We need to talk about Job; we must. His story, of why good blameless people suffer catastrophic horrors, is a major theme in the mysticism x narcissism intersection.
There is a lot in there that needs to be revisited (or visited for the first time) with our new eyes. But there is so much in Job, there are so many things to talk about, that I feel overwhelmed just thinking about bringing it up. So I will do it in sections, trying to dam up the tidal wave of thoughts and ideas, otherwise they paralyze me and I am unable to write anything.
The first thing I want to talk about is spiritual bypass; the particular kind of bypass that repeats religious doctrines or ideas in the mind or out loud, while the real feelings and real pain go unacknowledged. This kind of bypass values the performance of spiritual behavior, conformity with specific rules of conduct, thought-conformity and speech-conformity with non-dual concepts, avoiding a contrary authenticity in the heart. One says the right spiritual thing, while ignoring the true seemingly non-spiritual “negative” feelings.
“It’s all an illusion” or “none of this 3d stuff is real” come to mind, as one such example. I’m sure you have many others.
For the most part, this kind of bypass only serves to keep a person from himself; it helps him to repress and deny his real feelings. It hides his own truth, his pain (the ugly stuff about how he really feels), behind the performance of a lie. If only he can keep it together and not get too torn apart by his real feelings, he might just pull it off.
This begs the question – for whom? For whom is this performance?
Because God knows how you really feel. Your heart and soul know how you really feel. Your authentic self knows how you really feel. Everyone in the spirit world knows how you feel (including the demons who come poking at your unconscious pain). Other people know how you really feel. (If they have the least bit of discernment, they can tell the difference between real feelings and phony empty words.). So for whose benefit are we pretending?
And the answer to that is really earth-shattering, because we are pretending only for ourselves, only to keep our false self in place. We are acting in accord with our self-concept (the person we imagine that we are, the person we’d like others to think we are) hoping that we are pulling it off, knowing that we aren’t, and also knowing that the whole charade, especially in a spiritual sense is completely pointless.
So let’s see what happens. This is the first meaningful part of Job.
(I’m assuming that you know the story and/or can quickly look it up. I won’t bore you with plot summaries here. Basically Job is this wonderful perfect blameless pious man, and God allows Satan to destroy Job’s entire life, plunging him into the worst sort of mystical darkness. That’s the first five minutes, and then the rest of the book takes us on a rollercoaster of what happens to Job emotionally.).
In the first instance that Satan arrives and destroys Job’s entire life, Job tears his robe, shaves his head, and falls to the ground in worship saying: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Right after that it says “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
This sounds so righteous and upright doesn’t it? So spiritual. So zen, we’d say today. He’s so unattached to his wealth or his children, that he’s unmoved by their deaths and destruction. He is praising God even, praising God for the death of his children (!), rather than blaming God.
Too bad it’s a lie. This isn’t how authentic feelings work. This isn’t how normal human beings work. The most zen of zen masters grieves the loss of those he loves. You can’t transcend grief, certainly not at Job’s spiritual level. Losing everything and everyone you love so catastrophically doesn’t ever make you want to praise God. I promise. It doesn’t. It makes you hate God, or at a minimum, it makes you question either his existence or his concern for your wellbeing, or both. If you’re a good person, someone who does the “right” things, it makes you really angry at God. And all of those feelings take months and months to work through.
But this is how fake spiritual people behave. Something horrific and tragic happens to them, and instead of having an honest reaction and actually feeling their feelings, they deny how they feel, and mouth empty platitudes to whoever will listen. It’s nauseating, and you want to shake them and wake them up from this kind of saccharin stupor. (All of that everyone-processes-grief-differently thing is a bunch of nonsense; it is an attempt to let narcissists and other psychopaths get away with feeling nothing while not being judged for their lack of sincere feelings. Normal people all feel grief pretty much the same way; by feeling it.).
As though bypass wasn’t enough, these days we have psychopathic spiritual leaders, who legitimately feel nothing at all, and they hold themselves out as models of spiritual perfection. (They aren’t.). They instruct us to throw ourselves away entirely, all of our feelings, all of our pain, and be gloriously unaffected by normal human suffering. This, they tell you, is the height of spiritual perfection. As if.
Anyway, back to my story. So both Satan and God are hip to Job’s game, and Satan then brings down the second wave of destruction, afflicting Job’s whole body with sores. At this point we are told that “Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.” Job has now resorted to self-harm, rather than feeling his real feelings. Even a mediocre arm-chair psychologist could accurately diagnose what’s happening here…
At this point, fed up with the charade, Job’s wife says “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die.” (I think she’s saying “integrity” in air quotes). To which Job tells her that she is a foolish woman, and that we must endure the good and the bad in life.
Great Job, just great. Arrogance, invalidation, sanctimony and more platitudes. Big mistake. Big. Huge!
Because what she offered him was the first of many many mystical deaths on his path; that is the opportunity to begin allowing the false self to die, for the sake of the real, honest, raw feeling self. This isn’t something that happens all at once. Each small lie has to be individually revealed and seen, and then a courageous choice must be made in the direction of truth, allowing that false part to die. But prideful people never listen to lady Wisdom, and Job is no exception.
His mistake here is that he knows it all, and he doesn’t even take in nor consider the meaning of what his wife is saying to him. He shuts her down outright, instead of considering what her words mean. This is another important theme connected with humility. Messages of wisdom arrive to us via everyone – smart people, foolish people, mean people – it doesn’t make a difference who is saying it. Humility demands that we take it in and allow it, giving it due consideration, even if the person speaking it is a fool.
So far we have here Job’s phony bypassing piety, and a display of his lack of humility. Suddenly perfect blameless Job aint so perfect anymore, but he doesn’t see that.
“Curse God and die” is actually brilliant, and it’s said so ruthlessly, that it can only be from the mouth of Wisdom. It’s exactly the right mystical instruction for someone in bypass. “Cut the crap Job. Tell God how angry you really are at him, and kill off this phony performance of piety.” If I had a nickel…
The fascinating thing here is that God knows how Job really feels. So does Satan. So does Job’s wife. For whose benefit is Job performing his phony piety? The answer really really matters, because when you actually get inside this whole apparatus (inside yourself), you see that there’s no one to lie to. It’s the ego lying to itself. Holding up a false front, for nothing. Rather than feeling and admitting how we really feel, we mouth lies that help us maintain our fraudulent self-concept. But there is no one for whom to perform the charade. The ego tells us that we must do it, because of how it looks to others, how we appear to them, what they think of us, our reputation and standing in the community, but in spirituality we are talking exclusively about our relationship with God. And God isn’t buying the charade, nor does he want to hear it.
A real relationship with God, one that is in actual integrity, is one that allows you to feel all of what you really feel, including getting angry at God, and feeling those feelings all the way through.
So the performance of spirituality, the phony piety, is an especially noxious lie. It is the same egoic game, the same false mask, the same pretending to be someone you’re not, except that it uses that which is most sacred in its endeavor. It uses doctrines and holy concepts to lie to itself and to others. It’s really embarrassing and wretched when you find all the ways this happens inside. This is why it’s said that spiritual pride is the worst kind of pride there is. That’s part of what Job is showing us here.
To undo this kind of pride, or rather to continue consciously undoing it, requires that we too “curse God and die.” By dropping our spiritual performances, our perfect spiritual behaviors meant to impress other people, our spiritual personas, our spiritual platitudes that mask true feelings, and getting real and honest, and courageously bringing forward real ugly negative feelings, so they can be seen and processed through. (And normalized for others to do the same.). Instead of wearing the spiritual mantle, we must work constantly at peeling off all the layers of falsehood, (and boy, are there many!) and living in greater and greater integrity with our true selves. Not with our self-concept of who we wish we were, not who we want to be in the eyes of other people, not in accord with a spiritual identity, but who we actually are, as dictated by our honest inner feelings.
God is not a narcissist who only wants our praise and never our anger; quite the opposite. God wants us to have a real relationship with him. That means we must be real, not mouthing phony words we think God wants to hear.
Beyond even just bringing our real feelings, we must work tirelessly to bring our projections to awareness too. We look at God (or refuse to look at God), through the filters of our pain and wounds. To us, blinded by our filters, God is who our pain tells us he is, rather than who he actually is. We can’t see God beyond those projections. And many of us carry ancient repressed fears and false beliefs that haven’t been made conscious in decades. All those things stand in our way, and so must be relentlessly excavated and dissolved.
It’s fun to read scripture from antiquity and see that they were wrestling with all the same spiritual problems relevant for us today.
Below is some writing I shared on my personal FB page in the days following the outbreak of protests in response to the killing of George Floyd.
At the time, like many of us, I was unfamiliar with the social justice movement or its ideology. I had, in fact, been living under a rock for years, in monastic seclusion from all kinds of news and political events, focusing entirely on my own inner work. I didn’t know nor understand the context in which the protest were taking place, nor what they actually represented.
So, when I first heard about the movement and its purported aims, it seemed like a real emergence of pain, with a sincere intention to rectify that pain, from a therapeutic philosophical perspective. It looked like a tragic national outcry, and a real opportunity for healing and growth. In those initial days, I felt angry at our spiritual institutions for failing to grasp the depth of public pain, failing to respond to it adequately, and missing the mark on the moral leadership through that pain. (Prefering of course, as they always do, to gloss over the hard stuff.).
Then I got to reading more and more of the ideological material of the movement, and I got to know it and understand it on a deeper level. I found that there are some deep truths inside both post-modernism and inside critical theory, but those truths have been distorted and weaponized in reckless, opportunitistic, and destructive ways. It turns out that I mistook the movement’s clever rhetoric for the good faith cries of people in pain.
It took some time, and learning, and interactions with activists, to recognize the bad faith, the falsehoods wrapped in the appearance of wisdom, the immature petty hatreds and contempt, the regressive emotionally unintelligent thinking, and the deeply pretextual nature of any stated desire for any kind of healing or reconciliation, or even for actual justice itself.
The emerging ideology doesn’t care about truth, or growth, or actual resolution of any real problems. And if you’ve read anything I’ve written here so far, you know that I care deeply about those things (even when truth is completely paradoxical and contradictory). I also care about actual healing. I also care about real pain, and courage, and justice, and morality. And I am very much opposed to hatred, bullying, false cries of victimhood, power-grabs, dishonesty, interpersonal domination, abdications of personal responsibility, and destruction for its own anarchistic sake. None of those things lead us anywhere good; neither individually nor collectively. They represent serious lapses in wisdom and prudence, and sometimes in the most obvious lessons of history.
There is a prevelance of severely malignant narcissistic behavior among many activists, which is what creates a lot of the derogatory thurst of the SJW moniker. The interpersonal combat follows really common, really familiar forms of narcissistic abuse, whose aims appear to be sadistic remorseless shameless destruction for its own sake. There is no compassion, no humanity, no personal dignity, and not even an ounce of forgiveness in this movement. To me, it is the very definition of toxic egotistical chaos. Many of the people in positions of authority succumb to the pressure this movement wields in precisely the same way and for the same reasons that we normally succumb to narcissistic mobbing, bullying, and abuse. They take over because we are not strong enough to withstand their personal, targeted, and vicious destructions. The opponents of this movement keep repeating the call for moral courage and strength of character from those in position of power and authority, which are things we all grossly lack. (That’s what this movement’s success is demonstrating to us, as narcissists always do.).
I’m going to share what I wrote initially anyway. I wrote it from a sincere place of compassion and understanding for real victims of injustice, and some wisdom and depth for the bystanders. Perhaps those people who are really suffering and are seeking to heal, and those who are adjacent to the suffering and seeking to help, might benefit from some of the discussion below.
I spent the last few days reading one carefully edited prepared statement after another, from our mainstream spiritual leaders and organizations, parroting the same nonsensical robotic language, paying lip-service to a problem they continue refusing to actually address, because no one wants to talk about real pain.
I am deeply deeply disappointed by the emotional and spiritual ignorance, stupidity, tone-deafness, platitudes and bypassing of all the difficult and painful stuff spirituality is meant to help us navigate. Statement after statement from people who claim to work with authenticity and truth, who wear the mantle of spiritual leadership (the steering of souls through human experiences of suffering), and not one real heartfelt word from any of them. It’s very upsetting.
(This is a good time to make the following note – if your spirituality does not have extensive doctrines or methods or teachings for dealing with the darkness of real pain, if it glosses over and avoids pain, if it whips out lofty ideas in response to real pain, if it seeks to quickly fix or dispense with victimhood and the messy ugly stuff of life, you are not dealing with an authentic spiritual tradition. Please beware and find a more authentic practice connected with the human experience.).
The same ol’ rhetoric of false unity and pleasant sounding abstract spiritual ideas aren’t going to cut it anymore. Victims do not want to be united to evil perpetrators in some phony peace-keeping way. It’s time to have some grown up conversations. And the field of professional spirituality, if it intends to remain relevant, will have to do a much better job of real wisdom guidance on matters of real life suffering.
“Vibrating higher,” or “meditation as a path to color-blindness,” or “remembering our oneness,” or discarding the “delusion of separation,” or “remembering that we are all God’s children,” or proclaiming phony love, or prayers, or identifying with our “spiritual radiant immortal unaffected” essence while discarding our human experience is not going to get us through this problem!
These things hurt real victims of pain and pummel souls already in torment. Only actual truth and real awareness work will get all of us through this. It is time to grow up, and it is time to have difficult real conversations, not crappy pain avoiding double-speak, masking ignorance, discomfort, and apathy.
We cannot merely read the stories of pain and injustice, and grow from them in any way, or empathically support our fellow humans in any helpful way, if our insides are not compassionately receptive or open to hearing stories of pain. Spoiler alert – they are not!!
And because we are not actually able to internalize or maturely handle the pain of others, all we can offer are objectifying mechanical responses, completely devoid of empathy and real solidarity, which hurt and isolate victims more than their original trauma.
So instead of sitting and criticizing and telling you what’s wrong with all the old approaches, buckle up, because I’m taking you on a little ride into the depths of consciousness.
I want to address some of the internal dynamics that are important to bring to awareness as we watch what’s happening around us, and feel a whole bunch of stuff in response.
What I’m going to say has to do with victimhood, and our own relationship to pain, but it’s a bit complicated, so bear with me. I am painting a contrasting picture, with very broad strokes, just to give you an initial sense of which way to go. This is a lens, not the only one. This is a fertile area of exploration, not the only one. There are plenty of other avenues to explore, but I offer this as a starting place for real work.
I offer this description of the dynamics for intellectual understanding and navigation, but the real stuff, the real transformative change, is in each person’s own self-discovery work and practice. Take this in, if it’s helpful, but still do your own exploratory work. Find your versions of this inside yourselves, so that you can begin healing it.
Part I – The healing of pain
I posted yesterday, and many times before, the general proposition that victimhood is something that needs to be healed. There is no question about that. Wisdom always ferociously demands that all kinds of pain be healed and worked through fully and properly, because unprocessed pain leads to tremendous suffering and unjust results for everyone. Forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness, even when you feel it’s unforgiveable and the injustice persists. I’m talking here about the real dirty work of it, real trauma healing, and not the phony forced versions.
This truth, this demand for healing, is generally felt as unfair by victims; they don’t want to forgive that which is unforgiveable, and they are right to feel this way for many reasons. Not only do victims have to endure the pain and injustice, but they must then also bear the responsibility of healing, all while the perpetrator typically gets off scot-free and none of the injustice changes. It’s tremendously unfair, always. But that’s how it works. That’s the ugly truth of it. That is the nature of human suffering and the relationship with evil. Victims must heal their pain, evil rarely if ever apologizes or acknowledges wrong-doing, and justice (even when it is possible) does very little to mollify pain on its own.
This seemingly unbalanced burden of forgiveness is repeated in every single spiritual tradition there is. There is a reason for it. It is part of what being human means, and suffering and healing are the path of spiritual growth for the soul. Blessed are those who suffer, who are persecuted, who are the victims of injustice. That is the way their souls have chosen to grow in this lifetime, by learning the lessons of pain, suffering, and injustice, and Spirit demands that they take responsibility for healing and processing their pain.
Part II – Bearing Witness to Pain
But it is not enough to tell victims to heal and leave it at that. We all have a much larger individual responsibility (beyond repairing and reforming the external structures). We must do the inner work of repairing our own internal structures, and taking responsibility for our emotional and psychological selves too. If we are all going to grow from these experiences and do better, we must learn what it means to support our fellow humans when they are in pain. That’s generally called bearing witness to pain or being present with pain.
To do this, we actually must allow the pain of others to affect us and transform us. It is hard, but that’s part of the bystander’s soul work and lessons to learn. The victim is not alone in her healing burden. All those around her must also do their own work and show up to support her correctly. This is often where we run into problems. Most people like to think of themselves as good listeners or compassionate supporters, but they aren’t. They are just unaware of how poorly they handle other people’s pain.
Being a “good” caring person does not automatically make you good at being present with pain. It is actually quite challenging and requires a significant amount of inner work to be able to do it properly and effectively, without adding your emotional stuff to the victim’s burden.
These are more subtle unconscious currents within us that require awareness. These currents inform a lot of our behavior, and how we handle and respond to victims. These same currents also stand in the way, blocking those who work for justice generally, which always involves dealing with legitimate victimhood. These currents create divisions and separations between us; they push us apart and away from one another, which prevents us from loving, connecting, engaging, feeling compassion for real victims, and standing together on the right side of morality, which always fights for justice.
Part 3 – Extreme Victimhood and its consequences
Now, I’m going to go to one extreme of the victimhood problem for a moment, which will be unpleasant but important to understand. Victimhood-as-a-persistent-identity, victims who completely refuse to heal and refuse to process their pain, perpetrate their own kind of evil. Wisdom does not support that, and Spirit is always unsentimentally harsh with those who claim this position.
Victimhood is part of the ego’s identity and is very often used as a weapon – a tool of emotional control and manipulation – wielded by narcissistic bullies and other types of personality disorders. It is used as a justification for all sorts of things like domination and tyranny, interpersonal power grabs, abdication of responsibility, and refusal to admit mistakes, grow, or change. Sometimes victimhood is used to punish and silence, it is used to guilt and oppress, it is used to monopolize and win, it is used to compete, destabilize, and recast reality, very often hurting the real victims in the exchange.
Take the example of Trump here, and his endless claims of being a victim of unfair this or unfair that, while at the same time sadistically bullying and trying to dominate and exploit everyone he encounters. You see it rather clearly in his case. Victimhood is a running theme, a common psychological tactic, used by narcissists like him, to morally position themselves above others for exploitation and personal gain.
Victimhood is tied internally to specialness and superiority, and ultimate victimhood confers a false moral high-ground, ground upon which gradiosity is built. Trump’s claims of victimhood inoculate him from any sort of criticism or personal responsibility. Under his victimhood umbrella, he gets to do and say whatever he wants – lie, cheat, scheme, and get away with everything. Narcissistic victimhood always mischaracterizes what’s really going on, and invalidates actual truth and the real victims. You can see for yourself how dangerous and psychologically damaging it can be to all those around him.
And so anyone who has a narcissist in their lives (all of us, whether you know it or not), intuitively, through lots of experiences, comes to understand that not all claims of victimhood are real. They are sometimes the concocted fraudulent mental state of nefarious people, who masterfully use that position to guilt, blame, and demand all kinds of things on emotionally manipulative grounds, without ever having to take any personal responsibility.
This jaded and critical (some would say mature and experienced) relationship to victimhood develops quite naturally and unconsciously – we develop a kind of aversion to it, a kind of visceral rejection of victimhood wholesale, because having been trapped and fooled by it in the past, we fear the trap of the manipulator again. Anytime someone comes along with this victimhood identity, we roll our eyes and tune them out. Some people who are more naive, who haven’t been burned in the past, will placate, pity, coddle and sympathize with the narcissist’s victimhood, but those of us who have been to the rodeo before reject it immediately and without much conscious awareness of why.
This creates a very categorical approach to the victimhood of others, and while it does filter out all the phony manipulative victims, more or less, it doesn’t allow in any of the real ones. This is a form of armoring or self-protection, but in reality it is an overly numb and cynical position that doesn’t allow for real compassion to emerge when necessary. The heart and love become blocked off from real connection and authentic relating, and we can’t show up correctly for real victims who need our emotional support. It is as though our minds have made a mental formula: victim = manipulative liar, and we can’t then tell the difference when confronted by a real victim who deserves our help and support. We cannot feel real compassion when the circumstances morally require us to do so. You see the problem here, I hope.
Part 4 – Denial of Victimhood and its consequences
Now, I’m going to go to the other extreme and will tell you about the complete denial of victimhood and what happens there. If you yourself have been a victim of narcissistic abuse, if you grew up with one of these people at home, then your own victimhood was always severely denied, negated, and dishonored, by the narcissist and his/her enablers, but worse yet, by you yourself.
Narcissistic parents or caregivers don’t ever allow the child to be a victim – to feel hurt, or express that hurt, or have that hurt repaired. Parental feelings and needs always overshadow the child’s, giving the parent a monopoly over suffering (they always have it worse), while at the same time immunity from any kind of responsibility (whatever happens, it’s never their fault.).
The child learns never to talk about their hurt feelings, never to acknowledge them, and to always blame herself for having any kind of hurt feelings in the first place. She begins to hate her own feelings and her own pain, because that’s the psychologically safest thing to do in the vicinity of a narcissist. This is a form of self-abandonment and denial of the authentic self. We all experience this to various degrees, it’s just much more severe in the context of a narcissistic parent.
As children in narcissistic homes, we learn very quickly to deny our needs, our feelings, and especially the places we’ve been hurt by others. We deny our own victimhood, but even more than that, we learn to hate it. Our victimhood, our expression of pain and request for justice, for an acknowledgement and an apology, for a change in future behavior, represents a monumental threat to our narcissistic parent. Narcissists never ever react well when confronted with harm they’ve caused. Look at how Trump is reacting to people who are in pain – domination and escalations in violence and punishment. That’s what narcissists always do.
So to express victimhood, to express pain, as a powerless child, would only induce more punishment and harm. But as feeling caring children who love their parents without question, it’s even more complicated than that.
Expressing our victimhood would have caused our beloved parent pain, emotional turmoil, shame, and exposed us to their vicious retaliation. That creates both guilt and fear in us as children, fostering an internal emotional connection and loop between victimhood and extremely complicated negative unpleasant feelings. (Guilt and terror do not feel good in the body! Especially not for little children who are often isolated from the emotional support of wise adults.).
Therefore, taking psychological solidarity with our narcissistic parent against ourselves, (because that’s safest), we would come to hate the entire sphere of our feelings, pain, complaints, etc. We would learn to just get over everything, to accept the shittiness of the world as it is, and never try to do anything about it. We would have learned that fighting for something better, protesting or demanding change, goes absolutely nowhere with a narcissist. Protesting of any kind exposes you to further harm. So, the internal message is don’t even bother trying; just shut up and take it. The greater your capacity to tolerate abuse, the better person you are.
The enablers in the family would have reinforced this silence and denial of victimhood, pleading with you not to ever rock the boat. Themselves unable to control the narcissist’s destructiveness, their only way to keep the peace was to silence the victims. Children of narcissists learn that making any kinds of claims of victimhood, ever opening our mouths to say that we’ve been hurt, threatens the entire fabric of the family relationship, and usually ends with them attacking and destroying us further.
Adult victims of narcissistic abuse who claim their victimhood go through horrible treacherous family stuff as a result. As they begin their real healing journeys, they are routinely denied, disowned, scapegoated, and booted from the family for speaking their truths. All of this means that we have learned over and over to never ever allow ourselves to be the victim, even when we actually are.
We are never sure of our victimhood, of our feelings, or of our right to speak up about them. Our minds become programmed against allowing any of those feelings. And we become prideful about that. Many people have this very strong aversion to victimhood of any kind, most importantly their own, and they proudly proclaim that they are never victims, and they derive a sense of strength from that position.
But it also means that no one else around them is allowed to be a victim either… You’re beginning to see the problem here too, I hope.
It takes a lot of work and therapy and healing to begin honoring our own victimhood, and even coming around to the idea that we’re allowed to be a victim, and that that is a morally right and safe position to occupy. Narcissists try to gaslight you out of this position all the time!
Naturally, if you haven’t done any of this psychological heavy lifting, when you see others claiming their victimhood loudly, refusing to just get over it, and demanding change, it makes you react negatively to them. Your own negative association with victimhood becomes activated. You then want to give them the same instructions you give your own feelings – stop complaining, get over it, deal with it, nothing is going to change or get better, stop being so entitled about it, that’s the reality of life. That then also pushes up all kinds of immediate criticisms directed at the victims, solidifying your rejection of them, instead of rejecting the evil they are protesting.
Sound familiar? Do you get how this works out, and why victims then feel even more hurt, angry, and abandoned?
Part 5 – Conclusion
All of these inner experiences, wherever you happen to be between the extremes, unconsciously informs how we deal with the victimhood of others. We don’t have a conscious choice about it; our wounds, our unprocessed stuff, pushes up these mental attitudes and informs how we feel, and how we relate to others, and even how we vote. (Our politics are very much an expression of this very psychological landscape.). And so we might know intellectually on a conscious-values level that it’s right to stand with victims, yet our feelings prevent us from doing that authentically, even if we wear a fake mask of solidarity.
We are being asked now to look closely at our unconscious material which keeps systemic racism and injustice in place. Use this time and crisis wisely. Take this opportunity to look honestly at what is actually arising within you in response to people vocally claiming their victimhood. Look at how your real feelings respond to that, despite how you behave socially.
As you do this work, get really still in order to hear what is actually arising within you in response to the protests. If you feel instantly critical about how the protests are being conducted, if you feel instantly distrustful of the voices that are complaining, if you feel a strong internal resistance about what’s happening, unable to offer your authentic love and compassion, (or forcing it, against how you really feel), I urge you to investigate some of the threads I’ve mentioned here.
It’s our own lack of awareness and healing that prevents solidarity with others. Most often, the unconscious material that informs our responses has nothing to do with skin color or race of the victim (it is an equal opportunity rejector), and instead has everything to do with our own pain, our own methods of dealing with life, and especially our relationship to victimhood. By doing this difficult work, we all have the opportunity to unblock our own hearts, allowing us to feel real authentic love, and with that, tenderness and compassion for all kinds of other people who are legitimately in pain. Then we can read the stories and hear the voices of victims and really show up authentically and correctly for them.
I don’t know this therapist. And my intention is not to diminish him personally. I’m venturing a tiny bit into the therapeutic sphere, and using him as an example of what not to do. What I’m going to say comes out of years of direct experience, and this video represents a gross philosophical error, one that is repeated by countless therapists and by lots of other well-intentioned people in counseling positions.
This is how not to treat a narcissist in therapy, and how not to treat a narcissist in regular life.
I did a few posts in a row trying to dispel the approach of “loving” and “empathizing” with narcissists more, in order to help them, treat them, change them, none of which ever works. Do not try to change them! It is a waste of time.
Yes, we grow to love them over time, after we have acknowledged their evil, the damage and pain they’ve caused, after we have fully healed that pain and derived the wisdom lessons, then a real and genuine love for them emerges, a gratitude for the role they played in our destruction and maturation process. We don’t seek to change them, because their evil, as it exists, it serving us. Trying to change them or fix them is the wrong place to focus our efforts and energies. (Not to mention, it doesn’t work.).
“Loving them more” on the surface, empathizing with them, denying or excusing the harm they cause, failing to admit the extent of their evil and the pain we experience, is not the way to get to real love. It is an affront to truth, and a tremendous missed opportunity for real growth.
The views expressed in this video are another manifestation of the truth-denying “love them more” idiocy.
His disposition is also something important to be aware of when choosing a therapist, as a victim of abuse. This is the kind of therapist to avoid avoid avoid, when you’re the victim of abuse. He will tell you all day long to try harder, to be nicer, to sympathize more. He will find all of what you, the victim, are doing wrong, and will try to turn you into himself – a supposed therapist for the narcissist. He holds his self-sacrificing martyrdom as an ultimate virtue (which it’s not), and it will cause significant moral harm to the victims of abuse.
So what’s happening here? Why is this so wrong? How could “loving someone more” in our normal sense of extending them compassion and understanding be a bad thing?
First of all, too much empathy, empathy used in the extreme, disguises moral cowardice. It is a form of avoidance and enabling. It is a clever way that people seek to avoid difficult moral issues – they don’t have to take a stand, they don’t have to experience their own moral uncertainties, they don’t have to confront, they don’t have to deal with the consequences of confrontation, they don’t have to deal with the inevitable powerlessness that arises in such cases (or their own darkness that emerges). It is a trick, a kind of bypass. The thinking goes like this: “I’ll just turn this objectively awful person into someone pitiful, someone who deserves my sympathy, then I don’t have to deal with his evil. I don’t have to admit it, nor my fear or trepidation of it. It’s all just part of human nature…” Avoidance of reality, of what is true, is always the wrong direction. This disposition not only denies the reality of the narcissist’s evil, but worst yet, denies his own pain, his own feelings, his own unhealed wounds, and therefore denies the wounds of others too.
Second, we know that the ego is deeply interested in being right, in being the winner, in being the best, in knowing it all. But another thing the ego loves is seeing itself as good. In fact, it’s why egotistical people disown and project all of their bad qualities onto others – they can’t stand the idea that they aren’t good. So when you decide to generate compassion or empathy for an evil person, (while that evil person is sadistically harming you), you feel yourself to be very good, very saintly, very martyr-like. (It’s not actually saintly; it’s a perversion of what real saints actually do and feel).
All of this is the hallmark of co-dependence, but it’s also feeding and aggrandizing the therapist’s ego. It makes him feel like a very very good person that he is empathizing even with evil. It’s part of his therapist-as-hero identity. This is another kind of trap, which causes actual victims of abuse (those who have the courage to stand up for themselves, who aren’t interested in being harmed anymore) tremendous gaslighting and harm. A therapist like this will lead you back into “love them more, empathize with them more” territory, rather than validating your own perceptions of the narcissists cruelty.
Third, empathy does nothing for the narcissist. Nothing. They eat your expressions of empathy for breakfast and laugh at your foolish self-importance. Imagine that you took incredible pleasure in eating hot peppers. And someone comes along and says to you “oh, I empathize so much with your pathology that you need to hurt your mouth with spices in order to feel good. Let me show you these other things you can do instead that won’t bring you any pleasure. I will show you how to be a more functional and healthy person.” If you were being honest, you’d say “fuck off, dude. I enjoy my peppers. If you have a problem with that, it’s your problem, not mine.” You’d laugh at this other person’s sanctimonious condescensions, and you’d be right to do so. Similarly, the narcissist laughs at the therapist’s sanctimonious empathy. (The therapist in the video picks up on precisely that truth, expressed to him by the patient, but he dismisses and invalidates it as though he is above it. His arrogance gets in his own way…).
A therapist that comes at a narcissist without any understanding of evil, without any sense of the power and pleasure of psychopathy, unwilling to see his own false moral superiority, believing that he is above the narcissist and is justified in talking down to him, traps himself in a hamster wheel and does nothing of therapeutic value. He objectifies the narcissist, and uses him in his own egoic charade.
To the extent that narcissists can be “treated” therapeutically, (most can’t and won’t), the approach must be the opposite of this, the opposite of the warm, tender, accepting disposition. It is confrontational, hostile, and seeks to break through the false shell with overwhelming truth. It is traumatic for the narcissist, and something those of us raised as loving and caring codependents can’t muster. It has to do, as I wrote about before, with personal power, a thing most normal decent people do not possess.
Following our narcissists as messengers theme – if you remember Roberta, the lying duplicitous psychopathic patient from Cleckley’s book, the one who writes letters of miraculous recovery intended to fool her doctors, this kind of therapeutic ego is the person her destructiveness is aimed at. He is precisely the kind of doctor, who though seemingly beneficent, is egoically deeply attached to his goodness, his self-sacrificing martyrdom, his endless compassion, his heroism, all of which makes him ignore the truth and morality, in order to feed his own ego. Someone like Roberta will play along with his charade, making him believe he’s making a real difference, only to demonstrate (by her continued destructiveness) that he isn’t. If he is honest with himself and willing to endure the ugly truth, someone like Roberta will cause a fundamental crisis in his work-life, in order to show him how he is lying to himself and hurting other people in the process.
Some of the egoic goals to listen for when exploring various inner threads:
* being right,
* being the ultimate expert especially from the outset without the necessity of learning, (inside here is also an intolerance of the expertise of others, and some manifestations of hating expert authorities),
* knowing it all,
* being the best, preferably at all things, and fearing/despising competition,
* being special and unique,
* master of the universe,
* being perfect,
* being good,
* being blameless and without fault or flaw,
* being important, valued, & glorified (and sometimes on top of that expressed in more socially sanctioned ways – wanting to make a difference, to matter, to leave a legacy, to be relevant,
* to be needed and/or wanted,
* to be seen, recognized, respected.
These are all things the ego seeks for externally, from others, in order to compensate for the opposite feelings deep inside. Some of these things are considered socially normal and acceptable, and they show up in very subtle ways in the ego structure. Mystically however, they are all to be recognized and worked through, so that the pull of external seeking is extinguished within.
When you hear these threads in your work, locate the source of these desires and drives, processing out the pain inside them. When you find these desires active in the motives, ask yourself why you’re seeking it, which should lead you back to what it’s trying to compensate for. By finding the pain, admitting the pain, allowing it to be true, feeling it all the way through, and allowing it to digest out, the egoic need for external compensation goes away.
Here is another commonly occuring egoic disposition:
Being “invincible, impenetrable, unshakable, nothing anyone says or does can touch you” is another fantasy state for the ego. Sometimes it sounds like “you can say whatever you want about me, I don’t care,” or “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me.”
This shows up a lot, everywhere. This particular expression is the underside of the desire for omnipotence. It holds all kinds of vulnerability in contempt. It hates the idea that it needs and depends on other people to mirror its worth, and therefore that other people have the power to affect it; it can’t bear the injustice of that. So it pretends to itself that it is untouchable, and so great and powerful that no one can ever hurt it.
Except, as we know, very often that’s not the case. The bigger the ego, the more extremely reactive it is to criticism and expressions of truth.
Being invincible, impenetrable, unshakable, and untouchable is effectively the condition of psychopathy, a person who doesn’t feel anything and can’t be hurt; someone who escapes the subjective consequences of their behavior. This is a person who is so disconnected from their feelings, their conscience, their humanity, that they are in fact able to cause tremendous destruction without an ounce of shame or remorse. This is what the ego aspires to be.
It is everything a real mystic is not. It represents the extreme polar opposite of virtue. In fact, everything I’ve written so far in this particular section, deals with allowing oneself to feel and admit all of the ways one is harmed (constantly), at very great depth, with awareness, with clarity, with precision, such that the deeper one goes, the more one is shaken, in ever more precise ways.
It is a gradual opening, both in the sense of surrender, and in the sense of actual physical openings in the centers of perception, making a person totally and completely vulnerable. Psychically, he becomes open too, in a form of dis-integration, where he comes apart so that the material that lives at depth can be excavated and brought up to the surface. In such a state, the person can be brought to tears of grief and pain by a look, a sigh, a wave of someone’s hand. He is acutely sensitive to the intent of others, but not in a sentimental sense. Everything affects him with overwhelming intensity, because he is being asked to bring all of those wounds out into conscious awareness.
If you are impenetrable, nothing gets in. No reflections. No lessons. No growth. No humility. No truths. Nothing of any spiritual value can come without ever-increasing levels of vulnerability. We are aiming for more feeling, not less. More embodiment, greater connection to the body, not dissociative states. Greater sensitivity. Greater discernment. Greater subtly of feeling and a mastery of the most subtle senses and states.
A few posts back, this same language of unshakeability was used by the Pathwork excerpt to describe a different kind of “unshakeability,” namely, that of the feeling authentic self. It is an entirely different kind of strength, one that honestly takes in and admits all the pain, slowly healing and extinguishing its potency. It is not an impenetrable psychopathic armor, rather it’s a fortitude and moral certainty and assuredness, which retains all of its feeling capacities.
It is true that in processing pain and healing wounds we arrive at increasing levels of emotional neutrality or equanimity; that the emotional body becomes less and less reactive over time. But that is not a deadening of feeling, quite the opposite. It will calm emotional reactivity while heightening the capacity to feel all the time, a kind of attunement that is indispensable to discernment and to guidance by the divine will.
“What’s the matter with him?” asked the younger. “Just a queer fellow that way,” replied the one who knew him well. “He’s cool and calculating, a good executive, and a rather pleasant man superficially during the week, though always a little arrogant. Even when on the job he’s not to be trusted. Every time he gets a chance, he does just about what you’ve seen him do tonight. He keeps under wraps of outer dignity at the hospital and he’s careful not to take them off under circumstances which would cause him to get in serious trouble. He passes as a great gentleman in polite but unsophisticated circles at home. But the cloak must be very uncomfortable. Almost every weekend he makes an opportunity to get it off, and he’s always then just the man you saw tonight.”
“But won’t his reputation suffer from what he did tonight?” “Probably not. He is a long way from home. Since the town is small, he evidently assumed that all the people he was thrown with tonight were country bumpkins who don’t count for much and who would be overawed by him. He judges people only by superficial appearances of wealth and power, and he is seldom impressed except by gaudy display. He kept up a good front at the medical meeting. He is exceedingly shrewd, in a shallow sense, about where and when he behaves naturally.
At home he often goes off into swamps with groups of men far beneath him in his own estimation and who are apparently flattered to be chosen. The trips are ostensibly to catch catfish or, in the winter, to shoot ducks; but actually it’s merely to get rowdily drunk, boast and shout inanely, and sprawl about on the ground or in muddy boats around the camp. He wasn’t drunk tonight. Out in the swamp he often passes through this obscene, blustering phase in an hour or two and reaches the sodden state that one might suspect is his goal.
Sometimes he wants women. It doesn’t matter what women or under what circumstances. Some of the people who know him say that he prefers low, unprepossessing partners, but it has always seemed to me that there was no preference at all, and I’ve seen him often. A beautiful woman means no more to him than an imbecilic harlot, but on the other hand the harlot means no more than the beautiful woman.
Sometimes when the idea of sex is stirring him he gets too drunk to make much of his opportunities. I’ll never forget one incident. It was about daybreak down in the swamps where we’d been fishing. He’d gone out on a sexual mission pretty drunk. We found him at a whitewashed shack. It was time to leave for home so another fellow and I rolled him off a fat illiterate washerwoman. She must have weighed two hundred pounds! “‘Sakes, Boss,’ she muttered, ‘he’s far gone dis time. Ain’t done nuthin’ yet!’ It was my last fishing trip with him.”
The next morning with fresh sunlight streaming into the hotel, the youngest member of the group, having finished breakfast, met Dr. _____ in the lobby. He was emerging from a telephone booth. Tall, self-assured, clear-eyed, neat as a dandy, and fashionably dressed, he looked the fine figure of a man. He spoke affably. With a disarming, boyish smile he made some reference to the previous evening. His polite expressions and poised tone made clear the implication that it had been a pleasant occasion and had cemented friendships.
The inconspicuous trace of condescension first noted on meeting him was now more obvious, but this somehow tended to make his cordiality seem more precious. He was as sober as a man can be and showed no signs of hangover. Indeed, as his other companion of the night had said, he must have been drinking very moderately.
The former admirer of Dr. _____, who was an old friend of the lady whom he had offered to “psychoanalyze” in a parked car before, stopped at her house later in the day to say goodbye before leaving the city. “Come in. I must speak to you,” she said. There was some indignation in her tone but more mischief and merriment. “What about your friend, the famous psychoanalyst?” she said, relishing, in all friendliness, the other’s discomfiture. She was a person of some sophistication and poise. Being also pretty, vital, and desirable to men, she knew well how to take care of herself in ordinary company.
She had been married for several years and gave a strong impression of being happy and in love with her husband. “Well,” she continued, “I must tell you. You are interested in queer people. Early this morning the cook came and woke me up. ‘It’s the telephone,’ she said. ‘Damn the telephone, Lou!’ I told her. ‘Don’t you know I was up till all hours last night?’ ‘Yes’m,’ she answered, ‘but the gentleman says you’ll speak with him, and it’s important business.’ I picked up the phone, “‘Good morning, Mary’ said an unfamiliar, self-assured, masculine voice. I was wondering who it could be – knowing me well enough to use my first name and still so pompous.
Then, just as I recognized the voice “‘Mary, this is Doctor _____.’ From his tone you’d have judged he thought I ought to sing for joy! ” ‘Yes indeed,’ I said. He then baldly suggested that I make a date with him for this afternoon. He’d come out for me at 4 P.M. or, better still, he suggested, I could meet him at a drugstore downtown.
“Really, there was something so superior about him, a sort of indescribably cool insolence, or I don’t know what … about his manner, I mean ….and after last night! … not just the proposition itself … that I fairly turned white with rage. I wanted so much to blast him with scorn that I was at a loss for words. When you get that mad it’s easy to lose your head. The calm and effective expression of indignation by which ladies in Victorian novels squelched ‘insults’ is hard to put into the idiom of today. Trying not to make myself unnecessarily ridiculous, but trusting the reply would register as final, I said: ” ‘Is that so? Sorry, but I’m afraid I’ll have to forego that pleasure.’ “
“He then insisted, not like a lover or even like one who’s making any decent pretense of being a lover, but coolly, almost arrogantly, like a fake gentleman who’s after a servant girl. I must have succeeded in making myself a little clearer by this time, for he resigned himself about this afternoon. But I wasn’t done with him. “He then began to say that he would be back in this city soon, probably every now and then. He’d like to see me on some of these occasions. He’d call me when he came. No, perhaps it would be better if he dropped me a note and let me know when he’d be here. Then I could call him!
I was getting so vexed that I scarcely caught the implication that he didn’t want to telephone and find George here. For a moment I couldn’t answer. Then I suddenly remembered the way he announced himself: ‘Mary, this is Doctor _____!’ The overwhelming effrontery of the whole farce came over me. It was too much! ‘Mary, this is Doctor _____!’ That priceless ass calling me by my first name and referring to himself as ‘Doctor _____!’ And under such circumstances! Why, he probably pictured us having our little bout of ‘love’ in the same strain. ‘You’re so lovely, Mary, do let me take off your pants!’ ‘Oh, Doctor – (blushing), you’re so genteel and handsome!’ “Can you beat it! I ask you as an old friend! The bumptious swine didn’t even have enough delicacy in what he probably thought of as lovemaking to grant me the intimacy to call him Jack, or Harry, or Percival, or Happy Hooligan, or whatever else he’s named. He’s such an indescribable prig that he probably doesn’t even allow himself to think of himself in terms of a first name.
“I just had time to get out the words which must have come with something of a lilt: “‘Yes, you just wait until I call you!’ “I’m ashamed to confess they were almost lost in a burst of laughter. It wasn’t ladylike at all the way I laughed. It was belly-shaking laughter. Homeric laughter. Rabelaisian laughter, maybe. I couldn’t stop. Lou, the cook, came back in and asked what was the matter. ‘I can’t explain,’ I told her and went on laughing.
“What sort of people are you psychiatrists anyway?” she now asked in her spirited, arch way, again enjoying her old friend’s discomfiture which was now almost lost in wonder and amusement. “I bet that bat-house troubadour went away thinking I had become hysterical with delight at the opportunity he offered.” “That might not be absurd after all,” the friend murmured, remembering the self possession and happy assurance with which Dr. _____ had emerged from the telephone booth that morning.”
This last part is important for a number of reasons. Particularly I want to draw attention to the woman’s description of her feelings and responses to the phone call from Dr. _____.
Going back to what I wrote a few posts ago, we see here clearly how the initial greeting, the way he addresses her, his seemingly-oblivious arrogance is the provocation itself. And it’s already triggering to her, before she’s even had a chance to say anything in response. He has already diminished her and condescended to her, making her feel small and poking at her dignity and self-importance.
What she does in response doesn’t matter, because already he’s won at upsetting her. And mixed in with her rage is the injustice of being put in that position, so immediately and so unilaterally.
But in fact the way she responds, or fails to respond, to both of his invitations is important to see. She is trying to maintain her composure, and some semblance of decorum, which is what most decent people do in these situations. She is trying not to appear “more ridiculous,” which is a euphemism for the fear of losing control of oneself. It is a fear of one’s out-of-control anger, and how vulnerable it feels to let it out. It is a fear of how ridiculous one might sound, if she just let loose her authentic rage spontaneously, without a victorian kind of self-control, without the perfectly worded response.
And because of this inner fear and turmoil, this anger with nowhere to go coupled with self-censorship, what comes out is this feckless, passive aggressive, sarcastic remark. This isn’t authentic. It’s what we often do, and we think it’s better than letting our anger out, but it’s not.
It is more authentic, more honest, to express the anger you feel, and to do it with awareness, rather than bottling it up and pretending control. By letting out her real feelings, at a minimum, she would have been able to hear and see what’s inside of them.
It is quite common to play back the exchange, as she does, and wish that the perfectly worded insult had come to mind just then, in the heat of the moment. But that insult wouldn’t do anything. It’s an attempt at trying to “win” in the exchange. We imagine that the perfect response would do something, and we judge ourselves for not being better at this kind of combat. But in fact no, the narcissist is unmoved either way. It doesn’t matter how perfectly you insult him in response, he won’t ever let you win such a confrontation. This is part of what I mean about not trying to win. It doesn’t really matter what is said or how it’s said on the surface. What really matters is what’s going on inside her emotional body as all of this is taking place. Stifling her real feelings prevents her from seeing and hearing what’s inside her rage.
But there’s more here. This lady sits in judgment of Dr. ____, naturally, because he has so offended and upset her. She looks down her nose at him, and eagerly gossips to her friend about what a terrible person he is. “How dare he” this, and “can you imagine” that… That’s all understandable, but in actuality, she misses a great opportunity. She misses that he was sent to provoke her in this way. Instead of the dramatic self-righteous exclamations and time spent shaking her head at him and how awful he is, if she looked within herself specifically at what her rage was saying in that moment, she would have located the source of her self-importance. The level of her rage response, the magnitude of her inner reaction, is proportionate to the amount of pain and insecurity underneath. Her feelings are a combination of that pain, and powerlessness, and injustice in the exchange. All the different threads and thought-streams inside her reaction could be brought to awareness and worked through. Then the next time such an encounter occurs, the overall reactivity would be lessened and deeper threads can be seen.
(The gossiping about it to others becomes pointless. The need to gossip and receive validation from others is an attempt to repair the self-importance, to confirm that it is wrong that she be treated this way, which is the wrong side of the problem to be working on.).
“His discourse during the rest of the drive, especially after he had stopped on the way for “a couple of quick ones,” was coarse and humorless. It seemed impossible to strike a sincere idea from him on any subject. On arriving at the host’s place, a merry but entirely civilized company was found drinking highballs, singing around the piano, or talking enthusiastically in small groups. The singing was in key, and the talking was not loose or aimless. For the most part the gathering was composed of people who, though lively, had some interest in general ideas as contrasted with the trivia of daily life, and a few slowly ingested drinks brought out humorous and interesting conversation.
The house was not very large or the furnishing spectacular, but the place, like the men and women present, gave a strong impression to the newcomer that he was in orderly surroundings, among people of dignity and good will. A young, very good-looking married woman who had an amateur but genuine interest in psychiatric questions and who meant to be polite to the distinguished stranger, began talking to him with enthusiasm. He soon led her off into another room.
A moment later, on passing through this room, one of the young physicians was hailed by a feminine voice and, responding, found the two in a nook, the lady pulling herself away from the doctor with some effort but with equanimity. It was plain that his crudely aggressive overtures were not welcome to her and she urged the other man, who was an old friend, to join them on the davenport.
Apparently trying to start a conversation, she asked the celebrity about psychoanalysis, a subject on which he sometimes expounded to lay gatherings in such a way as to give the erroneous impression that he was a qualified analyst. “If I could get you out in a car I’d psychoanalyze you right now,” he muttered, low but loud enough to be overheard, accompanying his words with a confident leer.
The savant had evidently misread the spirit of the party. The lady rose, smiled quickly at her other companion as if to say she knew a disagreeable fellow when she saw one, and quietly rejoined a group.
[What does the wise, authentic, polite, non-confrontational person do? She takes the insult and quietly walks away… That’s what we’re all taught to do. Often, it’s the safest thing to do, with a person who has demonstrated crude physical overtures that are unwelcome.].
Dr. _____ now expressed the desire for straight liquor, making strong, derogatory remarks about highballs and those who drank them. Ordering his former disciple to come, he strode toward the kitchen. The former disciple, by this time feeling heavily responsible for the master, made haste to follow. In the kitchen Dr. _____ began to order the servants about in profane and petulant fashion. He had gulped one or two small whiskeys when several men wandered in looking for ice. One of these, an eager intern, expressed interest in the important investigative work which Dr. _____ had begun now, in loud, boastful tones, to announce himself engaged in. “If you want a job there, son, just lemme know,” he thundered. Swaggering about, he made an all-embracing gesture. “At the ______ Institute I’m it. I’m the big cheese, I tell you.”
No one saw fit to dispute these claims. He began then a tirade on the subject of his executive ability, his scientific standing, his knowledge of the stock market, his sexual power, and his political influence. Having delivered himself of this, he pushed his audience aside and sauntered back into the sitting room. There he recognized an old acquaintance, a physician who had formerly been on the resident staff with him at some hospital but in an inferior capacity. This man, a newcomer, was talking with the hostess in the midst of a small group of men and women.
“Why you old son of a bitch!” Dr. ______ shouted. “Come over here and set your goddamned a__ in this chair and talk to your chief.” It was no time for vacillation. The newcomer and the young physician who had accompanied Dr. _____ to the party caught each other’s eye and quickly hurried the celebrity to the door. He pulled back at first but soon came along satisfactorily as both companions sought so earnestly to cajole him that the words of each were lost to the other. Turning to his companions just as the door was gained, he shouted: “Chippies, did you say?”
On the way to his hotel he began to protest. He was by no means confused from drink. “Be goddamned if I go there! What kind of dirty bastards are you anyway?” He became insistent – nay, even defiant – about going where he could obtain women. The new member of the party, who had seen him through many such episodes and who, to the other escort’s relief, kindly assumed charge of the case, advised that he be humored. Dr. ____ himself, through an effervescence of obscene threats, muttered directions to the driver. Expecting to find an ordinary brothel, both of his companions were surprised to arrive at a large outdoor pavilion where an orderly dance was going on. Before a definite decision could be reached about what to do, Dr. _____ was out of the car. “Luke! Luke!” he yelled imperiously. A pleasant-looking man appeared. “You’ve got to get us a good piece of t___ and get it quick, boy!” he ordered. “We’ll wait here and watch ’em dance by.”
The man called Luke, so far as could be learned, was under serious obligations to Dr. ____ and apparently meant to obey him. He confided that he had stood by his friend and benefactor in many such sprees in this town. Luke had pleasant manners and was not drinking. “God, that’s one!” the savant muttered. “What an ____! Can you get that slut out here, Luke?” He was far enough away not to be overheard by the dancers. Luke smiled and shook his head. “There’s one!” the doctor commented again with enthusiasm. “She’s rutting! That one’s rutting! I can tell it.” His subsequent remarks can hardly be suggested even in writing on a medical subject.
His two companions left him now in custody of Luke with instructions that he be brought back to the car when this was possible without violence. Luke had asked not to be left with sole responsibility. Some time later the doctor returned. It was difficult to judge whether or not he had gained all the satisfaction he sought. He made it plain that he had found a companion but despite his boastful garrulousness did not give the final details of the encounter. In view of his windy frankness, this caused doubt as to how far he had succeeded in his aims. Beyond question he had made considerable progress. He announced this much loudly, holding up a finger, sniffing it as he did so, and making a comment of such ingenious distastefulness that even his brother physicians blenched with revulsion.
The new disciple could not but ruminate about what appraisals of woman and of human relationships, what attitudes toward basic goals, prevailed beneath this successful man’s ordinarily impressive exterior. On the road back to his hotel he cursed truculently at other cars. He came in willingly. While going up on the elevator, he pinched the buttocks of the girl who ran the machine, apparently oblivious of several passengers. There was no gaiety or human touch in these actions, only a sullen, derogatory aggressiveness. He uttered vague challenges and threats emphasizing his combative prowess and his readiness to fight anyone who might take issue with him on any question.
On entering his room, he immediately made for a whiskey bottle and began calling raucously for ice. He became loud and offensive when his companions sought to excuse themselves, banged the table with his fists, and offered grandiosely to fight and to fight at once. He was a tall, powerful man and by no means too drunk to put on a lively and embarrassing scene if crossed. He cursed the bellboy, who had arrived meanwhile, with such foul oaths it was incredible that he took them. Pouring himself a quick drink, he called for careful attention from his companions.
Had he told them about his children? No. They must see pictures of them. He began to praise them extravagantly, to extol his love for them it, sickening terms of pathos, or pseudopathos. He spoke of his plans for their future. His entire manner began to change, and it was plain that he had determined notions about keeping all his children what he called pure. A surprisingly moralistic aspect of this psychiatrist began to appear. Cheap expressions of sentimentality fairly gushed from him. In a loosely emotional strain he recited rhymes by Edgar A. Guest about the little ones. Then he momentarily broke down and blubbered. Tears ran down his cheeks.
[A quick note here on these concocted emotional displays – this is one of their favorite and most predictable patterns. They whip themselves up into a frenzy, begin weeping and crying, all in some kind of outpuring of their love for someone. It is completely fake and shallow, and tends to remind one of a bad soap opera performance. They are mimicking what they think are normal human emotions, putting on a performance of their supposed “love.” Though it might appear callous, if you have the guts to confront them in that moment, and tell them to stop their absurd display, you will watch the whole charade and all the tears disappear immediately.]
The bellboy had brought ice and Dr. _____ insisted on pouring out drinks, swaggering about now in his earlier manner. When his companions insisted on leaving, he promptly announced that he would accompany them. He could not be persuaded to go to bed and quickly became overbearing when persuasion continued. Though he had, of course, taken a good deal of whiskey, he seemed to know perfectly what he was doing. In fact, he did not really seem drunk in the ordinary sense of the word.
Both of his companions felt that this was not a person irresponsible for the moment who must be protected and prevented from doing things he would regret. On the contrary, one was strongly impressed that this was the man himself. Going down on the elevator he renewed his practices on the polite girl who operated it, becoming so annoying to her that his companions had to interfere. He called a taxi and insisted that all proceed at once to a brothel.
Having had enough experience for one night in trying to be their brother’s keeper, his companions were obdurate. He drove off, cursing them viciously as disgraceful specimens of humanity and making derogatory remarks about their virility.“
Reading this, one would think that it’s Dr. ____’s size or physically aggressive imposing demeanor that allows him to get away with all of this. It isn’t. A similarly pathological woman, 4’11 weighing 110lbs, packs the same kind of punch. And no one seems able to stop her either.
There is something almost other-worldly that drives them when they are in this state. It is paralyzing and shocking to those around them; bystanders are often at a loss, stunned and incapable of restraining or confronting the narcissist. And much like the two escorts in the excerpt, both of whom appear to be doctors, they aren’t able to do much of anything to contain the problem.
Oddly, the one thing that does seem to work is something called personal power; that is one’s increasing self-assuredness that develops over the course of years of significant inner work. It’s not a power exactly, more like a calm inner balance and equanimity, a moral certainty that is unwavering.
Personal power is not something that can be faked nor play-acted with bravado. The narcissist doesn’t respond to arrogance or phony attempts at intimidation. Personal power is rather quite humble. It is a real groundedness, anchored in actual inner integrity, that seems to have influence in cases like this.
It’s quite a spectacular thing to watch, how this tazmanian-devil-of-a-person, otherwise unstoppable, can be stopped with a really solid, really certain “no.” It’s not necessarily a loud no, nor an aggressive one even. It just comes from an inner core solidity, and to this they do respond.
It seems to me that narcissists will get away with all of this behavior primarily because those around them lack this kind of inner assuredness and integrity, the willingness to really trust themselves in the moment, and feel really sure about what they are doing. To be honest, the training in this area is extremely scary; and learning how to do this over and over isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes real courage, and discipline, and tons of healing work to get it right, to speak the “no” in exactly the right energy and intent. But it confirms the general principle that narcissists fill in the holes, in the spaces where our character is lacking. The more character, the more personal power one possesses, the less this kind of havoc manifests.
This is another excerpt from Cleckley’s book. This time, the subject is a psychiatrist who is also a psychopath “Doctor ____.” The excerpt is long, so I’m going to split it up into several posts, but it’s worth reading because it’s a familiar portrait of one of our nearest and dearest psychopaths.
I’ve mentioned before how narcissists are quite like robotic clones; if you’ve met one, you’ve met them all, for the most part. That’s a really important theme to remember too. It helps to step out of the exchanges a tiny bit, when they are happening, and to remember that this is how they are, wholesale, all of them. Keeping that in mind helps to alleviate a little bit of how awful it feels to be on the receiving end of their garbage.
I’ll add my notes throughout in brackets [like this].
“Let us first direct our attention to him many years ago when, as an author of some papers on psychiatric subjects, he attracted the interest of several inexperienced young physicians then at the beginning of their careers. The articles, it is true, were marred by grammatical errors and vulgarities in English a little disillusioning in view of the suave and pretentious style attempted by the author. At the time, however, they impressed this little group of naive admirers as having all the originality that the author so willingly allowed others to impute to them, and, as a matter of fact, implied not too subtly himself in every line of his work.
[Their work is often shoddy, falling far short of the rigorous standards every other professional must maintain, but somehow everyone turns a blind eye and they get away with it.]
When seen later at a small medical meeting at which no experienced psychiatrists were present, this author seemed very grand indeed. The actual ideas expressed in his paper were, to be fair, culled from the primers of psychiatry and psychology, but he had an authoritative way of making them seem entirely his own, and marvelous, too. Despite his cool and somewhat commanding air, he succeeded in giving an impression of deep modesty.
[False sacchrine modesty is always a warning sign!]
Everything seemed to accentuate his relative youth which, in turn, hinted of precociousness and of great promise. The effect he had on his audience, most of whom were general practitioners from small towns, was tremendous. An opportunity to meet this splendid figure of a psychiatrist and to sit at his feet during the rest of the evening was avidly welcomed by several of his new admirers.
Dr. _____, though still in his middle thirties, enjoyed a wide and enviable reputation in a section of the country where psychiatrists were at the time almost unknown. After some work at hospitals in a distant state where he was born, he had come and set up as a specialist in his present habitat. He soon obtained a small institution in which he began to direct treatment of psychiatric patients. Reports indicate that it flourished and expanded greatly. It was generally agreed that his learning and ability were chiefly responsible for his rapid rise to local prominence. Ephemeral rumors hinted that the idolized Dr. ____ made a practice of treating by expensive and doubtful procedures any patient of means whom he could obtain for as long as the money lasted and of then dismissing him or sending him promptly to a state hospital. It was also heard that with female patients he sometimes suggested, or even insisted on, activities (as therapy) which are specifically proscribed in the Hippocratic oath. But what physician has not had similar things said about him?
[Gross lapses of ethics and professional competence never seem to be a problem…]
The impressive bearing of the man and his reiterated and rather eloquent appeals for higher scientific consecration on the part of his colleagues snuffed out these feeble stirrings of adverse criticism which were almost universally ascribed to jealousy. The lion of the evening seemed to put himself out in being gracious to his young admirers who were indeed nobodies on the fringe of the wonderful field which he seemed to dominate. His good fellowship was so hearty and yet so suave that one could scarcely bring himself to see the faint underlying note of condescension.
The privilege of driving this relatively great personage out to a country place where hospitality beckoned was seized by one of the young physicians, In the car an attempt was made to turn the conversation to psychiatric questions which Dr. ____ had raised in his papers. He made a few stilted replies but soon drifted from the subject into talk that was hardly more than pompous gossip, His companion, fearing that such a learned man might be talking down to spare him the embarrassment of incomprehension, kept returning to psychiatry, trying to make it plain that no such embarrassment would discount the pleasure of hearing the master.
Soon the replies of this alleged master left the young man in serious doubt not only as to the great one’s knowledge, but even as to his interest in the subject. Dr. _____, in his more popular talks and articles, as well as occasionally in those directed toward rustic medical groups, often gave psychiatric interpretations of literature and art. One of his more recent efforts in this line touched briefly but ambitiously on the works of Marcel Proust. Being then in the middle of an earnest pilgrimage among the psychopathologic wonders of Remembrance of Things Past, the fledgling psychiatrist, perhaps hoping to make a good impression but also eager for enlightenment, ventured a question on this subject.
The master at this time was calm and alert, but his remarks were so beside the point that his disciple wavered. Dr. _____ was perfectly self-assured, in fact politely pontifical, but the more he talked the clearer it became that he had not read the book at all. It finally became equally clear that even Proust’s name was unfamiliar, and the disquieting suspicion dawned on his admirer that he had never encountered it except in the excerpt from some review which he had apparently come upon and used. He had not been sufficiently interested in what he plagiarized even to retain the name and was now imputing it to some imaginary Viennese psychiatrist. He followed this pretension only for a moment, however, and only as a stepping stone to banalities with which he was familiar and about which he spoke with such deliberation and assurance that they almost seemed marvelous.
Never in all this persiflage did he show the least sign of confusion or timidity. Apparently he felt that he had kept intact his impressive front. Even at this stage of the acquaintanceship it was hard to avoid suspicion that any important distinction between such a front and more substantial things was not in the orbit of his awareness. With some remark about putting aside these grave and ponderous subjects, he sang a few lines of a surprisingly obscene ditty, clapped his companion on the back, and suggested with gusto: “When their social doings are over, let’s you and I go get us a couple of good frisky chippies!”
Despite the conviviality implicit in this remark (and no less in his tone), in some way hard to describe he still maintained the attitude of one who means to insist on his distinct superiority even while for a moment generously waiving certain restrictions of caste and allowing his companion a more respectable footing, It was only a quasi equality that he offered, however-an indulgence such as an adult might allow a child who on some special occasion is permitted to sit up and play that he is grown. The friendship he seemed to offer was at best a morganatic one.”
I want to make two points here of a similar nature. The first is that the cracks in the persona are always visible. We see them often. They hold themselves out to be experts, but digging a tiny bit under the surface, pressing them a little bit on their supposed expertise, reveals they are not. Their stories always have those cracks. And our gut instincts pick up on these cracks, and we think “hmmm, how strange. that doesn’t make sense…” But what do we do? We ignore them. Because confronting someone like this about such a thing is impolite, discourteous, unseemly. And we hate conflict and we fear confrontations. So we let it go. And we let it go. And everyone else lets it go. And they know they are lying and faking it, and still, we let it go. And they know that no one is going to do anything about it. If someone dares to say something or call it out, the narcissist unleashes hell and rage and fury, destroying and shaming the inquirer, terrifying everyone else into silent submission. (Standing up to this, learning how to confront them and withstand these destructions, is a part of character development and inner growth).
My second point here is that I want to draw attention to the last paragraph, and the very subtle way that Cleckly describes the condescension. Most people, if they really paid attention to such things, to the depth of meaning like that in a single sentence, would be called “too sensitive.”
If you slowed down and took the time to listen very closely, and tuned in very strongly to your feelings, you would begin to hear condescensions like this everywhere. You too would become as adept as Cleckly is at describing the precise nature and nuances of how someone is talking down to you.
Egotistical people are often very condescending, and narcissists especially so, to everyone around them. Such people are either unaware or very defensive about just how condescending they are. (Dysfunctional patterns serve to keep dominant people in positions of power; they have no incentive to become aware of them nor change them).
But then asserting oneself and calling out the condescensions will get you into a lot of interpersonal battles. And again, you will hear the same refrain that you are being too sensitive. Please be assured that that is the “correct” way to be. Sensitive doesn’t mean reactive (and it doesn’t mean sentimental), but highly sensitive is our goal. We reach for greater and greater sensitivity and discernment inside the feelings.
One of the examples I most like to make this point is the story of St. Peter and the rooster. Peter’s denials of Jesus are all really subtle; they are something only a very sensitive person would pick up on. They appear to be throw-away defenses when Peter’s safety is in jeopardy. How could such a thing matter? And yet, it matters a great deal. It is related both to integrity with one’s inner feelings, and the courage to keep those things in alignment when there is real danger around. Peter certainly doesn’t betray Jesus the way Judas did, and yet those denials speak volumes. That’s why Jesus points them out. And Peter is so unaware of this level of subtlty that when Jesus warns him of the coming betrayals, Peter says “no way, I’d never betray you.” But he does. And so that same level of subtlety, that same sensitivity to the intent that travels just under the surface of words, the connection between how we feel, what we believe, and what we express in words is really important. That level of awareness and subtlely is a proper atunement to master, no matter the accusations of being “too sensitive.”
In this next excerpt, there is no lack of awareness, and the very same Arnold appears to be intentionally manipulating everyone…
“Weary of his life behind locked doors among classically demented men, on several occasions [Arnold] demanded his discharge. On being brought before the medical staff he was found obviously “sane” and released. Soon, however, his relatives were back with him, bearing tales of such mad folly as few, if any, people deranged in other ways could produce.
Readmitted to confinement inappropriate to his plain sanity by the accepted criteria of mental disease, he soon became restless and, pointing out his legal status, left against medical advice.
Worn out by incessant traffic with police in his behalf, diverted from the customary uses of life by night-long searches for him in lonely hinterlands or in distant jails, his relatives finally succeeded in having him legally committed to the custody of the hospital as an “insane” person. There is little doubt that the personal influences and well-known political mechanisms of a rustic Southern community had weight with the courts, not to speak of common sense unversed in technical psychiatry but painfully aware of irrational conduct so long flagrantly demonstrated.
After a month or more of confinement under these circumstances, the patient demanded an interview with the staff. With admirable logic he maintained that he suffered from no mental derangement whatsoever. He lucidly described and recognized signs of mental disorder, made light and clever jokes about the impropriety of applying such criteria to him, and pointed out the absurdity of identifying him with the usual patient kept in such a hospital.
Admitting his maladjustment and his inveterate but minor deeds of depravity, he insisted that he be left to ordinary legal measures in any future misconduct, which he did not deny was possible. The staff, as conscientious psychiatrists, could not do otherwise than agree that he was “sane and competent” and release him. Three weeks later he was brought back to the hospital at midnight by a brother and a cousin. He had a fractured clavicle (memoir of his frequent brawls with local police) and was lachrymose, penitent, and all but homesick for his ward in the hospital.
The physician on duty hesitated about readmitting him. His story was well known. His relatives thereupon threatened to telegraph high officers in the government. They were by no means assuaged at being told that the hospital was not maintained for the treatment of persons judged sane by the canons of psychiatry and considered responsible for their misconduct and misfortunes.
After consultations with the physician in charge of the hospital, Arnold was readmitted. Some weeks later he called in local lawyers who, invoking the writ of habeas corpus, arranged a lunacy trial by jury. Of course there could be but one verdict. The man was plainly “in his right mind.” No acceptable evidence of mental disease (as officially defined) could be brought out. He was taken from the custody of the hospital. A month afterward, chastened and eager for his familiar ward which, compared to the alternative of jail, aroused nostalgia, he willingly returned, accompanied by relatives who furnished a tale of woe too long for telling here.“
Things like this, when seen in totality, give us the “genius mastermind” impression. And yet, there is no genius mastermind inside. We often know them to be quite ordinary in intelligence and not really capable of orchestrating feats like this. (Again, there is a disconnect between the human being and what’s controlling the human being…).
This issue of “too crazy for jail, too sane for the psych ward” is one Cleckley explores at length. When confined to jail, they play crazy, so they are sent to the hospital. When in the hospital, they play sane, so that they are released. When they are released, they engage in endless destructive behavior, which lands them in trouble with the police…
It’s hard to believe that such a person, manipulating everyone to his will, doesn’t know what he’s doing, when he does it over and over again. I present this excerpt here not for any political purpose. I have no idea what ought to be socially done in such cases. (It’s a legal, ethical, and medical nightmare). I present it in the spirit of presenting all the other manifestations of their mind-numbing destructiveness and double binds.
For people who are so bound by similar evil, despite the pull of compassion, better to err on the side of what the feelings know to be true. They are not going to change. It’s not going to get better. Working through those feelings, bringing them to the surface fully, helps to resolve many of the double binds they create. One of the mistakes that Cleckley points out often is the infinite willingness of the family members and relatives to continue placating all of their whims and demands. The victims themselves enable and enable and come to the psychopath’s rescue over and over again… This is one of the places where learning tough love and how to say “no,” even when that makes you feel guilty, is an important part of our work to do.
This is the next excerpt from Cleckley, concerning Arnold.
“This patient, [Arnold] entirely sane by orthodox psychiatric standards, having spent the better part of seven years closely confined [in a psychiatric facility] among other men who, to him as to any layman, were unmistakable lunatics if otherwise agreeable company, was given another series of chances to win his freedom.
The opinion has often been expressed that the psychopath, who in some ways seems to behave like a badly spoiled child, might be helped if he could be put in a controlled situation and allowed to feel the unpleasant consequences of his mistakes or misdeeds regularly, as he commits them.
With this patient such a policy was pursued and the effort was protracted to remarkable lengths. Such a plan of treatment or reeducation perhaps may accomplish a good deal with some patients of this type. With Arnold it yielded no discernible fruits.“
They are unable to learn from their mistakes. It’s part of what makes them immune to punishments – to the extent that punishment is meant to be corrective. This is really important to remember, because a lot of the work on purifying our shadow parts requires clearing out all the threads and motivations that seek to punish them. It’s not just sinful on our end, it’s pointless on their end. You can’t punish them in the hopes that they will stop being how they are. It just doesn’t register.
They don’t connect cause and effect when it comes to their behaviors. We often see this dynamic at work in the course of their abusive interaction. The psychopath will say or do something harmful. The victim will naturally react with anger. The psychopath will then behave as though the victim’s anger is completely spontaneous and baseless. He will often shame and debase the victim for getting angry, invalidating her right to even be angry.
He doesn’t connect his own behavior as the cause of the anger. He behaves as though he is the innocent victim of the “uncalled for or unjustified anger.”
It’s hard to tell often times if they are aware of what they’re doing, but for victims its safer to err on the side of assuming awareness. Assume they know exactly what they are doing, especially when they vehemently pretend otherwise. (They will gaslight and twist up the facts, but learning how to stay solid in your reality is key). Falling into the trap of treating them like wayward children or mentally disabled is in fact a trap. (This trap leads to false superiority and opens the door to more and more abuse.). They are neither of those things.
Sometimes they will have a particular smirk or gleam in their eyes, sometimes they will even giggle, because they are “getting away with it.” In those instances, if you confront them, they will tell you that they weren’t smirking, just nervous, or they will offer some other incompatible explanation. Stick with your reality, honoring your real justified feelings. The intelligence inside of them knows exactly what it’s doing and how it’s harming you. There is, in these cases, a clear disconnect between the human being and what is actually controlling the human being. (We get here into the metaphysical space, but if you allow for that, if you widen the lens slightly out of the material realm, everything begins to make much more sense…) I will talk more about this at a later time also.
The important take-away here is to see that every attempt one makes to punish them will be fruitless, the harder one tries, the less one succeeds. There is a great deal of psychic pain that arises from this sense of powerlessness and injustice, the inability to “get even,” as it were, and also a more humane inability to merely “get through to them,” to reform them or stop them from wreaking havoc for everyone around. The frustration of this is incredible, and the desire to punish is overwhelming.
Some people, feeling this, will tend to escalate their violence in various ways. That also doesn’t work, and will bring about even more frustration. You’re never going to get through, although the “wanting to get through” is also a major theme and something to trace back to its source. (The wanting to get through is often found in the trauma stories coming from childhood…).
I’ll talk more about this in later posts as well, but the important thing is to find and acknowledge the depth of these feelings within. All of these frustrations and injustices account for a large part of the expressions of anger and rage in their direction.
There is also a secondary matter, when they gaslight you about your anger, about your right to get angry, and they fail to acknowledge responsibility for the provocation, this produces another kind of complicated moral injury that doesn’t have a specific name yet, as far as I know. To feel and acknowledge that painful frustration is also important.
For now, they are designed this way for a reason, precisely to illuminate all of our attempts in relation to them. If you take off your mask of politeness, and you allow your authentic feelings to come out – what happens to you when you are faced with injustice and powerlessness, with defiant sadistic giggling provocations, with harm that can’t be stopped? Thats what they offer us in reflection.
In this particular bit below, Cleckley spends pages describing the disturbing remorseless wake of destruction caused by Roberta, a young psychopathic woman. He then excerpts a letter she wrote to her treating psychiatrist. It is meant to reveal the unbelievable emotional duplicity and deception these people are known for.
“Despite her prompt failures she would, in her letters to us at the hospital, write as if she had been miraculously cured:
‘You and Doctor _____ have given me a new outlook and a new life. This time we have got to the very root of my trouble and I see the whole story in a different light. I don’t mean to use such words lightly and, of all things, I want to avoid even the appearance of flattery, but I must tell you how grateful I am, how deeply I admire the wonderful work you are doing. … If, in your whole life you had never succeeded with one other patient, what you have done for me should make your practice worthwhile…. I wish I could tell you how different I feel. How different I am. But, as I so well realize now, it isn’t saying things that counts but what one actually does. I am confident that my life from now on will express better than anything I can say what you have done for me-and my admiration. … It is good to feel that as time passes, you can be proud of me and as sure of me as I am sure of myself … whether I go on to college or follow up my old impulse and become a nurse; if I become a business girl or settle for being just a normal, happy wife, my life will be fulfilling and useful. … If it had not been for you, I shudder to think what I might have become.’
Additional letters, which she continued to send from time to time, were filled with similar statements. Occasionally she mentioned difficulties but never a serious discouragement. She continued in behavior such as that mentioned previously.”
How cynical a person would you have to be not to fall for the seeming sincerity of such a letter, of such a deep expression of insight and repentence? And yet, it’s fake, which is exactly how the pity-ploys and second-chance-seeking works. They will tell you anything you want to hear, in exactly the right words… One would need a heart of stone not to feel at least a tiny bit of compassionate humanity or some kind of hopeful optimism in this case, and yet those are the very vulnerabilities they use to get back in one’s good graces.
We know this behavior as hoovering. But knowing what it’s called, knowing that that’s what’s happening, isn’t actually sufficient to resist the temptation. (It is very much a temptation in the deepest religious sense). After the damage is done, they return, full of perfectly worded apologies and promises, and our hearts go out to them, hoping beyond hope that this time it will finally be different. We invest ourselves in them, again and again, hoping that “this time” their abusiveness has finally come to an end. Unfortunately, it never does. Sam Vaknin refers to this as malignant optimism, which is a very useful term to keep in mind. But still, the pull towards them is so strong, that withstanding it is often impossible.
From a mystical point of view, this “hoping beyond hope” is an egoic attachment. It is an inability to accept what is, and an attempt to avoid the tremendous pain of loss and grief such an acceptance requires. To see the truth, to admit the truth, and to admit that that truth is never going to change is devastating. Instead, keeping hope alive is living in a kind of future fantasy, waiting for this person to be different, to be someone they are not, to fulfill our longing for the fairy tale end. This can connect to many things, many childhood beliefs, past life threads, and/or an inner condition of martyrdom, which derives its egoic worth from enduring suffering. All of those things need to be seen and brought forward in order to heal and extinguish their power. The more the pain is seen truthfully, and processed through completely, the more that magnetic pull loosens its grip.
(Remember that those temptations aren’t random; and abstention doesn’t work. It’s by going into them, and following them all the way through with awareness, that we can undo them at their source.).
In this instance, we can understand the meaning of someone like Roberta as a messenger to her treating doctors. Her inability to change or heal, and her incredible deceptions on that front, would trigger the doctors’ egoic attachments and desires about being able to effect change. It would touch their own sense of egoic power and self-worth invested in being able to heal others. The disappointments and fraudulent promises, being duped and fooled by Roberta time and again, would force them to grapple with their own powerlessness, their hero identity, and how placing self-worth on one’s ability to exercise power or control over another (even in a beneficient healing way) is ultimately false and harmful.
Another point here – one of the types of discernments that develops over the course of this work is that you begin to feel things that are at odds with what you see. Meaning, when a letter like this arrives, when a perfectly worded apology arrives, when a hoovering second-chance request arrives, our feelings will offer us a red flag alert that the request is phony. It will look perfect to the eyes, but the soul will know it’s a sham.
It’s hard to trust those feelings, especially when what’s on the surface appears sincere, lacking any overt suspicious bits, and empathy and compassion want to extend tender generosity to such a person. Everything inside wants to believe that they can and do change, that they have the capacity to heal. (Our future fantasies demand it be so!).
But the feelings will always warn you. Learning how to trust them over reason, in such instances, takes time, courage, and practice. Sometimes it will require that you respond to the actual duplicity, as the feelings instruct, which will appear seemingly callous to bystanders or observers. (We are all familiar with the cacophony of enablers pressuring you to just give them another chance, shocked and dismayed at how heartless you are to their efforts.).
And sometimes, to those without discernment, the feelings will make you look like the maniac, responding to a threat that no one else perceives. That’s all “normal,” and part of the development work. Trust your feelings on this; they know.