Workplace Narcissism

With the rise of Donald Trump, there is a growing awareness of Narcissism. 

Here are some indications that you may be working for a narcissistic boss:

To listen to a discussion of workplace narcissism, see my podcast here!

Grandiose

  1. Cultivates a “larger than life” persona
    1. Exaggerated hand gestures
    2. Big voice (talks louder than necessary)
    3. All of his stories are “over the top” (sometimes a bit hard to believe)
    4. Can be very attractive, especially at first. There will almost always be someone who believes in this version of the Narcissist. When people begin to see through it, they may be discarded and replaced
  2. Showboating
    1. He has a captive audience, and he monopolizes on it 
    2. He tells jokes nobody finds funny, but people have to laugh
    3. He shares personal anecdotes and details that nobody cares about
    4. Comes in singing out of tune, jovial, as though he is a star, everyone’s happy to see him (they ARE happy he is in a good mood, rather than the alternative)
    5. He shares completely unnecessary health details, stories, etc., as though he is a star, and every tabloid in town (and every employee) would just love to know how he digested that chicken sandwich last night
    6. Does not care about others. When others try to also share personal pain, he uses religious language to downplay their problems, such as saying, “it could be worse,” “what are you complaining about? You dare young!” 
    7. Anything that others share on “good days” may be turned against them as leverage on “bad days.” If you share a weakness, he will consider you damaged goods: you will probably never recover in his eyes 

Power

  1. Holds all forms of power
    1. Purchasing, 
    2. Scheduling
    3. Training
    4. All important decisions
    5. Access to important parts of the workplace 
    6. Access to essential equipment 
  2. His critiques are put-downs, not constructive criticism
    1. Punitive, not restorative discipline
    2. Often public
    3. Often as joke or else as “blowing the lid” (“can’t take it with you guys anymore!”)
    4. No chance to understand how to do better. No warning, way to avert public shaming
    5. Causes one to “scurry” and be anxious (or else give up, exasperated)
    6. NOT training: refuses to take accountability 
  3. Confusing org chart
    1. Based on complex social rules of narcissism
    2. Based on golden child, scapegoat (see below)
    3. No clear line to promotion: need to suck-up to the leader (control)
    4. Leadership structures which are put into place purposely allowed to decay, so that narcissist can be “forced” to run everything 
  4. Takes no ownership/responsibility
    1. “I’m not the boss”
    2. “I didn’t train you”
    3. “You should know that by now!”
    4. “That’s not my department”
    5. Always manages to make things the responsibility of others

Asserting Dominance

  1. Micro-put downs (“Hen Pecking”)
    1. Like a hen, he is constantly obsessed with hierarchy, and will randomly “peck” at others to show his dominance
    2. Pet names
    3. Insults
    4. Jabs
    5. Jokes
    6. “Funny” stories at the expense of others 
  2. Collective guilt/put-downs 
    1. He will refer to everyone else (or everyone he considers beneath him) collectively. He will disparage “you guys” collectively, as responsible for all of the messes/problems. In so doing, excluding himself from the problem.
    2. “You guys never clean up!”
    3. “You guys always break stuff!”
    4. “You guys are so slow!”
    5. “I can’t believe you guys!”
    6. They seem angry, but this is actually what they want. 
    7. They want minions, not peers: they want others to make mistakes, as it makes them look good. 
    8. If others really shine, then the narcissist will create a crisis of some sort to bring the spotlight back onto himself. 
  3. Making a big deal of accomplishments/titles
    1. You know all of his titles, years of seniority, and accomplishments, because he has “let it slip” multiple times
    2. At times, uses his “status” to get his way, try to win arguments, (“If you were working here as long as I was, you would know…”)

Deception/Hypocrisy

  1. Pathological liar
    1. He usually does not tell outright lies, but subtly shifts all of the stories to tilt in his favour
    2. Will shift narrative: 
      1. He was the victim, you were the villain
      2. He was the hero, you were just a minor lackey
    3. It will always, always, always come down to this. He is always either the victim or the hero. His creativity will seemingly have no limits when it comes to recasting the story in such a way as to make himself the victim or the hero of every story. 
    4. If you let him, his story will become the narrative!
  2. Pretends to be friend: but not really your friend
    1. He may want something from you, and is recruiting you
    2. He has good days and bad days
    3. Uses info from good days against you on bad days
    4. People may say, “It takes a while for him to warm up to new people.” Actually, he just has no use for people with no training, as he refuses to ever give anything to anyone. Once you are trained, you are useful to him. When you are no longer useful, he will treat you like garbage again. 
    5. Constant threat of firing you: no regard for you personally 
  3. Two-faced
    1. How he is in private
    2. How he is in public, around superiors, from the pulpit

Narcissistic Rage

  1. Narcissistic Rage
    1. In a split second, narcissist can fly into an incredible rage, with fury so intense that it can mark people for life. However, narcissists are often careful to only show this rage in carefully chosen locations and to certain people. When called on it, they may say something like, “Oh, we were just having a discussion. I guess we remember things differently.”
    2. The root of narcissistic rage is the deep insecurity that rages inside of a narcissist
      1. They likely did not have healthy attachments as a child 
      2. They may have had significant traumas as a child
      3. They may have deeply internalized shame, and self-loathing
      4. They seem to have found that the only way to feel whole is to push others down, and force others to give them attention — both positive and negative — and distract them from their troubled internal world
      5. …at times, they can strategically allow their inner turmoil to “spill over” in a tremendous flood of anger, vitriol, and sometimes violent behaviours and profanity
    3. Behind the scenes, narcissistic rage is the unspoken organizing factor of the workplace:
      1. They have been told, “it is your fault” that the pastor flew into a rage
      2. Employees are very careful not to do the same things again
      3. Employees begin tip-toeing around the pastor, and become very fully controlled, as they fear awakening his rage

Structural Issues

  1. Poor communicator 
    1. Expects you to read his mind
    2. Likes having you off balance 
      1. Jokes/insults rather than giving clear instructions
      2. Teases you about a mistake. “Oh, do you want me to stop doing that?” “Oh no, I just though it was funny!” (Left wondering what he means. “Do you want me to do that or not…?”)
      3. Uses sarcasm, laughs when saying something serious, may use unnecessarily long words and otherwise uses confusing language to purposely confuse others. He will then blame the confusion on them. 
    3. Discourages people from asking him questions: he may be grumpy, or threaten to go into a rage if disturbed (this is particularly troubling because he has also set up the organization so that literally everything needs to go through him) 
    4. Does not prioritize basic communication (clear emails, texts, meetings, simple commands/statements)
    5. Secretly Enjoys chaos. Secretly enjoys it when communication breaks down to where he has to storm in “as the saviour,” yell at people, gesture emphatically, and put everyone and everything in its place. This is a very good day for his ego!
  2. Supplies: no consistency
    1. Big show of purchasing
    2. Waits until supplies run low
    3. Blames employees for “using them up”
    4. Grumbles, complains “I just bought a bunch!!”
    5. No system, no plan
    6. Encourages hoarding, materials from home

Creating a Toxic Workplace

  1. Divide workplace 
    1. Golden child
    2. Scapegoats
    3. Everyone in between
  2. Everything someone’s fault
    1. Never boss
    2. Forces hiding
    3. Forces blame shifting
    4. Punished self-reporting

Summary: A toxic workplace is

  1. Divided/cutthroat/gossipy
  2. Tense/on edge
  3. Performance driven (may lead to short-term gains, at the expense of company longevity and employee health)
  4. Poorly managed
  5. Quality goes down/nobody cares for “meta-structure”
  6. Those who can, leave
  7. Attracts narcissists and codependents. Affects long term culture. If there’s one, there will be others. Do you reward work or politics? You get what you design for. 

Is this a goood way to operate?

  1. It is a way to operate. It works. Better than no leadership. Probably best in some crisis situations (eg. military, short-term projects, competitive game-shows, or when one leader has significantly more experience than others/employees can’t be trusted)
  2. It could be much better, with healthy leader
    1. Less competition 
    2. Clear leadership
    3. Good training 
    4. Delegation
    5. No petty holding on to purchasing, schedule, etc.
    6. Longevity/Productivity/returns I Ruth long run. Long term employees 
    7. A team spirit/cooperation. A sense of pride 

Effects on self

  1. Second guessing lose confidence (gaslighting) 
  2. Questioning judgment, competency (“you never…” becomes “I never…)
  3. Angry, frustrated, rage, no outlet, (called over sensitive, pathetic, can’t take a joke)
  4. Trouble sleeping: overthinking the day, your narrative vs. pastor’s narrative. 
  5. Becoming catty, playing game. Obsessed with status, winning favour, avoiding blame, divisive.
  6. Performance driven issues: perfectionism, never satisfied, image-driven (body issues)

…a sort of death/rebirth…

  1. Lose yourself
  2. Question your mind
  3. Angry: learn to release anger (“submit”)
  4. Into your head: dreams, obsession, stress, “circle-thoughts”
  5. Begin playing the game: competing, seeing others as the problem, believing narrative
  6. Working harder than ever, serving, sacrificing, unsatisfied with self
  7. …eventual discard…

How to deal with it?

  1. Become strongest/best version of yourself
    1. Find healing: get what you need elsewhere 
      1. Counselling
      2. Great personal relationships
    2. Keep work at work, home at home (if it is a toxic workplace)
      1. Division between family and church if not healthy
      2. Seek health first!
  2. Stand up for yourself 
    1. Push back against silencing tools:
    2. Get some space
  3. …speak your own truth
    1. Not yelling match, but
    2. Careful records, mental notes
    3. Might be worth doing reports Do not let him control the narrative in your mind!
    4. Ways to present to superiors
    5. Need to play the game:
      1. Keep track of what you do. Shine
      2. Keep track of when things break, enough to say, “that wasn’t me” (may need yo report, but not helpful to make enemies)
    6. Ideally, he will come to
      1. Find you useful
      2. Find arguments are usually lost
      3. Fear you slightly (reports, documentation are powerful) but not TOO much
      4. Grudgingly accept you
      5. Find a niche in the organization 
  4. Don’t let him shift the narrative! 
  5. Speak truth (but cautiously)
  6. If possible, find way to transfer to better job

Want to hear more? Listen to my discussion of Narcissism on my podcast!

Emotional Repression and Panic Attacks

“Our gut feelings signal what is safe, life sustaining, or threatening, even if we cannot quite explain why we feel a particular way. Our sensory interiority continuously sends us subtle messages about the needs of our organism. Gut feelings also help us to evaluate what is going on around us. They warn us that the guy who is approaching feels creepy, but they also convey that a room with western exposure surrounded by daylilies makes us feel serene. If you have a comfortable connection with your inner sensations—if you can trust them to give you accurate information—you will feel in charge of your body, your feelings, and your self. However, traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves. The more people try to push away and ignore internal warning signs, the more likely they are to take over and leave them bewildered, confused, and ashamed. People who cannot comfortably notice what is going on inside become vulnerable to respond to any sensory shift either by shutting down or by going into a panic—they develop a fear of fear itself.

We now know that panic symptoms are maintained largely because the individual develops a fear of the bodily sensations associated with panic attacks.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk MD


The attack may be triggered by something he or she knows is irrational, but fear of the sensations keeps them escalating into a full-body emergency. “Scared stiff” and “frozen in fear” (collapsing and going numb) describe precisely what terror and trauma feel like. They are its visceral foundation. The experience of fear derives from primitive responses to threat where escape is thwarted in some way. People’s lives will be held hostage to fear until that visceral experience changes. The price for ignoring or distorting the body’s messages is being unable to detect what is truly dangerous or harmful for you and, just as bad, what is safe or nourishing. *Self-regulation depends on having a friendly relationship with your body.* Without it you have to rely on external regulation—from medication, drugs like alcohol, constant reassurance, or compulsive compliance with the wishes of others. Many of my patients respond to stress not by noticing and naming it but by developing migraine headaches or asthma attacks.”

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk MD

Perspective…

I’ve decided to change my perspective. 
Crazy stuff isn’t just happening to me this year. 
I am surviving crazy stuff. I’m making brave and decisive decisions in the midst of chaos. I’ll tell my grandkids about the things I lived through this year. Pandemic, economic crash, forest fire…
It’s kind of an adventure.
Still insane, and I’m giving myself full permission to feel all of the feelings right now. 
But my mindset is shifting. I am a survivor.

[A forest fire nearly burned down our town last week. We were evacuated and were refugees for seven days. Some very kind people and camps opened up their doors to us. The fire was stopped just two kilometres from town, enabling us to return home last night.]

Mirroring in Parenting

Being excited when our kids are excited, sad when they are sad, taking fear seriously, and reacting appropriately to anger is called “mirroring.” It is literally one of the most important things that we can do for our kids, because it is how a young brain learns empathy. Children whose parents are distant, not engaged, or out of touch with their own feelings to not have their emotions “mirrored” back to them. A crucial stage in their development is missed. They may grow up out of touch with their own emotions, and incapable of understanding the emotions of others. This is how narcissists and sociopaths are made. But parents of emotionally healthy, engaged parents have a huge advantage in life, and the gift of being in touch with their own emotions, and those of others.
“Weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.” (Rom. 12:15) It is important!

Trigger Warnings are Real

I used to laugh at “trigger warnings.” I think I may have even called people “snowflakes” a time or two and wondered why they couldn’t be tough like me?
…then I experienced real trauma, PTSD, and had real experience with triggers. It is stupid. It makes zero sense. It can be the smallest thing. Not even a word, but just a tone or infection, a smell or a thought, or a post on Facebook. Somewhere in my brain, alarm bells go off and it’s like I’m living my worst moments all over again.
Big, strong, fit, “have it all together” me starts feeling body pangs, headaches, brain fog, fatigue, irrational anger, and sleeping for hours.
Triggers are real. And people who experience them are not weak. They have been traumatized. Trauma is different for each person, and it often makes no sense.
Be kind to your friends. Use and respect trigger warnings. It doesn’t have to make sense to you: just be kind. Rather than feeling superior (as I used to) feel grateful that you don’t have to put up with the hell of ptsd.
Just…be kind. ✌️ ❤️ ✌️

Review: Mary L. Trump’s, “Too Much, Never Enough”

This was a fascinating, and extremely well written book! Studying narcissistic dynamics can at times feel academic, confusing, and far removed. Writing as a psychologist, with a doctorate in psychology, author Mary L. Trump, PhD, (niece of Donald Trump) lays three generations of her family’s dysfunctional history bare. It is a fascinating case study in the effects of emotionally unavailable and sociopathic parents on their children, the selection (and later rejection) of the “golden child,” and dynamics like competition and conditional acceptance. Readers also get a front-row seat to sad and troubling instances of emotional, verbal, and financial abuse, and their devastating consequences on adult children. 

I am sure that this book will be spun as a “political book.” And that is fair, because the authors stated motivation in writing this book is exposing the truth that lurks behind the Trump image. I cannot comment on the historical or political relevance or accuracy of the book. 

But as a psychological case study, and as a memoir, I thought this book was one of the finest books that I have read this year. Five stars. I highly recommend it!

My EMDR/PTSD Experience

I hope one day soon to restart my podcast. I would like to prioritize interviews, and begin with several interviews with the main counsellors who have helped me on my recent journey. I would like to talk to Bob, the counsellor from Alongside who helped me so sinficantly with my Post Traumatic Stress syndrome from my kidnapping in Africa through the technique called EMDR.

A few weeks ago, as I was driving home, I was thinking of this and running through a dialogue with Bob in my mind. However, I found that I did not really want to think of the specifics of the accident. I could talk about it in the actual interview, I thought, but I don’t want to right now.

This decision alone was huge. Before, making such a decision would have been pointless: the memories of my trauma were everywhere, and they popped up all of the time. Literally — all. of. the. time. But this time I just casually said, No, I don’t think I wan to open up that box.

I still wanted to continue with my mental interview, and so I created a metaphor. The interview went like this:

Myself: I just wanted to thank you so much for the difference that you made in my life through EMDR.”

Bob: Oh, you’re welcome!

Myself: I would like to talk more with you about how it works. But first, I thought it would be nice for listeners to hear from me just what a difference it made.

Bob: That would be great!

Myself: Well, as you know, something bad happened in Africa. My life was in danger, and for several hours I was a captive with no escape and was forced to do things (sign papers, etc) and go places (into dark rooms) that I did not want to.

Bob: Yes, this sense of intense danger and powerlessness is the precursor to PTSD. Your mind was overwhelmed, and stored the memories in a very jumbled way in your mind. Your mind also wanted to “fix” the trauma after it happened, by making sense of it, and making sure that it would not happen again. Most PTSD survivors find that they struggle with unwanted thoughts, nightmares, thoughts intruding into their regular lives, obsessing about the trauma, and very intense guilt.

Myself: Yes, that about sums it up. When they did a brain scan at your retreat centre, they found that a part of my brain was lit up almost all of the time. I often had headaches in that region. Part of me was still trying to escape from that small room in Africa.

Bob: OK, so what did that feel like? What did EMDR do for you?

Myself: Well, it was a bit like this. Imagine that there had been a very tragic death. Someone important to you had died. Not just died, but been dismembered. And now, their body parts were scattered everywhere.

Bob: OK…

Myself: So now, when I go to brush my teeth, I see a dismembered arm there next to my toothbrush. And my heart suddenly races, and I take a few deep breaths. Everyone around me is still talking and I’m trying to get the kids ready for bed. But inside, I am now trying to think how to put this person back together again.

Bob: Wow…

Myself: And then I go down to talk to my wife, but on the way I trip over a dismembered foot. No idea why it is there. These things don’t make sense. But rather than talk to her, I walk over to the kitchen. There is a dismembered leg on the table. I sit and spend about ten minutes thinking about the accident, and trying to put these two limbs back together. I feel like I’m getting somewhere, and put then in the corner for safe keeping. My wife asks me, “What were you thinking about?” and I say, “Nothing. How was your day?” I try hard to come back to reality, and feel normal.

Bob: And so these dismembered body parts you are talking about — these are images from your accident?

Myself: Yes. I don’t want to talk about the accident. It doesn’t feel nice, even now. And so I am making a metaphor. But in many ways it was like that. Like I kept tripping over dismembered body parts all over. They had the same effect on me as a rotting hand would have on a normal person: except that I was the only one who could see them. Sometimes it took a lot of effort to not be frustrated at the kids, or to pay attention to my wife as she talked about “boring normal life.” My trauma seemed very important to me, in a way, even though I just wanted to stop thinking about it.

Bob: And did you try to stop thinking about it?

Myself: All the time! Of course I did! I would shove the body parts anywhere that I could: under the mattress, in the garbage, buried in the garden, or thrown off a cliff. Somehow, they would always come creeping back in.

Bob: Spooky!

Myself: Yes, it was spooky. And the worst of it was the messages.

Bob: Messages?

Myself: Yes. They all had messages. Sometimes they would speak them, sometimes they were written in big black letters, and attached like an old-fashioned price tag to a finger or an eyeball or a femur.

Bob: What did the messages say?

Myself: Mostly, variations of, “It was your fault.” That was the worst message. Also things like, “What were you doing there?” “Your kids could have been orphans!” “You were in over your head!” “If you had’ve done xyz, you would have died! You were this close to a horrible death, and you didn’t even know it!” “You’re such an idiot.” “You’re such a fool!” “You always mess up.” “You’re never enough.”

Bob: Wow. Those are some pretty negative messages. How did it affect the rest of your life?

Myself: I knew, on some level, that the messages weren’t true. But it was very hard to go on with life sometimes. I felt like these messages were the truth, and I was just trying to delude myself that I was OK, and a good person. I felt like that accident tested me, and found me wanting. Really, I was a terrible person inside. I was a coward, I was weak, I was a bumbling fool that almost got himself killed. That is how I felt.

Bob: OK, so aside from trying to stop thinking about it, what else did you do?

Myself: Something that really didn’t help was the “testimony culture” of Christianity. I really felt like since this accident happened while being a missionary, I should weave that into a testimony somehow. And so in addition to the times when it popped up unannounced, I was trying to stick hands and arms and limbs together with bible verses, to make some sort of a sermon or testimony.

Bob: Gross

Myself: Yeah: that really cost me a lot of night’s sleep. It was really unhelpful to try to do that.

Bob: Did you end up talking about it to others?

Myself: I did. I used it as a sermon illustration once, in fairly great detail. It really wiped me out. It brought up a lot of emotion while I was speaking, which definitely communicated loudly to the audience, and made for a memorable sermon. But it was extremely taxing for myself. I remember leaving with a very strong headache. Then I had to teach for four hours: it was not a wise move.

Bob: Did you talk to counsellors as well?

Myself: The day after the accident, I talked to a director with my mission about it.

Bob: How did that go?

Myself: He meant well, but he listened to my side, then told me all of the things that I did wrong. Later he sent out an email to everybody else, earning them not do do what I did.

Bob: Did he mention you?

Myself: No, but everybody already knew about it. It was a tight community. It’s worth noting that I had not received specific training on handling traffic accidents in that country: they are handled completely different than in the west. Also, our office was in the territory of a very powerful gang. Almost nobody knew this before my accident. Those were some details shared in the email. I was glad others now knew, but the timing of it also made it feel (to me) like I should have known these things, and that I was out of line.

Bob: What was that like?

Myself: Not good. This time is really a blur to me. It felt like my brain liquified and was trying to find itself again. The story of “it was your fault” and “you’re such a bumbling fool!” Made sense to me. So my brain kinda ran with it. I started feeling a lot of guilt.

Bob: What did that feel like, in your body?

Myself: My wife tells me “you were not alright.” I’m not exactly sure what that meant. I was there, but not there. There were things that I had to do, and I did them, including facing my accuser and going to the police station again. Somehow I found the strength to be totally normal when I wanted to, but I was not seeking and things like casual conversation were totally impossible. My right eye began twitching and that stayed with me for three years. It still comes back.

Bob: What helps, when your eye twitches?

Myself: Oddly enough — eating bananas. Something I read online. I think it’s a potassium deficiency? But my eye never twitched before the accident.

Bob: Did you have any more helpful interactions?

Myself: I did several sessions. A few days after the accident, I talked with a therapist who listened to the details, and calmly said, “It sounds like you did your best. This accident really was not your fault, but you made good decisions for yourself and your family.” That really helped a lot. I think that my stress level went from about a nine to a four out of ten.

Bob: That is a big reduction!

Myself: Yes, but then it stayed there.

Bob: Did you try other types of counselling?

Myself: I tried some Christian visualization counselling called Caring for the Heart. I visualized Jesus there with me, and forgave everyone.

Bob: Did that help?

Myself: I’m not sure. It felt good while I was doing it. But I think that my stress still stayed at about a four. Strangely enough, although I forgave everybody and forgave myself and God and the whole works…I still struggled with feelings of both guilt and blame. The accident involved a motorbike, for example. I had a hard time not feeling feelings of rage towards reckless motorbikers after that. I think I felt less rage towards motorbikes after the counselling. But I still felt just as much internalized shame towards myself.

Bob: So how did EMDR help?

Myself: Well, as you know, you asked me what message summarized all of the other messages. I said something like, “I was a fat, ugly, white, incompetent fool. I got in over my head, and almost got myself killed.”

Bob: Yes, I remember.

Myself: Then, you asked me what message I would like to believe. This one took me longer to think of. But somewhere inside of me, I knew that those messages weren’t true. I know that a lot of people have analyzed the accident, and told me that I did very well, considering the impossible circumstances. I forget exactly what I wrote down. But it was something contrary to the “ugly and fat” message.

Bob: OK, and then what happened?

Myself: Well, you gave me those vibrating things in my hands. First the right, then the left would vibrate. When they did, a light would flash on top. This would get my eyes moving back and forth. I felt like as I moved my eyes like this, I went into a calmer and more meditative state of mind. We worked together to imagine a “happy and secure” place, which was for me running down a trail in a light rain. I guess so that I could mentally return there after the session. Then you asked me to think of the event for a few minutes, then pause and talk about it. I was not very good at it at first. I just ran around collecting all of the body parts, and reading the tags, and then everything that I had written onto the bottom of the tags. Like, “It was my fault…but it wasn’t really my fault, because of xyz, but also, this connects to that and there’s this bible verse and, and…”

Bob: I think I probably told you not to think rationally about the accident.

Myself: Yes, you told me just to hold the images in my mind. Just to let them pass by, like images going past the windows of a train.

Bob: How was that?

Myself: Hard! I had spent so much time dealing just with the jumbled “body parts,” I hadn’t really thought about the accident. I tried to bring up memories. The images were very strange. It was like there were two-dimensional slides of things from that time. They didn’t seem life-like, and didn’t always fit what I thought I remembered about the event.

Bob: Where did that take you?

Myself: Well, as we would do the vibrations, I slowly worked my way in my mind through the stages of the accident. It was all very familiar: and yet I noticed things that I hadn’t seen before.

Bob: What did that feel like, in your body?

Myself: It was taxing, and tiring. I went back to our dorm exhausted after that session. However, it was not traumatic.

Bob: How do you mean?

Myself: It is traumatic to find a toe in your coffee. It is not traumatic to attend a funeral. It was really sad, it really bothered me. All of me felt the pain of it. But it didn’t disturb me in the same way. It wasn’t “wrong,” if you know what I mean? It just felt like…you know, for the first time, it felt like I was feeling the right things at the right times for the right events.

Bob: (wisely) hm….

Myself: I think that the first thing that I said after we were done our first session was, “Well, that happened.” That was actually a very profound thing to say. It happened. I am honouring it. I am admitting that it happened. And it happened. It happened in the past. We are honouring the pain of it through grief. It was terrible, what happened. But now, it is in the past. It happened.

Bob: That makes sense. When we have a traumatic event, it overwhelms the brain’s systems. And the memory is not stored into long term storage correctly. It is scattered around the brain, and the brain tries to process it. This processing usually happens in the front part of your brain, responsible for rational thought, and things like guilt and shame. We do not exactly know why EMDR works. We only know that when we move our eyes rapidly back and forth (or stimulate the body bilaterally, for example through vibrating one hand, then the other) it turns all of our brains on. This enables our whole brains to process the event, and to gradually put it into its place.

Myself: That is really how I felt. I went back to our dorm that night, and quickly journaled out everything that we had discussed. (See my journal entry, here) It made me sad, but again — did not traumatize me. I did not feel “activated,” like I needed to solve a problem, or like my heart was racing. I did not feel guilty — just sad. When my wife read it, she commented that I had noticed many details I had not noticed before. Later, when I read this version of the accident and compared it to what I had written before (I have written the accident out a few times) what stood out to me was the calmness of it. In previous versions, I am so angry at some of the people that hurt me, and sometimes very defensive of my own actions, or ashamed. I did not ever feel like I could share the records with anyone. It came across as vindictive and spiteful. But this account was just…neutral. “Here lies the record of what happened.”

Bob: How did that look inside of you?

Myself: It was like there was an undertaker who came from deep inside. He was a quiet man: sad, but regal. He was very clean and professional, dressed in a suit. As we worked, he quietly moved around my mind, collecting body parts, and placing them in a casket. As he did, “Amazing Grace,” “It is Well,” and “When Peace Like a River,” rang out on the church organ, and purple and dim orange light filtered through the stain glass windows. When I left, I felt peaceful, sombre, and more whole.

Bob: Sometimes, when we do EMDR, there is something like a “deep wisdom” that comes up from deep inside and speaks to our issues. Did you have an experience like this?

Myself: Oh yes! For sure I did!

Bob: Would you like to share that?

Myself: Well, the ordering of things is a bit hard to reconstruct. As you recall, we had several sessions, and we kept getting distracted by all my other issues and things that I had always wanted to talk to a counsellor about. We talked about masturbation, Pink Floyd, and how to discipline children in an emotionally healthy way.

Bob: I remember!

Myself: …but once we got back to the actual event, I remember at some point, a strong message began to surface. A continual theme, as I reviewed the accident with fresh eyes was that actually, I did pretty damn good in how I handled things. I was there because I cared. I put myself in a very difficult country, in a difficult and dangerous situation. Not because I was a fool or selfish, but because I cared deeply — even for people I had never met. When the accident happened, I made a split-second decision to save my family, at the risk of my own safety. This decision cost me, and was what ultimately placed me in harm’s way: but it was a brave decision. I may have saved my wife’s life: and I may have aced my own children from significant childhood trauma. I had not been trained on how to handle traffic accidents in this country: I was doing the best that I could with the knowledge that I had. I saw how time and again, one tactic did not work, I shifted to another tactic. I eventually found the tactic (passivity and contrition) that worked to get me out of that dangerous situation.

Bob: How would you summarize that?

Myself: I remember the message, I am competent. That came very powerfully from inside. All of a sudden, the body part that I was holding now had the message attached to it, “You are competent.” The message was written in the same dark, permanent marker. I did not write it, but I knew that it was true. I handed it to the mortician as he soberly placed it in the coffin. The coffin was now becoming full of little white tags, all with the message, “you are competent,” “you are competent,” “you are competent.” I feel like crying. It was very true, that message! I still did not like looking into the coffin, obviously.

Bob: Obviously.

Myself: There was another message. Looking at it again, I began to see (becoming emotional) just how often God came to save me. I did not even realize it, but even when I thought I was completely alone, I was surrounded by deliverers.

Bob: Go on…

Myself: I found out later that even my main captor was secretly a Christian, who was pretending to be angry, to work for my release. God had gotten hundreds of people praying for me. Several people found their way into the room with me. I found out later that even the army was ready to pull me out if I needed it!

Bob: Wow!

Myself: God…(gentle sob)…God was there. Not just in a spiritual sense, like I was told to visualize by the Christian counsellor. But God was rescuing me. It is so true, I cannot deny it. I began to see many of the body parts had this message written on them as well. I feel like this message was written in red, so deep and so clear: “God is always coming to rescue you.” Over and over I saw this message (tears). As we kept talking, the coffin slowly filled with body parts. From my vantage point, I could not see the body parts anymore: but all of the tags stood up. They were black and red: “You are competent, and your God is always coming to save you!”

Bob: I think I remember that we ran out of time towards the end.

Myself: Yes, you said something when we were about half an hour overtime. Thank you for being generous with your time!

Bob: What did it feel like to be asked to wrap up quickly?

Myself: Well, there were kind of endless details after the accident that were also hard. Conversations with the mission (in themselves, traumatic). I had to go back to the police station. I had to face the person who had been in the accident, and had caused my kidnapping. There were lots of triggers that I did not have time to process with the same care.

Bob: Did these things stay “out of the coffin” after the fact?

Myself: Strangely, no. When you hinted that we were running out of time, I distinctly remember myself being pulled up from the scene. I saw all of it — in quite vivid detail, actually, I can still visualize it — from the air. I could see all the buildings, the street, the accident from above. All of this is in the past, I thought. I guess it went in the coffin too. I am not sure.

Bob: What did it feel like leaving the session.

Myself: Honestly, it was a bit weird. I feel like I could have handled 3-4 more sessions on the accident. I hate it when counselling sessions run out of time! But that is the reality of life.

Bob: Yes…

Myself: I do remember as we were wrapping up, I suddenly and very calmly said, “I almost died.” I think that was the first time that I really got it.

Bob: Yes, I remember you saying that.

Myself: I left, and I said it again, several times: “I almost died.” When I got back, I told my wife I was going for a run. I put music on and just cleared my mind and jogged through the woods.

Bob: Jogging is also bilateral stimulation. It can also stimulate the EMDR effect, especially if you are jogging through the woods, as your eyes will naturally be drawn back and forth.

Myself: I don’t remember the jog much. But I think that is when the mortician gathered up the last of the toes and swept up the fingernails and put it all in the coffin. I looked in for one last look, but he had already wrapped it up like an Egyptian mummy. The memory was all white and clean and together. In big black letters he had written very darkly and and in block letters on the wrapping, “You are competent,” and below that, in very full, curvy and vivacious letters it said, “…and my God is always coming to save me!” It made me happy and sad to see it. It makes me want to cry when I think about it, but in a good way. By the time that I got home, the mortician had closed the casket. The casket was an old Egyptian sarcophagus. It was made in the shape of the dead body, but all in gold and beautiful. On the chest was a small plate that read, “One day in Africa, there was an accident. The negotiations went sideways, and I was kidnapped for an afternoon, and had symptoms of post traumatic stress for four years, until they were resolved through EMDR.” Anyone who wants to can see the sarcophagus. It really is beautiful. It is kind of an elegant lie, in the way that all very true things are. Anytime that I want to, I can open the lid. Inside, I can read the message, “I am competent, and my God is always coming to save me.” This message is not for others, they would not understand. But I know that it is true. It is very true. It was written in strong marker: I did not write it, and cannot erase it.

Bob: That is really beautiful

Myself: On his way out the door (I’m speaking metaphorically)

Bob: Yes, I gathered that…

Myself: On his way out the door, the mortician handed me a card. It was from one of the body parts. It read the same message, in the same writing, “You are competent, and my God is always coming to save me.” I didn’t know where to put it, so I attached it to my left index finger. It flutters about from time to time, and sometimes when I get scared, it catches my attention. Then, the mortician went out the door, and I think he climbed down a deep well to go to sleep. He is happy down there and will come back anytime that he is needed.

Bob: It has now been six months since your EMDR session. How has your experience been since?

Myself: Well, now that I think about it, the weeks right after the session were a bit messy still. I think the mortician and I were still working to find all of the “body parts” from all the parts of the brain. After the funeral, we had to keep opening up the casket to put in one more piece.

Bob: Few things in the mind are completely cut-and-dried.

Myself: Yes, but the EMDR really gave me a great tool. Once I learned what it felt like, I could give myself a hug, bow my head, and tap my shoulders alternately. I could drop pretty quickly into an EMDR state, and invite my brain to fix itself.

Bob: Really? What was this like?

Myself: Well, for example, maybe I was bothered about something, but didn’t know what. Maybe I only knew that I felt irritable, or my stress level seemed high.

Bob: So what did you do?

Myself: I learned to find a quiet place — usually in the shower, actually — and to do this self-EMDR practice on myself. I would ask myself questions. “Why are you stressed,” or “What fo you want to say to me, body?” I learned to talk to myself as though there were a small boy living inside. This boy was not very articulate, but had very strong emotions.

Bob: Yes, that is a common way of describing our unconscious and emotional minds.

Myself: I learned that when I felt “off,” I could often ask my inner child what the problem was. If I listened, he would tell me.

Bob: What did that feel like?

Myself: It would usually be one or two words, but accompanied with a lot of emotions. It was always something that surprised me, but instantly made sense. Something that I had not been paying attention to, but should have. Like, “I am scared,” and I had a mental picture of a person or situation that my rational mind thought was normal, but parts of me felt uneasy. Or else “I am lonely,” and I realized that I have been working very hard, and not taking adequate time for self care.

Bob: That sounds like a really powerful tool.

Myself: Yes, it has been! EMDR not only helped me to resolve this very significant trauma, but also helped me to see myself as a whole person, composed of body, soul, and mind. It helped me to get in touch with the deep wisdom of my mind, and it enabled “all of me” to begin speaking and communicating once again. Really, it has boosted me onto a journey of becoming a whole, and integrated person.

Bob: That is really wonderful! I am so glad that I was able to be part of this experience.

Myself: When it came to EMDR, you were just the facilitator. My own brain did all of the work.

Bob: I know. This is how it usually is.

Myself: …but when it came to other topics, your wisdom was incredible!

Bob: Oh, thank you!

Myself: Now that we’ve talked bout Pink Floyd, there is a song from Queen that I really would like to discuss sometime.

Bob: I hope that we can make it happen!

Myself: Sometime soon, I hope!

Bob: OK, well, glad that I could help. God bless!

****

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a clinically proven therapy technique for resolving post traumatic stress and other traumas. It is non-obtrusive, and simply involves moving one’s eyes back and forth while thinking about the trauma. I have also found that it can be helpful in “mindfulness,” or in the journey of becoming more aware of one’s own emotions, or the feelings that one is feeling in their body.

Christians should not feel afraid of EMDR. Unlike talk therapy, there is very very little “talking” in an EMDR session: the person simply relives the event. It feels very normal, like having a conversation. No matter what your theology, it does not seem like EMDR should be objectionable: you won’t get demons, and you won’t get led astray. This is just your mind healing itself.

People who have been through a deeply painful trauma (such as I was) may rightly feel that “they just don’t want to go there.” I totally get that. There is a wisdom in each person that will not allow them to face a mental trauma that they are not able to endure. I will not tell anyone to ignore that voice. EMDR is hard work, and it is emotionally draining. It is just wise to be in a place where you can handle it. However, considering the enormous relief of having trauma “put to rest,” one may consider that it is worth the short-term pain for long-term gain. I would say, from experience, that EMDR does not feel like reliving your trauma. It feels more like attending a funeral about your trauma. To put it another way: your anxiety, fight-or-flight, adrenaline responses are not triggered (at least, they weren’t for me). Rather, what I experienced was profound sadness, and feelings of loss. Afterwards, I felt sad for a while, and also felt like, “wow, I did a lot of hard work!” I wanted to sleep, and do “sad things,” like drinking coffee and staring out a window into the rain would have been perfect. It was a sad time, but “grief means something is moving into the past.” Grief is not all bad. I understand that some people may not want to do EMDR because they do not want to face their trauma. That is your own decision to make; I hope my thoughts here can help you make that decision.

People who have been traumatized over a long-term relationship, or a childhood of moderate to extreme domestic abuse or dysfunction can also find relief through EMDR. As I found towards the end of my session, it seems that the mind is able to “summarize” things: as I flew at around 300 ft above, I could see most of the city in which I was kidnapped. My mind told itself, all of that is in the past. And really, it was. And so it seems hopeful that EMDR could help a person realize that all of that is in the past, as it relates to a difficult person or relationship in their past.

For a more detailed look at the event in question, and for a record of what I wrote after the EMDR session, you can read my post, “I Almost Died in Africa.

Externalization

The problem with externalizing your problems is that you cannot fix them.
“You make me so angry.”
“Why do women have to be so immodest?”
“Elevators make me so anxious!”
These are not problems that you can fix, because they are not within your circle of influence. They will only make you angry, frustrated, and powerless. (You will feel THOSE emotions inside of you, and act aggressively or defensively to protect yourself from this perceived external threat)
“His actions reminded me that I have an anger problem.”
“Her body reminded me that I have a lust problem.”
“Elevators remind me that I may have a problem with enclosed spaces.”
…these are all problems that you can work on, because they are located within your circle of influence: yourself. Don’t blame your 💩 on others. Own it. Work on it. That is the only way that you can begin to change for the better!

The Body Keeps the Score: Citations

I am reading The body keeps the score: the body keeps the score brain mind and body in the healing of trauma. This is one of the most important books on PTSD and trauma out today. It is long and detailed, but not difficult to read. Written by a clinical psychologist who has spent a lifetime studying trauma, and being on the forefront of the evolving face of trauma research over the 20th century, here is a summary of what he found:
1. Traumatic responses used to be labelled as “hysterics,” and generally dismissed as “the weakness of women” up until the 20th century.
2. Freud found that actually, many women who suffered from bouts of uncontrolled emotions were actually molested as children, causing very complex reactions later in life. Other phenomenon were also noted, such as mind-induced paralysis and illnesses as a result of trauma.
3. Freud (the father of modern psychology) developed the “talking cure,” and found that often, when someone was able to describe their traumatic event in exact detail, they were able to put it to rest and their physical symptoms subsided
4. After WWI, tens of thousands of war vets came home, displaying symptoms of “shell shock”: an inability to cope with life, irritability, moodiness, flash-backs, depression, a tendency towards substance abuse, and intense guilt. Even “the talking cure” was often not adequate for helping veterans. Psychologists began trying in earnest to find a cure for “shell-shock.”
5. WWII erupted, causing even more cases of “shell-shock.” Both the Germans and the English military repressed the term “shell-shock” because it caused soldiers to be sent home early from the front, and cost them too much in medical discharges. Psychologists continued to study the issue, eventually labelling it, “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.”
6. What was discovered is that when the body experiences extreme stress, the brain can become overloaded. Memories of the event are stored in a chaotic and jumbled way. These memories come back in pieces to torment the victim of PTSD, often for their entire lives.
7. During and after the Vietnam war, the issue was once again studied in depth. One helpful therapy which was developed was group therapy sessions, where survivors of similar traumas would share their stories together. Like the “talking cure,” it was helpful for many, but not all
8. Since that time, advances in neuroscience have unlocked many of the mysteries of PTSD. When asked to recount the events of a traumatic car accident while under a brain scan, for example, it was found that the mind of the person re-activated in exactly the same way as a person currently experiencing a trauma. What scientists discovered is that PTSD survivors are in their own personal hell: they mentally re-experience the worst moments of their lives over and over and over again
9. Scientists also found that these episodes of reliving trauma can be “triggered” by sights, sounds, seeing their abuser, smells, or sometimes by no cause at all.
10. Scientists also discovered that certain portions of the brain light up, and certain portions shut down during such episodes. The speech centres shut down, making it hard for people to put into words what they are experiencing. The “time-keeping” portions also shut down, causing people to experience the flash back “as though I am still there.” The visual portions of the brain are activated literally as though they are seeing the same things over and over.
11. In the case of one car accident, two responses were recorded by a husband and wife in the same car. The husband displayed typical PTSD symptoms: flash-backs, anxiety, high heart rate, and hyper vigilance. The wife, on the other hand, went completely numb. She experienced the accident as though it happened to someone else. This numbness continued after the accident. She felt like she was floating, and had a hard time describing experiences in her own body. This response is called “disassociation.” It was found that this woman had had a difficult childhood, in which she was often screamed at by her mother. She learned the coping skill of disassociation (becoming a stranger in her own body) to cope with the abuse
12. As PTSD became more widely understood, it was observed in other places as well. Especially children raised in dysfunctional homes. Often, such children displayed all of the same symptoms of war veterans. Because the trauma occurred in childhood, and was usually due to multiple events and not just one trauma, the term “complex PTSD” was developed to describe it.
13. Sufferers of complex PTSD may appear “shy,” or hyper-agressive. They perceive the world as being filled with threats. They usually perform much lower than their peers, and have lifelong difficulty “fitting in.”
14. The issue of molestation in girls was particularly studied, finding that young girls who are molested have lifelong difficulty coping, and often have symptoms of PTSD.
15. Complex PTSD was often mis-diagnosed as bipolar, depression, and a host of other conditions.
16. In the 1970’s, various drugs were prescribed to treat PTSD. SSRI drugs such as Prosac were found to have a “miraculous” curative powers for people with PTSD. However, without therapy the gains that they received when on the medications did not last when they went off of them. Other types of medications were also developed which had stronger short-term effects (especially in calming the brain), but may have caused more harm than good due to their addictive nature.
17. Over the course of the 20th century, a wealth of knowledge, and a host of tools was developed to understand and address PTSD and complex PTSD. Most contemporary therapists are well versed in these skills.
18. In the late 1980’s, the technique of EMDR was developed. This is simply the technique of moving one’s eyes slowly back and forth (often just watching the therapist’s finger) while reliving a traumatic event in one’s mind. The activity of moving one’s eyes in this way activates both hemispheres of one’s brain, enabling chaotic memories to be analyzed, categorized, and finally put to rest. Although initially greeted with suspicion, the technique of EMDR has been found to be the most effective technique in the treatment of PTSD, and is now recommended by the US departement of defence, and is widely available today.

The body keeps the score: the body keeps the score brain mind and body in the healing of trauma.

The Body Speaks

It can be tempting to shut off our emotions, and experience life only through our minds. From ancient times to the present, people have propose this as a solution to our problems. Certainly, life seems easier without emotions, passions, or unwanted desires. Sometimes the body (with all its messy desires, inconvenient needs, and conflicting emotions) seems like the enemy of the tranquility of the soul.

But if we lock ourselves in our heads, how will we be able to, “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength”? And how can we truly “love thy neighbour as thy self”, if we have become a stranger to our own bodies?

Chantelle Neufeld: Online Therapist

Hello, friends! I would like to introduce you to my therapist. She works from home, through video or phone calls. She also does therapy via private messages/chat. I find her prices very reasonable. She is very available and kind.
She is a former ATI member (for those who have been through that), and understands Christianity and the ways we can be harmed by religion. She considers herself “spiritual” but not “Christian,” and also sees the good in Christianity. I can share from experience that she is very respectful of anyone’s belief systems, and will work with your beliefs, rather than trying to convert you. “Hypnotherapy” is not hypnosis: it is a way of relaxing, and telling a story, which becomes a way of communicating powerfully with our subconscious mind. I find it to be a very poetic and natural way to rewrite our stories. It is a bit different, but I have found incredible healing and health from it. She also does just normal talk therapy.
I recommend her strongly: I would not be where I am today without her.
PM me for more information. She’s great!

Chantelle Neufeld

A Clinical Definition of Narcissism (NPD)

“Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. People with narcissistic personality disorder may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they’re not given the special favors or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling, and others may not enjoy being around them.”

— Definition of Narcissism, from the Mayo Clinic

https://www.mayoclinic.org/…/n…/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662

The Bun Was Far Too Sweet…

The bun was far too sweet to be a hamburger bun. There was a glaze on top, which paired strangely with the seseme seeds and the hamburger patty. But my boys seemed to be enjoying them. Sitting in the glaring heat of an african midday, my seven and four year old boys were laughing and calmly eating french fries. As though nothing in all the world was wrong.

I made a mental note. I would need to remember this place. It was another one of “those places.” A haven of Westernism, in the midst of chaos, poverty and danger. A small butcher shop with a cafe and restaurant. A place of relative familiarity. I felt safe here, with my boys. Even if the buns were far too sweeet.
I do not remember now what I had been doing that morning. But I remember the text. 
“Come quick. Our son has been taken.”
I did not understand, but I came. My wife was “in all her states,” as they said in old English. She told me the story.
She had finally gotten up the courage to walk out of our walled compound. Fluent in French, she was going to take our three children across the street to talk to some vendors, maybe purchase a few items. A simple task.
Before arriving at the busy street, there was a narrow barren alley. She was walking this alley when our gardener came out on his motorbike. Our gardener, Solomon, was a good man. He worked hard, had strong Christian faith, and was a sincere and kind person. He had a special kindness in his heart for our young daughter. We were genuinely glad to have him in our lives, and he came frequently to my classes, though he was not enrolled in the seminary.
“Would one of your children like a ride?” He offered.
The street was empty of traffic, and the distance from herself to the main street was not far. “Sure,” she replied.
He wanted to take the four year old, but he was too shy. So our seven-year old accepted. A studious boy, he had been keeping a list of everything he had ridden in his short life. A donkey, an elephant, an airplane, a boat…now a motorcycle? Why not.
But they did not stop when they got to the main road. In a flash of horror, she saw him get to the main road, take a right, and disappear into the blur of camels, vehicles, and pedestrians milling their way to the centre of town.
“Come quick! Our son has been taken!”
I was calm, and very focused. The world seemed to slow on its axes. I was thinking carefully about what to do.
A student living in our compound had a red motorcycle. It was very shiny, and he polished it daily. I was about to ask him if I could ride it. Or if I could send him after Solomon.
My wife put her hand on my arm. She could not bear to have two people on morotcycles in the city. I realized I would never catch up with him anyways. People died daily on motorcycles here in the city.
Our son did not even have a helmet on.
We discussed it further, and realized that this may be a simple cultural misunderstanding. Perhaps Solomon was simply taking our son on his daily errands. Where did he say he was going? He had said something about going to the headquarters of our mission. 
“But I did not think he would take our son along with him!” 
We called the mission. If Solomon showed up, please retrieve our son. Under no circumstances was our son to leave from there with Solomon. 
I got in the car, and took our second-born. As I write this, I am not sure why I took him, but — sitting there in that restaurant — I was glad that I had. It was good to see the boys together. Talking, and laughing. 
His younger brother was able to cheer him up, give him a sense of normalcy. Of course, nothing unusual had happened.
“Were you scared?” His mother asked him later. I did not want to ask him at the time. I did not want to paint the experience with the soul-searing terror that I was feeling inside. I did not want to traumatize the boy. Let this experience roll by. Make it normal for him. As normal as it can be. Maybe he will forget.
“Well, I did wonder for a while if I was being kidnapped,” he said hesitantly, “but then I began to pray. I saw some interesting things. I saw a man with only one leg. I have never seen that before!” 
I left the rest of the hamburger on my plate. It really was too sweet to eat. At the counter, I had noticed some very nicely prepared roasts. I really must remember this place, I thought to myself. I made pleasant conversation with the cashier, and bought the roast. 
I knew that my wife would be happy to have meat that didn’t have hair, bits of bone, or sinews hanging off of it. It was even tied up nicely with those elastic bands like back home.
We got back into the car, and I pulled back into traffic. 
Back into the business, back into our lives. There was no time to process, no time to think about what had happened, what could have been. What was. 
We just kept on working.
And we thanked God that all had worked out well that day.

** This is a real flashback, with which I struggled significantly. Of course, it did not come in an orderly way like this, but in disjointed images, smells, and tastes. The troubling thoughts kept my mind in a state of arousal, made sleep difficult, and made me irritable until I resolved this event through hypnotherapy **

The Man Wore a Brown Shirt, With a Floral Pattern…

The man wore a brown shirt with a floral pattern.

I remember this because when it was all done, I asked if I could take a picture of it, to have a tailor make me one. It was a fairly normal request, and he was not offended.

I had studied it as he talked.

There were about twenty of us. All gathered in a tight room.

“…and then,” he spoke with passion, mixed with pity, “ebola came to the next village. Before anyone knew it, people were dying. People left, to try to warn the next village, but it was already there..” I had come in late to a prayer meeting at our mission. I had no idea we were having a special guest speaking, or what the topic was.

“The disease was being spread by local merchants. Traders and those who traveled. Nobody could believe the speed with which it was spreading! Before it would come, people would say, ‘all is well here. It will never come here,’ but before they would know it, it would be there. And there would just be death, and death, and death…”

Ebola, I knew, was a terrible disease. With a three-week gestation period, people in the streets could be carrying it and not know it. Some recovered with no symptoms. They were the lucky ones. But also the carriers. The unlucky ones began to bleed sometime in the fourth week. The virus was liquifying their internal organs. They would begin to bleed from their bowels, their kidneys, their nose…there ears…their eyes. At this point, all of the medicine in the world could not save. Once the bleeding began, death was virtually certain.

“…it was just spreading so fast!” he kept emphasizing, “nobody knew it was coming…and then it was too late!” He spoke with animation and sadness about how many people did not believe in the virus. Some believed that the health care workers themselves were spreading it. One hospital in a particularly rough neighbourhood was attacked and looted. “And all those bloody sheets and mattresses just went out into the community! Who knows where the spread is now! Just about anyone could be carrying it…”

Well then why in the hell are we all in a small room, talking to you!?

I wanted to scream it. I wanted to yell. I wanted to get the fuck out of there. I wanted to get on a plane and fly home. I wanted my family safe.

But I did note of those things. I was a missionary. I had signed up for this. I was ready to die, if it came right down to it. I had placed my family in the hands of God.

But was I really ready to die foolishly, needlessly?

Later that week, I learned that the man’s daughter was in quarantine. Perhaps she was from a different part of the country, or had fled later. Perhaps this should have made me feel safer: she was in quarantine, so perhaps her father was not, and for good reason. But I did not feel safer for three reasons. First, because my daughter had had an unexplained fever for over a week now. Second, because there was a confirmed case of ebola not 200 kilometres from us, to the south. How could I know that I had not picked it up in the markets, and brought it home? And third, because the mission nurse whom we had called to check our baby girl for malaria (did I mention that cerebral malaria could kill a person within 48 hours, by causing a brain clot, and a stroke?) casually mentioned this bit of information. Oh yes, the daughter of so-and-so is in quarantine. “I know,” she was making conversation. As though this was the most normal thing in the world, “because I am the one who does daily checkups on her.”

My God.

You are doing daily checkups on someone on quarantine from ebola, and you didn’t think to check with us before you came into our home?

There were no measures in place. The mission sleepily issued an e-mail of some suggested procedures if ebola came into our country. When we eventually left the county, four months later, the level of security was this: upon entering my home country, a man in a uniform asked me, “have you been to a country affected by ebola?” I said, “no,” and he let me pass. That was it. No proof, not even a glance at my passport. Nothing. Just took my word for it.

That was the level of our preparedness in the face of the 2014 pandemic.

…and I shook that man’s hand. There was no way not to. It was cultural. We all lined up — like lemmings — to shake the man’s hand and thank him for talking to us. You can better believe i went to the bathroom after, and washed the hell out of that hand. But, I noticed, most other people just went back to work. It was all so very normal.

Afterwards, some strange urge compelled me, and I asked to take a picture of his shirt.

I still have the picture, but I never got around to asking a local tailor to make me a shirt from the picture.

I wonder why not.

It really was a nice shirt.

** This is a real PTSD flashback with which I struggled. It was triggered by covid-19, and caused me much loss of sleep, and PTSD symptoms during the day until I resolved it through hypnotherapy **

Narcissistic Dynamics in the Simpsons

Because I was raised a strict fundamentalist Christian, I was never allowed to watch the Simpsons. Actually, I was not allowed to watch any TV at all. I have since become very interested in culture, and music, and most art forms (modern art still eludes me). Knowing their cultural significance, I have always been interested in the Simpsons. Since we got Disney plus, I asked my wife if she’d be interested in watching them, and she’s game.
Four episodes in, I can’t believe how clearly the telltale signs of a narcissistic family are on display!

Episode one:

In the first episode, Homer is distressed because he cannot buy presents for his family. This distress is understandable, but his reason for the distress is classic narcissism. He says at several points, “I’m the worst father ever!” At the climax at the end of the episode, his wife’s family is over, making snide remarks about him while he is out desperately trying to make some money. He is worried about impressing the family. He is not (especially) concerned with the children. He cares about what people will think about him. At one point, when he feels snubbed by his sister-in-law, he (in a rage) goes out and steals a Christmas tree, just to prove he is a provider.
At one point, his son Bart finds out that he does not have the money. They have a last desperate plan to gamble what little money they have. Bart is discouraged, but Homer is excited. “C’mon son! Be excited for me! Sometimes your faith in me is the only thing that keeps me going!” That line felt like an arrow to my heart. I turned to my wife and said, “That is emotional incest. A parent should never make their child responsible for their emotions!”
Through their adventures, Bart and Homer end up adopting a “failed” race dog. “Why would we adopt him?!” Objects Homer, “Why, he’s a loser, a last place, a nobody…a Simpson” He concludes, petting the dog. This speaks to the incredible low sense of self worth at the core of every narcissist. They secretly see all of life as a competition, and constantly feel that they are losing.
However, it was the second episode that was incredibly revealing…
Episode two:
Bart is engaged in vandalism, spray-painting a characeture of the school principal on the school wall. This leads to his parents being called into the office. His mother marge is mortified, but Homer secretly admires his son, and lets it be known that he also thinks that the principal is a doofus, and that there should be no real punishment for the actions. Bart’s miscreant actions should be no surprise, as they are the only thing that get a positive reaction from his dad (causing him to secretly laugh, play along, or “team up” with Bart), until…
Bart cheats on a test, and is invited to join a private school “for smart kids.” This becomes a turning-point in the relationship with Bart and his father. Up ‘till this point, his sister Lisa has been the “golden child.” Narcissist parents always select a golden child, for a variety of reasons. They see the children as an extension of themselves, so when Lisa does something impressive, it is really like Homer is doing something impressive. And so narcissistic parents will select the most promising child, and choose to live life through them. The other child (in this case, Bart) will constantly be compared to the golden child. (In the first episode, for example, Marge wrote a Christmas letter, “…all the family is well…Lisa got straight “A’s in school. And Bart…well, we love Bart…) A lot of Bart’s acting out is because he longs for the affection the this sister is shown, but the only way to get it is to get in trouble of some sort. BUT all of that changes when he is called a genius.
“You might actually do it!” says his father, Homer, “You might do what all Simpsons have ever dreamed of…outsmart another person!” That line really stood out to me. It could have been the motto of my narcissistic upbringing. “Outsmart someone.” Not…be smart to better the human race. Not…be smart because you are talented, and have a lot to offer. No. Outsmart someone else. Life is a competition. You can tell how well you are doing by how many people you have passed. So outsmart someone. This is important because down inside, we all feel like absolute filth. So be better than someone, so we can forget about that sad fact for a short while…
At this point, the episode became so realistic it was difficult to watch. The dad started spending time with his son, playing catch, staying up late…showing a genuine interest in him. However, Homer’s pride in his son does not extend to helping him be a better person, or helping him integrate better into society. While at a classical concert, Homer and Bart try to outdo one another in being crude and disruptive during the performance — to the point that several other concertgoers are looking at them with disapproval, and Marge is mortified again. Homer wants his son to outsmart people: but he seems unwilling (or incapable) of teaching him manners, and respect for others — two very key lessons for any young boy, which will unlock society before them. Without these, Bart is doomed to a dead-end job, just as his dad is. But these matters aside, the affection that Homer is lavishing on Bart is making these days some of the best of his life.
But alas, all was not well at the school for the gifted. Bart knew that he did not belong. However, knowing this was the only way to hold on to his father’s approval, he toughed it out as long as he could. Finally, he does the right thing, and confesses. A repeated theme we will see is that when Bart does the right thing, but it reflects poorly on Homer, he is punished, and not rewarded.
In this case, Bart (who came home covered in green chemicals, due to a failed chemistry experiment) is being lovingly scrubbed off in the bathtub by his dad when he opens up and reveals the truth. He adds quickly, “But I wanted you to know that these last few days with you have been amazing. You have spent time with me, played ball with me…it has been really special! So I really want that to continue.”
…This part is achingly realistic…
Homer hears none of that. He completely ignores the fact that his son is opening his heart to him. He does not notice the pain in his voice. He is blind to the tears that Bart wipes away. All that he cares about is that he has lost his chance to outsmart people (and maybe, he is offended that his son lied to him). He says, “Why you little…” and Bart says, “uh oh!” and jumps naked out of the bathtub, runs to his room and locks the door. For his own safety.
He then sits and reads a comic book naked while his father beats on the door. This powerful image says a number of things to me:
  1. Bart opened up to his dad, and was hurt deeply: now he is closed, and no amount of beating will let his father into his “room” (heart) again
  2. Bart now has an “I don’t care” attitude. He is looking at a cartoon naked while (I believe) eating some snacks
  3. Bart perhaps remembers at this point that the only thing that really caught his fathers attention was breaking the rules. This will be his method for getting his attention in the future.
Episode three:
There is less depth in this episode. Except that Homer is fired, and rather than take responsibility for his own emotions, he lazes around the couch, demanding that others accommodate him, provide for him, etc. He finally becomes so depressed he becomes suicidal. He writes a suicide note in which he instructs his family, “always be brave, and face life with courage. I only hope I can be a better example to you in death than I was in life.” The sad irony of this is that he is a lousy example in both (attempted) death and life: he never takes ownership of his own emotions, but forces his family to come running out int he night to find him, and convince him that life is worth living after all.
The act of threatening suicide, in order to force others to convince you to live, is, in my estimation, one of the lowest and most manipulative things that someone can do to another.
Episode four:
Homer takes his family to a work party, and becomes extremely ashamed of them when he compares them to another family, whom he deems to be essentially perfect. In his imagination, his family all turn to devils and tell him, “you belong with us!!” We notice that Homer is not concerned for the individuals of his family. He does not care about Marge and her drinking, or the kids and their fighting. He cares about their image, and about how that reflects on him. This desire to “win the competition” of being “perfect family” has them sneaking around the neighbourhood spying on other families, trying methods at home, and finally attempting an expensive therapist and shock therapy.
His proudest moment is when Homer gives up on having a perfect family and decides to just buy them a gift of a large TV. This is a proud moment (and it really feels right when you watch the episode) because 1) Homer is giving up on his selfish idea of a perfect family, 2) Homer is deciding to love and accept the people that he actually has in his family, as they are, 3) he is buying them a gift. Granted, the gift is a TV that Homer will probably use more than any of them. But still. For a narcissistic parent, one needs to take what they can get, in terms of love.
Episode five:
In episode five, Bart runs into a school bully. What I found interesting about this episode was how often Bart cries. He is really surprisingly in touch with his emotions, and he tells his dad very clearly how he is feeling, and sends a clear appeal for help. This is not the “wild-skater-boy” image we often have of Bart. The second thing I found interesting was the advice that his father gave him. Homer advises that it would be against the school-yard code to report the bully. Rather, he should try dealing with the problem on his own.
Why do narcissists refuse to use legitimate authority structures to protect their children, when in need? I suspect because that would imply some form of a need for someone else. Also, perhaps, because it breaks what I have called, “The victim’s code.”
At any rate, his mother suggests compassion and understanding, while his father suggests fighting back. Neither strategy works.
At this point, the episode becomes “silly tv” instead of real-life, as Bart raises an army of students to deal with the problem. In real life, the children of narcissists just get picked on, because they have been made to be outsiders by parents who don’t teach them to behave and study and be themselves, and also because these same parents don’t have their backs when times are hard.
*** this is as far as I have watched in the Simpsons so far **