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How Trump’s Rise Can Make You a Better Person

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HOW TRUMP’S RISE CAN MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON

Here’s something good about the rise of trump™. (I know, I’m grasping at straws.)

This is a chance for us to become better people. I don’t mean just being better citizens, although that’s great — being vigilant about what our government is up to and who is getting rich because of it, standing up for people who are being bullied or intimidated, gathering with our neighbors to protect our communities — no, I mean actually becoming better human beings.

You know how they say that the behavior that drives you crazy about someone else is likely lodged deep inside of you, too? We have visceral responses to unwanted aspects of our own personalities. Oftentimes, this is unconscious; we are not even aware that we have the same attitude or behavior that’s driving us nuts in someone else.

When you are annoyed by someone, try searching your own heart, especially if you sense you might be overreacting. Might as well look at your own crap, because there’s nothing you can do to change them. Why not work on changing yourself? If you are successful, you will find compassion for that annoying person and peace for yourself.

This is not a new idea and it’s not my idea. The Bible says to take the splinter out of your own eye before you start prying the plank out of someone else’s eye.

Old lumber and two by fours stacked in a wood pile. Shallow depth of field.

Pathological Neediness

Back to trump™. There’s a lot not to like in him, and I won’t go through the list. You know it. Ugliness and brokenness.

One of my heroes, Father Thomas Keating, says that we all carry childhood emotional needs into adulthood, and they become distorted if they weren’t met in childhood: safety & security, power & control, and esteem and affection. Trump™ has all of them to a pathological degree.

What horrifies me most about him is the esteem and affection bit: his endless need for recognition, his boundless self-glorification, his screaming craving for adoration. He thought money would buy him love, but now he’s not sure if he is loved for his money or for himself. He is abusive to anyone who criticizes him, and he is transparently manipulated by anyone who compliments him.

Hence Putin. Soooo dangerous.

My Splinter

The thing is, I can relate to his emptiness. I have been praying for many years for God to change that very trait in me. I *hate* how much I want people to like me and recognize me. It makes me do and say things that don’t come from my true self; it makes me a hostage to other people’s opinions.

And it’s nuts. I’m a grown woman with gifts and skills and with shortcomings and annoying traits. At times I rock out and at times I screw up. I have a ton of friends who love me regardless. And God loves me so much I ought to have no time to ponder anything but my response to Her spirit.

For some reason, God leaves this thorn in my side. It’s better than it used to be, but I am still painfully aware of it. It’s OK, though. It humbles me. I try not to obsess about my shortcomings, because in the end that’s just being self-absorbed, but I want to recognize them and offer them up to God for fixin’.

So here’s the good thing about the rise of trump™ that I promised: this is an opportunity for you to call out the negative in yourself. Which of his many unpleasant traits really annoy you? And — is it possible that you host them inside yourself?

This inaugural week, in recognition and protest of the new president, let’s work on making ourselves better people. 

And I just want to say God bless Barack and Michelle.

Thank you for your dedication and love for our country and its people.

Be well.

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An Urgent Primer: Malignant Narcissism

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I learned a new term today, and it’s one that every American and every foreign leader should become familiar with immediately. As soon as I heard the descriptor from a mental health professional who will remain nameless, I knew it was spot-on: malignant narcissist.

I Googled.

The first offering was an excerpt from Wikipedia, and it literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

“Kernberg described malignant narcissism as a syndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression. Other symptoms may include an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity).”

You might not know exactly what all those terms mean, but you know exactly who they are talking about, don’t you?

The term was first used by the social psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964, when he described malignant narcissism as a “severe mental sickness” representing “the quintessence of evil.” (Cue another rise of the neck hair.) Fromm called the condition “the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity.”

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These people aren’t your run of the mill narcissists, who damage people for their own promotion but then might feel bad about it later. No, a malignant narcissist enjoys harming others and shows little empathy or regret for say, mocking disabled people or grabbing women’s crotches.

Another way you can tell a malignant narcissist from a regular ol’ psychopath, according to psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, is that psychopaths can’t really identify with anyone, whereas malignant narcissists “have the capacity to admire powerful people, and can depend on sadistic and powerful but reliable parental images,” like say, Vladimir Putin.

Otto also wrote that, “Some of them may present rationalized antisocial behavior – for example, as leaders of sadistic gangs or terrorist groups . . . with the capacity for loyalty to their own comrades.” Can you say Bannon? Guiliani?

Author and psychoanalyst Dan Shaw is quoted in an article in Psychology Today (a must-read, seriously) as offering these telltale signs of malignant narcissism:

  • Someone who is “infinitely entitled and grateful to no one.”
  • When telling the story of his life, he “leaves out any trace of his own significant misdeeds and failures.”
  • Someone who “never hesitates to lie for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.”
  • Someone who “blames others for his own errors and failures.”
  • Someone who “is erratic, thin-skinned, belligerent, and constantly engaged in attacking and belittling perceived enemies.”
  • And in the case of malignant narcissistic leaders of cults and political movements, Shaw says, “he persuades followers to see their lives before joining his group as wretched, and he claims exclusive possession of the power to transform followers’ lives in miraculous ways.”

Bingo.

Please, people, let’s not pretend. Let’s not normalize pathology. Let’s not let the media get away with normalizing this, either. We are in very deep trouble. While denial might make us feel better, it is not an option right now.

Must-read: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-couch/201608/what-happens-when-malignant-narcissist-starts-unravel

Are You Faking It?

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Everyone knows that everyone else feels like a fake, right? The term Impostor Syndrome has been around almost forty years, and media outlets regularly do stories on it as if it’s just been discovered.

You would think that knowing we’re not alone would help. Yet somehow, having company doesn’t make us feel any less like a fraud. It’s as if we think we are the only genuine fake because we are comparing our insides to everyone else’s outside persona.

 When clinical psychologists described the syndrome in 1978, they thought it was unique to women. My guess is that women were just more willing to talk about it. Now researchers say that all types of people experience this phenomenon, especially if they feel different from others because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or other reasons.

I first became aware of it when a good-looking, successful, middle-aged male told me tearfully that “if people really knew me, they’d know I’m a fake. They wouldn’t like me.” I was stunned and deeply saddened that someone could feel that way.

At age eighteen, I was so out of touch with my own emotions that I didn’t know I felt the same way about myself!

Whatever you do, don't take off your mask!

Whatever you do, don’t take off your mask!

Just Say No to Condemnation

As a church leader, I hear the sentiment expressed over and over, in different words: “I am not good enough.” Always in a confessional or shame-filled tone.

Well, hell, of course you’re not good enough to please the scolding, shaming parental voice in your head! You are a human being, flawed and vulnerable and doing your best to muddle through life.

It’s a horror and a crime that many so-called Christian communities enthusiastically add to the judgmental, condemning voices in our heads. Shame! Sin! You’re going to burn in eternity!

Well, thank you.That was super helpful.

Those condemners are nothing like the God they claim to represent. I can’t know God fully, and neither can they. But I do know that if a voice in your head or a belief about yourself is not loving, it does not come from God, because God is love.

“As Yourself”

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he said to love God with everything you’ve got. And then he said to love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27). We are meant to be overflowing with love and compassion and grace towards ourselves.

We must first learn to love ourselves before we can properly love others from a place of healthy humility and self-acceptance. When we accept how beloved we are, just as we are, we won’t need to achieve or perform or prove ourselves. We won’t need to compete or manipulate. We can just be real. Now that’s freedom!

Thanks for the daily prompt of “fake,” WordPress.

Trump: Psychopath or Sociopath?

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Today I’m pondering contrasts. One in particular is on my mind: What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? This isn’t normally a question one must address when judging presidential candidates, but — well, it’s 2016.

As you may know, I have been fixated on Orange Man for months. I stay up late into the night, watching YouTube videos of him inciting violence, reading expert analyses about why in God’s name anyone would support him, and watching endless debates and pundits.

By the way, people, speaking of contrasts: They are pundits, not pundints, OK? Even pundits sometimes toss an N into the word and call themselves pundints. It’s like “nuclear.” There’s no U. It’s not nuculure. (I’m looking at you, George Bush.)

But I digress – pronunciation is a less interesting obsession than the mental health of orange people.

My Sleaze Addiction

At any rate, I find myself researching the difference between dangerous personality disorders — in contrast to what I should be doing, which is getting ready for a call with a financial planner and preparing for a congregational care meeting tonight. Or going out for a walk to celebrate the contrast between winter and spring. Birdsong! Azaleas! Warm breezes! No, I’m sitting on my couch, wandering among psychology websites. 

So that my time isn’t completely misspent, I thought I would share some findings with you, in case you are also following the adventures of Orange Man.

(Happily, after his rant about penis size and his tweets comparing his sexy-model-wife with Ted Cruz’s regular-person-wife, I am less fixated on the guy. Too much sleaze. Instead I’ve become fascinated with online trash-talking Democrats, Hillary and Bernie supporters abusing one other with juvenile taunts and accusations. But that’s another post.)

Hot-Headed or Cold-Hearted?

It’s not clearcut, but my hunch is that Orange Man is a sociopath. The two disorders have a lot in common, and diagnosticians lump them together as “antisocial personality disorders.” But WebMD (the website my apparently twenty-year-old doctor pulls up whenever I ask her a question) says the following:

People with both disorders “have a poor inner sense of right and wrong. They also can’t seem to understand or share another person’s feelings.” But here’s a difference: “A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to . . . A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. He may know that taking your money is wrong, and he might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop his behavior . . . a psychopath has less regard for others . . . he sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.”

Hmmm. Orange Man doesn’t seem to have a conscience, but his mind is such a mysterious muddle to me, I’m not sure.

Muddled synapses in the Orange Brain

Muddled synapses in the Orange Brain

Did he feel bad when he backtracked from his wish to  “punish” troubled pregnant women? Or just make a political calculation?

I think this next excerpt is more telling, also from WebMD:

“It’s not easy to spot a psychopath. They can be intelligent, charming, and good at mimicking emotions. They may pretend to be interested in you, but in reality, they probably don’t care. Sociopaths are less able to play along. They make it plain that they’re not interested in anyone but themselves. They often blame others and have excuses for their behavior.

Some experts see sociopaths as ‘hot-headed.’ They act without thinking how others will be affected. Psychopaths are more ‘cold-hearted’ and calculating. They carefully plot their moves, and use aggression in a planned-out way to get what they want. If they’re after more money or status in the office, for example, they’ll make a plan to take out any barriers that stand in the way, even if it’s another person’s job or reputation.”

Alligator? Crocodile? Either way, you had better be careful!

Alligator? Crocodile? Either way, you had better be careful!

A Chilling Reality

An orange sociopath with traces of psychopath, maybe? He’s surely hot-headed and blames others for his behavior. (He actually said of Ted Cruz on national TV, “He started it!”) But — what if his hot-headed, reckless behavior is all a cold-hearted plan calculated to appeal to hot-headed and reckless voters? Or maybe he’s just a megalomaniac, which the dictionary defines as a “pathological egotist, someone with a psychological disorder with symptoms like delusions of grandeur and an obsession with power.”

You can decide for yourself. I am not being snarky here. It is clear that Donald J. Trump is not a well man. It’s chilling, once you look into it. Here are some characteristics of sociopaths, selected from R. Preston McAfee’s website:

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning — They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
  • Grandiose Sense of Self — Feels entitled to certain things as “their right.”
  • Pathological Lying — Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt — A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
  • Shallow Emotions — When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
  • Need for Stimulation  — Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
  • Callousness/Lack of Empathy — Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others’ feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
  • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature — Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
  • Irresponsibility/Unreliability — Not concerned about wrecking others’ lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
  • Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility — Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

Thanks to WordPress for today’s writing prompt, contrast.

Lessons From the Fall: Saying Yes

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The woman walked slowly across the parking lot, clearly not caring that her wrinkled blue scrubs were getting soaked with rain. She seemed bone tired, like she had just come off a twenty-four hour shift. Still, when she saw me wrangling a grocery cart with my left hand, trying not to involve my broken and braced right arm in the maneuvering, she didn’t hesitate.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

I looked her straight in her tired eyes and said, “Yes.”

This may not sound like much to you, but I think I felt the sidewalk tremble under my feet. You see, I never, ever answer yes to that question.

I haven’t completely figured out where my inability to accept help comes from, despite discussing this with my therapist numerous times. I am independent to a fault — there’s a fierceness to it that’s not healthy.

Back off, I got this!

Back off, I got this!

My therapist suggests that growing up in an alcoholic home meant I did not get what I needed, and so I learned to fend for myself and stopped asking for help. Maybe.

Or it could be in my blood.

My dad was a Texan, and I was taught that having Texan ancestry meant I could do anything I put my mind to. By myself. (The Alamo and all that.) Then there’s the British blood from Mom’s side, which signals my psyche that any sign of “weakness” is cause for embarrassment.

Somewhere I picked up the notion that there’s shame in needing help . . . that I should be able to do everything by myself and that there must be something fundamentally flawed in me if I can’t.

My discomfort may also be left over from olden days, when my self-esteem was nonexistent. I couldn’t believe anybody would truly want to help me, worthless as I was. Perhaps at some level I’m afraid if I “trouble” someone to help me, they might not like me — ah, those hobgoblins of old.

Do you find it hard to accept help, or am I alone in my neurosis here? If you can relate, have you ever wondered why you are like that? It doesn’t make sense to me — we are communal creatures, biologically made to thrive in help-groups.

Funny thing is, I like helping people. It makes me happy. So why would I withhold that pleasure from others? Maybe it was my imagination, but I think that the tired woman in the blue scrubs was walking with a little spring in her step after she helped me to my car.

Lesson number two from my fall: practice saying yes once in a while.

Related: You can find lesson number one about the illusion of control at this link.

Light and Dark in the New Year

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One of the most mysterious aspects of life is the simultaneous — even symbiotic — existence of darkness and light, sadness and joy. I used to think that events, people, and years were good or bad, light or dark. The two never mixed.

A bad thing was anything that did not make me happy. I would do anything to avoid feeling sadness.

For me, the holidays resurrect this dusty dream of pure perfection from the cobwebby corners of my brain, and remind me of the vast distance between reality and my old chimera.

Being Small and Being Happy

In my childhood memory, this perfection still exists. Surrounded by reindeer wrapping paper, I’m sitting on the floor next to my giant doll with the glossy brown hair and perfectly pink cheeks, inhaling her glorious just-unwrapped-plastic smell.  I’m trying to fit a tiny spatula into her hand so she can use my shiny new Easy Bake Oven. Silent Night is playing on the radio. There is no darkness in this memory, no shadow. All is well.

All is Well

But of course all is not well. My father is probably pouring his second martini of the morning in the kitchen, and my mother is looking at her Joy of Cooking, but not really seeing the cranberry sauce recipe because she’s desperately trying to figure out a way to stop the scenes she knows will come later. My older brother is having an overly dramatic asthma attack brought on by an earlier temper tantrum, which was probably brought on my Mom’s inattention. My big sister is sulking up in her room, sinking into her pre-adolescent phase where she’ll be lost to us for a few years.

We are in an arms race with the Russians, the Cubans are planning missile bases, and in a few years JFK will be assassinated.

But I am happy. Children are able to exist fully in the moment, focused and oblivious to the shadows. No doubt I’ll get tired and cranky later and start fussing, and the whole world will seem all dark, all hopeless, and irredeemable.

Being Fully Human

As we age, our perspective changes, the camera draws back and we see a little bit of the bigger picture. Darkness and light exist together, and we need them both to become fully human.

We would not know grief if we had not known love. We would not learn compassion if we did not experience pain. We would not have met the heroes of 9/11 or Newtown if darkness had not prevailed first.

We would not recognize the goodness of George Bailey if Mr. Potter did not exist.

A distraught George Bailey (James Stewart) ple...

A distraught George Bailey (James Stewart) pleads for help from Mr. Potter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Learning to See in the Dark

For me, the world is becoming more and more about redemption, about finding a light within that gives meaning to the darkness. Not trying to escape the darkness, but learning to see in the dark.

Since the darkness is there, along with the light, why not learn what we can from it? Live into it all? Embrace the darkness while we wait for more light?

Instead of forced merriment and constant busyness that keeps loneliness at bay, I choose to feel the melancholy that sometimes creeps in during the holiday season. To take time to miss the people who are gone, and to remember to pray for the hurting in the world.

A Beautiful Longing

The image of perfection and pure light that we carry in our hearts is about longing — it’s what we are meant to strive for. The darkness in the world makes us yearn for the light even more. That’s a good thing.

I’ll be walking on the beach New Year’s Day, God willing. I’ll stop to watch the ebb and flow of the tide, to admire the light and shadows on the crests and troughs of the waves. It will be beautiful.

Girl Holding the Sun, Sunrise - Public Domain Photos, Free Images for Commercial Use

It Will Be Beautiful

Have a Blessed New Year

CIA Unrest: An Untold Story

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My years working at the CIA seem eons away, and so they are. Most of my memories are fuzzy, which is probably the way the agency would prefer it. But apparently there are untold inner stories agitating to be free.

I went to see the movie Argo this evening and came home with my insides churning. The movie is about the CIA efforts to free the American hostages from Iran in 1980.

American Embassy in Tehran, 1979

I can’t quite put my finger on why the film upset me, but I know it has something to do with Maya Angelou’s statement :

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

I’ve already shared one CIA secret that needed to be purged, the one that’s flopping around out in the daylight this week after General Petraeus’ unfortunate nose dive. Sexual mores at the CIA aren’t what they could be, or at least they weren’t in my day.

I have no comment on the General’s performance, except to say that unless they found evidence of some truly egregious classified pillow talk, I think the resignation is an over-reaction. But what do I know?

Besides, I’m sick of sex at the CIA. I’ve said what I needed to say about that, here:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/rubber-ducky-exposes-cia-sexual-harassment/

There’s something else causing me agony tonight. Some untold story.

I was at the agency during the Iranian hostage period, and I had a good friend who had only just escaped Tehran before the fiasco. Perhaps the movie simply stirred up the fear and upset of those times. Although I was just a lowly clerk, I certainly absorbed the crisis vibes all around me.

I think, though, it’s something more personal. More like,

What the #@$%!! was I doing at the CIA??

The -foot ( m) diameter granite CIA seal in th...

The sixteen-foot diameter granite CIA seal in the lobby of the original headquarters building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a psychological term, cognitive dissonance, which describes what must have been pounding inside my brain and my heart the entire seven years I worked there. It’s a situation where you’re trying to live with two conflicting beliefs, or where your behavior and beliefs don’t match.

Say that you are demonstrating in front of the White House against nuclear power on Sunday, and then filing documents promoting nuclear power abroad on Monday. Or maybe you’re hoarding a closetful of anti-Vietnam war buttons, posters, and flyers while microfilming documents detailing the long history of U.S. aggression there.

I did not belong.

I told myself I didn’t care when one friend stopped talking to me because I’d chosen to work “for the dark side.” I told myself I needed the money to pay for college tuition, which was true. I was working two jobs.

Still, I might have paid more attention to the bizarre juxtaposition between a degree in Environmental Studies and a career at the CIA. Crazy, right?

I had stumbled into a career that was taking me far from my values. I was 18, for Heaven’s sake; I didn’t even know what my values were.

Apparently, though, I did. Instead of facing it, I just drank and partied and tried to numb the cognitive dissonance. That’s why it’s still in there, deep in my gut, an untold story.

The emotional unrest I felt during those years got stirred up tonight, watching scenes of stressed-out white men in black suits stalking the marble halls in McLean.

I was there. And I shouldn’t have been.

<Disclaimer: I do not mean to say that I don’t respect part of what the CIA does. I knew some true patriots there, including my Dad. I honor those people.>

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