Knock, knock, knocking at Heaven's Gate

Create the self you wish to be.
This used not to be controversial: That we pilot our own ships.

But the zeitgeist has changed.

Disempowering Beliefs
One of the recurring counseling problems we see in our office is the belief that there's nothing to be done about bad things: poverty, substance abuse, environment, health, crime, human freedom.

Perhaps that's true about society at large -- and the frustration that comes of increasingly splintered political factions. Certainly we have little individual influence over large political movement -- no matter how powerful the feeling that comes with marching for change. (How well I understand the madness of crowds, for I was living in Asia during the Tiananmen* Square protests. In a wave of hope, my kids and I joined the crowds in Central Hong Kong, chanting slogans and waving signs protesting government crackdowns in Beijing. But after the massacres of June 4, protest went silent and hope for change died...for the moment at least.)

The Bald-Faced Lie
The unfortunate side effect of futile protests against social wrongs is that we perhaps particularize our large disappointments about societal disarray onto our own individual lives. And it's an ugly fiction: that because we cannot personally engineer broad social change, change isn't possible.

There's a subtle murmur underlying news about criminality and poverty and every other social ill, a rumbling that mumbles "Nobody can fix anything." It's a lie.

In fact, every sentient human being has immense change one particular life: Their own. Human history is notable for one thing: We claw ourselves out of bad circumstances and create better ones. We've been doing it since time immemorial. Don't let the dark whispers drag you down into the pit. You're not a victim. You're better, stronger than that. You have significance. Your existence has purpose. Find it. Live it. Be it.

*The paradoxically named TianAnMen (天安門) Square is translated as Heaven's Peaceful Gate. And hence the title of this article.

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Rip Up the Dark Web of Narcissism

Rip up the Narc Web
One of our therapeutic specialties is combating narcissism. We’ve studied the behavior for years and are particularly concerned with the large number of adult children of narcissists who come in to our practice in deep pain over problems with their family of origin.

What's most surprising is how many of them are only just – in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s – coming to the realization that there was something profoundly wrong with a parent they’ve idealized. Wresting with the truth that Mom is not the smartest woman in 48 states, or that Dad was actually abusive to the few friends allowed in the house is almost a revelation from heaven. In order to get their narc parent’s rare approval, children (even adult children) twist themselves into intellectual pretzels buying into the parental theses that the parent is perfect and all fault lies with other people.

It a huge discovery – one that then brings about anger, new pain, and self-hatred – when people learn (much later than is healthy) that their narc parent never actually loved them. In therapy they eventually gain peace with that fact, and discover that there was nothing they could have done differently to gain a narc parent’s genuine love – an impossibility because narcissists don’t have the capacity, in their brokenness, to give genuine love. All that narcs know is the dark counterfeit of love: “When you give me what I need, I like it. And I’ll say whatever I have to, in order to get more of that good, good stuff. So, ahem, I love you!”

Pitting Family Against Family

One of the greatest predictors of adult sibling or cousin disconnect is having a narcissistic parent or grandparent. That's not a coincidence.

It's a particularly pervasive cruelty when the slap is given in response to your accomplishments. “Tomorrow's our tenth anniversary” gets the reaction: “Your cousin's been married for 15 years. Her husband loves her so much!” Or “I got admitted to my first-choice college” is countered with “It's too bad you didn't get into an Ivy League school like my friend's son.”

What’s truly tragic is how often narcissists plant themselves at the center of a web, like a sentient arachnid, where they control all the spokes and family members find themselves having to get past the spider in order to relate to one another. It’s an exhausting effort made more difficult by the narc spider’s persistence at clipping the connections between the spokes:

  • “Your brother is doing really well at his new job. I wonder why you’re having so much trouble.” 
  • “Your sister doesn’t really like the way you’re raising your kids. She thinks you should take a parenting class.” 
  • “You probably don’t know how much you’ve disappointed your mother. I don’t know if she’ll even want to see you at Christmas.” 
  • “Your dad is out of control. He’s thinking of leaving us. What can we do to stop him?” 
  • “Your uncle is dating a whore, so we probably shouldn’t have him at the wedding.”

Fixing the Family
If you’ve been intimately connected with a narcissist in your family, particularly a narcissistic parent or grandparent, therapy may prove helpful. But in the short term, here’s some important advice: Do not allow the spider to control the communication in your family. Unless your family members have chosen the path of emulating the narcissist, keep the relationship alive on your own terms. That means:
  • Refuse to hear any gossip about another family member.
  • Cut off comparisons by saying “I’ll talk with X directly about that. Please don’t carry messages.”
  • Stop confiding in narcissists, especially over your concerns about another family member.
  • Deliberately build a one-on-one relationship with distant family members, as much as possible, by extending invitations to meet over lunch or coffee, wherever is convenient for that person.
  • Extend invitations to gatherings, repeatedly, and without taking offense if you’re turned down the first several times.
  • Address family estrangement by taking the blame for your former willingness to participate in the narcissist's gossip and committing to future maturity.
  • Ask for reconciliation, with a therapist’s help if necessary. Send the request by mail so that your estranged family member has the ability to consider your bid for connection without pressure to respond immediately. If there’s no response, try again every six months or so.
  • Be careful to accept all blame for your own mistakes, without casting aspersions on your estranged relative. There’ll be plenty of time to resolve your own hurts after the relationship is on solid footing.
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