At one point in my adult life I came to terms with the pathology I had been exposed to during my childhood, and the moment when I was able to identify and name exactly what had been happening was healing, and a necessary step in my growth. Naming something can help us to create distance, and therefore dis-identify with the parts that are not in us, or are not our responsibility. Identifying the reality of a situation is often a healing process, after which we can accept things and move on to create a life that is not simply a reaction to a negative situation.
Normally in my work as a therapist I stay away from pathologizing people; it’s often a narrow, black-or-white view on someone that can easily be conflated into a judgment, as in, so-and-so is just crazy! The implication here is that there is nothing more to this person – they are only crazy town and that’s it. For someone with a diagnosable mental illness this kind of narrow-minded judgment isn’t helpful in any way. Approaching people and situations with empathy, however, is helpful, as we all know that we come into this world with strengths and challenges that are unique to each of us. In certain situations, however, identifying pathology is helpful. Once we know that there’s a name for what’s happening, things can begin to make sense. We can begin to put the puzzle pieces together, and a bigger picture starts to form that can help us to understand that our feelings and reactions made sense. You felt confused? You felt frustrated that you were always made to feel responsible? You were always angry as a kid and never knew why? Well, there’s actually a reason for all of that, and there’s a name for it, and you’re not alone, and how you reacted is very normal. Think of the relief this would bring.
Identifying the pathology of those in positions of power can prove to be similarly healing. Whether you have familiarity with the pathology or not, it can be crazy making to take in information on a daily basis that confuses you, and has the effect of belittling you or making you feel as if your feelings and reactions don’t matter. My hope is that we can really identify what’s not normal, and then find effective ways to cope with, manage, or otherwise react so that the next four years are not spent in a drama/trauma vortex, lying on the couch, binge-watching Criminal Minds.
So, speaking of empathy, here we go:
I think we’re all familiar with what this term means. Psychology Today actually has a good article highlighting that Narcissism exists on a spectrum ; there’s a healthy amount in many of us, and on the far end of the spectrum is where people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) sit. There are different types of disordered narcissism, but they all have similar traits. Some of these include:
- Lack of empathy
Narcissists can’t connect with their own feelings, and so they are unable to feel what others feel, and are unable to empathize with others.
- Emotional manipulation
Gaslighting may be one of the most destructive forms of manipulation that narcissists employ. The bait-and-switch of turning things around and acting like they play no part in a situation, and like you actually are the crazy one, is plain crazy making. The worst part is that there’s often a grain of truth in what they say, so it’s easy to doubt oneself when in conflict with a narcissist. You may have heard things like this before:
You’re being ridiculous! I never hurt you; you’re making that up.
The media made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.
This might be a subset of emotional manipulation, but the lying can be so blatant you feel as if you’re in a TV show, and not in reality.
This was the most well attended inauguration in history!
This is often what happens behind closed doors. But in the case of certain people in certain positions of power right now, it happens regardless of whether or not people are looking. The bullying can have a manipulative, back handed quality to it, too.
I never took you to be such a passive person…
You’re just like your father… he was so abusive…
Need some low energy? JEB: for all your sleeping needs. (A video Trump created making fun of Jeb Bush during the campaign)
- Saving face
People with NPD spend a lot of energy making it seem as if they’re really, really fantastic and upstanding citizens. To the greater public eye, they can do no wrong. They are law-abiding, faith-filled, intelligent, generous, pillars of the community. Much of this is not a lie, per se, and those with NPD have the ability to do a lot of good in the world. The problem comes however when those closest to the person must endure what happens behind closed doors, when no one else is looking.
In part 2 I’ll talk about ways we can approach all of this productively. Stay tuned.