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Art with Erika

the journey of an artist – painting life with purpose

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“12 Steps” – November 17, 2017

My newest drawing “Calm”, was going to be the introduction to a collection inspired by my own journey and experience with 12 steps of recovery for co-dependency, but I feel that my heart and spirit is telling me that this post is where this journey will start and where it will end. This is enough for now.  Still, I wanted to give a short overview of my experience with the 12 Steps.

There’s “The Bottom” and Then There’s “Rock Bottom”

“Rock Bottom” is what a person has to hit in order for genuine change to happen. There is a place called “The Bottom”, which looks like “Rock Bottom”, but it’s not.  When a person has reached “The Bottom” they might realize that something is wrong in their life, and they might even realize that they have a problem or that they are the problem, but they haven’t come to terms with changing and healing.  They continue on in their same lifestyle for the most part, getting caught up in drugs or alcohol (or anything they are addicted to, which could literally be anything), or they could lose themselves completely within other people.  Their lives have become out of control, but not so out of control that they won’t stop themselves from their patterns of destruction and abuse. This pattern of “false realization” might happen once, twice, or too many times to count, but for whatever reason this person continues to point the finger at everyone else while holding their self-proclaimed title of “victim”.  All of this is called denial.  This is also why people bounce in and out of recovery: they haven’t had enough.

A person who has hit “Rock Bottom” has gone so far beyond this point of denial that there is no more slack in his rope for him to walk anywhere but straight into recovery. This point is relative; it is different for everyone, and every person comes to this point in their own pace and timing.  A person knows when they’ve hit “Rock Bottom” only when they’ve hit it, and not a moment before. There is an internal shift, and the world around them looks different than it ever was before the moment. For some people this moment comes after chemical addiction has robbed them of their family, friends, and life. For others, the inability to control the people around them has caused them to lose control of themselves entirely and they collapse under the pressure. Everyone has a breaking point, but the most important thing to take away from all this is that you can’t force somebody to heal, you can’t fix anybody, and a person’s “Rock Bottom” can only be determined by that person and no one else. They have to be willing and able to change, and more importantly they have to want to change enough to do so. “When they are sick and tired of being sick and tired, only then will they will do what they need to do to change.”

What the 12 Steps Helped Give Me

After I pieced together that I was a codependent person who chose to be in relationships with abusive people, I sought help. For a very long time I thought of myself as a victim who kept falling in love with people who turned out to be abusive, later on. I kept pointing the finger at everyone else except myself, and it wasn’t until I pointed the finger at myself and took a good long look in the mirror that I realized that I was my own worst enemy. I was the only person who was in control of my life.  I learned that I was not in control of anyone else’s life, and no amount of lecturing, finger-pointing, blaming, or fighting was going to change anyone around me. It is not my responsibility to be responsible for people who are irresponsible. The only person that I am responsible for is me.

Through the 12 step program, I would learn how to build genuine self-esteem, confidence, and a healthy and realistic love for myself, for the first time in my life.  Most of all, this program helped me build a loving, balanced relationship with God.  (My version of God was warped by abuse)  And although all of this growth will always be a work in progress, I am much further along than I ever have been before. I feel like I am living a life that was meant for me for the first time, with God’s genuine guidance and love. I feel like I can say “no” to people without feeling guilty for hurting their feelings. (It’s still difficult, but I’m always practicing)  I don’t have to stretch myself too thin, or take on too much, and I have given myself permission to enjoy life, because it is meant to be enjoyed above all else. This is what the 12 step program gave me.  It gave me a sense of peace, freedom, and calm. It helped me center myself, it helped me solidify my spirituality, and it helped me set the stones to become the person who God had intended me to be all along, and maybe even a more whole and more compassionate version because of the adversity.

There are times when I look at friends who have been dealt a healthier life, and I do become jealous.  They were taught how to create boundaries, and they were taught how to say no.  They were taught how to value themselves, they were loved unconditionally, and as a result they had lived relatively healthy lives with minimal to no abuse.  I do not wish for anyone to go through abuse, but I understand that hard times hit all of us in one way or another.  Some of these things can be prevented, and some of these things we cannot prevent, no matter how hard we try. The only thing that we can do is to learn and grow from our trials and the brokenness that has been passed onto us by the broken adults in our lives. 

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Wholeness and Beauty in Brokenness

In Japan, broken pottery pieces are mended together using gold, so that their cracks are highlighted.  The Japanese people believe that the hardship that these pieces went through have made the pottery more beautiful.  Their stories and their trials have made them uniquely whole, and have made their journey more valuable.  I do believe that adversity needs to be present in a person’s life in order for them to become completely whole.  There is a certain knowledge and understanding that is obtained through the breaking and mending process, and maybe it is more of a form of compassion than anything else. Regardless, one person’s recovery story is a shining light for people who are currently going through recovery or who have not found the courage to start yet. This is why it is so important to be open about recovery, and to try to share our stories.

Our society in America is not one that is fond of mental health practices as a whole. I know a lot of people who think that psychologists are nut cases, and that the people who go to them are crazier than the psychologist herself.  The 12 step program is wrapped up in this malicious way of thinking. No one should ever be made to feel that they are stupid, or that they are less of a person because they are trying to better themselves.  Mental health is equal, if not, more important than physical health, and it does effect physical well-being more than people realize.  So many ailments and diseases (including cancer) stem from stress and a lack of mental rest and balance.

It would benefit every person to read about the 12 step program. I believe that everyone can walk away learning something either for themselves or for a loved one.  Everyone knows somebody who is an addict, or somebody whose life is spiraling out of control (or maybe just annoyingly unbalanced and subtly unhealthy), and it might be you, or it might be a loved one.  It’s great for everyone to have this information under their belt so that when adversity does hit (and it will), every person will be prepared for what comes next.

AA, Al-Anon, Co-DA, and every other 12 step recovery group follow the following guide (revised for each group of people dealing with different ailments – the list below is for Co-DA – Codependents Anonymous).  I do encourage people to look up more information so that they might help themselves or people around them.  Just remember that the 12 steps is a program that has to happen through the pace and willingness of the addict. 

The 12 Steps of Co-Dependency

  1.  We admitted we were powerless over others, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other codependents, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Each step is to be taken at the right moment, and it is a process that cannot be rushed.  The more thorough, honest, and self-aware a person is, the more they will get out of the program.  Many times, individuals have decades of abuse to work through.  I have noticed that people who start the program in their mid life, which is usually the case, have exponentially more baggage than those who start in their 20’s or 30’s. (not all of the time, but most of the time)  As a result, a lot of people have to work through the program multiple times in order to get to the REAL root of ALL their problems: themselves.

A lot of people work through the program the first time continuing their finger-pointing victimization process instead of looking at themselves, and they can get stuck in this mindset for another decade or two over the course of their recovery.  There are a lot of people who stay stuck in recovery, forever pointing fingers and holding grudges.  A person will change when they are ready to change, and nothing that you do can push them to move faster.  But, understanding human brokenness, and practicing empathy and compassion, is something that all of us need to do if we are going to survive this crazy roller coaster ride. 

Some people never have to get on the roller coaster, and some people don’t know what the roller coaster feels like. Some people have been on the roller coaster and have ridden it enough times to know that they don’t want to ride anymore. And then there are people who think they want to get off the roller coaster who really don’t want to. It’s not our job to unbuckle the people from the roller coaster and force them down the stairs and off the ride. But understanding how they got on there to begin with, understanding the physics of the ride, and the passengers, and understanding what it takes to step off the ride can help those who need help when they ask for support.  So please, read through at least some of the program, because being aware and being conscious of other people and their battles, is what brings us all closer together. The compassion that we practice makes this world of much better place.

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“Calm” – 2017 – Digital Painting – Photoshop – Erika Robertson

“The Codependency Dance” – November 15, 2017

Note: Narcissists and the codependents can be any gender. In a majority of cases narcissists are men who seek female codependent counterparts. For the sake of this article the narcissist will be referred to as “he” and the codependent will be referred to as “she”.  These labels are not intended to be limiting.

The world of psychology uses “the codependency dance” to describe the intimate relationship between two very broken, dysfunctional, opposing, but balanced people:  the fixer and the people-pleaser (the codependent), and the controller and taker (the narcissist) The destructive behaviors that each one has formed throughout their childhoods and into their adult lives seem to complement each other perfectly. The two of them mesh together in a seductive and dysfunctional dance where the codependent individual will give up her power and the narcissist will thrive on that control and power so that no one’s toes get stepped on.

The Dancers

Codependent individuals are enamored with the needs and desires of other people. They were groomed in their childhood to be servants and later in life they find themselves on a dance floor where they are attracted to people who are a perfect pairing for their submissive dancing style. They are natural followers, and most of them find narcissists extremely appealing because of their charm, confidence, boldness, and dominant personality.

The perfect dancing partner for a narcissist is someone who lacks self-worth, confidence, and self-esteem. A narcissist looks for a dancing partner who he can manipulate, so that he can control the dance. He looks for someone who has a warped sense of reality and codependent people fit this role perfectly.  Individuals who have grown up knowing who they are, who are confident in their capabilities, and who are strong-willed (or normally-willed) rarely stay with the narcissist long-term, because they are able to see the red flags of the narcissist’s selfish personality early on.  (ie: they don’t put up with crap, like gaslighting).

Codependent people confuse caretaking and sacrifice with true love and loyalty. They are dedicated to their partners but feel used, which makes them bitter later on.  Her hunt for love is ultimately an unconscious motivation to find someone who is “familiar”. (Familiar isn’t always good)  It stems from childhood trauma and the lack of healthy love, respect, and being cared for by adults.  She fears being alone and her compulsion to control and fix things at any cost motivates her. She is comfortable in her role as a martyr who is endlessly loving, devoted, and patient.  She dreams of dancing with somebody who loves her unconditionally.  She believes that she must sacrifice herself in order to obtain this love because it is the only way that she has ever known how to express love.

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First Dance, Honeymoon, and Return Home

In her eyes, at first sight, the narcissist is the embodiment of Prince Charming. He woos her and caters to her every whim, makes her feel like she is the center of the universe, pours out excessive expressions of love (love bombing), and he does his best to figure out what it is she likes and what she is looking for in a mate so that he can wear that mask for her, in the beginning. 

The honeymoon phase of the relationship lasts anywhere from a handful of weeks to about six months (but for more experienced narcissists, they could keep up the act for years) and after this threshold is approached the good graces of the narcissist start to dwindle swiftly. Complements and catering to his new love have been replaced with gaslighting and correcting, and she takes the criticism because she believes that he loves her and that he knows what’s best for her. If she argues with him, he will convince her that she is wrong, and because of her weak self-esteem and trust in him, she will slowly start to adopt his mindset and become the image that he wants her to be. She holds on, hoping for things to get better, and hoping for things to go back to the way that they were before; she hopes that after a period of time her partner will finally start to understand her real needs instead of critiquing her over and over again. She doesn’t know that he doesn’t have the ability to truly empathize with people. She has been trained to withstand the pain, and to power through, like she did when she was growing up. Her whole dysfunctional life has led her up to this dysfunctional relationship and she executes it beautifully.

In a sense, the narcissist is never completely whole without a partner to dote over his every need. As she is compulsively corrected by him, she starts to become a memory of herself for the sake of him, their relationship, and for her own survival. Any deviation from his plan is met with aggression and sometimes violence. His partner, always seeking the love that he had given her at the start, is forever confused. She doesn’t know what is false or what is true anymore. She will believe cunning lies that come from his lips, because he is a master gaslighter who is able to whip up verbally abusive concoctions that cause her to believe that she ‘needs to be corrected’.  The narcissist will isolate her, and start to cut her off from the rest of the world, including her own friends and family. She will become completely dependent upon him for every need, and she clings to him for safety.

Her gauge of reality is so warped that she wouldn’t even know what to do without him because she has completely lost herself and her ability to make decisions without his direction. She doesn’t want to make him angry by moving in any direction other than what he has designated for her. She will adopt the image of the type of woman he is attracted to, she will eat like him, she will absorb his political and religious beliefs, she will consult him on what she should wear, how she should talk, what job she should take, what she should and shouldn’t approve of, what friends she should have, what family members she can’t be around, how she should be in the bedroom, and how their home should look. She becomes a tool for him to use, so that he can create an environment for which he can impress people, not an environment where she will feel comfortable.

 

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The Breakup

Narcissists are rarely faithful to their partners. If the relationship does not end with the narcissist cheating on her, and leaving her, it usually ends when she starts to discover her real self, and when she starts to find her own independence.  He needs to be with somebody who obeys him at all times.  Unfortunately most codependent people are deep into a dysfunctional relationship when their eyes start to open. She fell in love with an image all those years ago, but that image that he presented to her was not a real person. During a break up, and throughout her relationship with him, she mourns the loss of this image. She confuses the image with the abusive person.  The breakup will be a vicious battle between the functioning, healthy, and newfound realizations of her personality and the manipulation and tyranny of the narcissist. When a breakup finally happens, the narcissist will never provide closure and draws out the breakup as much as possible.  Stalking is not uncommon, and could continue for many years down the road.  Most narcissists like to keep tabs on their former partners.

Codependent individuals desire balance and harmony, but they typically fall for people based on initial attraction, and unfortunately this initial attraction is most prominent with narcissists because of their charm and boldness. If she finds herself without a partner to dance with, she doesn’t wait for somebody who is healthy, but she jumps into another dance, usually with the same type of person. Loneliness is too much for her to bear. She will continue dating the same type of person over and over again, and endure the same kind of abuse, until she realizes that she is a broken person and that she needs to fix herself. Until she learns that she is the root of all of her own problems, that she is the one who chooses abusive partners because of her own brokenness, and until she heals herself, she will keep on dancing the same dysfunctional dance.  The cycle continues until it is broken (and it usually continues for decades, through generations of family members).

His Crap and My Choice

This codependent woman was me.  As I said before, I grew up in an extremely abusive home, and the adults in my family did a fantastic job at raising me to be an excellent codependent woman.  They taught me the turns, the dips, and the footwork, so that when I became a young adult and ventured into the dating world, I would know how to dance with narcissists.  I would be lying if I said that I never enjoyed the thrill of each one of them in the beginning.  Each one was a ‘love-bombing’ prince and I was a lonely princess.

Not all of the men that I have dated have been narcissistic. I have dated a number of young men who have been absolutely pleasant, wonderful, and kind.  They were people who I took for granted because of my own brokenness.  I didn’t know how to love with proper boundaries and I still feel guilty for the pain that I had caused.  For that, I am sorry.

As for the three who were narcissistic, I don’t feel guilt except for the damage I did to myself.  I can’t feel guilty for men who had knowingly abused me and “debated with me” about the justifications for their actions.  I have been manipulated, I have been brainwashed, I have been made to feel like the scum of the earth, I have been the punching bag for their failings, I have been hit, I have been sexually assaulted, I have been verbally abused, and I have been mentally abused.

Sometimes, people are dealt crappy cards.  Crappy things happen to awesome people.  No one can control everything that happens to them, but, each of us has control over HOW WE REACT to the crap that is thrown at our feet.  We can either choose to step in it, or we can choose to walk away. 

Two years ago, a familiar pile of abusive crap was thrown at my feet.  I was tired of the same dysfunctional patterns, but I didn’t know why they were happening to me.  I was angry with my unhappiness and empty romantic relationships.  I confided in my friends who turned around and told me that I was my own problem.  THAT made me angry, but they were right.  I realized that I had dated a string of abusive people, but that I was also in control of my own narrative, and that because I was in control that it was my fault for making the choice to step in the crap in the first place.

So, I took a good, long, glaring look at that smelly, steaming piece of rancid crap at my feet.  Then I mustered up the courage to look up into his proud ‘know-it-all’ face.  And for the first time in my life, I made the choice to walk away from the abuse.

The first step to recovery is realizing that there is a problem…

But, breaking up with a narcissist is not something that you just do, either…

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“The Codependency Dance” – 2017 – Digital Sketch – Photoshop – Erika Robertson

“The Narcissist’s Family” – November 13, 2017

Note: This article uses male gender pronouns for “the narcissist”.  Both men and women can be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but it is more common in men. To read more about NDP click here. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a parasitical disease that affects those especially close to the narcissist.  His uses his suave and charming personality mixed with cunning manipulation in order to move around pawns in a game whose only objective is to glorify himself, the gamekeeper.  There are small moments when the narcissist’s mask falls off around friends, acquaintances, and family, usually in a spurt of anger or debate where personal offense has been taken.  But generally speaking, the only people who will see the real narcissist without a mask will be those who are a part of his innermost circle.

Who is in this innermost circle?  They are the people who he believes that he owns (this ownership can be conscious or subconscious).  His roommates and close friends rarely come close enough to experience consistent abuse because he can separate himself and take breaks from his act.  But long-term lovers, spouses, and children become the most valued pieces in his collection because he sees each one of them, especially his children, as an extension of himself.  He interacts with them frequently.

In a healthy household, parents will raise their children to become confident, independent, and healthy adults.  No household and no parent is perfect, but healthy children develop a balanced sense of self and their relationships evolve with the adult figures in their life.  This is not the case with a narcissist’s family.

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A narcissist’s only mission in life is to paint a grandiose representation of himself to the world.  And because the narcissist sees his spouse and his children as an extension of himself he trains them and uses them as a status symbol beneath the guise of a loving and caring family.  The most important thing to a narcissist is to maintain the image of success.  If you are part of his family you will be given a role to play and it will be your responsibility to act your heart out in public. There are only two rules in the house of a narcissist’s family:

  1.  the narcissist needs to always come first
  2. the image of the narcissist and his family must never be limited by the needs of the spouse and their children

Every spouse and child is assigned a role by the narcissist himself.  These roles include the golden child, the scapegoat, and the invisible child.  Over a period of time the children adopt secondary roles that include the hero/responsible child, the caretaker/placater, the mascot/clown, and the mastermind/manipulator.  Children may end up adopting one or more of these roles, and roles can switch multiple times over the course of one’s life, depending upon how the narcissist feels and how he measures that child against the others. He also weighs them with consideration to personal goals at any given moment.

The bottom line is that a narcissist would rather gloat about himself to try to impress a stranger rather than be loved by his own family.  All the while, his children, forever starving for love, bend over backwards to try to scrounge for breadcrumbs of his approval.  In public they wear the happy masks that he has made for each one of them.  

The Roles Cast by the Narcissist

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The Enablerthis role is usually played by the spouse (or a daughter). She does the narcissist’s bidding and plays nice in order to gain approval from the narcissist.  She orbits around when she is not helping him. Her life revolves around fulfilling every need of the narcissist. This is a role typically filled by a codependent individual, who grew up in an abusive home, and whose sense of self revolved around giving up herself in order to win love and favor from people around her. There are many cases where a codependent spouse realizes the error of his or her ways after being married to a narcissist for so many years. She comes to a breaking point and realizes the damage that has been done to the children because of her own irresponsibility and her own brokenness. But when that moment of realization hits, she can do nothing but sit back and watch her damaged children perform for her abusive spouse; she can only hope that her children will discover their own brokenness much earlier than she had.

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The Golden Child she is assigned her role according to her gifts and talents. This role could be set aside for the first or second child but as the narcissist’s children are born, or as his children leave the household, the role can shift to other children. This child is given special treatment and the narcissist seems to value this child the most. He will train this child so that she can act out the perfect masquerade of his perfect parenting. Most of the time the child will become a clone of the narcissist, adopting his beliefs, habits, and if this child stays in this role for their entire adolescence, it is likely that this child will also become a narcissist. But if the role ever shifts and the golden child is “demoted” (even if she is tossed in and out of the role) it is likely that the child will develop codependency, instead. Because the narcissist and the enabler put this child on a pedestal they also form a different bond with her than with the rest of the children.  Her siblings become jealous of the special treatment that she has been given, but in the long run this could be the most damaging role among the children. It will be harder for her, as an adult, to separate herself and find her true self apart from her parents. She becomes an extension of their relationship and the most puppet-like of the children.   Unless she is able to acknowledge the abuse and heal from it she will keep running in unfulfilled abusive circles, searching for love and fulfillment, but always falling short.

The Scapegoatthis child is the one who can do nothing right. They are labeled a “bad seed” and tend to be the most outspoken of the children with a “look at me” persona. The narcissist will use this child as a punching bag, and they will be the recipient of the most abuse among the children. The scapegoat and the golden child seem to be at odds with each other most of the time. The children understand that the narcissist’s affections are given ‘freely’ to the top performing child, so the scapegoat tries to dethrone the golden child in order to win the love and affection of the narcissist, unaware of the toxicity of the coveted role.  The scapegoat is most likely to develop a sense of self and awareness, but it will be damaged. They will probably be successful and independent later on in life, driven by a need to succeed and to prove themselves worthy of love, but they will still need to address the childhood trauma that went on in their household in order to heal from the abuse.

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The Lost Child/Invisible Childhe receives no praise and no blame from the narcissist. In the narcissist’s eyes, there is “no use” for him.  The lost child becomes very independent, isolated, and lonely. A lot of the time they do become self-sufficient but they fall prey to emotions of unworthiness and they constantly feel unloved throughout their lifetimes. These children are most likely to develop depression or substance abuse addictions.

The Secondary Roles Taken by the Children

The Hero/Responsible Child – most of the time this is the older sibling, but not always.  This child takes on a perfectionist nature at a very young age and develops a “responsible parent” role.  She is a true mask of a narcissistic family. She suppresses her emotions until she cannot feel them at all, she is extremely insecure, and she drives herself compulsively from one achievement to the next.

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The Caretaker/Placater – she is the emotional rescuer of the family. She manages and shuffles around the ever changing moods of the family by listening, supporting, nurturing, and counseling. She is a very sensitive creature, calm, and understanding in nature. Although she tries to fix everyone around her, she seeks no emotional support for herself. She doesn’t know how to take care of herself, she only knows how to focus on everyone else. She is a people pleaser. Her self-worth is defined by what she can do for others. She gives love but she doesn’t know how to receive it back. She is only comfortable giving she is not comfortable receiving and as a result she will push away love. As she grows into adulthood she finds that her job is to fix and save people from themselves. She turns into a ‘grade A’ codependent person, whose relationships become one-sided, toxic, and abusive. She becomes a doormat for people and will usually choose a career in the caring profession.

The Mascot/Clown – this role is usually adopted by the youngest member of the family. He is responsible for the emotional well-being of the family but through the use of humor as opposed to care taking. He puts on a comedy show to divert the pain in the family. He is usually a happy-go-lucky person and a very likable individual who can make others laugh but who finds it difficult to make himself genuinely happy.  He will usually suffer from depression. Because he is constantly putting on a show he doesn’t really develop any sense of authentic self and he struggles with feelings of emptiness and loneliness.

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The Mastermind/Manipulator – he is sinister, selfish, and abusive. Paired with the golden child the role, the mastermind and manipulator will turn into a narcissist. He is driven by entitlement and coerces people through manipulation.  He is sneaky enough to operate just below the radar and he uses the dysfunction and the rest of the family to his own benefit. He intentionally creates conflict among family members to get what he needs and what he wants. He knows how to put on the charms and can manipulate even the adults in the family. He can also take on the quality of a sinister jokester, echoing the words “What’s the matter? Can’t you take a joke?”

“The Narcissist’s Family”

My piece is called “The Narcissist’s Family” and it was important to me to try to capture the feeling of being a game piece in a narcissistic family unit.  Children will grow up not being able to measure feelings in a healthy manner, or they develop a numb persona.  Sadness and depression will develop later when they are aware enough to piece the abusive puzzle together.  The golden child is brought into the limelight alongside the narcissist, with help from the enabler whose eyes are finally starting to see the truth of her lifestyle and her role in the abuse.  She wonders if it is too late.  She wonders what will happen to her children and to herself.  She wonders if there is any hope for healing and happiness.  The rest of her children will shuffle around in the shadows and wait for the beckoning calls of the game-keeper narcissist that shift at a moment’s notice.  As long as his family plays each part perfectly they will be okay.  They just need to avoid any action or phrase that will tarnish the image that he works so hard to maintain.  

It is rare for a narcissist to raise another narcissist. There have been theories that have been thrown around about narcissists breeding people who are equally as abusive, but studies show that if you have been raised by narcissist you’re much more likely to develop codependency. A narcissist’s upbringing is centered on the idea of selfishness, and in his adult life he will search for people to aide him in building his grandiose pedestal.  A codependent’s upbringing is centered on the idea selflessness, and in her adult life she will search for people to pour out her love to, in hopes that she will be loved in return with that same sacrifice that she so foolishly gives.  When the two get together, it seems like a perfect partnership at first glance.  To onlookers they are glorious, beautiful, and perfectly balanced.  But, when one partner only gives and the other only takes, the fairytale love story falls into the cauldron and transforms into a poisonous apple…

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“The Narcissist’s Family” – 2017 – Digital Drawing – Photoshop – Erika Robertson

“The Narcissist” – November 11, 2017

Narcissism is a term that has been loosely used to describe celebrities, people who are over-confident, individuals who are proud or full of themselves, and even a whole generation of young people called Millennials.  While many teenagers and youngsters can go through a ‘narcissistic’ phase, it doesn’t make them narcissists.  And some people can be a little too confident in whom they are, but it doesn’t make them narcissists, either.

Every person has some narcissistic qualities, and it is healthy to have confidence and a SOBER minded view of yourself that is in balance with the world around you.  People who accomplish amazing things do have a right to claim greatness among people, and others with a crap load of talent should weigh themselves accordingly, though it is more palatable for the rest of us if they are a little more humble than boastful.  Realistic acknowledgement of accomplishments and who one is and isn’t doesn’t make them a narcissist.

What makes a person a narcissist is GRANDIOSITY.  It’s when a person thinks TOO highly of who they are, what they have done, what they deserve, and what they can do.  More importantly, their image comes at the expense of those around them.  They do not have the ability to look at themselves with clear eyes and see where they fall on the scale of life compared to other people.  It is a heavy and dangerous psychological disorder.  It effects more men than women and it is estimated that probably about 1% of people have NDP (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

The wonderful thing about narcissists is that most of them are fun-loving people and they blend in with the American culture effortlessly.  The stereotype that society has formed features a good-looking, selfish, business man who rambles on about himself and shoves backhanded compliments in people’s faces.  But, most real narcissists are not the people who you would expect.  Not all of them are attractive, most of them aren’t rich, many of them aren’t famous, and not all of them dabble in business.  They are charming and witty, and start out as good friends who seem to care.  Their charm is what makes them dangerous, and you can hang out with one for decades and never know who they really are because of the ever-changing beautiful and intricate masks that they switch out for you.

A narcissist is a master manipulator and an expert at discarding or shuffling people around in his life in order to suit his needs.  His innermost circle of pawns will be the only ones who really see him with his mask off and these people usually only include spouses or long-term lovers, and children or his most immediate family (family that he currently lives with).  Friends (including roommates) and non-immediate family, though seemingly close from an outside perspective, will usually be placed at a far enough distance so that they don’t experience the genuine intimacy, and eventually the abuse, that stems from the carelessness of a narcissist at close quarters.  It is because of this distance that a victim’s outreach for council from friends or family is corroded with statements that echo the words “are you sure he is a narcissist?  He doesn’t seem like one.  I think he’s a really nice guy.  I’ve never seen it.  It doesn’t sound like him.” Well, he is a nice guy, until you get to know the real person.  It can take months or even years for the mask to finally slip.  No one can wear a mask forever; there is a breaking point with every narcissist.  And once that breaking point is reached, the mask that was made specifically for you starts to crumble quickly, and abuse runs rampant behind closed doors.

Diagnosing narcissism is difficult because of the character of the narcissist himself.  He doesn’t like to be told that there is anything wrong with him (God forbid) and it isn’t unlike him to start gaslighting the psychologist herself.  The result is that she feels that SHE is the crazy one who has been wrong about him all along.  Narcissists make excellent crooked lawyers and politicians, and are amazing at making you think that everything that comes from their lips is gold and that everything that comes from your lips is pure crap and lies.  Even if a narcissist were to cooperate in a therapy session, he wouldn’t have enough genuine insight into his own mind, or the proper emotional analysis of his friends or family, in order to heal.  He is a living and breathing catch-22, which means that his narcissism cannot be cured.  But those around him can learn how to create healthy boundaries so that the narcissist doesn’t rule over their lives, and they may find a semblance of sanity and balance.  If this seems depressing, believe me, it is.  A narcissist will forever be stuck in his patterns and ways, but will be somewhat content.  Those surrounding him are the ones who suffer for lack of genuine intimacy, and the need to stay distant or even disconnected from him. 

It is not certain how Narcissism is formed, but one pattern that has been present in every Narcissist in my life has been their upbringing.  I don’t believe that anyone is born a narcissist, but a person is groomed to become one.  The narcissist child is usually raised with a sense of entitlement whose every need is catered to and who is taught to believe that they deserve and can have whatever they want, without regard to anyone else.  On the other hand the child might be given special treatment, or might have been allowed to do things, break rules/skip punishment, or have things that didn’t fit the status quo.  This was allowed to happen because of the lack of something else in his life (usually the presence of loving adults is lacking).  This in turn creates a sense of entitlement in the child that follows him into adulthood, and he ends up using coercion and charm to get what he wants from the people around him.  He is never taught how to properly love people, but only exchange with or take from people.

Our childhood patterns ALWAYS follow us into adulthood until they are broken.  At the root of every Narcissist’s heart is probably one of the most damaged and insecure individuals, though initial reactions with them would seem to prove otherwise.  As much as they have been a thorn in my side, I feel bad for them, because I know that they are damaged, but, on the other hand, they will never know it.  They can’t take criticism very well, but they also think much too highly of themselves to even think twice about the criticism.  (And they will never let you forget about that critique for as long as you live, either, so choose your words wisely).  Narcissists feel pretty good about themselves, because they think too highly of themselves to even know that anything is wrong, even if every scrap of evidence is thrown at them.  If you do decide to fight or fix him, you will be gaslighted, and it will be thrown back in your face, and you will feel like you are insane, and he will confirm that theory, and you will briefly question what just happened as he turns around and gives you the silent treatment for however long he thinks you deserve it.  He needs you to be obedient to him and he will punish you if you fall out of line.

Diagnosis for Narcissism is rarely official because they “know more about psychology than psychologists”.  But, those around him who have been through therapy, who see common patterns of abuse, can piece together his unofficial diagnosis.  Most narcissists are verbally and mentally abusive as opposed to physically abusive (but some can be physical, too, especially with significant others).  A person needs to embody five of the following traits in order to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  These are not to be taken lightly:

–          An exaggerated or grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized without achieving said achievements)

–          Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

–          Believes that they are “special” and unique and that they can only be understood by, and should only associate with, other special people or high-status people or institutions.

–          Requires excessive admiration (doesn’t need to be genuine)

–          Has a sense of entitlement.  Has unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

–          Is exploitive of others.  Takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

–          Lacks empathy.  Unwilling or unable to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

–          Is often envious of others or believes that they are envious of him.

–          Regularly shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes.

A narcissist is a beautiful creature, at first glance.  His mask is intricate and distracting, his words are silky and charming, and he is exactly what you think you need.  He has made this mask especially for you, because you are special, too, and he wants to add you to his collection of desirable people.  You don’t realize it, but he has turned himself into your perfect person, and all he wants in return is for you to do whatever he desires, no questions asked.  But, he is a black hole, a broken creature, and a parasite.  A narcissist will never know his real, insecure, and abused childhood self, but he knows what he wants right now.  He will manipulate everyone around him in order to play out his perfect façade to the rest of the world, and he will crush anyone who tarnishes his image or anyone who gets in the way of achieving his desires, especially his family…

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“The Narcissist” – 2017 – Digital Drawing – 18″ by 12″ – Photoshop – By Erika Robertson

“The Codependent” – November 9, 2017

My newest piece is called “The Codependent” and it is my interpretation of the feeling of the destructive mindset that I had developed in my childhood.  My codependency reached its peak when I turned twenty and it continued along a steady path for ten years.  It is the reason why I didn’t draw or paint for over a decade.  It is the reason why I had jumped from one abusive relationship to the next.  It is the reason why so many people had seen me dive into one career and then turn around to venture into another.

What is codependency?  In a nutshell, it is the unhealthy reaction to the fear of not being loved.  Those of us who grew up in an abusive household (a parent with substance abuse, verbally abusive adults, neglectful ‘role models’) find ways to cope with the trauma and form unhealthy reactions and habits based on that abuse that help us during that moment, but the habits follow us into adulthood.  Many of us become caretakers for irresponsible adults (you would be surprised at how many nurses and psychologists are codependent). Or we become people-pleasers who try to win the love of parents through accomplishment, or we try to find ways to help or fix people in our circle who are struggling with their own battles.  But codependent people aren’t able to find a healthy balance between living for themselves and living for others and they end up developing an unhealthy relationship pattern.

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“The Codependent” – 18″ by 12″ – Digital Drawing – Photoshop – Erika Robertson

 

What was codependency for me?  I grew up in a very abusive home, and for me codependency was trying to reach perfection in order to win approval and ultimately love from the adults in my life.  In my mind, if I didn’t do everything perfectly, if anything was lacking, then they would love me less.  My young mind fed off of the comments and opinions of adults in my life as I searched to fill an impossible void.  Because I wanted to feel that I was enough, it became hard for me to say “no” to anyone even when I was uncomfortable, which would later become a huge problem when I started dating.  I learned to discard myself in order to blend in with them and please them (FYI it doesn’t work).  Their thoughts and opinions became mine and I sought out their approval for even the smallest choices even when it came to choosing a place to eat dinner – it sounds ridiculous but it is the truth – I didn’t want to do anything that would make them feel that I was ‘wrong’ or ‘less’.  It was a life that felt like a never-ending feeble walk on a trail of broken glass.

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What we learn in childhood follows us into adulthood and each unhealthy pattern of affection starts with a single horrible life-changing event (I can trace most of my unhealthy habits back to a single incident from my youth). When it came to romantic relationships (any relationships, let’s be honest), I couldn’t set boundaries for myself,  I didn’t know how to express what I wanted because I didn’t even know what I wanted to begin with, because what I wanted was whatever THEY wanted.  When making ANY choice one question came to mind “Will so-and-so like this?”  In essence, I became whoever I thought my significant other wanted me to be, because that is what I did with my family, for fear of rejection.

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Many codependents take on “giving” careers, and they are typically very nice and likable people, but they can be control freaks.  If things are out of place they freak out, or if people aren’t doing what THEY want, they freak out.  They are amazing planners, but burn themselves out because of a lack of trust for other people.  They are guarded but at the same time might be lenient with boundaries in other respects.  (For me, I was guarded socially, but lenient romantically).  They have a hard time saying NO to people and if they do they feel guilty.  They take on work-loads that might be too much for them to handle because they are subconsciously seeking fulfillment in the form of love and appreciation from their peers.  They worry about hurting other people’s feelings, at the expense of their own.  They are givers in relationships, sometimes to the point where they lose themselves (because they can’t say NO).  They are also controlling in their relationships because they feel that “if people just did what I wanted, then they would be happy and I would be happy, too.”  They can be manipulators who just want what is best for others, but who intrude in order to feel accomplished, to win love, or to keep themselves safe from harm.

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For me, codependency felt like I was putting on a show.  I felt like I was forcing myself to smile or to be the person who I thought everyone else wanted me to be.  I tried to control the way people thought about me.  I tried to convince people that I was good enough to love by turning myself into what I thought they wanted.  I thought that they tied strings to me and that they had been pulling at me when in fact it was me who had tied strings to them, and it was me who was vying for their love.  I didn’t know that I was in control of my own life, that these choices that I made were MY choices and not theirs.  I was the one controlling the strings all along and that this was my show played out for me…not for them.  (Though, some abusers would have you believe otherwise…)

It is hard for many codependents to release themselves from the “victim mentality” and take a look in the mirror to see that the root to all of their problems with intimacy, love, and personal fulfillment lies within their own reactions to the people around them.  It is hard to come to terms with the idea that your life is horrible because of you, and no one else.  Horrible things happen to good people, yes, but it is our reactions to those events that define who we are, not the event itself.  When I was being abused I went back for more, thinking that things would change, and that decision to go back and ‘fix things’ was my choice.  ‘Fixing myself’ was my choice.  There would be people who continued being abusive, but how I reacted to the abusive people in my life was my choice.

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Two years ago I pinpointed that I was codependent.  It took a year for me to get through a 12 step recovery program, and it was the most painful transition of my life, but it finally set the stones for me to travel down a clear road.  The last year of my life has been filled with so many challenges, breakdowns, discoveries, and so much healing, and I know that I am better for all of it.  For the first time in my life I have set healthy boundaries, and I have started to discover who I am.  I have started to state my truths instead of allowing people to walk on me and make decisions for me.  I have started to care less about people’s opinions and have started paving my own road.  I have come a long way, and feel that the worst is behind me because I can see clearly now that the fog has lifted.  I will always have more to learn but my mind has been re-wired and I feel that life is so much simpler and happier without the baggage.

Art has been the most difficult outlet for me to re-wire because my mind automatically asks “what would be popular and what would everyone else like me to draw?  Will people like this?” as if it will gain the favor of people.  It won’t. Most of what I had created in the last thirteen years had been because of my insecurities about the opinions of the abusers around me.  I hadn’t been able to pick up a pencil for ten years for fear of rejection and fear of a lack of perfection.  I didn’t even know what I wanted to create, anyways because everything I did was to make others happy at the expense of myself.  I think about it and become a little sad because I wasted ten years of my life, but at the same time anything that I would have created wouldn’t have been from me and for me, anyways.  And as an artist what is the point in creating if you can’t even stand by your own work with the confidence that it is a reflection of yourself?

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Someone told me recently “you should just draw what you want to draw” but it is easier said than done for me.  Every project is a personal challenge, but as I sit down and discard perfectionism, fear of rejection, and doubts, I start to discover myself for the first time in my life.  It’s uncomfortable, but it’s getting better.  I feel that I am at a stable enough place to start sharing my journey.  It starts with my codependency, but it is made into a new kind of more powerful poison when mixed with a special type of parasitic abuser.

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“The Codependent” – Digital Drawing – Photoshop – Erika Robertson

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