Narcissism is fueled by humiliation

To understand how delicate bragging, strutting narcissists are as they advertise their unique greatness, you have to consider that their stilted worldview is an attempt to escape the unbearable pain of a crushing sense of their worthlessness.

If you have a burning sense of inferiority you must construct the facade of a superman, just to survive. Pick at this facade at your own risk, losers!

Where there’s a will, there’s a won’t

If you find yourself locked in a titanic battle of wills, remember one fact:  there is no way to resolve that kind of impasse with logical discussion, no matter how calmly you get yourself to proceed.  Will, once inflamed, is not amenable to compromise, facts, persuasion, the observable law of cause and effect, the consensus of most calm, disinterested people in the world. This kind of showdown is famously phrased as “my way or the highway.”  The best you can do, when confronted with another person’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge they’ve hurt you, is hit the road.

If we are not in a do-or-die war of wills, and we find ourselves suddenly and confusingly at odds, we can talk.   A conversation can reveal that there may have been a misunderstanding, something taken out of context, a disorienting echo of past trauma that made us act badly, something we can later understand clearly was wrong of us to do, hurtful, causing damage.  After a good talk, we can make amends, agree to be aware of what caused our conflict and try not to hurt each other as we have. 

In a war of wills, all that is beside the point.  The need to win justifies victory by any means necessary.  This kind of fight is a desperate struggle to the death.  Remember that willful people are deeply damaged, so badly hurt that they’re incapable of acknowledging they could ever hurt anybody else.  They are always the victim.

We see it in our politics, of course, and it trickles down to almost all of us in this litigious, zero-sum culture where for every “winner” there are ten million losers.  If you are terrified of being a “loser” (an absurd and deadly construct, we should note ), there is no limit to what you will do to try to win.  If you don’t win, you will scream bloody murder (in my grandmother’s great phrase).   The game was rigged, you were cheated, everybody else is a fucking liar, weak, traitorous, stupid, a puppet, sick, dangerous, a monster!   This enraged outburst is the reaction of a “Terrible Two” year-old, a child just discovering that they won’t always get their way and fucking inconsolable about it.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as the saying goes.  If you want something badly enough, you can often find a way to get it.  Where there’s a will, there’s a won’t — in every battle of wills.  You say it was this way, I say no it wasn’t.  You say you were hurt, I say no you weren’t.  You say you have a recording of me saying what I now deny saying — I say you wore a wire on me, you fucking fuck!   If facts, actual events, cause and effect, how most people not involved in your conflict would feel, are all dismissed as the Devil quoting scripture to win an argument, my best advice to you, friend, after every good faith attempt to make peace shows you only the implacable face of war: hit the road, Jack.

Think, write, feel better

A friend once called me at 2:45 a.m. to tell me he’d received a note from me in the mail that made him very upset. I was upset to be called at that hour by an upset friend who couldn’t wait until the next day to cry to me about how upset he was. 

You have a right to wonder what kind of sick friendships I keep, but this guy and I have been very close friends for forty years or more, helped each other many times over the years.  He’s going through some hard times recently, has trouble facing his anger and how trapped he probably feels.   

So I didn’t tell him to fucking fuck off with his upset, I tried to help him out at 3 a.m.  I didn’t respond with anger, I responded with Reason.  When he complained that, unlike him, I have plenty of time to think, and write, and rewrite, I didn’t say anything mean about a life where even having time to think is impossibly hard.  I asked a question.

“Was there anything unfair, inaccurate or even unkind in what I wrote to you?”   The subject of my note was the crucial things I am suddenly not allowed to talk about without him getting mad.   He was too upset to answer.   

I was able to remain patient.  When we got off the phone I found my body poised to fight, I was wide awake, hyper awake.  Finding myself unable to sleep, my temper eventually exploded that this inconsiderate call — expressing hurt that I am not allowed to express under the sick new rules of our old friendship — had left me holding a bag of flaming dog shit, destroying a night’s sleep on the eve of a trip when I needed to be up early every day.  I vowed never a-fucking-gain.  I texted him “do not call after midnight unless previously arranged” and he quickly agreed.

Here’s what I want to point out, though.   No matter how insane somebody’s demands are, if you care about the person, you can put aside the insanity of the demand, respond as calmly as you can, and continue to think things through.  Thinking will not fix anything, though it will lead you to understand your situation as clearly as possible.  Then, as I always do, you sit down to write.  

This is the best practice I know for working through extremely difficult emotions.  Put them clearly in order on a page.  Read them over.  Clarify anything that is unclear.  This process leads you to removing excess anger, provocative comments, snideness, not having to assemble all the proof of your case.  You don’t need all the proof of your case.  You need just enough to make your point in a way that has a chance to sink into someone stubbornly insisting they are right and you’re wrong.  When you read the final product, you will feel a little better.

While writing I can put aside the righteous notion that I’d be completely within my rights to tell an old friend who is suddenly behaving like an impulsive, angry, solipcistic child to fuck off.  There is also something deeper at stake.   Part of it is affirming the value of patience, compassion and the truth in resolving conflict with people you care about.

If you encounter a year of sustained denial, reframing, anger, blame, threats, silence, doubling down on an irrational zero-sum war created by anger and fear, justifications, excuses, gaslighting, selective amnesia, etc. most people would not blame you if you just went silent.  Silence is the instant cure for all of that shit, unless you care.  If you care, silence will continue to bother you, because the impossibly unfair situation you’ve been placed in by someone else’s weakness will keep gnawing at you.

You can always walk away from people who behave like self-pitying, angry children with no ability to empathize with anyone else.  If walking away is difficult, you can also think, write, clarify.

In the end you come to a baseline of true things you will not fight about, will not compromise over.  Setting out this baseline is important, and writing it down, I’ve found, is very helpful.  If you can agree that you unfairly blamed me for things that were not strictly my fault, that my reactions were not unreasonable, unfair or mean, we have the first step on a long road back.

My upset old friend sent me an email about hiring a professional to help us (me, his wife, Sekhnet) resolve our estrangement.  His email was efficient, vague and hopeful.  Mine requested clarification about what he hoped a mediator could do for us, since I was not seeing an issue a mediator could broker a compromise to fix.  His reply was vague but hopeful.  He thought the mediator might help us answer questions like “how can we talk to each other without making each other angry?”  I brought up, in three or four paragraphs, the compelling reasons I am just about out of hope for fixing things, unless he (and his wife) are prepared to admit that they are having a hard time with their anger.   

I understand anger as well as I understand anything.  It is a difficult emotion, it makes us feel righteous doing godawful things to each other.  Anger can become humiliating afterwards if not immediately justified, the justification desperately clung to. I was raised in a home of sudden, implacable anger, rage was common, it was a fight to the death every night.  I know few things as well as I know anger.  

I know the first thing to learn about anger is how to control it in yourself when it begins to spark into a bonfire. The second is how to make amends after you hurt someone with anger.   I also know that in situations where the other party takes no responsibility for angry interactions, often the only thing to do is get out of that situation.

Not everyone is capable of introspection, sadly.  Self-criticism is very hard to practice.  I get this.  At the same time, if you have a problem and need to blame me for your inability to do better, you know, I can say this as politely as possible, but fucking fuck off.   Or do some work, on your own troubled life and stop blaming people who are already exhibiting tremendous patience under great pressure that you have created, as you keep denying that anything is fundamentally broken, that the entire problem is the fault of the one exerting himself to not tell you to fuck off.

You know what I’m saying?

Complying with unreasonable demands

Sometimes you will be confronted with unreasonable demands from others.  People at times set conditions for relationships that are grimly unfair:  whenever I’m upset with you, I get to confront you immediately; you have to patiently respect my right not to deal with your hurt until some time far in the future.   I cannot be patient when I’m in great pain, you must always be patient and calm with me when you think I hurt you.   Shit like that.

You can say these kinds of conditions are endgame scenarios, they are imposed when everything is so fucked up betwen people that all they have left is their reflex to defend themselves at all costs.   I wouldn’t argue.  In a mutually empathetic relationship you will not encounter these kinds of unreasonable asymmetries.   They arise from long held grievance, which accrues until the weight of it becomes unbearable to one party, who then feels compelled to inflict it on the other party.

These childish conditions are imposed in an unthinking attempt to make things right, somehow.  Everything harmful that I do is purely unintended, a mistake, forgivable human weakness, for godsake, and everything bad that you do flows from your disrespect, malice and sadism.

“You are a reflexive sadist, I realize you can’t help being a sadist, probably, but that is your default setting for treating others, or at least for treating me.  You’re aggressive, threatening and mean as a goddamned snake.”  If you have a productive response for that, one that will change the view of the speaker, you’re more inventive than I am.  When someone frames things to me that way, in stunning black and white, it’s time to move to the next car.

I have a friend who listens patiently to my horror stories.  He is sympathetic, offers whatever insight he might have, tells me a related story from his own life.  That is truly all a friend can do when we are up against it, listen, relate, offer his best ideas.  Our need to vent sometimes has us persist, once a friend has done all these things.  At that point my friend would nip that shit instantly with a simple “wee, wee, wee!”, said in a mocking, singsong cadence reminiscent of a crying cartoon baby, or piglet.

“Wee wee wee!” is a great, shorthand evocation of this kind of childish need to insist, beyond the limits of all reasonable conversation.  It makes me laugh, snaps me out of it, as I realize I’m now behaving like a fucking giant baby — and that I don’t have to.

Death during life

The finality of death is a crushing thing.  A cherished conversation ended, forever.   The chance to fix a once-precious, broken thing, irretrievably gone.  Traces of the little quirks that endear us to each other remain, remembered fleetingly, painfully at first.  Death reduces the dead person to the memories of those who loved her.  That we all must go there is little consolation, it’s the opposite of consolation, really.

Death during life?  That is the death we decree on others who have crossed a painful line too many times to endure.  “You’re fucking dead to me” is the cry of pain we direct at those who prove over and over that they will not yield, for any reason.  Once they are dead to you, of course, the painful dilemma — trying to unilaterally resolve things you cannot resolve to save a relationship that is already dead — is over.  The gangrenous foot is surgically removed, a prosthetic foot is attached and, after a short period of rehab, you walk better than you have in a long time.

I think most people have experienced this addition by subtraction, the relief it produces to finally not force yourself to bang your head against an immovable object,  a locked door, an adamant refusal to acknowledge hurt a loved one cannot personally feel. Your hurt reduced to peevish triviality when weighed against their own pain and anger.

I recall the wonderful feeling of lightness, waking with a great weight removed from my shoulders, neck and head, after an unusually good night’s sleep, when I have finally told someone turned monstrous to get out of my fucking face.

Whenever I’ve found myself being bullied by an old friend, given an ultimatum, held responsible for their pain and inability to behave reasonably, urged that only denial will solve what is bedevilling my sleep, the only relief, in the end, is removing myself from the situation.   You win, I lose.  I take myself off the chess board.  You are absolutely right, have a nice day and a very nice life.  It can be done politely, if you want, but the finality of it, when that moment comes, is also unmistakably clear.

I am dead to them while still alive.  Their pride will prevent them from reaching out, no matter how painful my death during life may be for them.  I have rejected their version of love, after all, an unforgivable thing for a dear friend to do.  In a case where I reached out after several years of estrangement, my old friend, although delighted and relieved to hear from me, was unable to reach back, being too neurotic to resume the friendship he claimed to value above all others. I don’t take it personally, it’s not about me, intimacy is not in his skill set.

Though it’s a very painful thing, there are worse tragedies than death during life.  Few relationships live forever.  People change, come to value different things.  People grow apart in their beliefs and their needs from others.  Understanding is not the universal coin of human affairs and love is not a magical balm that can heal things we can never touch or understand.  We are “wise apes” and we do the best we can in a violent and largely irrational world.  Sometimes we resort to cannibalism.  What else can you do when the place you used to live is now under the sea and you and your twenty million neighbors are on the move with nothing but the dead to eat?

The cost of lying

A lie can cover shame, sure.  It’s done all the time.   We can tell lies we can argue aren’t actually lies, they are just ways of sparing some pain, to ourselves or others.   There are gradations in lying, too.   We can lie in a way that is, arguably, basically truthful.  We can leave out just one key detail, more or less accidentally, and satisfy ourselves that this small omission was completely justified.  Without that troubling detail, the rest of the story makes more or less complete sense, so what is the harm of the “lie”?

Because we now live in a culture where a lie, unless told under oath and punishment for perjury is actually pursued, is no longer a big deal.  So, I lied, so what?  I wasn’t under oath, only loser chumps take an oath not to lie.  Everybody lies, and you’re lying if you don’t think you’re a fucking liar too.  And if you don’t lie, you take the fucking Fifth, like a man.

The analysis is fine, as far as it goes, which is not far at all.   When you accept a lie you choose your poison.  

Why is the United States poised for an era of stochastic terrorism, angry, unbalanced men, rabid lone wolves, poised to do deadly violence to themselves and others, always ready to be triggered by an angry suggestion that this person or that is deserving of death? [1]  

Because the widely accepted lie that one party is run by demented, murderous, child-raping Communist blood-drinkers is as accepted (among a solid 30% of Americans)  as the one that Blacks are irrationally angry about nothing, that Jews are about to replace all “white” “legacy” Americans with brown dupes, that elections lost by your candidate are rigged by these all-powerful Commie traitors, etc.  If you are angry, and alone, and everyone else in your social media silo also faithfully believes these demonstrable lies are true, and you have lost faith in everything else, and an assault weapon is legal and readily available in your state, why on earth wouldn’t you take out some of these demonic scum in your heroic last act on earth?

What is the cost of accepting a lie, being faithful to defending a lie to the death?   It costs you your integrity, your authenticity, your credibility. It also costs the ability to ever solve a problem or conflict based on what actually caused the problem or conflict.

As in politics, so in our personal lives.   If saying something that is true enrages or humiliates someone you know, you tactfully avoid the topic.  Some topics are easier to avoid than others.  If it is a shameful single event, unrelated to anything else, that you both acknowledge is mutually painful and worth avoiding, it’s reasonable to agree to not bring it up anymore.  If the topic is honesty itself, that’s a tough bridge to cross with your relationship intact. 

“Uh, OK, we can’t talk about why it’s better to be honest than dishonest, OK, let me try to remember never to say anything that might bring up that flaming bag of shit.  Honesty is overrated, LOL!”

To me, the cost of my integrity, authenticity and credibility is too high a price to pay, in most situations.  Then again, I have a lifelong issue in that regard.  Life itself, making a living, often requires limiting the scope of one’s integrity, authenticity and even credibility, in the name of going along to get along.  Too much insistence on a right to be whole, and treated by others with the same care you give to them, can make you as welcome as an agitated scorpion at a baby shower.

On the other hand, if you are honest, you will understand that the price of lying is almost always unacceptable.

If we don’t trust each other, what kind of love do we have between us? What kind of savage world do we live in?

[1]  Walking neo-Nazi pustule Steve Bannon called for the death of Anthony Fauci, and his family, on his podcast the other day. Free Speech, bitches.  First Amendment, you fucking blood-drinking Fauciist cucks!

If it was me

If it was me and a close friend I’d had for decades, since I was a kid, a person I loved, a person who finally found it impossible to remain friends with me in my embattled, inflamed marriage, called me to reconcile and be friends again, I would have taken him up on it.

Especially if it was true that I found this person unique in my life, funny and smart, still dreamed about him regularly, and both of my boys had very warm feelings toward him. I would have arranged a jam session with my two musician sons and my old friend, that would have been my first move.

There were many things I would have done that would have probably been better than sending him this text in response to a music clip he’d sent a few weeks earlier.

Just lovely! But I can’t contain my rage at the pussy assed Democrats and the pussies that they make Attorney General
who are too scared to put an ex President in jail. Fuck Garland. Imagine if the shoe had been on the other foot? Would have been the electric chair for Obama.

Well, on the plus side, at least he’s praying to God every morning with great devotion. As long as you’re right with your Creator, what do I have to say about anything?

If I don’t trust you…

I can’t make myself vulnerable, you might hurt me. You always hurt me, that’s why I don’t trust you.

You want me to be honest with you, but if I am honest, and you get upset, you will say I am attacking you. So I don’t trust you.

Since I don’t trust you, I am afraid because I don’t know what you will do. You can do anything. That’s what I’m afraid of, because I don’t trust you.

And around and around we go in this insane circular dance because there is no trust between us anymore. If we don’t have trust, what do we have?

All the love in the world can’t fix the crippling fear that takes hold, at the worst possible moment, when trust is dead.

Mediation to solve a dispute

Some conflicts lend themselves to mediation. Mediation, when successful, results in a compromise that gives each party more than they had when they came into mediation. Each party leaves a good mediation feeling that they now have enough.

My mother always felt that my sister and her children were ungrateful. She felt this because none of them ever said thank you when my mother took them to dinner every week. It burned my mother that my sister had never taught her children to say the words “thank you, Grandma.”

My sister’s position was that parents and grandparents give things to children and grandchildren out of love, and not in expectation of a show of gratitude. It annoyed my sister that her mother expected a polite show of gratitude from children she considered perfect as they were.

In this situation, had they been willing, a mediator could have made a great difference. The issue was very clear, and how to improve the conflict was also clear.

For purposes of their grandmother only, my sister’s children could have started saying “thank you, Grandma.” It would have made a big difference.

But, of course, my mother and my sister both insisted the other one would never agree to go to mediation and I dropped the idea after a while. The conflict lasted until the last days of my mother’s life.

In the situation where the conflict is “you hurt me” versus “no I did not, you fucking asshole,” I’m not sure what role a mediator would play, outside of hearing each party’s grievance against the other. Where is the mediated compromise in a conflict like this?