This is an insight that may seem a little basic or obvious, but I try not to take anything for granted. Sometimes things I think I’m making obvious people totally miss, and things I think I didn’t make clear enough, people grasp far better than I ever originally hoped.
One such insight I’m not sure if I made clear: Shame is immature.
Remember, shame is the idea that you are fundamentally flawed, and if you do something bad, it proves that you are bad as an entity. Compare this to guilt, which says that if you do something bad, it’s not necessarily evidence that you are bad as an entity. So if a shame-based person tries to hit on a girl and gets rejected, he thinks “I’m am a reject.” If a guilt-based person tries to hit on a girl and gets rejected, he thinks “I’m a regular guy who just happened to get rejected.”
Shame is the root of narcissism and codependence. This is why being narcissists and codependents start avoiding risks and looking for easy ego-boosts, or engage in a lot of self-handicapping, because they feel their very identity is at stake with every rejection. They go into endeavors with built-in excuses ready and always holding something back or obsessed with impression management and self-presentation. Meanwhile, a guilt-based person is less likely to self-sabotage or avoid risks or look for easy ego-boosts, because he doesn’t believe his actions and failures are proof that he is fundamentally defective and inferior. Mistakes and failures are just feedback that he needs to go back to the drawing board.
If you deal with a child, you’ll notice that it’s hard to give them constructive criticism until they’re older. If you tell a kid they’ve done anything badly, they will think they are total failures, are unworthy, or are unlovable. Adults understand this, which is why they tend to over-applaud and over-praise for just about anything the child does.
As the child gets older, however, continuing to do this will stunt the child’s development because it keeps the child in a shame-based mindset. At some point the child has to learn that he can not be perfect or even good at something, and still be worthy of love and still not be defective. The child has to learn that he can be good at some aspects of a craft or task, and can be bad at other aspects of the craft or task, at the same time. Good and bad can coexist in the same entity at the same time. This is called integration.
Shame-based people have a lot of trouble integrating. This is the core of the superhuman/subhuman dichotomy and the suppression-expression paradox. Everything is either-or, all-or-nothing, black or white, one extreme or the other. One mistakes by themselves or others invalidates everything good. You also see this in how kids will tell a parent “I hate you!” when they’re mad at them, and truly believe it. And when their emotions calm down, they love the parent again like nothing ever happened. It’s hard to simultaneously be mad at someone and still love them in that moment, even while still nursing that anger. You find this same tendency in adult Cluster Bs and codependents with the phenomenon of splitting.
With kids, however, because you know you’re dealing with a child, you implicitly understand the shame-based motivations, even if you you’re not explicitly versed in the psychology of shame and use the proper psychological terms. With shame-based adults, however, we tend to assume that they’re are mature adults, and many of them wear the mask of maturity so well that we interact with them on a guilt-based levels and end up getting frustrated or burned as a result.
The point of this post is to train you to start associating shame with maturity and vice-versa. If I write about shame, I’m automatically also writing about immaturity even if I don’t explicitly state that word. And if I’m writing about maturity issues, I’m also implicitly writing about shame issues, even if I don’t use that word. No matter how well a shame-based person knows how to go through the motions and feign maturity by following rituals and observing social rules, at the core you are dealing with someone who is emotionally a child. And conversely, if someone is immature, you have to realize that it’s not just a cute eccentricity but is also evidence that they probably have a lot of shame-based mindsets, with all the dysfunctions that accompany that.
The suppression-expression paradox simply means that the more a person or group suppresses a natural human urge, the more intense their expression of that natural urge will be once/if they ever do decide to express it.
For example, modern progressive liberals, especially of the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert generation, choose to engage in politics with a certain type of hip, snarky, cynical detachment. There have been several studies alleging that The Daily Show has an effect of causing people to distrust the whole political process, because they end up viewing Democrats as inept, pandering, and bumbling, although well-intentioned, and Republicans as evil and ill-intentioned, and as a result end up becoming cynical and disengaged in politics in general. There is a natural human urge to want to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and to elevate certain people to a heroic status that we can believe in and look up to. Because of our modern era where we get to see how the sausage is made in every area of our lives, and where nothing is too sacred to mock anymore, a whole generation of people began to suppress this natural urge to want to elevate our political leaders to a heroic, exalted status. (I know some of the more pedantic readers may chime in for me to cite proof via peer-reviewed studies or statistics that there is a human tendency to want to elevate people to an exalted, superior heroic status. I can’t do that, or more accurately, I won’t do that because I think there are more than enough historical examples in our textbooks and anecdotal examples in our everyday lives that provide proof of this. But if you want to see a great case made for this, I suggest trying Ernest Becker’s Escape from Evil)
This suppression, I believe, is exactly what caused the level of crazed, uncritical cultlike adoration of Barack Obama that we saw among this same generation of Daily Show viewers in 2008, something the Onion mocked in this video clip:
They’re over-the-top cynicism and detachment regarding politics and religion suppressed their natural urge to believe in something bigger than themselves, to give themselves over to a cause and trust in heroic figures. Natural urges that get suppressed build up pressure and start demanding release, and oftentimes once you do release them even a little bit they explode out.
It also works in reverse. Many people who are overboard when it comes to acting out any of their natural urges, when they decide to start reining those urges in they often go to the opposite extreme and go overboard in suppressing them. People who started out adoring heroic figures in politics and religion, when they dial it back, often end up becoming incredibly cynical or become proseletysing atheists. Someone who was a hardcore hedonist, when he dials it back, instead of coming to a point of moderation when it comes to vices, instead becomes a hardcore religious person, reading scripture constantly, always trying to convert others, and bringing up God all the time. That’s why I always believe that the more fervently a person converts to religion and ascetism later in life, the more of an unrepentant hedonist they were earlier in life.
[UPDATE: Please read the comments following this article, especially if you’re planning to respond with a comment yourself. I think there are some good comments that raise some interesting objections, and I responded with some added clarifications that I think people may find helpful. Plus any objections you plan on raising may have already been raised and addressed in the comments already. – T.]
For added context, I highly recommend that people read this series of posts on competitors versus cooperators, either before of after reading this current post you’re reading now: here, here, here, here, and here.
I think this video below is one of the best deconstructions of “intelligent” trolls, both the real life and the online kind.
I think a major part of trolls, or anyone who chronically courts controversy for its own sake, which people don’t realize, is that it’s someone who wants recognition, who wants acceptance, who wants love, but on some level has given up on getting it in conventional ways. So they try to troll or generate controversy, because it has at least two payoffs. First, it keeps them from being ignored. Second, since they feel on some level that they will never get the full recognition they deserve, or that people hating them is inevitable, they at least want to try to be hated on their own terms, so they can at least feel some sense of control and dominance (“See? I’m not trying to make you like me and getting rejected. I’m deliberately trying to make you hate me and it’s working! I’m in control! You’re a puppet on my string!”) It’s a form of self-handicapping.
Being an asshole on purpose is self-handicapping much like not studying and going drinking the night before a test is. When people self-handicap by not studying before a test and going out drinking, they’re afraid of themselves and others finding out they’re not smart. If they give something their all and try their hardest, holding nothing back, and still fail, they fear being exposed to themselves and others as being fundamentally defective (this is a shame issue). By not studying and going out drinking before the exam, they reserve an excuse for themselves. If they do badly, they can say “Oh, I didn’t study and I drank before the exam. If I didn’t do that, I could have done well.” If they do well, they can say “Oh, look how good I did! Can you imagine if I actually studied and didn’t drink before the exam?” And if he does study later on, it will look more impressive because of lowered standards. Someone who never usually studies buckling down and studying is far more impressive than someone who has always been an overachieving studier being seen studying yet again.
Similarly, the “asshole on purpose” guy is usually someone who has given up on being loved in a conventional way in response to a sincere, earnest, all-out effort, for whatever reason. So he self-handicaps through assholery. If he treats people like shit and they don’t like him, he can brag “Yeah, I’m such an asshole. I don’t give a fuck! I try to piss people off!” If people still like him despite his assholery, he can say “Man, look at that. I’m an asshole and people still love me. I really must be just that smart/talented/insightful. Can you imagine if I actually tried to conform to society’s norms and work within them how successful I’d be?” And because of lowered standards that come from his usual asshole ways, when he shows an effort to be nice or shows a soft, sensitive side, he gets far more props for it than a guy who is always nice and considerate. It’s like the Jerk With a Heart of Gold character trope you see in movies and TV. The jerk who does a nice thing, no matter how mundane, is so much more admired than the normally nice guy doing yet another nice thing.
I also believe this is the fantasy need some characters like Hank Moody on shows like Californication fill for viewers. I absolutely loathe Californication and the lead character Hank Moody, yet I keep finding myself hate-watching the show, because I’m always trying to figure out what the appeal is (beyond the obvious, which is the sex and nudity). One of my theories is that many people fantasize about being able to be so irresistible and intrinsically awesome that they can be utter assholes and still end up being loved for it, which to many people is a bigger sign of self-worth than being nice and being loved for it. For many shame-based people, they only act nice out of a sense of weakness, as a way to get approval and be liked. They end up viewing any form of niceness as an admission of low value, both in themselves and in other people. They only persist in being nice because they feel that’s the only option available to them to get approval, because they have such little bargaining power otherwise, maybe because they feel not attractive enough, not rich enough, not socially savvy enough, etc.
That’s why many of these same people turn into total assholes once they feel any sense of power shift in their favor in a social dynamic, like the Nice Guy who laments how his hot female friend puts him in the friend zone despite how nice he is, but becomes a jerk when he’s dealing with a fat and unattractive chick whose comparative value to him is the same as his comparative value to the hot girl friendzoning him. His niceness is totally context-dependent, coming from situations where he feels weak and unworthy. That’s also why many of these same shame-based people, both narcissists and codependents, can’t respect or reciprocate people who love them unconditionally even after knowing all their flaws or make things “too easy” for them. Because they themselves only act nice when feeling weak and out of a feeling of necessity, they project that same motivation on others who act nice and assume they must be weak and inferior too.
Anyway, returning to Californication, I think a major part of its appeal is that fantasy of having such value as to be able to afford to self-handicap via assholery. Of being able to be effortlessly cool, so naturally valuable, that even if you try to fuck things up by being an asshole and make no effort to cooperate, you still end up being loved, and when you do burn bridges it’s always on your own terms, not on anyone else’s. (I also think that’s why so many narcissists choose to be abusive to loved ones when they don’t have to. For them, being loved for being nice is something anyone can do, but being loved despite being a fuck-up or asshole is proof of being a superior being.) Also, because of the lowered standards that come from self-handicapping, any minor, mundane bit of normal humanity that Hank Moody shows is blown way out of proportion. This is because a lot of people want to be rewarded for the most token, superficial gestures, the bare minimum.
You can see a lot of these principles at play in this article about Tucker Max that came out a while back. When you look at his childhood, you can see the abandonment that came about from his mother and how that led to him to lose faith in being loved just for being him, and why he began self-handicapping with that deliberate asshole persona.
Of course the problem with any form of self-handicapping is, even though it gets you a short-term payoff that makes you feel good at first, because what you really want deep down is conventional success, once the rush from self-sabotage wears off you realize you are no closer to your real goal, or worse, are actually farther away from it. For example, the student who always self-handicaps by not going to class, not studying, and partying hard may get a series of short term ego boosts each time he self-handicaps, but for long term conventional success he’s going to have to eventually work hard and give it his all. He can’t self-handicap forever. Sooner or later he’s going to reach a challenge where his natural gifts and half-assing won’t be enough. Similarly, the deliberate asshole, if he wants the type of deeper and more fulfilling long-term social connection he’s yearning for, he’s going to have to stop self-handicapping, show some vulnerability, and be willing to give something his all and risk failing at it.
Because deep down, despite their exteriors, deliberate assholes actually want to be approved of, recognized, respected, and loved, they just fear deep down that they can’t get those things the conventional ways, and therefore must self-handicap, so that if they’re hated at least they’re hated on their own terms. This is why the moment a deliberate asshole, a controversy seeker, or a troll feels that he is being hated or rejected on what aren’t his own terms, he becomes incredibly thin-skinned, surprisingly so for someone who claims not to care what others think and actively courts controversy so much. That’s why I love the tweet below from Jay Smooth about Lisa Lampanelli:
“Please be offended please be offended please be offended please be offended” followed by “Why are you offended!!??” = the Lampanelli Cycle.
Unfortunately, most people, when they rush from self-handicapping wears off and they realize they’re back where they started and still in pain, instead of giving up the defective coping strategy, instead choose to double down on it and self-handicap even more, which again gives a short-term emotional payoff, and again leads to no real long-term fulfillment and the return of the original pain they were trying to avoid in the first place, and the vicious cycle (circle?) continues.
Trolls and chronic controversy seekers want attention, recognition, love, and approval, but have just given up on getting them in conventional forms via conventional means. Unfortunately, the same faulty coping strategies they use to deal with this problem in the short run are the exact same ones guaranteed to exacerbate the problem in the long run.
There is a popular archetype of the girl who chooses bad boys and jerks over good guys, but not enough attention gets paid to the guy who chooses bitches over good girls, especially when the bitch is scorching hot. But it’s far more common than people acknowledge, and this movie touches on that. It shows how a musician, played by Kirk Douglas, who has some codependent tendencies (he’s not a doormat in life generally, but does have some abandonment issues from childhood that signify he has anxious attachment issues), and the chemistry he has with a Cluster B woman, played by Lauren Bacall. The psychodynamics between the two are incredibly well-done and true to life, and I was very impressed by the screenplay as a result.
One of my favorite scenes of the movie, if not the favorite scene, is this one where the idealization has worn off and the devaluation has set it in:
Something this movie touches on, that I haven’t gone into much detail yet on the blog but plan to eventually, is how narcissists and other Cluster Bs are often consumed with envy and jealousy of their codependents, even though on the surface they never let it show. Even the codependent himself would be shocked to realize the extent to which the narcissist is jealous of them, but this jealousy is actually a major reason for much of the abuse that comes in the relationship. In this movie, Bacall’s character is a sophisticated, spoiled intellectual with all the “right” friends, all the “right” clothes, who goes to all the “right” parties and lives in all the “right” places, but because her world is so externally-defined, she has no “core” or true value system or passions. She lives her life directionlessly and in full contempt of others who do have passions and core beliefs and real human connection. Much of her disdain for Kirk Douglas’s character comes from the fact that he has a calling, has a passion for it, pursues it relentlessly without holding anything back to preserve his ego or save face, and has real human connections.
Since she is too emotionally immature and spiritually lazy to undergo the discomfort and risk needed to achieve true growth, she needs to surround herself with people she feels she can leech that energy from. What happens instead though is she just ends up trying to destroy them instead in order to feel better. She “punishes” them for having passion and not being empty like she is. Their very existence not only fails to empower her like she hopes during the idealization stage, but it starts reminding her of what a fraud she is and how she’s not as superior as she pretends to be after all, which makes her start to abuse them during the devaluation stage.
This movie is not just good because of how psychologically rich it is; it’s also a fun, well-written and well-directed movie that’s generally enjoyable to watch just for entertainment value. I’m eventually going to do a full-scale deconstruction of this movie, so I recommend you DVR and watch it now so that you won’t be lost.
Again, it airs tomorrow, Wednesday, March 20, at 11:45 AM on Turner Classic Movies.
Let’s do a thought experiment. The point of it will become clearer in future posts, but for now bear with me.
Imagine you went to another planet and met the natives there. By use of special machines, you were able to communicate with them.
An interesting thing you realize about these natives is that they have no noses. The dominant species of this planet has evolved to have no noses and has never had a sense of smell. They have never even developed language to cover concepts related to smell. There’s no equivalent word for odor, stinky, aromatic, fragrant, inhale, breathe, or any other words that can be linked to a nose and a sense of smell.
Also, since flavor comes from one’s sense of smell, there are no equivalent words for tasty, delicious, flavor, flavorful, and so on. The sense of taste actually has to do with the sensations that food creates on our tongue via the taste buds. Flavor on the other hand comes from our sense of smell. To illustrate, if you pinch your nostrils really hard and then try to eat something like a lemon or a piece of bacon, the appropriate taste buds on your tongue will still tingle to indicate whether the food is sour or if it’s rich and fatty, but the food will register no flavor.
How would you describe the sensations of scent and flavor to this species? Since all the information they’ve ever known in their lives has related to the senses of sight, taste bud tingles, touch, and hearing, you would be forced to try to convey the concept of smell using language and concepts related to those four senses. How could you pull it off?
Or how about if the species had evolved to have no eyes and therefore no one could see or was ever able to see. How would you describe the concept of sight to them, or give a visual description to them of something? Could you describe the color blue or green to people who have no idea what a color is in the first place?
But the irony is, the species with no sense of smell, who have never had a sense of smell, the would have no idea if you didn’t tell them that they were missing out on something. They would think that the four remaining senses they used to perceive the world around them was giving them a complete sense of objective reality. They would have no idea that there is a whole universe of potentially useful information right in their midst, all around them, that they can’t perceive and take in.
Over the history of the existence of their species, they would likely evolve other ways to compensate for the lack of ability to smell. Their eyes perhaps could evolve to the point where they can tell if food is spoiled simply by looking at or touching it. Their taste buds could evolve differently. Any of their remaining senses could become quantitatively or qualitatively different to compensate for their inability to smell.
So think of human beings. We perceive and explain the world using language and concepts limited by our five senses. We often believe that the information obtained using these five senses gives us an objectively accurate and complete representation of reality. Who knows how much potentially useful information is floating around us right in our midst, but invisible to use because it falls outside the realm of our five available senses, just like the aliens in my example live in a world of smells that they are oblivious to?
The point I’m trying to make is, what we perceive to be objective reality is not actually reality, but is an approximation of reality constructed using what limited tools of perception we currently have available to us. We’re going to be revisiting this topic a lot, so it’s important to understand it.
One example I can think of us happened in Haiti to my family during the recent earthquake. My family members who survived it all told me that before each tremor happened, the dogs and other animals would flip out and run for cover. I found this fascinating and started doing research on it, and sure enough it’s true, as you can read here and here. Some people claim that their animals started getting agitated days, weeks, or even months before natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. A video about this can be seen below:
Scientists aren’t sure whether this is because of dogs having an extra-heightened version of a sense humans already have, like hearing, or because of dogs having a whole extra sixth sense that humans don’t have at all. If it’s the latter, you can see the difficulty scientists are presented with. Trying to describe a brand new sixth sense using our current language, which relates to the five senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, would be like my thought experiment of trying to explain smell and scent to a species using language only related to the senses of sight, taste buds, touch, and hearing.
Just like the hypothetical species wouldn’t even have the cognitive tools to even properly process scent concepts, if dogs do have a sixth sense that we don’t know about, we as humans may lack the cognitive tools to properly process whatever that sense is, so we may never end up being able to comprehend or explain it.
Which leads to my next point about the limits of human perception: in addition to our five senses, human perception is limited by the established cognitive framework, thinking habits, and processing capabilities the human brain has developed over your lifetime. The human brain is the central area where much of our sensory intakes are perceived, processed, interpreted, and responded to. The limitations of how our specific brains work lead to limitations in how well we can process and perceive reality via the sensory information we take in. These cognitive limitations on reality perception play a big role in our personality conflicts, our susceptibility to logical fallacies and con artists, and the cognitive distortions that often cause us problems in our daily dealings.
The ways in which the features of our brain contribute to our limitations in perceiving objective reality will be the focus of the next installment of this series.
I’ve discussed how and why shame-based personalities tend to fluctuate from one extreme to another, often viewing themselves as either subhuman or superhuman. I’ve also discussed how these extremes often coexist at once in one shame-based individual, leading to codependents with disguised narcissistic tendencies and narcissists with disguised codependent, needy tendencies.
Today I’m going to discuss another manifestation of codependent entitlement: Superior Inferiority. Simply put, Superior Inferiority is when a shame-based person plays games with the aim of proving the superiority of their particular brand of inferiority. The person is out to prove that they have it worse than anyone else on earth who has it bad. It can also be called comparative victimology. In past posts, I’ve discussed how once a person realizes they’ve had subservient tendencies or bad boundaries, it can be seductively tempting to make those traits into their identity and define themselves by them.
You mean a sufferer can be narcissistic? Absolutely! For the sufferer, anguish is usually the only focus, the only awareness that makes them unique. Personal identity is constructed around being in pain, or being a victim, or being a survivor. Pain justifies a pervasis self-focus, with parasitic demands and exploitive relationships…
A sufferer often carries around a lot of emotional baggage, but letting go of the past is not an option. Without this history, the sufferer would lose his or her grounding for self-pity. In fact, the art of self-pity is perfected and provides an endless source of raw material.
Naturally, this pain is not ordinary pain. The narcissistic pain of the sufferer is laced with self-important features. “No one has suffered as I have suffered” is this narcissist’s only consolation. There may even be a transcendent dimension with religious meaning to this suffering: God sanctions the pain…
It is important to make a distinction between healthy and unhealthy pain. What needs to be faced may be painful, but this is the way of growth. In contrast, avoiding necessary pain leads to what’s been called “dirty pain.” The sufferer is a master at this kind of endless self-defeating misery. This is the narcissist’s defense against experiencing [healthy] legitimate pain [the kind that is more challenging but leads to more genuine growth – T.] while at the same time getting the attention they feel they deserve.
Eckart Tolle also discusses this. In the book A New Earth, Tolle says:
A very common role is the one of victim, and the form of attention it seeks is sympathy or pty or others’ interest in my problems, “me and my story.” Seeing oneself as a victim is an element in many egoic patterns, such as complaining, being offended, outraged, and so on. Of course, once I am identified with a story in which I assigned myself the role of victim, I don’t want it to end, and so, as every therapist knows, the ego does not want an end to its “problems” becuse they are part of its identity. If no one will listen to my sad story, I can tell it to myself in my head, over and over, and feel sorry for myself, and so have an identity as someone who is being treated unfairly by life or other people, fate or God. It gives definition to my self-image, makes me into someone, and that is all that matters to the ego.
The first thing to remember is this: As long as you make an identity for yourself out of the pain, you cannot become free of it. As long as part of your sense of self is invested in your emotional pain, you will unconsciously resist or sabotage every attempt that you make to heal that pain. Why? Quite simply because you want to keep yourself intact, and the pain has become an essential part of you. This is an unconscious process, and the only way to overcome is to make it conscious.
He later says (emphasis added by me):
Most people are in love with their particular life drama. Their story is their identity. The ego runs their life. They have their whole sense of self invested in it. Even their – usually unsuccessful search for an answer, a solution, or for healing becomes a part of it. What they fear and resist most is the end of the drama. As long as they are their mind, what they fear and resist most is their own awakening.
This, to me, is one of the dangers of trying to fix and rescue people. Many people don’t want to be fixed or rescued. Yes, they want you to try to fix and rescue them, and they may encourage you to do so, but they are very invested in keeping you from succeeding, and that’s for ego reasons. That’s why I write about codependent entitlement, and the importance of realizing covert narcissism.
There are two reasons they want to avoid letting you fix them. First, they want to prove that their problems are unconquerable, that you aren’t good enough to fix their issues, that their inferiority is “superior” to anyone else’s inferiority issues (they take a perverse pride in how no one else can top their wretchedness). Second, if they allow your solutions to work, in their minds that makes you superior to them. You could figure out the solution to their problem when they couldn’t. So not only is their inferiority not superior to everyone else’s inferiority, since it turned out to have an easy-to-reach solution, but they also have to admit that someone else is better than them for figuring out that solution during a single conversation while they live with this problem 24/7 and couldn’t figure one out. To someone with a big ego, that’s unbearable. Shame-based people would rather preserve their ego and be miserable as a result than let their ego take a hit but be happier in the long run as a result.
Transactional Analysis, the school of psychology created by Eric Berne in his classic book Games People Play discusses this dynamic when describing a game called “Why Don’t You – Yes But.” This website describes the game:
WHY DON’T YOU, YES BUT (YDYB).
…Seven years after Natalie Phistie and Bill Winnerton got married, she and some friends are having a discussion over coffee while her husband is out bowling:
Natalie: “I’m so upset- I just don’t know what to do about Bill. He doesn’t seem to be listening to me anymore and he is always running out on me.”
Friend 1: “Why don’t you sit him down and have a serious talk?”
Natalie: “Yes, I’ve tried that but he won’t sit still.”
Friend 2: “You probably have cabin fever. Why don’t you take a vacation from each other?”
Natalie: “Yes, but we can’t afford it.”
Friend 3: “Well, why don’t you just get a divorce?”
Natalie: “Yes, but what about the kids?”
Friends (thinking): “I give up, this situation is hopeless.. .”
Natalie (thinking): “Nobody can help me.”
As you can see, this conversation is recurring. Natalie has been through it many times; her friends have been through it many times. As a matter of fact, much of their time has been spent playing Why Don’t You, Yes But, and it is the type of conversation which occurs over and over again, especially in therapy groups. It is devious and covert: on the social level, it appears to be a conversation between a person in their Adult ego state asking a question from a group of others who are also in their Adult ego states.
However, you will notice that Natalie does not accept any of the group’s suggestions. The reason for that is that, at the psychological and much more meaningful level, what is really going on is that Natalie is asking for strokes [recognition of her existence – T.] in a devious manner. But she needs a great deal of strokes and therefore must continue to ask for them. Further, because these strokes are being given in a roundabout way they are not as satisfying to either Natalie or her friends as would direct strokes be. This is why the game ends on a note of frustration.
The pay-off of this game is that it proves to Natalie is doomed just as her father said; and it proves to her friends that there is no use trying to help people because they never accept advice anyway.
“Why Don’t You, Yes But” is the preferred game for those trying to establish Superior Inferiority.
UPDATE: I want to add something to this article I forgot to mention when I first published it, but meant to include when originally writing it. Another aspect of superior inferiority can be that the person who refuses to take any advice or allow any advice to work for them, may in turn be a huge advice giver. It’s another superiority game, with two payoffs. First, they have the solution to other people’s problems, but other people never have the solutions to their own problems. Therefore they’re superior to other people in problem solving ability, since they can fix other people’s problems that those other people themselves can’t fix. Second, by showing that their problems have absolutely no workable solutions , yet other people’s problems do have workable solutions, they get to feel superior to other people because their problems are now clearly established to be so much more profound and deeper than any problems other people have.
A good example of the codependent entitlement or covert narcissism I described in the last post comes in the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy that many introverted, artistically inclined men have. These codependent men are withdrawn, shy, introverted, and afraid to call attention to themselves. But along comes this fantasy girl who acts insane, outgoing, exhibitionistic, kooky, and draws him out of his shell. The whole appeal of the girl is that the codependent protagonist believes she fits his fantasy image of what an ideal girlfriend looks like, even if he’s projected many of these qualities onto her with his own fevered imagination. Her main appeal to him is how she reflects and brings out his greatness. She also is inexplicably drawn to him despite little effort and zero game on his part. She’s both a mirror for his false, idealized self as well as an extension of him. She exists to draw out and reflect his greatness, without any deep, abiding needs of her own other than to take him on an emotional rollercoaster ride and reveal his own desired greatness back at him. In this way she acts as a mirror to him, reflecting his idealized self-image. She acts flamboyant, eccentric, and outgoing for him in a way he feels he can’t directly, and in this way acts as an extension of him. She has no other purpose but to “rescue” the protagonist and bolster his spirits, and he (sometimes) gets to rescue her in return.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.
the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She’s on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.
The…Manic Pixie Dream Girl must never grow up, because that way, men never have to grow up, either. Peter Pan might lose most of his hair while his beard goes gray, but at heart, he’s still a little boy, and his companion in life reflects that: She’s not Wendy, but Tinkerbell. The “dream” supplied by…Manic Pixies past and present is one of a Never-Never Land where, although we cannot stop time, we can do without sobriety and reasoned maturity, and where a childlike fascination with the whimsical and fanciful is the way out of, never into, every nightmare of crisis and grief.
My theory is that the guys who write Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the guys who love watching and fantasizing about them are codependents. Meanwhile, the Manic Pixie Dream Girls themselves are Cluster Bs, usually either borderlines, narcissists, and histrionics, explaining their flair for the dramatic and the feeling of intense connection they generate with others. Cluster Bs, when you first meet them, are incredible charming and exciting, and the reason they create these intense first impressions is because they are overcompensating as much as they can up front, often because they know they’re crazy and hard to tolerate and are worried about the other person discovering what they’re really like and abandoning them. They also create great first impressions and a sense of intense connection because they work to figure out what you want and then try to appear as that thing to cater to your ego and fantasies in order to suck you in deeper and extract narcissistic supply for you. They have no problem being admired for something they’re only pretending to be. It still counts as narcissistic supply. Studies even back up the idea that narcissists make more intense, positive first impressions than others. (PDF of the original study; Psychology Today article summarizing the study)
I think what happens with Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies is that they only capture the idealization stage of the codependent/Cluster B pairing, the honeymoon phase, and as a result they feel intoxicating to the young, codependent men watching them. The movies end before the inevitable devaluation phase of every relationship with an emotional vampire. For example, to everyone reading who has had a relationship with a Cluster B, don’t you remember how intoxicating and euphoric those early days of the relationship were? With MPDG movies, you don’t stick around long enough to see the red flags that get huger and huger, the tantrums, the meltdowns, the crazymaking behavior, the cheating, the escalating disrespect, the erosion of the partner’s self-esteem, and the eventual discarding.
The self-obsessed male protagonists in the Manic Pixie Dream Girl dynamic perfectly illustrate the dynamic I was describing in yesterday’s post about Codependent Entitlement. Just like the dynamic I described in that post about the ways in which codependents can be manipulative and narcissistic in relationships, the codependent protagonists in these movies can’t see the MPDG in any way except for the ways in which she’s an extension of the him or a mirror for his false, idealized self, and the dream girl he sees her as who exists to complete him never actually exists in reality but is rather just a fantasy the protagonist want to exist so badly that he (and the screenwriter and the male audience members) projects that fantasy onto a person who he never actually got to know and who he never sees for who she really is.
This video discusses these topics, as well as more self-aware examples of the dynamic that subvert the trope. It’s does a good job of dissecting the covert narcissism of the codependent men:
Two movies the video discusses, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer, are great because they explore the long-term dynamics of entering into such unions and what happens when the idealization stage wears off. My favorite quote from Eternal Sunshine is when she says: “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.”
For comparison to the ways in which the narcissist idealizes and objectifies others, treats them as mirrors and extensions, projects his idealized fantasies onto them, and never sees them as flawed individuals in their own right with their own inner lives and needs, read this Mad Men-related post about Don Draper. Then compare to the dynamic described in the post you’re currently reading, along with yesterday’s post, and you’ll hopefully see similarities and understand how a sense of covert narcissism exists in many codependents.
I’d like to add, this post is not intended in any way to excuse the behaviors or cluster Bs, or to somehow “blame the victim” by creating some sort of moral equivalency between codependents and cluster Bs. I think cluster Bs are without a doubt worse than codependents. I do think though that codependents do have to learn to recognize the quiet grandiosity that lurks within them too if they want to break the dysfunctional cycles they get caught in, because that quiet grandiosity is exactly what creates much of their chemistry and toxic dynamic with cluster Bs.
UPDATE: Yohami left a comment that was pretty good, that he eventually made into a blog post which you can read here. I thought it was good enough to add to the original post.
UPDATE 2:A lot of first-time readers have read this post, and have emailed to tell me they feel they fall into the codependent category and want to know what to do to change. I would recommend a few things. For men, I’m currently big on recommending the book The Great Female Con, an ebook which you can download and buy here for $20. It’s well worth it, and despite the title it’s not as harsh as it seems. It will change the way you view everything. I’d also recommend this post about boundaries by Mark Manson. Finally, I’d recommend reading the past 2 years or so of this blog.
We’ve already discussed how shame-filled people are prone to view themselves in extremes, as either superhuman or subhuman. I called this the superhuman/subhuman dichotomy. You can see this dichotomy in the way shame-based people tend to become either narcissists (superhuman) or codependents (subhuman).
Although narcissists and codependents may seem like opposites on a superficial level, when viewing them from the outside, because they are both filled with toxic shame, they are far more similar than people suspect, in ways that aren’t always obvious. As I’ve said in previous posts, there is a little bit of codependence in every narcissist and a little bit of narcissism in every codependent. This is why they can seem switch back and forth from superhuman to subhuman so easily, because at any given time both the subhuman and the superhuman are coexisting in them, with little room for any moderation.
For example, although narcissists act like they think they’re better than everyone and have superior, arrogant attitudes, the fact remains that they crave admiration the way a heroin addict craves heroin. So even though the narcissist acts superior to everyone around them, they secretly crave and need the attention and approval of these so-called inferiors, and if deprived of it will begin to act pathetic and even plead and subjugate themselves if desperate enough.
Also, codependents may be considered to be self-effacing person with self-subjugating tendencies. However, there is definitely a quiet grandiosity among codependents, and subtle ways in which they think they’re superior to others. For example, when the narcissist tells the codependent a sob story about how everyone else has mistreated her before she met the codependent, the codependent believes he will be the one who will finally treat the narcissist right and “save” her. He has no trouble believing that he will prove himself to be the best partner the narcissist ever had, no matter what the background or attributes of her ex-es. It doesn’t occur to him that these guys could have been savvier and more mature than him and still failed. He automatically assumes he’s superior to all these past guys. Also, when the codependent starts seeing the red flags of the narcissist, he thinks he can deal with them and turn her around. Codependent men are often jokingly called “Captain Save-A-Ho’s,” but even though this term is derogatory, it still shows a grandiose tendency because it’s evidence that someone views themselves as a type of superhero, even if it’s as a superhero for the cause of simping.
Because it’s so covert and counterintuitive, many people don’t realize the quiet desperation of narcissists and the quiet grandiosity of codependents, but you need to understand this phenomenon if you ever want to understand the psychodynamics of shame. This quiet grandiosity in codependents explains why many codependents, when they decide they’re fed up being a codependent and want to change, they end up going to the opposite extreme and become very narcissistic. It’s because that grandiosity is often in them already, just in a covert, subtle form. I described this dynamic in my post about codependent “average frustrated chumps” who easily turn into narcissistic pickup artists.
I want to focus on codependent entitlement for this piece. The subject of narcissistic self-debasement I’ll save for another day.
There was an old journal article from 1999 by Sally A. Farmer called “Entitlement in Codependency” that touches on this:
The notion of entitlement is just as important in understanding codependency as it is in describing exhibitionistic forms of narcissism. However, it is frequently hidden, and when expressed more directly it takes subtle forms. Codependent entitlement involves expecting others to change those aspects of themselves that make codependent individuals uncomfortable. Codependent individuals have trouble taking responsibility for making the changes they need to make in themselves in order to increase their own comfort level…
Tenzer believes that disorders of entitlement cut across diagnostic categories. She claims that the lack of overt entitlement observed in subservient individuals often masks self righteous rage and envy, Tenzer further states that patients with problems of entitlement tend to experience themselves as undernourished; their therapists, on the other hand, tend to experience them as insatiable.
Codependent entitlement arises from the notion that just as they are responsible for anticipating the needs of others, others are responsible for anticipating their needs as well. This gives rise to anger and “righteous indignation” when the people in their lives do not come through as they wish. Codependents frequently do not know what they want from others, and they often confuse “needs” with “wants.” Thus they have difficulty asking directly, and through the process of projective identification may actually invite others to deny them. A theme evident here is not really seeing others as people in their own right, with their particular set of strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Instead, they see them as extensions of themselves. Unfortunately, some adherents of the codependency movement reinforce this concept. In “sickness” they see others in a unidimensional way, i.e., as parental figures who must be placated, taken care of, and pleased. In “recovery” they frequently see them as villains who must be guarded against or escaped from. There is a lack of genuine compassion for the other person evident, only compassion for the self.
Just like narcissists can only see codependents as extensions of themselves, codependents do the same with narcissists. They often have an idealized image of what the narcissist actually is, and fall in love with that, rather than falling in love for who the narcissist actually is. This entitlement and grandiosity in the codependent is often what causes them to idealize the narcissist into something she isn’t, and oftentimes the codependent falls for the narcissist because he views the narcissist as the type of glamorous, attractive, or powerful person he views his ideal version of himself being with, and he wants to bask in her reflected glory and shine too. For example, maybe the codependent isn’t openly grandiose and cocky enough to strut and preen like a narcissist, but by dating the narcissist, he can let the narcissist strut and preen for the both of them, while he gets the ego boost of the positive attention having such a partner gives him. In this way, he has made the narcissist an extension of himself. I described in the past how the narcissist idealizes others and makes them extensions of himself, but as you can see, the codependent does the same in more covert ways.
Tomorrow I’ll show a pop culture example of the codependent entitlement/covert narcissism.
A great book I read on shame was John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You. I’ve read better when it comes to getting into the hardcore psychodynamics behind shame, like Leon Wurmser’s books, but those books can be very intimidating, dense, and jargon-filled.
Bradshaw’s book, though, is great for laypeople, and has a lot of heart. Mark Manson over at Postmasculine wasn’t crazy about this book, and I can respect his reasons for disliking it. Bradshaw talks about Christianity a lot, which turns some people off. Although I’m not especially religious, the religious aspects of the book didn’t bother me much. I honestly don’t remember them being as intrusive as Mark recalls them being.
But the main reason I love Bradshaw’s book, and why I would recommend it even if I didn’t like the rest of the book, is that it’s the only book on shame I’ve found so far that really touches on how shame-based people can only view themselves in extremes, as either being superhuman or as being subhuman.
From the book (emphasis added by me):
As a state of being, shame takes over one’s whole identity. To have shame as an identity is to believe that one’s being is flawed, that one is defective as a human being. Once shame is transformed into an identity, it becomes toxic and dehumanizing.
Toxic shame is unbearable and always necessitates a cover-up, a false self. Since one feels his true self is defective and flawed, one needs a false self that is not defective and flawed. Once one becomes a false self, one ceases to exist psychologically. To be a false self is to cease being an authentic human being. The process of false self formation is what Alice Miller calls “soul murder.” As a false self, one tries to be more than human or less than human.
Later in the book Bradshaw expands on this (emphasis appears in original text):
Because the exposure of self to self lies at the heart of neurotic shame, escape from the self is necessary. The escape from self is accomplished by creating a false self. The false self is always more than human. The false self may be a perfectionist or a slob, a family Hero or a family Scapegoat. As the false self is formed, the authentic self goes into hiding. Years later the layers of defense and pretense are so intense that one loses all conscious awareness of who one really is…
It is crucial to see that the false self may be as polar opposite as a super-achieving perfectionist or an addict in an alley. Both are driven to cover up their deep sense of self-rupture, the hole in their soul. They may cover up in ways that look the polar opposite, but each is still driven by neurotic shame. In fact, the most paradoxical aspect of neurotic shame is that it is the core motivator of the superachieved and the underachieved, the star and the scapegoat, the righteous and the wretched, the powerful and the pathetic.
I would also add that shame’s the core motivator of narcissists and codependents also. As I’ve described before, shame is the underside of narcissism and codependence. There are three faulty coping mechanisms humans engage in when dealing with our personal issues: overcompensation, surrender, and avoidance. The narcissist is overcompensating against toxic shame, and masquerading as superhuman and grasping for anything that can fuel his grandiosity. The codependent alternates between surrendering to and avoiding his shame, and he masquerades as subhuman.
Why such extremes? I think there are several reasons, and I don’t claim to know and understand them all. One reason, I believe, is that shame-based people take their own feelings and their actions to be reflections of their very identity. Since being shame-filled causes wildly oscillating feelings and actions in themselves, as well as wildly oscillating extreme feelings and reactions in others who they interact with, their identities end up fluctuating to the same extremes as the feelings and actions of themselves and others.
For example, if a person who isn’t shame-based hits on a girl, and she rejects him, he may say, “Oh, I failed.” He doesn’t think he’s a better or worse person than he was before the rejection. If before he thought he was a cool guy, not he just thinks of himself as a cool guy who just happened to fail at something. However if a shame-based person hits on a girl, and she rejects him, that guy would say, “Oh no, I’m a failure.” To shame-based people, everything they do or that happens to them is a commentary on their very identity and self-worth, and now views himself as a worse person than before he attempted. So now he feels subhuman.
He may choose to just surrender to this feeling and stay subhuman and stop trying. Or he may overcompensate by trying extra hard until he gets laid, and now he thinks he’s a stallion, a real Don Juan. Now he’s superhuman. Since the success of our actions and the state of our emotions can fluctuate wildly from one extreme to another over the course of the day, when we tie our identity to those things, our identity can fluctuate wildly as well.
Another thing I notice about shame-based people is that they tend to elicit very strong reactions and emotions from other people, whether favorable or negative, especially people with their own damage and shame issues. This is why narcissists and codependents often have such chemistry. Since shame-based people also like to tie how they view themselves to how other people feel about and react to them at any given moment, the fact that they elicit more extreme, polarizing feelings and reactions from others than the average person does also contributes to them developing more extreme, polarizing views of themselves than the average person does.
To put it more simply, the more your self-esteem and self-image are generated internally, the more stable it’s likely to be, because your internal world is easier to keep consistent. The more your self-esteem and self-image are generated externally, the more extreme and volatile they’re likely to be, because the external world is very unpredictable and full of extreme highs and lows.
This explains why someone who was a total nerd and never got laid in high school can become the biggest sociopathic asshole player when older and accomplished. Or why a fat frumpy girl who used to act meek and mousy can sometimes become a total arrogant bitch after losing a lot of weight, getting a makeover, and becoming hot. They’ve gone from surrendering to the shame to overcompensating against it. Sometimes the guy who was a nerd in high school and never got laid becomes older and accomplished and better looking but still acts like the nerd in high school who never got laid. Or the formerly fat girl who is now hot still acts meek and mousy and still thinks of herself as that fat girl. They’ve gotten so used to surrendering to the shame they don’t know any other way to deal with it.
Either way, as long as someone retains the shame and never heals it, no matter how they change their externals they will still always be stuck in either a superhuman or a subhuman mode, rather than ever just becoming human.