Are You Someone People Can Count On?

Dependability is an underrated personal quality. I say that because so many of us have difficulty either developing it or sustaining it.

You might even think that you’re very dependable, but in reality you’re not.

It’s easy to get distorted when thinking about this because in our hearts, we may feel as though we can be counted on, especially when it is important. The “important” part is where the distortion takes place.

If I listen, empathize, and help you solve a problem you are having, then I think of myself as someone you can depend upon, especially when it counts! There’s the “important” part. I was there when it counts!

But if I show up late most of the time, don’t follow through on what I say I’m going to do, don’t respond to family members or friends when they contact me, blow off appointments, don’t return things I borrow or money I owe, or you name it, I’m sure there are other instances you can think of, then I’m not actually dependable or reliable. This is true even if my heart’s in the right place, which is often the case with people who are not dependable.

The sad thing about not paying attention to these behaviors is that they leave people feeling that either you don’t care, or you’re flaky, or both. Either way, it’s not good.

Over time, people begin to discount you, or build up resentment toward you, and eventually they may even become indifferent to you.

Here’s five things you can do to increase your dependability and let people know that you can be relied upon. Just by doing these things, you will build people’s confidence in your word which ultimately makes for good relationships.

Show Up on Time!

Everyone’s late occasionally. Sometimes you can’t help it. You have a car problem, the babysitter doesn’t show up on time, your toddler pours grape juice all over himself as you are ready to go out the door, or many other unexpected events that get in the way.

It’s the chronic late person that is the issue.

She almost always arrives anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour late, and sometimes more than that. No matter what time she’s scheduled to be somewhere, she arrives late. The only time this doesn’t happen is if she is acutely aware of the fallout (like arriving late to an important meeting the boss called), or it involves something in which she has a big personal investment like attending a long-awaited rock concert.

Don’t let that be you! Be on time!

Always leave at least 10 minutes earlier than you think you need to get to where you’re going, and if you have to go a long way, or go through a lot of traffic, give yourself even more pad time.

Allow time for the unexpected!

If you make a conscious effort to be on time in every situation, you’ll develop the habit and it won’t be so much work. It will become effortless because you will automatically allow enough time to get yourself ready and out the door with time to spare.

People will notice and eventually start believing that they can rely on you to be where you say you’re going be when you say it. The messages you’ll be sending are:

  • You care about other people’s time as well as your own.
  • You respect others.
  • You see others as important
  • You are a willing participant.
  • And with personal relationships, it shows you care.

If for some valid reason you can’t be on time, call or text and let the other person know what the problem is and when he can expect you.

This should only happen if there is a real and valid reason. Not because you left the house late, or you were distracted by something else you were doing.

A Quick Trick to Help You Be On Time

One thing to consider as you work on being on time is to figure out what’s behind being late. Do a quick assessment. Here’s some possibilities:

  • You have difficulty making a transition from one activity to another so that you don’t disengage soon enough from what you’re doing to get yourself to leave on time. You’re always saying to yourslelf, ” I can squeeze in one more thing before I go.”
  • You underestimate the time needed to get yourself ready and out of the house.
  • You underestimate driving or travelling time.
  • You don’t have your stuff ready ahead of time so you end up looking for things frantically before you need to leave.
  • You don’t get up early enough.
  • You don’t really want to go where you’re going and you’re emotionally resistant to it.

When you know what your obstacles are, you can create strategies to counteract them.

Answer the Phone

Answering the phone is about being accessible.

This is a tricky one and I can guess what you’re thinking already. What if the person calling me is going to talk my ear off without taking a breath, and keep me on the phone for an hour. I’ll get to that person in a minute.

The idea here is to be accessible to those who are important to you such as family and close friends, or those who need you such as colleagues or work partners.

When one of these people calls, pick up the phone. Don’t screen every single call you get and then take your time calling back.

Sometimes screening calls is necessary or appropriate. You do need to guard your time, and with email, texts, Facebook, and cell phones, none of us have the privacy or anonymity we had before all these modes of contact were available. The way to get around that is to set some boundaries.

Take Control

Remember that you do not have to stay on the phone longer than you wish to or have time for.

I have a sister who calls often, but she has made it clear to everyone in the family that she doesn’t like to be on the phone long. We all know it and no one tries to keep her for more than a few minutes unless there is something that needs to be discussed. She calls to check in, and it makes you feel loved, because it’s personal and it’s intimate.

You can let people know that you aren’t able to talk for long periods of time on the phone, or don’t like to converse by text, or only check email once or twice a day.

By setting limits and boundaries, you have control of your time. When you know you have that control, then it becomes easy to answer the phone because you know you don’t have to talk longer than you wish to.

Don’t avoid. Take control.

Rules to consider:

  • How late is too late to call?
  • What is the time of day you cannot answer the phone?
  • How often do you or are you willing to check emails and respond to them?
  • For what purposes do you use texting (do you like to chat, only use them to communicate logistics or plans, etc.)?
  • How long is too long to be on the phone for you?

When Screening is Appropriate

Now back to people who will use up your time without blinking. These are not the phone calls I’m addressing here.

You do not have to listen to someone who is dumping emotional trash, using your time even though you’ve let them know you don’t have it, or who is oblivious to your needs.

For those people, you can kindly but firmly set limits, and if you don’t wish to continue contact, don’t.

What is important is to respond to people who mean something to you, or with whom you have a relationship. When Grandma calls, answer. When a good friend calls, answer. Or if you can’t answer right away, call back as soon as you can. Be accessible to those who are important to you.

One Last Consideration

Sometimes we use email or texting to avoid a voice to voice communication. This can be helpful in some cases, and many people like the emotional distance afforded by these modes of communication.

Phone calls are direct and more intimate and don’t allow that emotional space. However, phone communication is less likely to be confusing which happens often when people rely on texts or emails.

When you don’t hear the tone of voice or nuances of someone’s emotions coming though their speech, a lot is missed.

Calling someone says you are accessible, and that you care.

When you can, call instead of text or email, especially if the relationship is personal. I also find it very productive with business calls.

Do What You Say You Are Going To Do

When you tell someone you are going to do something, they take it as a promise. They don’t see it as something you may change your mind about, forget about, or put on the back burner.

Your words “I’m going to” mean it’s a done deal.

What happens sometimes is that you agree to something quickly and then when you later consider it, you have mixed feelings, or find it’s not really feasible. Worse, you forget you said it and tuck it away in the back of your mind.

The key to solving this problem is twofold:

  • Before you agree to anything, give yourself time to think it through and make sure you know exactly how you want to respond and what you have time for or are willing to do. You can say something like “Let me think that over and I’ll give you an answer tomorrow.” Saying “yes” should not be impulsive, but thoughtful. Sometimes saying “no” is the proper response!
  • When you say yes, you need a way to track it and make sure you do it in the time you said you would do it. Use your calendar, your to-do list, your phone reminders, or whatever you use to track your activities. Once you say yes, you are responsible for following through. If you can’t do that, then don’t say yes.

Here’s some things that can get in the way. Any of these apply to you?

  • Are you someone who gets very enthusiastic about something in the moment and then upon thinking it about later, realize you really can’t do it or don’t want to?
  • Are you a yes person meaning that you think you should always respond to someone else’s needs or wants? This is true of caretakers.
  • Do you have difficulty disappointing others?
  • Do you think you’re the only person who can do things right so you take on everything?
  • Do you like being in charge?

Figure it out because whatever it is, it’s undermining you.

Close Loops

I learned this one from a podcast I listened to by Amy Porterfield. She was applying it to business communication, but it holds for all communications.

Basically, closing loops means finishing with conversations, lingering issues or problems, to-dos, or whatever is started publicly (meaning between you and at least one other person).

It could be completing a plan to get together and making the final arrangements, talking through a problem and coming up with solutions, completing a project you’re working on with someone, responding to someone’s feedback about something you initiated, or anything that once started has not yet been finished, and that involves another person.

I would go one further and say it includes anything started and not finished, even it involves only you.

Dependability is strengthened by persevering and finishing, whether it affects just you, or you and others together.

If I offer a service to the public and send out emails advertising, but don’t respond to questions, feedback, or inquiries, then I have not closed those loops. People will see me as unreliable.

On a more personal note, if a family member has initiated a conversation about planning a family reunion and I have not added my input or information to help the process along, I am not closing that loop.

Closing loops overlaps with doing what you say you are going to do, but it is broader and applies to anything that is left open-ended, and that requires your response, action, feedback, or input.

Loops should be closed as soon as possible. If more information is required, then the steps to get it should proceed at a reasonable speed until the loop can be closed.

In a few words, don’t leave people hanging.

Emotional Availability

This one is less concrete, but goes a long way in personal relationships. Being emotionally reliable means that people see you as someone who is empathetic, considerate, and caring.

That doesn’t mean you have to be a bleeding heart, syrupy, or overly emotionally demonstrative.

It means that you are aware of other’s feelings, respectful of other’s thoughts and ideas, and able to listen and respond to others with interest and concern.

In personal relationships in particular, there is the expectation that we will be emotionally accessible, and will be interested in each other’s emotional well-being. Relationships that don’t include this type of reciprocity don’t last, and certainly don’t grow and flourish.

The best way to improve your emotional reliability is to simply show interest in those with whom you come in contact daily or often. You can do this by:

  • Acknowledging someone’s presence with warmth when they appear.
  • Ask about how they are feeling or what’s going on with them.
  • Listen with interest to what’s said.
  • Join in and interact.
  • Lend an ear when someone needs help to solve a problem.

In other words, practice showing empathy. This is the most important one thing to do, and when you consider all five of the things I’ve listed in this blog, they all involve empathy.

There you have it! Now let me hear your comments and ideas about this subject. What are your pet peeves about dependability? What do you have the most difficulty with yourself?

How to Stop Beating Yourself Up

When you make a mistake or are disappointed in yourself for something you did (or didn’t do), do you react by beating yourself up?

Does it help?

Not usually. It may relieve some of your guilt, but most times not. More likely, it makes you feel worse.

So what’s the alternative?

I’ll get there, but first let’s understand the problem.

Masochism

Beating yourself up may happen occasionally, but when it’s a regular part of your thoughts and self-talk, you are caught in a pattern of masochism. The term masochism has all sorts of sexual connotations accompanied by visions of whips and chains, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Psychological masochism is characterized by a pattern of self blame, self condemnation, self deprivation, and sometimes self harm. Here are some characteristics that may hit home with you:

  • Blaming yourself for things you really have no control over
  • Blaming yourself for things that are someone else’s responsibility
  • Excessive guilt that goes way beyond the initial problem
  • Feeling inferior
  • Having a lot of self deprecating thoughts like “I’m stupid,” or “I’m an idiot.”
  • Depriving yourself of pleasure
  • Finding relationships with partners that undervalue you, or worse, abuse you
  • Harming yourself through bad habits
  • At the extreme, self-mutilation such as cutting

Internal Masochism

There are two ways to be masochistic. The first one involves only you, and the internal conversation you have with yourself.

I call it the “mean girl voice” that tells you that you aren’t as good as other people, aren’t worthy or likable, aren’t smart or capable, aren’t talented, and certainly aren’t deserving.

This same voice also heaps tons of guilt upon you when you make a mistake. You spend hours to days working it over.

You may look for relief in food, alcohol, or other drugs of choice. You then beat yourself up for those indulgences.

It’s a horrible, exhausting treadmill, and you can’t get off.

External Masochism

Then there’s external masochism. In this instance you find people in your environment to do the beating up for you.

You pick the worst partners that are emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive. They demean you, dismiss you, ignore you, demand way too much of you, and make you responsible for most everything that goes wrong.

They are easily angered, or conversely absent most of the time. You often have to walk on eggshells with them.

The real conundrum is that you feel like you can’t live without them, and you stay.

How Does This Happen?

It usually starts early and is often tied to your personal history. Maybe one of your parents was masochistic, and you witnessed these behavior patterns regularly.

Or, you may have been the subject of heavy criticism, or made to feel very guilty for even little mistakes, or had a perfectionistic parent who you regularly disappointed.

You may have had a long term relationship with someone that mistreated you, and you have become accustomed to being devalued.

Whatever the case, if you feel that you are caught up in masochistic patterns, you can be sure that it has become an emotional home for you. What that means is that you are used to it, and it provides some comfort for you even though it is painful.

That’s a big statement!

I’m not saying that you really want to be stuck in these patterns, but they have become very familiar and it might feel quite uncomfortable to make a change.

Nevertheless, it needs to change because ultimately you:

  • Deserve better.
  • It’s harmful to your psyche, your health, and your emotional well-being. It creates chronic emotional stress with long-term negative repercussions that are real.
  • It’s a constant emotional drain that leaves you deflated and depressed.
  • It keeps you from pursuing your unique talents.
  • It leads to other poor behaviors that jeopardize your future.
  • It keeps you from having a truly reciprocal and caring relationship with anyone, including your children.

How to Change

Psychological patterns are not easy to change, but most certainly they can be changed with steady attention and effort.

Step 1: Be aware.

First step is to identify the pattern.

Do you identify with any of the behaviors I described above?

You may not be highly masochistic, but you may engage in one or two behaviors such as:

  • Apologizing often for things that aren’t your fault
  • Taking the blame for things you couldn’t help
  • Feeling overly guilty and chastizing yourself when you make a mistake.
  • Seeking out relationships with people that take advantage of you, denigrate you, or make you feel unworthy.

The first step is to take a hard look at how this is happening, and under what circumstances.

Step 2: Start questioning.

Before making any big changes, get clear on “what’s real.”

When you begin blaming yourself for something, stop and carefully assess whether you are responsible. Is it me or is someone else responsible? Were there circumstances that made it impossible for some other action to occur?

[A note here: Replace the word “blame” with “responsibility.” Blame has a negative connotation. Responsibility implies taking some action to amend or repair.]

Clear Up Your Misperceptions

This is a process of correcting what’s called “cognitive distortion.” Here’s a definition from PsychCentral:

Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

Cognitive distortions go hand in hand with masochistic behavior, especially in relationships where you are adopting your partner’s distorted view of you.

They also come into play in your internal thought patterns that cast you in the most negative light.

Pull up each thought as it occurs and ask yourself,

  • Is this really true?
  • Even if there is some truth, is it always true?
  • Is it true only in some circumstances? What are they?

Become a detective. Your job is not to make any changes yet, but to investigate your thoughts, your actions, and the situations you find yourself in that lead to masochistic thoughts.

Here are some typical ways we distort thoughts. Use this list to help you uncover your own patterns:

  • Negative Bias. You focus on the negatives while ignoring the positives.
  • Place Blame. Someone must be at fault for everything that goes wrong. It is either you or the other person. You don’t look at a situation objectively and identify correctly either your own contributions or someone else’s. You accept blame that is not yours, or you blame others for your part. Sometimes there is no one to blame, but blame is still assigned, usually to you.
  • All or Nothing. It’s all good or all bad, and that means you’re all good or all bad. For masochists, you’re all bad and the other person is all good. Everything is seen in black and white. There are no gray areas.
  • You are Your Mistake. Instead of seeing yourself as someone who makes mistakes, you are the mistake. If you are late arriving somewhere, instead of saying “I should have left home a little earlier to get here on time,” you say, “I’m such a loser! I’m always late!”
  • Overgeneralization. You go from a single incident to an always interpretation. If the dinner you are cooking didn’t turn out quite right, you say to yourself “I never get it right. My dinners all turn out horrible.”
  • Discount Your Positives. You avoid recognizing your positive qualities, talents, uniqueness, or capabilities.

A good exercise is to write down your distorted thoughts and evaluate which type of thought distortion you are using from the list above.

A lot of thoughts will fall under more than one category, but what’s great about this exercise is that you’ll probably notice you use several distortions more than others.

By figuring out what type of distortions you use, you’ll find it easier to recognize them quickly when they occur, and make corrections.

Step 3: Make slow changes.

Step 3 will begin to happen if you are consistent with Step 2. Once you begin to uncover your distorted thinking, you automatically start having more accurate thoughts and impressions.

Accurate thoughts lead to different emotions. Your self-worth and self acceptance will increase, and you will be able to treat yourself with more compassion and kindness.

Bigger changes that come as a result of working hard on Step 2 are:

  • Leaving relationships that are detrimental to you and to your sense of self
  • Finding and pursuing your talents
  • Improved mood and energy
  • Improved confidence
  • Engaging in activities that bring you satisfaction and happiness
  • Accepting yourself, mistakes and all
  • Getting on top of self-defeating behaviors and patterns

Step 4: Instead of guilt, repair!

This step also happens concurrently with the others. You adopt an attitude of making corrections or reparations when you make a mistake as opposed to heaping guilt upon yourself and feeling emotionally paralyzed.

I’ve addressed this process in my blog “ Be Your Own Best Parent.” Essentially, you adopt the attitude of a loving parent who always loves you regardless of what you do, but holds the line on your behavior when necessary, and focuses on how to repair mistakes rather than criticize you for them.

Step 5: Acknowledge your positives.

If you are in the habit of mentally listing all that is wrong with you, you will have some difficulty in turning that habit around, but you can do it with consistent effort.

First thing is to change your mindset from “I’m not worthy,” to “Everyone is worthy and has something unique to offer.” It’s a matter of recognizing and acknowledging your own unique qualities and embracing them.

Start by making a written list of things you like about yourself, or personal assets you have.

If you can’t come up with anything, ask someone who knows you to help you with the list, and list as many things as you can. Even simple things like being a expert at doing laundry should go on the list. Keep this list handy and review it daily and add to it.

Record Your New Self-Talk

To take it a step further, transform the items on your list into full sentences as though someone was going to read them. These sentences can include anything; things you can do well, attitudes you have, what kind of a friend or partner you are, ways of thinking, values you uphold . . . Anything and everything!

When you have your sentences completed, record yourself reading them. You can do this with a smartphone that has recording capability, or you can download a free app that will allow you to do it.

Once you have the recording done, listen to it at least 3 times a day. Morning, midday and before bed works!

It may seem strange or uncomfortable at first, but the more you do this, the more these thoughts will seep into your subconscious and begin to influence the way you see yourself.

Conversely, your negative self talk will begin to decline. You will actually be rewiring your brain. The key is consistency and repetition.

Step 6: Start setting boundaries.

Now that you have identified and understand ways that you may be participating in masochistic patterns of behavior, and you’ve started to correct your distorted thinking about yourself and embrace your self worth, it’s time to start setting boundaries to keep your progress in place.

Just as there are two ways to be masochistic, there are two types of boundaries you need to establish: internal and external.

Internal Boundaries

These are the boundaries you set for your own behavior. You will need to place limits on distorted thinking, self destruction, focusing on negatives, exaggerating mistakes, taking responsibility for things that don’t belong to you, or ignoring your positive contributions and characteristics. You can use the methods I’ve described above.

Any change in habit takes concerted and ongoing effort, especially those that are deeply embedded in your psyche.

Even as you practice the first 5 steps, it will be easy to fall back into your usual ways of looking at things, and usual behavior patterns. It is your default, and in some ways it is a comfort zone because of it’s familiarity.

I find it useful to come up with a word or phrase that means something to me, and that I can say when I catch myself falling back into old patterns.

An example would be the phrase “tipping point.” This phrase comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book of the same title, and refers to the momentum that occurs when something is receiving 51% or more of the focus.

If you are thinking of positive thoughts about yourself 51% and negative thoughts 49%, you are moving in a positive direction and tipping upward.

If I notice myself engaging in distorted or negative thinking, I mentally say to myself “Tipping point!” That reminds me to reset. It’s a good way to break up ruminating and runaway thoughts. Once you reset, you can correct or start off in another direction.

External Boundaries

These are the boundaries you set with other people. This can be a harder step because it requires overcoming fear, second guessing, confusion, and anxiety.

Go slow, but just make sure you go. You’ll find it easiest to set boundaries with people you don’t know all that well, and who you don’t rely on in any particular way.

For those close to you, and especially those who are involved in masochistic patterns of behavior with you, change will take more time.

When you change the way you feel and the way you behave, others will feel the shift and may become uncomfortable. Not only are you shifting your behavior, you are requiring the other person to make a shift too. The difference is that you made a conscious decision to alter your behavior and mindset, and the other person did not, so you are very likely going to stir up some resistance.

If you are dealing with a fairly healthy relationship, you can be honest and explain your new insights and how you have been affected by them. You can also describe the new behavior patterns you are working on and changing. Your goal is to enlist support from the other person to help the process along.

If the relationship is unhealthy, and the other person involved is invested in perpetuating the dysfunctional patterns, you may have to assess whether changes can be made or not, and it may take some time, or trial and error including some frank discussions to see if that is possible.

You will create distance with some people, and maybe permanently. With others you will even the playing field so that there is mutual consideration and respect.

Learn how to say no when you need to, and remember that people who really love and care about you will adapt to the change and applaud you for it.

The key is to not get discouraged by slow progress. Progress is progress and the more you move forward, the faster you’ll proceed. When you fall backwards, just reset and keep at it until eventually you have made a significant shift.

Any behavior pattern can be changed, and you are certainly worth it!

A Last Note

Acknowledging your positive attributes, skills, talents, values, and assets is not being pathologically narcissistic. It’s affirming. The key is to do that while also taking responsibility for mistakes and negative behavior patterns, and working to correct them. You can be humble and own your personal value at the same time.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The term “Narcissistic Personality” is popping up a lot in the news currently, so I thought it would be a good subject for a blog. Any time a mental health diagnosis begins to surface a lot in popular culture, distortions and misunderstandings occur about what it really means. This has happened a lot with the diagnoses Bi-Polar Disorder and ADHD.

I’ll warn you up front that this is a longer than usual blog, but the subject matter is complex and I want to make sure I cover it well so you have a good understanding of it.

Let’s start by defining what’s meant by “personality disorder.”

Definition of Personality Disorder

Here’s a definition from the American Psychiatric Association:

A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.

In plain English, this means that someone develops a pattern of personality traits (ways of thinking, feeling and behaving), that are not in line with what our culture sees as normative or okay.

These patterns are considered to be pathological or abnormal, and show up in a person’s self image, character (distorted or lacking), relationships, social interactions, and work behavior.

In general, personality disorders are not diagnosed until late adolescence, usually 18 years of age. That’s because during adolescence we are still developing and solidifying our identities, character, and personality traits. You can sometimes see precursors of an enduring personality disorder among some teens, especially those that are already sociopathic, however, the diagnosis comes later when it appears that the personality traits are fixed across time and show up in the main areas of a person’s functioning.

Personality Disorders are not mutually exclusive which means someone may have characteristics of more than one personality disorder. This is true of what’s called Malignant Narcissism which I’ll discuss a little further on.

Personality Traits of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Here are the main characteristics or personality traits that are seen in people who are diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

Lack of Empathy

This is perhaps the hallmark trait of this personality disorder.

NPDs cannot and do not recognize others’ feelings, needs, desires or experiences. When interacting with anyone, the prime objective is always to cater to oneself, sometimes at the expense of the other person.

All conversations or interactions will focus on or veer back to the NPD. They are not interested in how someone else is doing, what they think, or how they feel, unless what the other person has to offer is flattering or useful in meeting the NPD’s goals.
If you ask for something, voice a need, or express a true feeling, you will be seen as weak, and will be made to feel small or dismissed.

NPDs are famous for one-upping.

Grandiosity

NPDs are highly grandiose, and have a very exaggerated sense of themselves and their worth.

They use big words, big numbers, extreme adjectives, and expansive gestures, all of which always point back to how great they are.

The words “the best” appear often in relation to themselves, their accomplishments, or who they know.

Constant Need for Admiration

Narcissists need excessive and constant admiration and adoration. They will require it from those around them and verbalize it themselves.

They see themselves as having excessive talent, intelligence, looks, popularity, and power.

Conversely, they are extremely envious of those who are admired by others, and may openly attack or try and sabotage them.

Entitlement and Special Treatment

NPDs feel entitled to have things others don’t.

They have different rules or are above the rules.

They expect to be treated with high regard at all times, and to receive favorable treatment. They are often quite cocky and brag about their ability to get away with more than other people do, or to have more, or hold a special place at the top of the hierarchy. They can be manipulative, arrogant and quite self-centered.

Blame Others for Mistakes or Failures

When a Narcissist makes a mistake, he blames it on someone else. He doesn’t take responsibility for his failures, and in general won’t admit to them. He will find a scapegoat, or completely rearrange the facts of a situation to release himself from responsibility.

Preoccupation with Unlimited Power, Success, Status, Beauty and Ideal Love

NPDs seek power and outward success, and align themselves with others in highly powerful positions. They can also be very envious of those who threaten their view of themselves as being better than everyone else.

They may seek ideal love, but in actuality are not really capable of love.

They become infatuated temporarily until the other person has served his or her purpose which is to make the NPD feel special.

Exploitative, Manipulative, and Vengeful

Any hint of criticism will bring on revenge of some sort, or a cold dismissal.

Distort Reality

NPDs are actually highly emotional, even if they appear in some cases to be very cool and dismissive. Their main goal is always to preserve and enhance their grandiose self image. As a result, they do not make use of what’s called executive function.

That means they can’t take in information and analysis facts in order to make reality based decisions. They distort factual information, and often scoff at it.

They do not learn from experience, and so they make repetitive mistakes. They are unable to observe themselves critically. They use words to provoke emotions in others rather than as a means to actually communicate. Conversations with them can be cut short without explanation, or feel very twisted and muddy.

Incidence

In general, there are more men with NPD than women. Between 50 and 75 percent of NPDs are men.

NPDs and Relationships

It is very difficult to be in a relationship with a Narcissistic Personality. These folks don’t have real and abiding attachments to others.

They see others as either an extension of themselves, or as a means for some sort of self gratification, or as a vehicle to achieve something they want.

If you’ve ever been involved with someone who has this type of disorder, you’ll note that they rewrite history as they go. They distort whole conversations held previously, and any attempt on your part to remind them of something that was said or done will be met with anger, a counterattack, and usually a flat out denial.

If they do something for you, it isn’t out of real love or concern, but rather because it will get them something or add to their need to be admired.

NPDs can sometimes pose as pillars of the community by participating in charitable events, however, their participation is a vehicle to point out how wonderful they are rather than a feeling for the charity itself or for the recipients of the charity.

They view their spouses and children as extensions and commentaries on themselves. “I have the most beautiful wife, and the most accomplished kids.” As soon as the spouse or child does something disappointing that will not reflect well on the Narcissist, he will turn away icily and emotionally abandon them.

Worse, many NPDs are envious and jealous of their children. They insist that the child achieves and reflects well on them, but at the same time is jealous that the child may surpass them.

If they become too threatened by a child’s success, they will subtly or not so subtly sabotage it. They often compete with their kids, and involve them in contests where they will win, leaving the child feeling small and inept.

When you meet a Narcissist, you may have one of two experiences:

  • The first is that for some reason, the Narcissist sees you as having some special beauty, power, status, or importance in which case he will place you on a pedestal and shower you with accolades.
  • The second is that you will immediately feel insecure, less than, dismissed, or put down. Narcissists gravitate towards powerful figures, and will ingratiate themselves to win over those people in order to feel powerful themselves. If they experience you as less powerful than themselves, they will dismiss you, often with haughtiness, condescension or disdain.

A note about the pedestal: it never lasts. You will eventually fall off, or in most cases be thrown off. Narcissists do not have real and lasting attachments. Involvement with them long-term can be emotionally damaging. They’re abusive.

Work and Public Image

NPDs can succeed in a work setting. You will find them leading companies, in positions of political power, professors in university settings, attorneys, entertainers, and even as innovators. In whatever setting you find them, they will always have problems in relating to other people, and will be described often as arrogant, abusive, unbending, and authoritarian. They see themselves as above the grade, and if you work along side of them, you will always be in a subordinate position. Everyone is dispensable. They can turn on you in a heartbeat if you either oppose or criticize them.

In many cases, NPDs sabotage their work relationships and are not successful. They are ultimately self destructive because they cannot make use of previous history or foresee the consequences of their actions, and they don’t realize that others will eventually see through them.

They are also very often impulsive, overly reactive, and attacking when they feel insecure.

They have no real ideology or values to speak of other than the promotion of their grandiose self.

In positions of power, they can be quite dangerous.

Malignant Narcissism

Malignant Narcissism is a more extreme form of narcissism because it mixes in characteristics of other personality disorders, especially Antisocial Personality Disorder. Malignant narcissism is considered to be untreatable. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

Malignant narcissism is a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of narcissism, antisocial disorder, aggression and sadism.

Someone who fits this category has all of the characteristics of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder as I’ve outlined above, but in addition has traits that include extreme manipulation and usury, lack of remorse, involvement in illegal and/or sociopathic behaviors, and a tendency to seek sadistic pleasure in harming anyone in his or her way.

Outwardly charming, these people have absolutely no conscience and no attachments to others.

NPDs are different in the sense that they do need to be admired, and generally don’t get involved in criminal activities or have record of such activities. They bend rules, however, usually stay under the legal radar. Those with Malignant Narcissism ride that bridge between Narcissism and Psychopathy, and can become involved in illegal, aggressive, and sadistic activities with no real remorse.

The main difference is that a Narcissist’s goal is to feed his grandiose sense of himself and garner admiration, whereas the goal of an Antisocial Personality is his own power and gratification without any real concern for how anyone sees him.

The combo is a person who is concerned first and foremost with focusing on the grandiose self, but also involves himself in illegal and often criminal ties, as well as promoting sadistic actions that will bring harm to others, especially those he considers to be needy and weak.

Can they be treated?

Someone who has what I call narcissistic trends rather than a full blown personality disorder can be successfully treated. In these circumstances, the person can learn to be more empathetic and to maintain a real attachment to another person. Someone with a full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder whose patterns are well entrenched usually is not treatable. NPDs may change as they age, and become less difficult to deal with, and even soften a bit, but their personality structure remains intact. Those with Malignant Narcissism cannot be treated.

NPDs don’t initiate treatment because they don’t see themselves as having problems. If they do enter into treatment, it is usually because someone else initiates the treatment such as a spouse or a child. In both cases, the NPD will use treatment to point out what’s wrong with everyone else, and they will not continue if there is any hint that they need to make changes.

The interesting thing about NPDs is that they are highly dependent, although they would never admit or recognize this.

Because they need a continuous feed of admiration, they must be linked to others. They also often cannot run their lives all that well because they don’t foresee the consequences of their actions, can’t think objectively, have low frustration tolerance, can’t regulate emotions, and as they age can feel empty and depressed.

They become attached to those that will take care of them even as they abuse them.

Successful psychiatric treatment requires recognition of the problem at hand, as well as a commitment to staying in treatment over time until progress is made.

Sometimes someone who has aged, or who has suffered a severe loss, may enter treatment and if they stay long enough and have a therapist that understands the psychopathology well enough, treatment can have a positive effect. It requires an ongoing attachment to the therapist and a rebuilding of the basic trust normally acquired in the first years of life.

What are the Causes?

There is a lot of controversy about this, and in general researchers disagree. The two causes most often noted are related to parenting and early environment.

  • One is that a child is raised with excessive pampering, permissiveness, doting, and admiration while also being rescued from having to live with the consequences of their actions, having no limits on behavior, being enabled, and consistently given the message that they are better than others without having to work for anything.
  • On the other side is the child raised with significant emotional neglect, or who is harshly abused and criticized.

All of these factors can certainly play a role, but as is always the case, two children can be raised in the same circumstances and turn out differently. There may be some bio-genetic predispositions in some cases, such as a particular temperament, or a parent that is also a Narcissistic Personality.

In my experience, I would cite early emotional neglect as one of the most significant factors in the making of an NPD.

The development of a healthy sense of self arises through the positive, consistent, and affectionate interactions between the infant and his or her mother (or primary parent).

This nurturing, empathetic, and abiding love given consistently over the early years of a child’s life is responsible for foundational developments in personality, self image, self worth, development of the brain, cognition, and nervous system.

Infants who experience emotional remoteness and neglect consistently do not form normal, healthy attachments, and later as adults create a pseudo-self that insulates and replaces the maladaptive and fragmented self. This can happen also with children that are consistently physically and emotionally abused by a harsh, critical, and punishing parent.

Normal Narcissism

We all have some degree of narcissism. Healthy narcissism helps us maintain a positive regard for ourselves, yet we are able to hold ourselves accountable and can incorporate humility into our outlook and dealings with others while yet performing well and achieving our goals.

Narcissism also appears to a greater degree during certain developmental periods. In particular, the budding teen can be quite narcissistic, however, this is normal and almost a necessary development to assist the teen in exploring and building his identity. As the teen moves toward early adulthood, narcissism decreases and is incorporated into a healthy self-image that is characterized by both positive self regard and the ability to empathize with others.

For all of us, it’s always a good idea to take a personal inventory and examine the balance between positive self regard and regard for others. Moving too far on either side of the scale is problematic. The aim is to:

  • Feel good about oneself, yet be able to honestly assess areas that need improvement.
  • Show compassion and empathy for others, but maintain proper boundaries that inhibit being taken advantage of, or coerced into actions that reach outside of your values.
  • Act in ways that are prosocial, which means behaving in ways that are for the good of all.
  • Feeling remorse when causing harm to someone, and taking action to make reparations.
  • Taking responsibility for yourself and your behavior.
  • Learning from experience, and making corrections when indicated.

Ultimately, we are all connected to each other, and everything we think, do, or feel has an impact on the whole. Keeping that in mind will help steer you away from unhealthy personality traits, and create a more fulfilling and gratifying life.

The Perils of Gossip: 6 Ways to Avoid Getting Sucked In

Gossip is a part of life. Most everyone has engaged in it. It starts early in life, usually in elementary school, but it gets a big boost in middle and high school. You’d hope that it would be left there as people grow up and move into adult life, but that’s not the case. Go in any office setting and you will hear it, or just sit in a restaurant with you ears open. Better yet, go on Facebook and you’ll see every kind of people bashing imaginable.

In all actuality, it’s easy to engage in gossip, and it takes a conscious effort to avoid it. We’re naturally interested in what other people are doing, and we have opinions about it. That’s a given.

The problem is the element of judgment, hate, and negativity that creeps in and gets expressed in ways that can be hurtful. Gossip is ultimately a betrayal to the person we’re talking about and to ourselves. There’s really nothing good about it. Here’s how to stop it.

Focus on yourself.

When you have the urge to talk about what someone else is doing in a judgmental and critical way, stop yourself and ask,

“What do I need to be working on right now?”

This is actually a very effective way to shift your attention away from gossiping rather quickly, and it has the added benefit of focusing on self-improvement which is always needed.

Are you criticizing something in yourself?

Often we are critical of things we struggle with ourselves. This is an unconscious automatic strategy the psyche has of trying to get rid of things we don’t like about ourselves. Instead of owning it, we find it in someone else and then shred it.

Of course it doesn’t work. It just sends us into a deeper hole of denial so that the very thing we don’t like gets further and further displaced and unavailable for correction.

The strategy to avoid this is to immediately ask yourself,

“Is this something I struggle with?”

If it’s big enough for you to notice in someone else, it may belong to you also.

Assess your motivation.

Ask yourself what you are gaining from participating in gossip.

Are you feeling better about yourself momentarily by looking at someone else’s problems? Is it providing a distraction from your own stuff, or from your life, or from your discontent? What is that exact feeling you get when you engage in gossip?

Common answers are that it feels somewhat stimulating or exciting to focus on someone else’s mistakes. The juicier the story, the more stimulating the engagement in talking about it.

It’s important to know what you’re getting out of it so that you can find those gains in ways that don’t produce such negative outcomes.

If you need distraction, or you’re discontent, or you’re unhappy, or you feel bored, or you’re jealous of someone, or you’re stuck in any negative emotional state that gets temporarily lifted by gossiping, then you need to turn your attention directly toward that problem and deal with it rather than distracting yourself from it by hurting someone else.

Recognize the consequences.

Anytime you participate in gossip, you’re hurting someone else whether they know about it or not. Ultimately, that means you hurt yourself because you are involving yourself in betrayal and destructive behavior.

What helps is to imagine yourself being the subject of the gossip, and overhearing it. How would you feel? Would you be hurt?

Most likely, the answer is yes. You would be hurt. Maybe a lot.

Another negative outcome of gossiping is that you’re broadcasting to others that you aren’t trustworthy.

“If you’ll talk about her when she’s out of earshot, who’s to say you won’t talk about me when I’m not around.”

Ask yourself,

“Does this behavior align with who I think I am and how I see myself?”

Generally not.

Confront problems, set limits, and establish boundaries.

If you are talking about someone out of frustration with them, then decide if there is a real problem you need to confront.

Setting limits on bad behavior is something that should be done if the behavior is destructive, abusive, invasive, or overall impacts you negatively.

Instead of gossiping, deal with the problem. If you need to set a boundary, set a limit, or simply have a conversation to express your concerns and find a solution, do that. If something is really bothering you, then take action, but make sure the action is constructive.

If you’re taking a stand on an issue that is important to you, then do it directly. That’s entirely different than gossiping.

Avoid gossip circles.

When you hang around people on a regular basis that engage in a lot of gossip, you’ll find the pull to join in pretty irresistible. It’s not because you’re bad person, but because it is much easier to focus on someone else’s stuff than your own, and because you want to be part of the group.

Gossiping with others is a way of bonding. It’s like joining a club, and what we have in common is we don’t like the same people and we enjoy talking about them. The problem is that this is a middle school club, and a very treacherous one. It doesn’t offer anything of value.

Sometimes you can just say you don’t want to gossip because you wouldn’t want anyone talking about you that way. If you’re part of a group with a pretty intact conscience, others will take your lead and refrain from gossip also. If not, you may get some negative vibes. If that happens, then you can be sure that when you aren’t around, you’ll become the subject of conversation.

The point is, pick friends with integrity, hang out with people who find gossiping toxic, and build relationships based on real interchange and interests, not people bashing.

I hope this is some food for thought as we head into the Holiday Season. Peace, love and warmth to everyone!

Why Do People Repeat the Same Dysfunctional Patterns?

Jane is a 44 year-old woman who has been in three abusive relationships. The last one was particularly bad and it took a lot of courage and help to free herself.

Not surprisingly, Jane grew up in a family where her father regularly abused her mother both physically and emotionally. He didn’t physically abuse the children, but he was emotionally abusive to them at times. Jane had a mixed emotional relationship with him. She was his favorite and he spent extra time with her. On good occasions, he was loving and interested in her, but the relationship could take a big shift when he was angry. During those times he was overly critical and attacking.

Over time, Jane’s self esteem suffered and she learned to doubt her own perceptions of herself. As an adult, she sought out relationships with men that alternately placed her on a pedestal and tore her down. She was also the victim of physical abuse in each of these relationships.

When you look at Jane’s story, the patterns are obvious. She repeatedly got into relationships that mirrored both her and her mother’s relationships with her father.

So the question is, and this is the question everyone always asks, why didn’t she as an adult make better choices? Why didn’t she learn? Why would she continually place herself in situations where she would be abused and hurt? Why indeed.

The answer is complex in that there can be a variety of factors, but the short version is “it’s hard to leave home.” Let me explain what that means.

Back to Jane. What Jane learned early on is that love and abuse were two sides of the same coin. Her early experience was that the man who loved and adored her was also the man that could be harsh, abusive and attacking. The child is not able or capable of seeing these behaviors separate from themselves. They internalize this treatment as being deserved. It is something they bring on, not a problem the adult has.

In Jane’s case, love and abuse were married together early in life. It was her experience with her father, and the experience modeled by her parents. Jane didn’t have the self-development or cognition as a child to make a distinction between her parents’ problems and her sense of herself. Whatever Jane received emotionally from her parents were taken in as hers, meaning she brought those behaviors to her.

So at an early age, the deal was sealed. Jane’s emotional home was full of conflicting messages, and her capacity to accurately perceive situations was greatly compromised.

The Emotional Home

As an adult, Jane sought out the emotional home she was raised in, and the one that was instilled early and tied to her self image. Such patterns are not easy to throw off.

Home is home, even if it isn’t a good or healthy home.

Sure, from the outside looking in we say “Why would anybody stay in a situation that causes them pain?”

Because what holds us in situations is often tied to early powerful experiences that have installed what I would call experiential presets.

Every time we hit the dial to move to another station, it automatically moves back to the one it was on. We actually have to go into the system and remove those presets in order to have free range of all the channels.

Adaptive As a Child, Maladaptive As an Adult

I learned this from a therapist I once saw myself and found it be one of the most helpful nuggets of reality I have ever learned. As children, our world is quite small. Originally it is comprised of our parents almost exclusively, and some of our most important development takes place with those early primary relationships.

As we get older, our influences come from other family members, peers, teachers, coaches, media, and the culture at large. Even with all of those other influences, our home life and our parents still have the greatest power and the world within our homes is where we learn how to form relationships, deal with conflict, handle our emotions, and form our behavior patterns.

Children, because they are at a disadvantage in terms of having power and being fully developed to make decisions, must rely on their parents. They learn how to navigate within the family system the best they can. In a healthy family, children learn how to successfully create good behavioral patterns. They learn how to handle negative emotions, solve conflicts, give and receive love, take care of themselves, develop self-discipline and a whole host of other important capacities.

In dysfunctional families, and especially in abusive families, children learn how to survive. Survival may require developing behavior patterns that are not healthy in the long run, but serve to stay afloat while trying to dodge abusive and overly negative messages, experiences, and attacks on the self.

The child who’s mother has an explosive temper and propensity to grab the belt in a heartbeat and use it until her anger has subsided, will ultimately learn to lie about situations to avoid the abusive behavior. The lies begin as little white lies and build over time as consequences become harsher and the child gets older. The lies backfire sometimes, but often work to avoid the painful experiences of abuse at the hands of the mother.

This same child as an adult finds herself lying to her partner when she is afraid he will become angry or upset with something she has done. Even though the players have changed and she is now a full grown adult that can make her own decisions, she still reverts to the behavior learned as a child to handle a situation she perceives is the same.

As a child, the lying was adaptive. It served to avoid being the victim of abuse, at least in the short term.

As an adult, the lying is maladaptive. It serves to create unhealthy communication patterns in the relationship. It creates dishonesty and mistrust.

But, by identifying the pattern and working with it, new patterns can be created that are healthier strategies for dealing with fear, negative emotions, and communication. This is where really seeing history is important. We can learn from it, but not if we don’t recognize it first, and then deal with the emotional transition to new behaviors.

It requires creating new adaptive strategies and in some cases . . . leaving home.

How Home is Experienced

Home is much more than the house we grew up in, or the city, state, country, or location.

Home is a set of beliefs, values, patterns of behavior, methods of communication, ways of dealing with conflict and negative situations, beliefs about ourselves, relationship patterns, habits, habits, habits . . .

Home is all that we’ve learned and incorporated into our personalities, our sense of ourselves, and our sense of others.

We do all have characteristics we bring to the table at birth which are our tendencies, temperament, physical characteristics, predispositions and so forth, but these all interact with the home environment and it is in this environment that our personalities are formed.

We develop throughout our lives as I have mentioned before, but that development occurs on top of and in continuation from our early development, which is primary.

We can make significant changes, however, and that is what this blog is about.

I believe that to make real change, it is first necessary to see where we are and a big part of that is understanding “home.”

People don’t leave home easily, even a highly dysfunctional, abusive home. It is familiar and it was created at a time when we were highly malleable and receptive; a time when we were in our greatest period of growth and personality formation.

To ignore that can be dangerous, because what we don’t see ultimately can wield a lot of power. What we see, we can change, discard, or edit.

Something to Get You Started

The exercise for this section is to make a list of habits, patterns of behavior, beliefs about yourself, relationship strategies, or anything else that comes to mind, that you believe was adaptive growing up and is now causing you problems in your life.

By looking at these you can change them. Also important is to understand that people don’t just have maladaptive patterns because they are inept, lazy, ignorant, or bad; they have them in most cases because they learned them early on and at that time found them to help deal with the reality of their “home.”

Gangs are the extreme example of this. A young boy who gets involved with a gang because it gives him a sense of belonging, self-worth, structure, and safety, is adapting to his life situation. The adaptation is ultimately highly damaging and sometimes life threatening, but it was chosen to solve a problem at the current time.

What I’m trying to get across is that to change maladaptive problems, you must first understand and forgive yourself for having them in the first place.

See them in the context of which they were formed. Empathize with your desire to adapt to situations in your past with behaviors that aren’t ultimately good for you, but seemed necessary at the time. When you have that point of view, it’s much easier to move forward and make changes.

Consistency is the Key!

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