text, email, or videoconference often as soon as 24-48 hours. And if you use the link http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch, you will receive 10% off your first month of services. Please make your mental health a priority, http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch offers affordable counseling, and they even have sliding scale options if your budget is tight.
Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=v95myQ
#therapy #virtualcouch #wakinguptonarcissism #tonyoverbay #tonyoverbayquote #quote #podcast #podcasting #acceptancecommitmenttherapy #motivation #coach #addictionrecovery #narcissism #happiness #behappy #mentalhealth #wellness #recovery #selfcare #anxiety #relax #mindfulness #happy #depression #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthmatters #psychology #MadeWithDescript #DescriptPro
--------------------- TRANSCRIPT -------------------------
[00:00:11] Hey, everybody, welcome to episode 10 of
[00:00:13] Waking Up the Narcissism, I'm your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist and host of the Virtual Couch podcast, where I will throw a plug in will know today, this week, this week. Earlier this week, I did an episode on Seeking External Validation, which referred to my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde episode of Waking Up to Narcissism last week, and I really do feel like they they're starting to just vibe together at times. So if you haven't listened to the virtual couch, please go take a look at that.
[00:00:40] And here is where
[00:00:41] I will be is authentic and raw and vulnerable as I can. I am sitting here recording this intro, and I'm going to share an older episode of the virtual couch on complex post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD and the effect that narcissistic abuse can have on the short term memory and the amygdala. Now, why might you ask I again, in the vein of full authenticity I have over the last two or three days at different times, been recording an episode on narcissistic family systems and scapegoat children and the golden child and putting all these pieces together. And I have part of one of the files. It's about twenty five minutes long that has no audio. So I have spent a couple of hours this morning, nice and early trying to figure out my issues, and then I submitted the file to the company that my record with. And it looks like there just might have been a glitch and the audio didn't record.
[00:01:37] So I have sat here for
[00:01:39] About five minutes just staring at my computer screen, but the show must go on. I want this consistency, so we're going to do this bonus episode, but I will if I have to rerecord the stuff about narcissistic family systems and scapegoat child and golden child, then I will do that and I will get that episode out to you next year. Next year I am. Let me bring myself back to present. Next week we'll get one that that one out to you next week. But in the interim, I would. I'm going to read a couple of emails because I just continue to get the emails. And if you are interested in more information on the women's group, the private women's group for people that are in relationships with narcissistic men or and that can be whether it's a spouse, whether it's a sibling, whether it's a boss, whether it's a feeling that way in a church leader, it really is a it's just a support group and it's just phenomenal. And a lot of the things that were part of this recording, this lost episode, this lost recording where I had posed some questions to the group and they had amazing things to say, and now I do not have access to that. So I will rerecord that if we need to. But there's just a few emails. I'm getting a few every day, which is still just so I'm so grateful for. But here's here's some of the ones that I think are just really interesting.
[00:02:48] I'll change some of the details, but someone sent one recently that said they listen to the episode about narcissistic awareness grief and then just finished a session with their therapist. And I love that people are bringing this into therapy. And she said, I have been so excited to bring her up to date on my recent AHA moments, and the session just flew by. And as a therapist man, I love those sessions. And she said, I now am just feeling so incredibly proud of myself and I love that she is saying this. Everything that I had described in that narcissistic awareness grief episode was, she said, it's exactly her own recent awakenings and that that she had heard put into words exactly what she was describing to her about her most recent breakthroughs. And so it's like a shot in the arm. It's so validating to realize that I've got this and I'm on the right path, and she shares some more stuff. And it's just it's really nice to hear people feel like they are. I love the way she's saying that, that it's realizing the awakening, it's validating that I'm on the right path. That doesn't mean that it is going to be a real smooth path, but you are on the right path and just know that that path is going to have bumps and and ruts and those things along the way. But you're on your way to a more, more sense of purpose finding out who you really are.
[00:03:52] And ultimately, that is what builds that confidence. And it raises the waters around you when you let your light so shine that others will then feel that that power, then Marianne Williamson poem that I love. Who are you to play small so that others around you will not feel insecure because your job is to be the best version of you? You can be for yourself, for your family, your kids, that sort of thing. So I was grateful for that. And then I also get emails that are, they're hard. They're sad. The person shared that they're their husband, their spouse had stopped speaking to them over the weekend, this past weekend because they are about to start a new job. And she has been staying home with the kids, and she's aware, she's aware that she probably won't get the payment that she deserves because she's been out of work. But it's the first offer she's got and she is taking action. And I love that because we too often just feel stuck and we feel like I don't know what to do. And we think and we think and we ruminate, but we need to start taking action. And maybe this job isn't the ideal job, but it's it's getting her on a path of self-confidence. But of course, even though her narcissistic tendency traits husband has been saying that he feels like she waste time when she's not working now, of course, he's saying that he's going to be wasting his time with this job, even though he, she says.
[00:05:09] All you do is waste his money, which I hate that phrase, I don't usually the word the hate. But I the wasting my money. If you're in a marriage, you're working with a deliberate, Dyadic collaborative process. It's our money. It's the family's money, but wasting his money. So now she goes to try to make money, and now it is going to be a waste of time. So I get the point that it's going to feel like you can't do anything right regardless. So I just love this person's email because it is. It is her saying, you know, the old darned, if I do, darned if I don't. But if I'm going to start doing and I'm going to do things that are going to start to raise my emotional baseline and help me now learn, maybe I like this job. Maybe I meet people here. Maybe I start to connect with others. Maybe I start to feel better about bringing in some whatever it is it is doing, instead of just continually thinking and ruminating because of the gaslighting or the nurses can make you feel so crazy. So an example there. There's another one. This is talking about therapy. Someone also sent me one Hi Tony, my therapist recommended your podcast and I've really appreciated it. So many things have rung true and help me feel seen, and it is truly difficult to be in a relationship with someone with narcissistic tendencies.
[00:06:16] And then she goes on to share a lot of examples, and I just want her to know I. I've read them all, and there are so many here that are so, so good, but also break my heart where I wanted to read a little bit of one where she said that he will say often that he feels like he hasn't met. She doesn't meet his needs that are not being met physically and emotionally, and he doesn't feel like anything has changed that. He says he hasn't seen her making any progress. But I feel like that alone is coming from not a place of curiosity where he's saying, I haven't seen you make progress instead of saying, Tell me about you. You know, tell me what's going on. Tell me what you're working on. I'm looking at this with genuine curiosity because she shared that rewinding the week before, she had sent nice messages at work different, you know, saying that, Hey, I'm thinking about you messages that he did not respond to all day where I can imagine that he's saying, You don't think about me because I hear that one so often, not even to say that he's on his way home and she and her kind, probably pathological kindness as which I understand. But if I had a busy day, then it's not OK that my messages aren't over the top, or I'm sure that she's heard the if she's had a busy day, then he will most likely say, Well, you know, I still think of you when I'm having when you're having a busy day.
[00:07:24] So she said that she wrote notes, put them in his lunch, put them around different places so that letting him know that his work doesn't go unnoticed. And but he just keeps saying how he he thinks that that is whether it's too little, too late or not enough or. And so again, from that vein of just feeling like you, you're going crazy and that you're told you don't do enough of this, whatever this is, you don't you don't send me notes now the person sends notes, and now they're not acknowledged. And now if you say, Hey, what about those notes? Oh, well, now you know you only did it because I asked you to do it. So I get the crazy making. And so I just love when people are sending things and they're saying that they they are feeling more heard that they're feeling more understood. And so that is maybe the opening to say, continue to send those emails, those messages. But let's get now to this episode on complex post-traumatic stress disorder and a tiny bit of background on this as well. I held off on this one a long time because I worried that people would would feel like this is even more of the crazy making and the effect it can have.
[00:08:27] But then I realized after airing this episode and it's it was episode two hundred and something early to hundreds on the virtual couch. So it was well over a year ago. This one gets referred to a lot as one of the episodes where people started to say, I have to do something this. This is proof that this this emotional abuse or this the gaslighting, the not feeling understood or heard or feeling this crazy making can literally take a negative effect on the brain. And so there is nothing better than starting to take action so that you can put yourself in a better place because this complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can affect you in ways that then you are more in your reactionary brain. So then when I get the people that are so nice and kind that are trying to make the best of things and make things work, and they respond to me and say, But he is right, you know, I do get angry. I do say mean things. But this is where I often say, Do you just get angry and say, mean things out in the wild? Or are you getting angry and saying mean things in more of a reaction to feeling like you are not being understood or there is no curiosity in the relationship, or that you're continually being told that your view of things is wrong, because then that's your human.
[00:09:32] You are being reactionary. And so the more you're going to learn about this complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and the more you're going to learn about gaslighting and raising your emotional baseline and truly finding your sense of self and purpose, then the more confident you will be. And we've already identified that, unfortunately, the more confident you will be, the more that will now be viewed as most likely a threat to the person with the narcissistic tendencies because they view it in this black or white. If you have a different opinion, you are telling me mine's wrong, so then therefore I must I must defeat you. And that is not a mature adult relationship. So let's get to this episode on PTSD. Two seconds more of housekeeping if you are. And for therapy counseling, and you're not quite sure where to go and you don't really and I really feel like this is really applicable in that, yes, this is about to be a quick ad, but I think it's really applicable in this situation because I know a lot of people that are in these relationships with narcissistic traits or tendencies, people or full blown narcissistic personality disorder. I have women that won't participate in the group call because they, your husband will know and they can't have that happen. So if you go to Betterhelp.com Betterhelp.com virtual couch, then there is their therapy options there that are literally therapy, text therapy, messaging therapy, video chats.
[00:10:44] And so where early on in my own therapeutic career, I thought, Well, I don't know if that's very effective. Well, we got to meet people where they're at. So if you feel like you need help and you feel like you're not quite sure where to go or you don't want to go somewhere in person or out in public, then this might be a good option and go to Betterhelp.com virtual couch and you'll get 10 percent off your first months of counseling services, and they are licensed professional counselors and therapists. And during the assessment process, and it's all a form you fill out online, then I would be pretty open and honest in about worrying about emotional abuse or those sort of things so that they can put you with the right counselor. And the best part about this one is that if you do not have a fit with your counselor, it is very, very easy to lovingly break up with your counselor, your therapist on better help because you can just open up your online portal and say, I think I want another therapist, so go to Betterhelp.com slash virtual couch, get 10 percent off of your first month's services, and then let's get to this episode on complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Send me your messages. Go to Tony Orbcomm, send through the contact form, and next week we'll get back to that family systems and narcissistic family systems.
[00:11:49] Hey, coming up on today's episode of the virtual couch, we're going to get a little bit heavy. We're going to talk in the world of neuroscience and the shocking impact that narcissistic abuse can have on the brain, how it can actually impact your short term memory and also dig deep into your amygdala and cause your amygdala to flare up. That's that fight, flight or freeze response. And more importantly, we're going to talk about what you can do if you're in a situation where you may be experiencing narcissistic abuse that and so much more. Coming up on today's episode
[00:12:17] Of the virtual academy.
[00:12:28] Thank you for joining me on episode two hundred and twenty one of the virtual couch, I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified, mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four ultra marathon runner and creator of the Path Back, an online pornography recovery program that is helping people like you reclaim their lives from the harmful effects of pornography. If you or anyone that you know is trying to put pornography behind you once and for all and trust me, it can be done and a strength based hold the shame, become the person you always wanted to be way. Then head over to Pathbackrecovery.com. And there you can download a short e-book that describes five common mistakes that people make when trying to put pornography behind them once and for all. Again, that's pathbackrecovery.com, and welcome to the podcast. I am again going on YouTube so you can find the virtual couch channel on YouTube, and you can find me at all the places that people can find people at the virtual couch on Instagram or at Tony Overbay, licensed marriage and family therapist on Facebook. And I'm just glad you're here, and I am going to get to the topic today. But speaking of pornography addiction, who was? I was in the intro. I just was going to share a little bit of a moment that I had over the weekend. I thought it was pretty fascinating. I was asked to go on a national radio show was the Walter Stirling show, and it's carried nationwide, even in my local market of Sacramento and KFBK, and I was prepared for this.
[00:13:48] I knew a little bit about Walter Stirling, so I came into my office and the topic was pornography and the pandemic. Was there a rise in use pornography use? And I had a very spirited conversation with Walter. He was very respectful and I really enjoy any time that I can talk about something because I'm just going to share what I know. I'm going to share my truths. And a lot of times I've been on those kind of program situations, and I think that people maybe think I'm going to get a little bit more defensive or that I might be a little bit kooky or nutty. And I don't know. Maybe that's all relative. Anyway, maybe I am. But it was a really fun experience, and here's why I wanted to talk about it because I experienced this situation and I did record it, and I think it might be fun to share the track at some point. But he was saying that he disagreed that he didn't think that pornography addiction was real, that there was anything wrong with turning to pornography for a stress relief. That sort of thing. And here was the thing. The first thing that I tried to establish was, if that's where he's coming from, then that's great.
[00:14:46] My job is not to try to convince somebody who is not interested in moving away from pornography or lessening pornography in their life. And at this point now I've got about 15 years, and when I was promoting my book, he's a porn addict. Now, what an expert and a former addict to answer your questions, which I played the role of the expert that is a best seller on Amazon. Yes, I am self-promoting, but I'm very proud of that book with coauthor Josh Shea. I had added up at the time about twelve or thirteen hundred people that I've been able to help individually. Not just that's not including the online pornography program, the path back. And those are people that came to me and said I would like to view pornography less. So when people are coming to me, then absolutely, I can work with that. Any string pulled the shame. Become the person you always wanted to be way as I talk about in the intro. But when somebody comes to me and says, I don't think it's a problem and I don't think I should quit, then all I can say is, OK, all right. And I even introduced on his radio show one of my favorite phrases psychological reactants, which is that instant negative reaction of being told what to do. And so I let them know that, Hey, Walter, I can't tell you to stop if that's not something that you want to stop.
[00:15:50] And so I don't know if he was interested in me being more combative, but I had a nice exchange. I talked to him about how when it's used as a coping mechanism, that people are choosing pixels over people and that when people are even if a couple is looking at pornography together, if that's something that they want to do, then great. I believe that there is more of an opportunity for connection between the two of them without having to turn to a third party of sorts in that scenario. And then I barely was able to touch on the fact that pornography, addiction or pornography and even pornography addiction is not something that is a diagnosable addiction. There is compulsive sexual behavior, impulse control disorder. So I 100 percent understand that what I'm trying to do is help people move away from that. If that is something that they would like to move away from because it's a time it sucks up. The time sucks. The life out of people, warps their sexuality can make them feel like if they aren't looking at an image of someone perfect who is always, you know, the image always wants them, that that's their version of reality when it comes to intimacy. And so if someone is coming to me saying I would like to do that less, please, then we we look at their areas of their life. Are they feeling satisfied in their parenting? Are they feeling satisfied in their marriage or in their health, or in their career or in their faith? And so as we shore up those areas using my favorite modality, acceptance and commitment therapy kind of dial in their values, get them working towards something that they really believe in and parenting through the nurtured heart approach and feeling like they really have a parenting model and dialing into their couple's relationship with emotionally focused therapy.
[00:17:22] When you get all those things working together, there is less of a siren song of pornography of. Food of online gambling of any of those coping mechanisms, so I just wanted to share that it was a really fun experience. It's funny. I walk home, not walk home, I drive home, I walk in through the garage and my wife was kind and she listened to it on the local radio station and had filmed it through it up to a family chat that we have. But I love the fact that one of my daughters comes in and she's like, Hey, what were you doing tonight? I was like, I was on a national radio show. I was like, Oh, OK, I hand over to my friend's house. But I just think, like every dad's doing on a Sunday evening, jumping on a national radio show and talking about pornography, compulsive sexual behavior with someone who was trying to, I think initially maybe attack them and then coming out of that and feeling like it was OK.
[00:18:06] So anyway, that made for a fun weekend. I did enjoy that and I will put up more about that. I think I've asked Walter if I can use that clip for a future episode or that sort of thing. There is a bunch of intro in the YouTube video. I'm going to say that you can now start the real topic of narcissistic abuse and its effects on the brain at whatever this minute mark is. So thank you for hanging in there. So today I'm going to turn to an article and I'm going to do a lot of riffing, as the kids say today, because I'm going to talk a lot about narcissistic abuse. And the reason why number one is that this is an area of my practice that I do a lot of work with. I think I've shared in previous episodes where I talk about narcissism or I talk about gaslighting, any of those things that I've actually had an opportunity to testify in some court cases on narcissistic abuse or narcissism in general personality disorders. And it wasn't something that I necessarily anticipated. And I think initially when I started working with more men, that the percentage of men that suffer with narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder or traits of narcissism is much higher than that with women. So I started working a lot with men who had narcissistic personality disorder are again traits of and then working with them in their marriages.
[00:19:22] And oftentimes that led to marriage therapy and then at some point often is the case. The narcissist is not a huge fan of counseling because they, for the most part, think they're doing everything pretty darn well. And you end up working with the spouse and helping them work through dealing in a relationship where there is narcissistic personality disorder, narcissistic traits. So the title of the article that I'm referring to today is one from it's called Hack Spirit, but it's called neuroscience the shocking impact that narcissistic abuse has on the brain. And it's by a writer named Lachlan Brown. And this is from a couple of years ago, and I've been sitting on this one for a while and and there's a couple of different reasons why maybe I'll get to them in a little while, but I want to give a little bit of a background. Someone says narcissistic abuse is one of the worst types of psychological abuse that one person can do to another. But unfortunately, many people are stuck in these types of relationships, and I have done a couple of episodes on a concept called trauma bonding, and we're going to circle back around to that in this episode as well, because that trauma bond is what keeps people stuck in relationships with narcissistic individuals. And man, there's so many things I want to say in this episode, so I hope that I can bring this all together.
[00:20:31] But one of those is if you are listening to this and someone has forwarded this to you and said, Hey, I think you're a narcissist, will you just do me a favor and just sit back, relax and just listen and just take this in and try to not be so responsive? Try to not be so reactive? Because here's what happens. Often I've done a couple of episodes on gaslighting, for example. Gaslighting is that that concept where when someone is saying, Hey, I think that you have not been very nice lately, let's say the wife says that to the husband and then the husband says, Seriously, you think that I haven't been nice? Have you looked in the mirror? I can't believe you're saying this matter of fact. The fact that you are saying this to me makes me realize how mean you are. And that's so by the end, the wife is thinking, Oh my gosh, am I am? I mean, am I the one? I can't? Wow. I shouldn't have even brought that up. I guess I really am mean, and it can just be this crazy making behavior. And please go look at some of the episodes I've done on gaslighting, if that's the case. But so what has happened often is I will work with the wife who will hear that episode one of these episodes on gaslighting or one of the episodes like I'm going to do today, and they'll send it to their spouse that they worry me suffer from some narcissistic tendencies.
[00:21:44] Or I like to call Dustin's of narcissism, and then the person will hear that. And then they'll say, Yeah, you know what? She does gaslight me. And honestly, it was one of the most interesting kind of profound experiences I had where when I did an episode on gaslighting and there was one of the women that I was working with, two of the women I was working with happened to on that same day, send the episode to their spouse. And within two hours, I got texts back in. Both of the spouses said the same thing that the wives sent the episodes about gaslighting to the narcissistic husbands, and they both responded with, Thank you for sending that to me. Now I know what you're doing to me. You are gaslighting me, and I used to try to come up with something clever of a way to ensure assure the wife that that is not the case. And here's one of. The things that came up with that, I feel, is one of the best descriptions, if you take the wife out of that narcissistic relationship and put her in a new relationship, she will then be viewed as simply kind if you take that narcissistic person and put them in a different relationship. They are going to continue to have their own sets of rules when it comes to finances.
[00:22:48] They're going to continue to gaslight, they're going to continue to not apologize. They're going to continue to not own up to their behaviors. So oftentimes I almost will. I do. I say, Hey, that's one of those signs that you are being reactionary. I can remember one of the first women that ever came into my office, and she said, No, I do. I do. I get so angry with my husband. I do yell at him and I often say, OK, were you a yeller to begin with? And she says, No, I wasn't. So you are yelling in reaction. You are yelling to not feeling heard. You're yelling to not being validated, you're yelling to being made to feel crazy. If you take you into and put you in a relationship with someone who says, Hey, tell me more about that. Oh my gosh, I can understand that. I didn't realize that's what I was doing. Would you just yell at them randomly? No, you wouldn't. But take your spouse and put them in a different relationship? And most likely, the person that they would be in that relationship with is going to eventually start yelling because they feel crazy, because that person, that narcissistic person is not owning up to their part of the relationship. And one of the key things here is remembering that narcissism is a personality disorder.
[00:23:52] There are certain things that are we call them personality disorders. And one of the key components of a personality disorder is that person is stuck in their ego. They cannot step outside of their ego and see things from another's point of view, so they don't believe that they're doing anything contrary to what is right, which is why things like gaslighting just flow. And again, as narcissism nature is it nurture? There is belief that it is a little bit of both, and it typically comes from childhood trauma or abandonment, where then a a kid, every kid is designed to go from self-centered kids or self-centered. That's what we do when we're kids. We don't know how to fend for ourselves, so it's just everything is about me. Give me that. That is mine. What about me? And then when there is not secure attachments with caregivers or when there is abuse or there is abandonment, or if the kid's parents are narcissists, so that's model behavior, then they never make that jump from self-centered to self-confident, so they move forward as a self-centered individual into adulthood. So that is why it can feel like you're arguing at times with a 10 to 12 year old boy when you're arguing with someone that suffers with narcissistic personality disorder or traits of narcissism. And again, narcissism is not just this always this grandiose, malicious look at me in the mirror. There are various subtypes of narcissism, and I've done an episode or two on that as well.
[00:25:15] So there's a little bit of just an overview or a background. And one of the things that I find interesting is that when I started working with more people that struggle with their in relationships with narcissists, and you'll see this as we read through this article today that a lot of people, when they find out that they are being gaslit or they realize, Oh my gosh, he has never owned up to anything or he completely lacks empathy and we can switch it around he or she. But I'm going to say he for the most part today at that point, if you Google, that you are going to see that the everything on the internet says Run immediately be done and go. And I completely understand that if somebody has worked with hundreds now of couples where there is a narcissist involved, it's really difficult. And so I made a decision long ago that I wanted to. And this is what a therapist is supposed to do. Meet the client where they're at. That client is going to read that article on the internet that says Run, and it's not like they're going to immediately say, Oh my gosh, I don't even think about that. I'm going to pack my bags. I'm going to get out of here. No, they're typically going to go through a process of, first of all, it's it's not that bad or he's he's a good guy or he's nice.
[00:26:22] So I think I can make this work. I think I'll tell him that that he's a narcissist. Maybe that'll work, which I always say one of the first rules of Narcissist Club is you don't tell the narcissist, Hey, think you're a narcissist? Because they're not? That's part of the problem. They're not going to say, Oh my gosh, tell me more about that. I didn't even realize that. So I'm going to get into more of that. In fact, let me just give an overview right now. Quick drink. I have five things that I do talk about when I'm working with someone that is in a relationship with someone who may be suffering from narcissistic personality disorder are traits of narcissism. The first thing I asked my client to do is raise their emotional baseline. And by that, I mean self-care. They need to put themselves in a position where they can make good decisions and when they are continually being beaten down emotionally. If they are physically drained, if they're not getting sleep that they need, if they don't feel like they have any emotional support they bear, they're being gaslit. A lot of times with narcissists, they sequester, which means that they make it not very exciting or difficult to reach out to family or friends, any of those things that lowers their emotional baseline. They don't feel good about themselves, and that does not put someone in a position to make the best decisions for their life or their family moving forward.
[00:27:31] Number one, I say, raise your emotional baseline. Number two, I say, get a PhD in gaslighting now, not literally a PhD, but learn all you can about gaslighting, because that is one of the key components to recognize when you are being gaslit, because that is when you can realize I'm not crazy. I really do understand and I have so many examples that I've worked with, and I think I gave one not too long ago. That was literally one where it was a guy that had spent a decade enjoying peanut M&Ms in front of his wife. And then at one point she gets some peanut M&Ms. And I don't know what the narcissistic trigger was that day. But he says, Why did you give me these? And she says, because you love them. And he said, I've never enjoyed these. I can't believe that you got me peanut M&Ms. And she's going back to basically literally conversations on how the peanut M&M is the finest of all the M&Ms and how anyone that doesn't enjoy these must be crazy. And how sometimes if you leave them out on the dash, they melt just a little bit and they're perfect and they're wonderful. And she has all of this data and he's saying, I never said that and I and really, you don't even know me.
[00:28:33] If you think that I enjoy peanut M&Ms, I mean gaslighting getting your PhD and gaslighting and understanding in that moment. I don't know why he's doing this, but I know he likes peanut Eminem. So that's the bottom line. So getting the PhD in gaslighting. Another one is learning how to disengage from unproductive conversations, which kind of follows that once I understand gaslighting. I'm not going to continue to participate because the narcissist is not going to own their own crap. They're not going to own their own part of the conversation. The fourth one is setting boundaries. A boundary might be, Hey, when you started swearing at me, I'm going to walk out the door and being able to commit to that because that's when the gas line, oh, fine, walk away. You never want to deal with things, but that's a boundary. But the fifth one, which is the most difficult one, and this goes back to an article that actually a client had sent me years ago from a blog. I think it's called Ask Men. It's by this, this researcher, PhD candidate. I'll have to put that a link to that somewhere in the show notes. But it talked about narcissistic, emotional trauma and abuse. But that fifth thing that I like to share is you have to realize that there is nothing that you will say or do that will cause the aha moment for the narcissist to go, Oh my gosh, I finally get it.
[00:29:42] And that one is hard. I've been doing this a long time, and when I share that with people, that one can feel a little bit hopeless. I understand, but I can also think of people I work with on a daily basis, who once they know that they'll identify these situations where they were saying, and then I found myself thinking, if I say it this way, if I'm really nice, if I withdraw, if I get angry, there's some way that I will be able to express myself. But then he will finally go, Oh my gosh, I get it. So those are those five things that I typically say to keep an eye out for. But again, I know that it's not just as easy as understanding, Oh my gosh, I think he might be a narcissist. I have been gaslit my entire life. And once you hear this more about the narcissistic, long term narcissistic effects on the brain that it's not so easy just to say, pack up the bags, kids, we're heading out. So I get that. So back to this, whether it's a child and an emotionally abusive parent or an adult with a narcissistic partner, the effect is the same narcissistic abuse can leave much more than emotional damage. So according to recent studies, and this is from around twenty seventeen, is when the first of these studies came out.
[00:30:45] Neuroscientists have discovered that long term narcissistic abuse can lead to actual physical brain damage. And so there's a pretty fascinating some picture, some functional MRIs that if you go look up an article on this that it will show the effects of long term narcissistic abuse. So we know now that constant emotional trauma over a long period of time can cause PTSD like symptoms. I did an episode on PTSD complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which is what long term emotional abuse can lead to. But we also know that in the world of betrayal, trauma, when someone finds out about a significant event or betrayal that also can have these similar effects of PTSD, where there can be triggers that can cause someone to go into fight or flight mode where their amygdala, which is what? What supplies the cortisol, the stress hormone, the adrenaline that will then overcome the prefrontal cortex or the part of the brain that makes logical sense the amygdala fires. It was in the fight or flight mode, the prefrontal cortex, the decision making part of the brain says we're not needed here. We're about to go into battle with the saber tooth tiger. We're going to shut down. So then the person becomes just pretty used to when they get triggered and it can be the gaslighting, it can be just not being heard. It can be emotional withdraw, but then their brain is triggered and they go into this fight or flight response and that prefrontal cortex shuts down.
[00:32:05] So this neural pathway is created where long term narcissistic abuse can cause that amygdala to fire, just to fire and go from zero to 60 and have someone just feel like just panic or anxiety or that fight or flight or freeze. Lachlan goes on to say, this is why anyone in a destructive relationship with a partner who cares little for the emotional well-being of their family should leave immediately, especially when children are involved. See, there's that component there that when someone reads that, I think it doesn't often feel for the person who is in that narcissistic relationship or trauma bond. They may read that, and it's OK. Maybe some of these things are true, but how easy is it to just leave immediately? And I understand that it's difficult. Seek help. Go meet with somebody who understands personality disorders, he says. However, some people don't take this warning too seriously because of it. It's emotional basis, which is very well said. What many people fail to realize is that emotional and psychological distress is only one side of the coin that victims of long term narcissistic abuse experience. There is also this physical aspect of brain. It's in essence brain damage. So when suffering consistent emotional abuse victims experiencing and here's where it really starts to make sense. A shrinking of the hippocampus and a swelling of the amygdala, and both of those can lead to long term effects.
[00:33:24] It's important to know what is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is crucial in learning and developing memory, especially the hippocampus is a big part of short term memory, and the amygdala is where, again, fight or flight response. It's where negative emotions reside, which cause the fight or flight response. So the amygdala is the home of shame and fear and envy and guilt, and all of those emotions that cause one to go into fight flight or freeze mode. So think about that. It affects the shrinking of the hippocampus, which is memory and the enlarging of the amygdala, which is where these negative emotions reside. I like that he goes into the hippocampus Greek for the word seahorse. It's part of the brain that's hidden inside of each temporal lobe, and it's shaped distinctly like two seahorses, the hippocampus. They look like the little highways I've heard them described as it looks like a kind of like a green bean shell or that sort of thing. But I can see I could see Seahorse a little bit of a boring seahorse. Maybe not the seahorse that was the most popular on campus, but a seahorse nonetheless. And so one of the most important functions in the hippocampus is for short term memory, which is the first step to learning. So information is first stored in short term memory before it can be converted into permanent memory. So without short term memory, it can be very difficult to learn.
[00:34:41] So damage to the hippocampus is a lot more disturbing than scientists initially thought. In a study from Stanford University and the University of New Orleans, they found that there was a strict correlation between high levels of cortisol. Again, that's the hormone caused by stress and a decreased volume in the hippocampus. So when the brain is so active in fight flight or freeze mode, when that amygdala is enlarged or enraged, then the hippocampus the part of the brain for memory is taken a backseat. So the more stress that people become, the smaller the hippocampus became, which is just another reason why learning how to be mindful meditative can be such a powerful thing. So now understanding the amygdala, let's talk about that. So the amygdala often people recall or refer to it as the reptilian brain. The Neanderthal brain. And that's because it controls our primal emotions functions, including fear and hate and lust, as well as your heart rate and breathing. So those are very important things, right in the amygdala. So when triggered, the amygdala is where the fight or flight response is made, and so narcissists keep their victims in a state where their amygdala is constantly on alert. So when they walk into the room and they constantly are, I don't know, is he in a good mood or is he in a bad mood? Or is he going to talk about, Hey, today, let's go on an expensive vacation? Or is it going to be tomorrow where he says, I don't know, we're going be able to make it this month.
[00:36:01] Checking accounts kind of low, that sort of thing. And then then the next day, he wants to go out and and make giant purchases. And then it just keeps you in this walking on eggshells mode. Then that is when you can be in this constant state of alert or just fear worry. So then over time, now what this data shows is that victims fall into this permanent state of anxiety or fear. And then the amygdala reacts to the very slightest signs of abuse. The narcissists can even just utter something that is pretty basic or but not, you know, banal. And then the person in is with this trigger response is going to all of a sudden have their fight or flight response kick in. And then they feel like, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to say. So long after the victim is escaped, the relationship, according to Lachlan in this article, they will continue to live with PTSD like symptoms, including increased phobias or panic attacks due to this enlarged amygdala that has become used to living in a state of fear. This is what causes part of that trauma bond, and so that is to protect themselves from their reality. They often use defense mechanisms that make it easier to cope, such as projection.
[00:37:08] So victims often convince themselves that they're narcissistic. Abuser has positive traits and intentions, such as compassion or understanding, when in reality that might not be the case and that is part of the trauma bond. Let me flip over to I've got a tab up here from talking about healing a broken heart a few episodes ago and the amazing Ted talk by Guy Winch. In that episode, I worked in some trauma bonding information as well. Here were some of those things in his book Betrayal Bonds, Patrick Carnes, who is just a well-known researcher, talked about things to consider if you are in a tree or in a trauma bond. If you have some of these things that there's a constant pattern of nonperformance, yet you continue to believe promises to the contrary that you continue to believe that narcissistic abuser is going to do the things that they say that they're going to do. And instead of when pushed, then, you know, blame you for something not happening or others seem disturbed by something that's happened to you or was said to you. But you're not, you know where others are saying, Man, how do you let him treat you that way? Or I wouldn't do that if you constantly run into that kind of data or you feel stuck because the other person keeps doing destructive things, but you believe there's really nothing you can do about it, you try to change the person into becoming less destructive, but trying to get them to stop an addiction or try to convince them to become a non abuser.
[00:38:23] But you may try to continually talk them into being nice to the kids that seems so basic, or you keep having these repetitive, damaging fights with the person that nobody wins because he's never going to own his part of the fight or part of the situation. Or you seem unable to detach from somebody, even though you can't trust them or at times you really don't even like them. Or when you try to leave this person and you find yourself missing them to the point of longing that's so awful that you believe it's going to destroy you. And Patrick Carnes talked about unusual, unusually trauma. Bonds occur in relationships involving inconsistent reinforcement, such as those with in addictions or alcoholics or domestic violence situations. Dysfunctional marriages can also cause trauma bonds because there's always a time when things seem to be, quote normal. Other types of relationships involving trauma bonds can be in religious organizations kidnapings hostage situations, all of those things. But the environment necessary to create a trauma bond involves intensity, complexity, inconsistency and a promise. So victims stay in these trauma bonded relationships because they're holding on to that elusive promise or hope. And that is, there's always manipulation involved. Victims are prey to manipulation because they are willing to tolerate anything for the payoff, which is that elusive promise and the ever present hope for fulfillment.
[00:39:37] Some deeply personal need within the victim. So oftentimes in a traumatic relationship, they're looking right at it, but they can't see it. And then only spending time away from the unhealthy attachment can the person often see the the destruction that it's caused? So that was a little bit more about trauma bonding. And so that came from the concept of projection where victims will convince themselves they're narcissistic. Abuser has these positive traits. Another one of the defense mechanisms that the people that are in relationships with narcissistic abusers will do is compartmentalize victims focus on the positive parts of the relationship separating from them, from the abusive parts and thus ignoring them. And I will talk about this for the rest of my career. But remembering literally the first time first person where they owned up to one thing in a couples therapy situation, and then the wife and I hung on to that one thing for quite some time. It was like he told the truth this one time and then all of these other times that was not the case. And I remember just having this aha moment of thinking, Wait a minute, the relationship is supposed to be, we're telling the truth all the time. And then once in a while, there might be this, well, I wasn't completely honest because I worried that might hurt you or those sort of things, someone that's actually owning that part of it, compartmentalization.
[00:40:52] So that's what that one was or denial victim and victims end up believing that their situation is not as bad as they feel and that it's easier to live with rather than to confront it. And this is a great big dose of what's called experiential avoidance kicking that can down the road. I'll deal with this and I'll deal with it later. I'll deal with it when summer arrives, I'll deal with it. When the kids are back in school, I'll deal with it. When the kids are out of the house, I'll deal with it later. And then a damaged hippocampus, which now we're learning that is crippling most everything that we know. So back to this article. The researcher or the writer Lachlan says the hippocampus is perhaps the most crucial part of the brain when it comes to knowledge and function. Everything that we do or understand, read and learn rests solely on the hippocampus functioning properly. And so this is because the hippocampus is involved in the formation of new memories, and it's also associated with learning and emotions. But the hippocampus, when it is, it's damaged when the. Body releases the cortisol hormone, the stress hormone during these times of stress and then cortisol effectively attacks neurons in the hippocampus, causing it to literally shrink. So the amygdala is then stimulated by the cortisol, which turns our thoughts and neural activity from increasing our mental acuity to worries and stress.
[00:42:01] And so when these distressing emotions are pushed to the extreme, then our brain activity is pushed beyond its zones of effectiveness. And so what I appreciate is that there's along with this as you can rebuild your hippocampus and calm your amygdala. So there is always a way back to a functioning normal brain through certain methods like EMDR. I've done an episode or two on that or mindfulness or a combination yoga, talk therapy, EMDR mindfulness. All of these things have shown promise in growing the hippocampus in just a few sessions. The data that he shares here is that it can regrow up the six percent of the hippocampus in just a few sessions. Emdr can also calm the amygdala at the same time, allowing your brain to react more rationally to situations. I've had some clients that have gone and done EMDR for everything from narcissistic abuse to PTSD, first responders, car crash victims where it has allowed them to have a little bit more indifference when engaging in these powerful memories that have really taken a toll in the past. But again, he wraps up this article by saying the first step is ultimately the most important one getting out of the destructive and abusive relationship before progress can be made. And I agree. I do understand that and I and if that is possible, if someone believes that they are being very much emotionally abused in a narcissistic, abusive relationship, then that is that that is the best thing you can do is to get out of that relationship so you can start to feel like yourself.
[00:43:27] You can start to feel whole. But again, I want to let you know that I understand how difficult that is because I have worked with hundreds of people that have tried to get out of relationships with narcissists. And it is. It can be a lengthy process. It can. And so the first thing you can do is seek help. And I know that is a process in and of itself because oftentimes the narcissistic abuser does not want you to go get help. And so if you need to hear it's going to sound like a total plug, but Betterhelp.com virtual couch, they even have text therapy, email therapy. If you don't feel like you can meet with somebody through Zoom or in person or anything like that is a great place to start and gather data. Get information. Oh, there was I was going to read there's a book called The Human Magnus Syndrome, and this is about the human magnet, why it can be so difficult to get out of relationships with narcissists. And there are two things that I thought were so fascinating. I'm going to wrap this up. The author, I think it's Ross Rosenberg. And but talking about this, this human magnet, this trauma bond, he uses the phrase codependency when he's talking about the victim of narcissistic abuse.
[00:44:34] And I know that can sometimes offend people. They want to say, I'm not codependent, so just bear with me here. But he says codependency is both a relationship and an individual condition that can be only resolved by the codependent. It's fascinating, right? Many co-dependence are attracted to and maintain long term breakup resistant relationships with pathological narcissists. Most co-dependence are selfless and deferential to the needs and desires of others over themselves. They are pathologically caring. Now, I've never heard pathological use with caring, but as I have read this with several clients that are in relationships with narcissistic men or vice versa, that speaks to them, they are pathologically kind and caring people. So if that was in a a healthy relationship, that would be a strength and a gift. But he goes on to say they are pathologically caring, responsible and sacrificing people whose altruism and good deeds are rarely reciprocated. Well, some co-dependence are resigned to their seemingly permanent relationship role. There is actively, albeit unsuccessfully, attempt to change it, and these people become preoccupied with opportunities to avoid change or control their narcissistic partners. Despite the inequities in their relationships and the constant suffering they do not in their partnerships and codependency is not just limited to romantic couplings as it manifests itself in varying degrees and most other significant relationships. Three more paragraphs out of this book, then, will be done.
[00:45:56] Pathological narcissism, he says although pathological narcissism is not a new term, I use it in this book to represent a person with one of four disorders. Pathological narcissists are people who fit the diagnostic criteria for either narcissistic, borderline or antisocial, which is sociopathic personality disorders and or active addicts. Despite the many differences between these four disorders, they all share core, narcissistic personality thinking in emotional and interpersonal characteristics. Here's the key to varying degrees all pathological narcissists are selfish, self consumed, demanding, entitled, and controlling. They are exploited people who rarely or selectively reciprocate any form of generosity. Pathological narcissists are only empathetic or sensitive to others. When doing so results in a tangible reward for themselves and. Or when it makes them feel valued or important or appreciated, and this is what I really appreciate about the author in this book, he says, because narcissists are deeply impacted by their personal shame and loneliness, but consciously unaware of it. They do not in their relationships. Positive treatment results are rare for narcissistic rare, although active addicts are included as one of the four pathological narcissism disorders. Their narcissism may only be addiction specific. In other words, when sober and in recovery, their true personality type will surface. This can be any possibility reflected on the continuum of pathological selflessness to pathologically selfish personality types, so I highly recommend that book the human magnet syndrome. But so that's that's all I have for you today.
[00:47:24] If you feel that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship that may be doing a number on your amygdala and growing, your are doing a number on your hippocampus and growing your amygdala. The first step is I'm just thankful that you're listening to the podcast. Share this one with someone that you feel like might need this type of help and reach out and get some help. Talk through this with somebody because I know that it is very difficult to just immediately hear something like this and say, Oh my gosh. Pack my bags. I'm done. I get it. I do. I've worked with so many people that this is a process and that is normal. So I want to meet you right there where you're at. Thanks for joining me today. If you have questions specific about narcissistic abuse or emotional abuse, if you have examples of gaslighting, whenever I do an episode like this, I almost feel like making this call out. Send them to me email@example.com and and a lot of times I'll read those in a future episode and those help people understand that they're not crazy or they're not alone. All right. Hey, thanks for joining me today, and I wish you the best. I hope you will get lucky. Get lucky, get help if help is what you need. And I'll truly I'll see you next time on the. Stressed emotions flying. So heading out the other end, the pressures of the daily grind, it's wonderful.
[00:48:36] And plastic waste and rubber ghost are floating
[00:48:40] Past the midnight
[00:48:41] Hour. They push aside the things that matter most wonderful. He.
Tony gives examples of the narcissistic apology, and he explains "Narcissistic Awareness Grief," a term coined by Dr. Christine Hammond (https://growwithchristine.com/). Tony refers to an excellent article by Diane Metcalf on Narcissistic Awareness Grief https://toolbox.dianemetcalf.com/nag/ Please submit your questions as well as your gaslighting examples through the contact form at http://tonyoverbay.com
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