What is “Healthy”?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

 

After a long period of abuse or illness, it is usually difficult to know what it means to be healthy. “Normal” has been redefined in our lives. We flinch when someone begins to speak because we have come to expect criticism. We worry about appearance and performance because we think everyone is watching us. Our definition of a “good day” becomes one where less pain and suffering comes into our lives.

So what is healthy? Would you know it if you saw it in someone else? Would you sense its growth in your own life? What progress would you seek if you desired health? How would you measure the distance toward the goal?

I have been guilty of trying to motivate people to seek health without clearly picturing that health for them. Parents should seek to be healthy for themselves and for their children. Spouses should seek personal health as protection against the abuse and as provision for the future. Those who find themselves in narcissistic relationships usually discover that health has been drained from their lives, but also find it difficult to remember just what is now lacking.

I could certainly claim that health, emotional and otherwise, is different for each person. Healthy actions of one may not be healthy for another. But, for the most part, that’s a cop-out. The truth is that there are some things common to all of us that are part of being healthy. I want to share just one of these in this post.

 

Healthy people accept love. Stop here to think about that for a moment. Say those words to yourself.

 

People in narcissistic relationships commonly lose the ability to accept love. Some didn’t have that ability in the first place. When the false love of the narcissist came along, they looked past all the warnings to embrace the lie—because it offered love. It isn’t that we didn’t need or want love. It was that we didn’t believe love. We didn’t feel lovable. We doubted our own worth and made the expressions of love from others unwelcome. We pushed love away, in spite of our need.

Yet we accepted the false love of the narcissist. The lie made more sense to us than the true love offered by others. The narcissist set a trap using our own need against us. We trusted the narcissist above others because the lie was mixed so carefully with our own confusion.

And how did that work out? Not so good. When we finally realized that the love of the narcissist was false, our doubts about love were reaffirmed. Now trust is even harder, love is even more doubted, and the familiar loneliness is normal again. Fear and resignation become more deeply entrenched than before. It has become even easier to push others away.

So stop it! There are two lies that have defeated you. The first was that you were unlovable, unworthy of the kindness and attention of others. The second was the idea that the narcissist offered what you needed. Part of the reason you accepted the second was because the first was already planted in your heart. Repairing the damage done by the first will help you avoid a repeat of the second.

Have you ever wondered why children of narcissistic parents find themselves in relationships with narcissistic lovers? Or why victims of one narcissist open themselves to a second? It is not stupidity or inability to see the warnings. It is the need of the heart infected by the lie that they are fundamentally unlovable.

Healthy people accept love. There is real love reaching out to you. Maybe friends or family. Maybe kind acquaintances. Genuine and simple love. Real love. Love that doesn’t want to take from you or use you. Love that just offers acceptance and connection. Yes, there are those who will cause you pain. There are deceivers. But not everyone is a deceiver. Some people really do love. Accept that love.

But even more. There is One who loves you far beyond anything any of the rest of us can. He reaches out to you with sincere acceptance. Yes, He knows the things you have done. Yes, He knows your doubts. Yes, He knows your weaknesses. Yes, He knows your fears. He knows that you will not be faithful to Him. He knows that your heart will wander and struggle. And, knowing all of that, He still reaches out to you with love. Acceptance, full and free.

How can you ever give love unless you can first accept it for yourself? Yes, to be healthy means to be able to accept love. But the joy is that you don’t have to go out and find it. Your job is simply to accept it when it comes.

Let me change your thinking on one powerful and simple word: FAITH. Faith is accepting the love of God. Faith is the willingness to open your heart to the love He offers. He offers it because of who He is—and He genuinely loves who you are. He moves on His own to reach out and love you, but He also moves through others to show you His love.

In faith, open your heart and see the love of God around you. Let Him tell you that He values you. Nothing for you to strive for or earn, nothing to deserve, just real love given freely to you.

Accept that you are accepted in Him. Be healthy.

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About Honoring Parents

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

I am traveling, but I wanted to share something I wrote a while back regarding the question of honoring parents.  In our context, this can be challenging.  Think about this:

 

I believe that I honor my parents when I become a healthy, functioning adult and when I am able to pass that health on to my children or to use that health to bless the people around me.  It does not honor them for me to continue their brokenness through my life.  Even if they don’t see the need for me to be a person separate from them, I still must be able to establish and maintain boundaries, own and value my feelings, make independent decisions, and learn to share myself as a real person with others.  If, through their narcissism, my parents have dishonored themselves, I honor them best by finding a way to break the evil patterns in my life and in the lives of those who follow me.

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Protection

 

 

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

From time to time I get a comment or an email asking how to protect the children from the effects of the narcissist in the family.  Usually, the scenario is a mother who either is married to a narcissist or is recently separated/divorced from a narcissist.  In either case, the continuing relationship of the narcissist with the children is troubling.  Even those who divorce usually have custody and visitation connections.  Unless gross abuse can be proved, so that one parent loses all rights and contact with the kids, the connection with the narcissist will continue throughout the childhood years.

So what to do?  How can you protect the kids from narcissistic abuse?  What can you do to help them stay or become healthy and well-adjusted?

Let’s begin by admitting the truth.  Narcissists manipulate.  They use relationships to feed their own desires.  They do not consider other people to be real or valuable or independent.  People, even their children, exist to be used.  This will not change.

Also, you are not God.  You cannot fix or control everything, even when you believe something is most important.  Not only will the kids be affected, you will not be able to change that fact.  God may be able to change the narcissist’s heart, but you will not.  Nor will you be able to prevent all the negative effect of the narcissist.

At the same time, you can do some things.  You can show your kids what healthy looks like.  Make decisions, take responsibility, find happiness and fulfillment.  If you are healthy, they will see the difference between you and the narcissist.  Your health, in all respects, is a key part of caring for your children.  Find ways to feed your needs.  I tell people all the time that they must find the way to health.  Get a good counselor.  Exercise.  Get some fresh air.  Eat right.  Read good books.  Make good friends.  Yes, easier said than done, but do it.

I am convinced that children will be drawn to the healthy parent.  They may seem like they take advantage of you.  They may challenge you and stretch your relationship, but they will know they can do that—while they cannot do that with the narcissist.   You will be the safe parent, the reality of their lives.  That may sound like you are the boring one, but they will understand the truth eventually.  The narcissist can manipulate, but he/she cannot disguise the truth forever.

Teach your children how to set and maintain boundaries.  Yes, you need to know this for yourself.  Again, get some counsel or education.  Boundaries are the narcissist’s bane.  The stronger your child maintains a boundary, the more the narcissist will seek to overcome it and, in that struggle, the child will begin to see the truth.

Be honest.  That means you can’t make up excuses for the narcissist.  If you work hard to smooth the water, telling the children that “daddy didn’t mean those harsh words,” then they will learn either that daddy’s way is acceptable or you are part of the problem.  Instead, hold them and love them when they hurt.  Show empathy and understanding.  They will see that daddy does the same thing to you, and they may realize that daddy is the one with the problem.

Be present and available.  Connect with your kids.  This has less to do with time than with your willingness to listen.  The narcissist only seems like a good listener.  Eventually, he/she hates the conversation and pushes the needy person away.  Embrace the children in their pain.  Don’t tell them how they should feel, let them tell you how they feel.  They will find the answers as you listen.

Be patient.  Life’s success is not measured by how you think at age 20, as though that is somehow the end of the journey.  Your children have a lot of life ahead of them.  If you read the comments here, you will see that many people only understand the truth about a narcissistic parent as adults, sometimes as senior adults.  You may not live to be vindicated, but your child can still find the way of understanding by remembering your honesty and love after you are gone.  I have had many people tell me that they only understood the struggle and strength and goodness of their mothers after.

Don’t forget that the struggles of our lives do bring us strength and independence.  Having a narcissistic parent may be more challenging than anyone outside the relationship can understand, but it can also mold your child into someone strong and alive in wonderful ways.  Failures and weaknesses often build in us the things we need to survive.

So pray.  This is not about you having a good relationship with your kids, no matter how much you want that.  Nor is it about you being valued for your struggle and victories.  It is about your children finding love and peace in their lives.  A narcissistic parent is an obstacle to that, but a healthy parent can do much to prepare the way.  Give your concerns to God and trust Him.  He loves your children more than you do.

No, you can’t prevent this challenge.  It is their path to walk.  Don’t try to do it for them.  Just walk with them.

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But You

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Throughout the New Testament, there are statements about people and how they handle life. Often, there is a negative statement about some unfortunate decisions or lifestyles followed by: “but you…”. You, according to the Lord, are supposed to be different. You have the tools, the internal strength, the wisdom, and the motivation to be different. You are not the same as you were and not the same as those who do wrong. The Christian is expected to be different.

Last week I wrote about “Trickle-down Narcissism,” a phenomenon we see in many organizations and relationships where narcissistic leaders seem to produce such a strong culture that others follow their footsteps. These others, not narcissists, act like narcissists because they mimic the leaders.

But you… Now, I know that most of us can identify narcissistic behaviors in ourselves. I am not making excuses, but those behaviors are not who we really are. In fact, we hate seeing that in ourselves. Most of our awareness comes from the intense search we made to understand the narcissists in our lives, or from the projections of the narcissists of their behaviors on us. What that means is that they blamed us for the things they did, convincing us that we were the problem. But we were not the same as they were.

I am not going to say that we are better than the narcissists. That kind of comparison almost always takes us down the wrong path. Instead, let’s just honestly say that we don’t think like they do. Nor do we want to think like they do. The truth is that we don’t want to act like narcissists.

But you… Sometimes it seems that we are surrounded by narcissists, doesn’t it? More and more, almost everywhere we go. Sometimes the relationship with the narcissist is so consuming that it seems to be our entire world. Those manipulations, those contorted values, those devious and treacherous ways—they fill our world and begin to feel almost normal. It doesn’t take long for us to begin to justify narcissistic behavior. “It was cruel, but she deserved it.” “It was harsh, but he had to hear it.” “It’s the way business is done today.” “If you can’t take the criticism, maybe you shouldn’t be in the job.” We begin to find it easy to make excuses for the cruelty.

But you… You are different. You don’t have to do what they do. Not only can you resist the creeping narcissism, you can overcome it in your heart. You can choose to be kind and caring. You can succeed where the narcissist fails. The gentle thoughts can lead to gracious acts. Your way does not have to be lost in the narcissist’s influence.

You can and should be the person you want to be. No matter how long you have been with the narcissist, no matter how intimate the relationship has been, you are a separate person. You are you, not him/her. Even when you find yourself acting the way he/she does, you are still an independent person. And you are free to act differently.

Narcissism might trickle down. It might be contagious. But it doesn’t have to be. Yes, there might be a price to pay for maintaining that difference between you and the narcissism, but the price of compromise will be greater. You may have to find a new job. You may have to stay away from that friend or group. You may have to refuse to participate in whatever actions hurt others.

But you… you can do this.

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Trickle-down Narcissism

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

Human beings are amazingly adaptable. We joke about doing the same wrong things over and over, but when we see success, we want to do the same thing. We read how-to books by people who have been successful. We go to lectures and receive training from those who have been successful. Someone said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but the truth is that imitation is simply our attempt to reach the success we have seen in others by doing the same things. Kids dress like their heroes, hoping to garner some of the attention and success for themselves. Children learn by imitating their parents. Employees do what their bosses do. We are creatures of imitation.

And people who see the success of the narcissist often mimic what they see. We may not like what we see in narcissistic behavior, but it usually appears to work. Narcissists are often at the higher levels of the organization. They are bosses, pastors, CEOs, and parents. Those who watch them know that they are doing something to get what they want. Those who want the same thing will naturally imitate those they see as successful.

So the General Manager is a jerk, a functioning narcissist. He micro-manages, criticizes, and mocks the employees. He depersonalizes the customers. He rails against his bosses and has little loyalty to the company. Guess what the rest of the leaders in his store are like. The Assistant Manager treats both workers and customers the same as the GM. So do the supervisors. Why? Because, apparently, that’s what you have to do to get ahead in that company. Those who won’t work that way either become the butt of the abuse or leave the company.

Remember the classic clique in high school, the “mean girls”? Remember that friend who wasn’t mean until she joined up with that group? Her personality seemed to change. Off to the side, away from the group, she might have been more like she used to be, but whenever the group was around, she acted like them. They were the group that seemed to be successful, at least in her eyes. Emulating them was almost natural, not because she was mean, but because she sought success through imitation.

So here you go:

Children of narcissists act like narcissists

Employees with narcissistic bosses act like narcissists

Friends of narcissists act like narcissists

Members of narcissistic churches act like narcissists

If they did not, you see, they would quickly become a focal point of narcissistic abuse or rage. If there is any other motivation than imitation, it is conformity. Those who are not striving for the success the narcissist has achieved may simply be trying to avoid becoming a victim.

Notice that I say they “act like narcissists.” Narcissism is a learned behavior. You don’t have to be a narcissist to act like one. Narcissists are not defined by their behavior, but by their motivations. Narcissists think they need to act the way they do. They want to be admired, so they put others down. They want to be first, so they push others back. They want to do what they want, so they burden others with responsibilities. They lie, cheat, abuse, and complain because they really believe they deserve what they think they are not getting.

But sometimes you will meet a person who acts like a narcissist and appears to be sincerely sorry for hurtful actions. Narcissists don’t care, but this person does. He apologizes, admits he is wrong, tries to see things your way—all actions quite contrary to normal narcissistic behavior. Yet, he just treated you like a narcissist would. It may be that his narcissistic behavior was simply learned from the leadership of others. He did what his examples did—and may have been shocked when he realized how much it hurt you.

These people can unlearn this wrong behavior. They have a certain amount of empathy and actually care for others. They just wanted to get ahead. When they are convinced that their behavior is unacceptable and hurtful, they can choose to stop because their primary motivations are not the same as those of the narcissist.

Someone might ask, “What about spouses of narcissists?” I think this relationship is different. I suspect that many do act like narcissists. I have certainly known husbands and wives who both act as narcissists. But I don’t think that’s normal. Instead, this “trickle-down narcissism” is primarily a leadership process, where success is emulated. That doesn’t usually happen in a marriage, at least not in the same way. I have learned that marriages can be very different, but I don’t think most people enter marriage (or even intimate relationships) with the idea of emulating their lovers. They look for someone to complement them, to walk beside and be support and encouragement, to be a fun and helpful companion through life. Not an example to live by. So I doubt that this problem is as prevalent in marriages.

When you encounter a church or organization that treats you like a number, where the people pretend to listen but don’t really care, look for a narcissist at the top. When you meet children who take advantage of and abuse other children, look for a narcissistic parent. You won’t always find one, of course. But narcissism does trickle down.

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“A Hidden Pathology”

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

The reason the title above is in quotes is because it is the chapter title from a book recommended in one of the comments recently: “The Narcissistic Parent” by C.A. Childress. I ordered it after reading the comment (and I apologize for not remembering who recommended it) and was somewhat disappointed. It’s a thin book of only 45 pages and cost about $8.00. But I have read through it twice and now understand its value. This is a book to give the counselor or attorney you are working with. This book will help them understand the narcissist. I can’t guarantee they will read it or value it, but I can almost guarantee that, if they do read it, they will understand a lot more of what you have been dealing with.

In some ways, this two-page chapter (on page 6-7) is the primary message of the book. Dr. Craig Childress, a psychotherapist based in Claremont, California, calls narcissism “A Hidden Pathology.” It may not be correct to say that it qualifies as “pathology” in a medical sense, but narcissism is certainly not normal or healthy. Dr. Childress makes the point that narcissists don’t present themselves as having a serious disorder. He uses quotes from other psychologists to establish that narcissists present themselves as “intelligent, charming” and “calm, self-assured, untroubled.” Well, we know that to be true, don’t we? They are, he says, “creative leaders” and “outstanding performers.” No argument here!

I have heard story after story of narcissists winning over the minds and hearts of church leaders, judges, and counselors. A wife will try to convince a marriage therapist of the struggles she experiences only to hear that it is her own fault – after the narcissist has had a chance to talk with the therapist. Pastors tell wives they should submit and stop bad-mouthing their fine Christian husbands. Judges rule in favor of the narcissist because they believe the spouse is the real problem. How does this happen? It happens because the narcissist knows how to “present well.”

I write often of the narcissists’ “super-power.” They are able to manipulate what others think of them. In spite of their inabilities, the narcissists are viewed as superior. In spite of the fact that they don’t care about anyone, they are seen as loving and helpful. Yes, the narcissist is a broken and cruel person, but you wouldn’t know it unless you were in a special relationship with him/her.

So the cruel and abnormal behavior and attitude of the narcissist stays hidden. The counselor doesn’t see it. The pastor doesn’t see it. The judge doesn’t see it. Hey, maybe even your parents have trouble seeing it. Like most abuse, it stays hidden until you get home. And you have a difficult time convincing anyone of what you are suffering.

Dr. Childress writes particularly about the attachments of the child to the narcissistic parent and how the appearance of connection can deceive those who seek to do right for the child’s welfare. There are professionals who disagree with his assessment of this attachment. That’s a part of the discussion I haven’t gotten into. What I like about this little book is how well it reveals the deception of narcissism. It may look like the children are more attached to the narcissistic parent, but that attachment is inappropriate and pathological. It may seem like the narcissistic parent is well-adjusted and loving, but that is an act. It may seem like the accusing partner is the real problem, based on the behavior observed in the counselor’s office, but what happens at home tells the real story.

When I first began counseling narcissistic relationships, the narcissist presented himself as cool, assured, even docile. He listened to what I said and seemed to appreciate my help. His wife, on the other hand, was stressed and almost unreasonable in her abrupt responses and accusations. Eventually, I could see that she became that way only when he pushed certain buttons. I could almost predict the point at which our counseling would break down on her end. I was fortunate or perhaps guided by the Lord. Not all counselors will see that. Once I did, I was able to talk with them separately to avoid much of her stress. And, when he was put on the spot, his reactions became far less congenial.

Attorneys and counselors, anyone to whom you go for help, may need some education about narcissism. I would reproduce this little chapter for you to give them, but I don’t want to take anything away from Dr. Childress. Perhaps, if you are in that position, you should just spend the $8 on Amazon and give/loan the book to the person you are working with. Call their attention to this chapter. Help them understand that what they see in their office is not the truth.

If you would like to read more about the narcissists’ super-power, check out this post:

https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-super-power/

If you are interested in purchasing Dr. Childress’ book, this is the Amazon link:

https://www.amazon.com/Narcissistic-Parent-Guidebook-Professionals-High-Conflict/dp/0996114548/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493417515&sr=8-1&keywords=childress+narcissistic

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Child Abuse?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Abuse is a loaded word. Because it is so loaded, we have to qualify it in order to know what it means. For example, if I say that someone is abusive, you might ask what kind of abuse. It isn’t enough just to categorize someone as abusive. Should you be frightened of such a person? Should you consider calling the authorities? Or should you just ignore my accusation because I am angry or feeling offended? If I add that the person is guilty of child abuse, your mind will go in one direction. If I change it to spousal abuse, you will think something else. If I add “sexual” to either of those, we have yet another dimension.

We have identified abuse as a “cause celebre.” If you want attention, tell people you are being abused. If you want to raise money, do it for someone who is abused. If you want to be elected, claim that your opponents are abusers. However, because it is used in these ways, many people consider it to be phony, just a tool to get sympathy. And real abuse goes on without the attention it should get. And real victims continue to suffer.

I was faced with a question recently: is narcissistic parenting child abuse? Before you say yes or no, consider the problem. Some people believe spanking is child abuse. Some believe that not spanking is child abuse. Some see no problem leaving younger children in the charge of a ten-year-old sibling. Others would consider that to be neglect, a form of abuse. Some will let a fussy child go to bed hungry rather than give in to childish demands. Others would consider that to be abuse. So how do you answer whether you think that narcissistic parenting is abusive?

Who asks this question? Perhaps the adult child of a narcissist wonders if their strange and painful childhood was abusive. That might explain the difficulties that have come with adult life, the indecisiveness or the PTSD symptoms. Perhaps the mother who is beginning to realize that her husband is narcissistic. She wonders if she would be able to get custody in a divorce, so that the children would be protected. Perhaps a counselor or attorney would ask such a question to determine the best way to help a client.

This short post will certainly not answer the question, if it can be answered at all. Instead, I would like to share a couple of thoughts that might help those who are seeking an answer.

First, our culture defines abuse as an event. In other words, it has to be substantiated and chronicled as an event in time. What happened; when; where? The culture does not see a person as abusive all the time. Instead, they see and acknowledge abusive actions in time. I knew a lady who hit her child with a board. It was not an accident. It happened at a certain point in time. There were bruises to prove that it happened. It was determined to be abuse. If you want to consider something as abuse, you will have to tell a story with specific details. For the court, you will have to keep careful records and make charges to authorities in order to be believed. If you can substantiate the abuse, but did nothing to stop it (calling the police, for example) then you will be doubted. If you called the police, but have no evidence, they will probably do nothing.

Second, narcissism is a disorder, not an abusive act. You and I may understand that narcissists use people and care nothing about the pain they cause, but others will not see that. To claim that someone in your life is a narcissist is not the same as saying that person is an abuser, no matter how much that makes sense to us. In fact, it is the narcissism that allows the abuse. Because the narcissist cannot and will not connect with the pain of others, he/she simply does not care about what hurts them. The manipulations and emotional neglect of the narcissistic parent are cruel to the point of damaging, but most of what the victims experience would be hard to explain to others.

Some narcissists are also sociopaths. Some are destructive and actually enjoy the pain of others. For these people, physical abuse brings a perverted pleasure. But most narcissists do not abuse physically, according to the professionals. Narcissistic abuse is much harder to see and understand—unless you are on the receiving end. Sometimes even then.

Finally, sometimes the determination of abuse can only be found in the relationship. What I mean is that some forms of abuse are only understood by the two people who experience it: the abuser and the victim. If a mom hits her child with a board, we understand that to be abuse. If the same mom calls the child lazy, we are not so sure. Even the child may not understand at the time. But later, the adult child may understand that the mom was manipulating and abusing her. If a father makes a promise and fails to follow through, no one outside the relationship may see the act as abusive, but the son may understand one day that his father only used promises to control. Sometimes a third person, close to the relationship, can see the truth, but that person will have difficulty convincing others. Even more so if that third person is the only one who will consider the actions abusive.

What all of this leads to is that you might have to determine for yourself whether you were abused by narcissistic parents. If you examine the characteristics of narcissism and determine in your own heart and mind that your parent(s) fit the description, you may be able to see their actions as abusive. That might help you understand your present struggles a little better. You may not be able to get any legal or official action against them, or even be able to convince others, but you can know more about yourself. A good counselor can help you see how that abuse led you to a certain dysfunction in your life.

If you are the spouse of a narcissist, you may have to determine for yourself whether your husband/wife abuses the kids. Don’t expect others to understand what you know. You may have to act on what you know to be true, even if others don’t see it. Lawyers, pastors, even most counselors may not see what you experienced as abuse—only because they were not there and not you. A quality counselor, who understands narcissism, can help you to deal with your feelings and may also be able to help you see the dangers facing your children.

What actions can you take if you believe your spouse exhibits narcissistic abuse? I worked with a woman whose husband read horrible, true stories to the children before bed, stories of torture and murder. She believed his actions were abusive, damaging to the children. When he refused to stop after she expressed her concerns, she gathered the children and left. Counseling and time supported her concerns. The authorities today respond almost only to physical abuse and serious neglect. Narcissistic parents usually abuse in other ways. You may have to make the hard decisions without help from authorities.

If at all possible, build a small support structure: friends, family, counselors, etc. Let others know what makes you afraid. Let them help you make wise decisions about how to handle the situation. You don’t want to put the children in danger yourself. Living in the car, going without food, leaving them alone—these things could make you look like the abuser. If you have a place to go and money to get there, you can provide the safety you and the children will need.

Is narcissistic parenting child abuse? I can say that parents who abuse are almost always narcissistic. I can say that narcissism causes the depersonalization that allows the abuse. I can say that narcissism, by definition, hurts others without sympathy. But, without examining specific actions, I cannot say that narcissistic parents are abusers. Self-focus, lack of empathy, even manipulation of others is not necessarily abuse. So, I would say that narcissistic parenting is not, by definition, abuse. But it sure is not good.

Was your childhood with narcissistic parent(s) abusive?  Perhaps.  It may be worth talking with someone about that.

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