Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Send In or Send Away - What to do with the Clowns

Hello Friends:

Another survey has come and gone, and once again has given me the opportunity to make broad and sweeping statements based on statistically insignificant data. This, however, sounds much like my career in research science, so I'm going to plow ahead undaunted.

My Opinion of Clowns:
(0) Clowns are great!
(1) Some are funny, some aren't.
(0) No real opinion about clowns.
(3) Clowns are sort of creepy.
(1) Clowns are terrifying!

Who knew that clowns could be a source of controversy? But indeed, they are. Now I knew when I did my bit about being afraid of bats that bats were loved by some (and justly so, given the trillions of bugs they devour each year). However, it never actually occurred to me that anyone loves clowns, which shows you just how out of touch I am. Turns out that the scary/funny debate about clowns is alive and well. Although my 'data' here seems to point to most people thinking clowns are creepy, there are apparently plenty of people who think they are amusing.

I'm not going to go into exhaustive detail, since if you do a google search on this stuff you'll be inundated with the "I hate clowns" posts, the "serial killer who was a clown" reports, and articles on how many people are now afraid of clowns because of Stephen King or The Simpsons (really). Instead I'm going to provide my digest of what I found most interesting, and then my usual spin off into what seems to be going on psychologically.

Some Clown History

There have been clowns, or versions of clowns, around for as much as 5000 years. What we would now think of as circus performers of various types have existed in societies as old as that of the ancient Greeks, and even Egypt. The gamut includes tricksters, magicians, stilt-walkers, hypnotists, jesters, mimes and more. Apparently comics and 'simple minded' people were kept by wealthy families in some ancient cultures as a kind of good luck charm. In the middle ages, court jesters were commonly kept or hired for performances, and traditionally were the only people who could openly poke fun at the members of court, including the King. Modern clowns as we know them came about in the 1800's, and then were modified in America in the early 1900's and during the depression. It was at that time that the idea of the hobo or tramp clown became commonplace.

The theme that seems to go through all of 'clowning' is that these people stood outside of normal social rules and behavior. They could get away with saying and doing things that others could not. Sometimes clowns acted as a voice for the people in satirizing politicians and making fun of the government. Clowns also were used as a sort of societal scapegoat, with the clown's performances having the clown doing menial or even humiliating tasks, and being subjected to taunts and ridicule. Then, of course, there were the comic clowns whose job it was to make sure people were entertained, but they could do so by playing practical jokes, making fun of others, and surprising people with tricks.

On to Clown Fear

Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns. Apparently, and not surprisingly from my perspective, as many as 8 to 15 percent of adults have a fear of clowns to some degree. This isn't a 'hey, I don't like clowns' thing, but a real 'clowns bother me and I'll go out of my way to avoid them' thing. Or up to as bad as the real phobics, who will limit life activities to make certain they never run into clowns, which means avoiding parades, amusement parks, state fairs, and for some, yes ... McDonalds. That aspect of the fear might actually end up extending your life, but of course as with all phobias, it is very painful, causes suffering, and would be nice to banish.

A little over a year ago, a story went around the internet about a hospital in Britain that did some research about how to decorate the pediatric ward. They collected opinions from 250 children ages 4 to 16 - and every single one of them said they did not want clowns decorating the ward (reported in The Telegraph). Now, this wasn't all fear based. Some of the older children said that clowns were babyish and so didn't want the place to be covered in them. But apparently many of the kids at all ages expressed disquiet and even fear about clowns.

Many adults who express a fear of clowns have a particular incident that happened to them as a child that served as a trigger. Usually this incident involved an encounter with a clown, or perhaps a mime, a moving animatronic figure, a costumed figure like a mascot, or some such. A very small number of people seem to have acquired the fear from movies like "It", but getting a real phobia from a movie is very rare. However, the media's portrayal of clowns in the last thirty years has been pretty negative overall. Clowns are a fixture in Halloween scary towns and 'fun' houses, and I for one won't go into one of those things because if a scary clown jumped out at me I'd either pass out, pee myself, or curl up in a ball on the floor. And I don't have a clown phobia, I just think they are creepy. But creepy+Halloween+clown+jumpingoutatyou = dropped brick.

Yes, there is Clown Love

I read through several websites of active, professional clowns. Most of the websites claim that fear of clowns is 'very rare' and something they encounter only occasionally. And yet, all the websites listed the strategies that the clown would go through when dealing with children who were anxious around them. The sites for professional clowns seem to portray the issue as largely a 'fear of clowns' fad with teens, and then an exaggerated sense of clowns as threatening from the media. They try hard to downplay any negative issues with clowns, saying it is all hype and blown out of proportion, as one might expect given that their livelihood and 'clown craft' are dependent on people seeing them in a good light. I expect the truth is probably somewhere in between. (That said, I did find some sites with a more even handed and non-judgmental treatment of the subject, like that on Coulrophobia by Charlie the Juggling Clown).

Regardless of what people might say or post on the internet, the truth is that clowns are a sought after form of entertainment. There are several societies dedicated to the profession, and it is alive and well. In particular, clowns continue to be used in settings where children want or need to be entertained, or even healed. In spite of the research as reported in the Telegraph, above, clowns are a fixture in many children's hospitals and wards. In fact, it has become common enough that studies are being done as to how hospital clowns can be the most effective in helping sick children (Note an article from 2007 in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine).

And for completeness, I'll note that there is a very well known and highly successful 'clown' show that includes heavy makeup, odd behavior, in-your-face antics, and very unpredictable outcomes. This show has been running for a decade, and is adored by many. It also comes with warnings so that people who might be anxious or afraid of getting drawn into the performance, as well as small children, do not attend. Most would not immediately think of it as a clown show, but it has 90% of the hallmarks. Blue Man Group.

Causes of Clown Fears

In ye olden days (like ten years ago) the most common explanation for a fear of clowns (which includes people in unusual costumes and makeup) was that the person in question experienced a traumatic event as a child. However, a significant percentage of phobics reported no childhood trauma they could associate with their fear. The end result was that the phobic's report was often brushed off as the phobic having blocked the event or being too young to remember. As mentioned, some people's fears do stem from a bad encounter with a clown or from a movie, and yet there are many other scary movies and creepy people that do not incite their own phobia after a single viewing or a single event. Given these two factors, it is likely that there and additional, more potent issue in play.

General thinking seems to be coming around to the idea that there is an inherent suspicion or difficulty surrounding masks, makeup, and wildly out of place or exaggerated costuming. Our brains are wired, especially when young, to interpret the signs and signals of others to ensure our social place in the group. Heavy makeup in particular is disturbing because it gives the illusion you can still see the face (not a mask) but it distorts and confuses the facial expressions of the wearer. Young children cannot interpret the expressions of clowns in any way that makes sense, given their previous experience. In addition to this, clowns also act in ways outside of the social norms. They can push physical as well as mental and emotional boundaries, forcing people to get involved in acts or skits, spraying them with water or silly string, and even poking, prodding and grabbing.

With all this fodder it seems likely that a previous traumatized child would certainly be at a risk to develop a clown fear. Add on a scary movie or a bad encounter with a clown, and it becomes even more likely. But it also seems that these primal issues with trying to sort out expressions and social behavior are more than enough to give a certain percentage of otherwise untraumatized people a clown phobia.

It is interesting to note just how professional clowns go about making anxious kids feel more comfortable. They all of their own method, but they often include things like: making sure they are not heavily made up, putting on their makeup and costuming right in front of the children, breaking character to talk to a scared child, acting afraid of the scared child, and letting the scared child order them to do things. These methods for mitigating clown fear seem split into 'costume' related strategies, and 'control' related strategies.

Many clowns note that they are aware their makeup and costume can be daunting, and say right out that if the children can 'see there is a human under there' they are more likely to be comfortable. Clowns also note that a child has to believe they are in control, not the clown. This was especially noted in hospital settings, where so much of a child's control has already been taken from them. If a child sees that a clown is anxious of them, or has the chance to get the clown to take orders from them, they are more calm around the clown.

Okay, I've really beaten this topic into the ground, but after I got into it I just found it so fascinating. I am not a fan of clowns, but now I have a better appreciation for what they are trying to accomplish, and how they do it. I loved Blue Man Group, but was certainly uncomfortable since there is no seeing that show without being a participant. With some things, like clowns, you can't stand back and be on the sidelines.

I know there is something profound in that, but I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book Review: Poem, Revised - Posted on The Tenacious Writer

Hello Friends:

If you are into writing (and since you are obviously into blogs I'm thinking you like reading other peoples' writing, if not writing yourself) then you might want to check out The Tenacious Writer. This blog has frequent posts to motivate writers of all stripes, and lots of excellent links to other resources.

Tenacious has hosted a post of mine as a guest-blogger where I review my most recent reading material. The link is Review of Poem, Revised by Guest Writer Blue Morpho. So if you like, pop on over and check it out.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spiritual Crises: Trying to Make Sense of God

Hello Friends:

Religion and spirituality have been on my mind a lot lately. In truth, they often are. For whatever reason I'm a spiritual person. My being trained as a research scientist does not conflict with this at all - but that's the subject of another post. (Or an entire book. And you know I think I'll put that one on the list of "books I really gotta write one of these days.") Instead, what I wanted to focus on here is the idea of spiritual crises and their relationship to anxiety and trauma.

I've been doing a lot of reading into PTSD recently, since (as I've mentioned in previous posts) the PTSD appears to be the core motivator or prime mover, so to speak, of my disordered psyche. I was very surprised to see that in the lists of responses to trauma "spiritual crisis or loss of faith" is in almost every one of them. I don't know why this is a surprise to me. After all, going to the therapist is usually another lesson in "No duh." (Did you know there is now research supporting the fact that people with three or more co-morbid anxiety/depression disorders are less able to remain functional at jobs and in work environments than those with fewer or no disorders? Did we really need a peer-reviewed paper to tell us this?) And yet, I still get taken by surprise by the obvious. If life sucks for you, then you generally don't have a great relationship with the Almighty.

For some people, their religious crisis stems from the reality of suffering. After a major traumatic event, people often think "How could God have let this happen to me?" and "How can a good God allow these sorts of horrible things?" Through their trauma these people are confronted with a brutal reality that is so at odds with their previous world view that they cannot find a new working middle ground. Their faith is seriously compromised or abandoned as a result.

I don't happen to wonder about suffering in the world, and this may be part of the difference between PTSD sufferers (from a single event) or Complex PTSD (multiple events or extended duration events). I've been subjected to trauma from birth, so it never occurred to me that the world was a nice place. My ideas of religion grew up in the context of a scary world. My crisis didn't come about from a sudden bad event, but instead from years and years of traumatic pressure slowly changing my point of view.

Although I can point to the triggering moment that I chose to stop praying, and thus sort of ended up with me and God no longer on speaking terms. I read a book where the author was saying that the accident that made her a quadrapelegic was actually God's answer to a prayer. She prayed that He would bring her closer to Him, and the next week she was paralyzed from the neck down. This was (and is) about the most horrible thing I'd ever read. It crystalized my lack of trust in God - apparently if you prayed for things, he would give them to you, but in a nasty 'Monkey's Paw' sort of way. Better not to pray at all, and then at least you know the bad stuff comes from random chance.

"There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread." - Mahatma Gandhi

I have always loved this quote, even when I was on 'good terms' with God. Surely, I felt, God is compassionate and giving, and knows that starving people don't need sermons, they need FOOD. But then being squished through the eye of the needle that is Fundamental Christianity, my views on God became torqued. I saw God as scary, judgmental, angry, unapproachable, requiring perfect prayer, constant sacrifice, and incessant vigilance lest I fall away and be tossed into the fire. This, by the way, is also an excellent description of how I felt about my parents, who provided many of the traumatic experiences that continue to haunt me. If you cannot get unconditional love from your parents, you certainly don't imagine you can get it from God. God, like my parents, became someone whom I thought it better to avoid.

But this sort of pisses me off. I don't want my innate interests and desires for a more spiritual life to be another casualty of my abusive upbringing. So many things have already been broken by a past that was not my fault - I don't want to ditch the whole idea of spirituality as a reaction to something else. I need to find out if it is right for me, and how, and to do that I need to find ways to separate myself from images of the divine as a parent. I don't have a good model for a parent so I'm not going to want a deity that is one. What I want are influences that allow me to fully grow into myself as a person.

Which brought me back to the quote from Gandhi, and a way to begin to think of God, the Goddess, the Divine, Wisdom, Warm Fuzzy Life Feelies or Whatever as that which nourishes me. God can't come to me as a controlling, child-sacrificing slave-master, but God can come to me as bread. Or, in fact, as the love I get from my husband, the acceptance I get from my sister, the joy I get from watching the cardinals outside return in the spring. You know, good stuff like that.

Bread, of course, is already fraught with religious significance and imagery, not the least of which is the 'body of Christ' from Christian mass/communion. Not wanting to bog myself down too much there, instead of a picture of a communion wafer I chose a pic of challah bread. One of the many benefits of having married a Jew is the introduction to Jewish food (which includes great stuff like matzo ball soup, and some less great stuff like gefilte fish). If you haven't had Challah, it is amazing stuff; soft and stretchy on the inside, rich and dense, but yielding, with a crisp, thin crust. It makes the best French Toast on the planet, too.

Another benefit of a Jewish husband is that his operating system comes pre-loaded with the idea that is it a good thing to treat one's religious beliefs with the same intellectual honesty used anywhere else in life. The tradition of Jewish scholars arguing Torah in the Yeshiva lives on in conscious and unconscious ways. So I, WASP woman that I am, get the encouragement and the room to step back and consider what God really is to me.

Challah seems like a great place to start with that.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image is Challah by A. Ross from Flickr via Creative Commons.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Phobias: Just One More Thing To Deal With

Hello Friends:

It is not uncommon for phobias of all kinds to be accompanied by (comorbid with) other stress and trauma related disorders, including depression. So if you end up with one, your odds are good that you’ll be dealing with another.

Because dealing with just one disorder is too easy … or something.

Phobias are at least one sort of diagnosis that gets a lot of press. Everyone knows someone who is afraid of something, so having a phobia doesn't have to make a person feel 'abnormal' anymore. My own little survey was hardly scientific, but once again I will extrapolate from no data to broad and sweeping conclusions. Three brave folks completed the poll with the following results:

Phobias! Which of the following make you freak? Pick all that apply.

(1) Spiders/Insects

(1) Needles/Blood

(1) Talking to people

(2) High or small spaces

(0) Leaving the house

(0) Nope – No phobias

This does support the idea that phobias are reasonably commonplace. Of course, many people are uncomfortable with spiders or needles, but if you find yourself panicked around them and avoiding them to the point that you would prefer to inhibit a major life activity, then you probably have a phobia.
And naturally phobias come in several different flavors, with different triggers and treatments. Again, because it would be too easy, otherwise.

Specific Phobias - Also called 'simple' phobias, which none of them really are. These are the sorts of fears most people think about when they imagine phobias. And they are, in turn, also split into categories.

- Natural Environment Phobias - Triggered by objects or events in nature such as fear of storms, fear of lightning, fear of water, fear of the dark, fear of heights, and fear of flowers. Yes, flowers. It happens (anthrophobia). I've recently started developing both a fear of storms and a fear of snow - I think it's related to a general fear of being trapped, but whatever it is it is getting really irritating.

- Animal/Insect Phobias
- All the classics are here; fear of mice, fear of cats/dogs, fear of spiders, fear of snakes, and -heh- fear of bats (chiroptophobia). I am phobic about spiders - terrified of them with no reason needed or given. Of course I wrote about being afraid of bats, but it's not the same. I find spiders disgusting and loathesome. I'm just afraid of bats, and squirrels and dogs and most other furry things because of my OCD fear of rabies. Makes perfect sense ...

- Situational Phobias
- Triggered, as one might expect, by specific situations, like fear of flying, fear of elevators, fear of small spaces, fear of dentists, fear of driving, fear of tunnels, and on and on. Holy cow do I have a fear of flying. Bad bad fear that has never gotten better, even though I fly at least a half a dozen times a year, sometimes as much as once a month. The only thing that works is drugs - Ativan, actually. I'm still terrified, but in a sort of fogged out way. I've even fallen asleep on planes when I've had enough of the stuff, and that's a gift I only fantasized about before the meds.

- Blood/Injection/Injury Phobias - This is something of a more loose association of fears, but they all include issues like fear of blood, fear of being harmed, fear of needles, fear of medical procedures and such. I am terrified of needles. Again, just looking at them makes me sweat. I have both a standard phobia here, as well as an OCD phobia. And then you can add on the traumatic reactions related to violation and contamination. Needles = bad, and there's no getting around it.

Social Anxiety/Social Phobia - This category is split into two subdivisions.

- Generalized Social Anxiety - This is anxiety generated in any sort of social or 'performance' situation. Basically needing to be around people or talk in almost any way can scare a person with this fear. Yep. And I'm even an extrovert. I've got this one pretty bad.

- Specific Social Phobias - For people with specific social phobias, they are fine in almost any situation, except for something in particular; examples are fear of public speaking, fear of eating or drinking in front of people, using public restrooms, making phone calls, or answering a question in class.

Agoraphobia - Has it's own separate category. People used to think this was a fear of wide open spaces, but more likely it is a conditioned pattern of avoidance to situations where the person feels they might lose control or have a panic attack and be unable to get help. It is not entirely clear if agoraphobia, which usually ends up trapping people in their homes, is a kind of offshoot of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Some people think that panic attacks are an extreme expression of GAD. And so having many panic attacks, leading to Agoraphobia, could mean that Agoraphobia is really bad GAD. Heh. I buy into that particular idea, myself, although my Agoraphobia isn't really Agoraphobia at all. I thought it was GAD related, but it seems to be severe generalized social anxiety, instead. I'm so afraid of having to deal with people, and afraid of their expectations, that I end up unable to leave the house, unable answer the phone, or even read my email, let alone respond to it.

And then, apparently, there are phobias that don't really fit into any category. Fear of illness and disease is tricky. It can sometimes be a type of injury phobia, but can also be an OCD related issue. Hypochondria in the classic sense is listed as a somatoform disorder; a type of disorder where people feel real pain, but the causes are most likely due to psychological factors. It is a severe bummer to have that disorder, since it is the one where people say "It's all in your head, so just get over it." But the pain is quite real, and needs to be dealt with. Many anxiety disorders have physical symptoms that can make a person feel physically very ill. Panic attacks routinely have people calling the ambulance thinking they are having heart failure. In any case, fear of illnesses and experiences of physical symptoms without cause is a very complex issue.

Oh yeah, as for the pic at the top:

Fear of stairs and steep slopes – Bathmophobia
Fear of climbing or falling down stairs – Climacophobia

And so what's the difference? Apparently Bathmophobia is a specific phobia, your basic fear and loathing of stairs. Climacophobia is a kind of social phobia, related to a fear of doing something embarrassing or humiliating when trying to climb stairs, or by accidentally falling down them.

When I started this I was thinking I'd just do a one-post job on phobias. Now I see it is going to provide fodder for a long, long time to come.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image is "look downstairs into stairwell whirl" by quapan on flickr via Creative Commons

Monday, March 9, 2009

Book Review: Will I Ever Be Good Enough - Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride

Hello Friends:

This book gets four out of five 'wings' from your Adventure Hostess.

I told myself I was going to stop with the self help books. That was almost three years ago, and up until recently I kept off of them. I felt I needed to take a break from it since every book I picked up said the same thing. I've read all the anxiety-books-this and phobia- catalogs-that and done the workbooks-for-the-relaxation-challenged. I have "Learned Optimism" and tried "Feeling Good" and everything in between. I read them all religiously, and after several years of it, I got almost as sick of the books as I was of my disorders.

My original impression was that my GAD and OCD issues were at the heart of all my problems, and I was starting to get very frustrated that all the cognitive-behavioral-blah-blah was still not working for most of my 'anxiety' attacks. But my perspective has shifted in the last six months as I've finally come to understand that the PTSD is really dominating my emotional scene. It was pretty well hidden before, since if you are having multiple panic attacks a day, plus can't do things like use door handles or wash dishes, you are in a pretty acute situation. Now that I have a better grip on those issues (after a decade of CBT and now meds) other, more deeply buried issues are coming forward. I had thought I was having only generalized anxiety attacks; turns out more than half of those 'attacks' are actually PTSD flashbacks. I figured since I wasn't seeing anything weird, I couldn't be flashing back. Wrong-o. PTSD sufferers can experience emotional and even somatic flashbacks. I've been in situations where I can see what's going around me just fine, but I actually feel and even smell things that are from my distant past.

This has given me a boost, since it means I can perhaps find new ideas and relief in a whole array of self help books I never bothered to read. And so you'd think this post would be about at PTSD book. Ah, no. Sorry. I ended up moving off into yet another area of emotional fodder as yet uneaten. This would be examining more the real root of my disorders in the first place. In my case, one of the three big nasty things from my past was being raised by a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissism. During my searches for new book-fodder, I spotted a recent book on the Narcissism subject, and figured I'd check it out.

And finally ... the actual book review.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride is relatively recent, published in September of 2008. I was originally drawn to the book by a review written by a reader that talked about how the book helped her understand why she and her brothers had such differing ideas about their mom. This sounded very familiar to me, and so I picked up the book.

Some of What's in the Book

The book is divided into three parts designed to lead daughters raised by Narcissistic mothers into recovery. Part One is about identifying the situation you are in and understanding how it changed you as a child. Part Two demonstrates that the results of the emotional abuse of the past are the pain and difficulties you are dealing with now as an adult. Part Three discusses how you can recover from your traumatic childhood and lead a happier and more fulfilling life.

There are several different kinds of lists in the book; lists of traits, behaviors, steps to healing, and such. These include 'the nine traits of Narcissism', a questionnaire of maternal behaviors, lists of 'daughters' current feelings, ten 'stingers' that are descriptions of mother-daughter dynamics, two 'kinds' of mothers, the six 'Faces of Maternal Narcissism' and more. The book is filled with quotes and anecdotes from other 'daughters' in the author's therapy practice well as from popular culture and the author's own life. In between these is text synthesizing all these data and ideas into a form the reader can (probably) digest and then use to make positive changes in their life. The book closes with some specific strategies for letting go, moving on, and even dealing with your mother again, if you really want to do that sort of thing. I'll say it's certainly not high on my own personal 'to do' list.

What I Liked

The book has a specific and well articulated focus ('Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.') Even with this focus that is still an ambitious goal, but the book does generally deliver on that promise. It is well organized and reasonably easy to follow. The writing is solid and engaging. The author is also a 'daughter' of a Narcissistic mother, and so writes from a place of deep understanding.

I found the quotes from other 'daughters' of all ages to be very pertinent, and a highlight of the book. If you have a mother with Narcissism, it is tremendously relieving and validating to see how very closely other people's experiences mirror your own. I felt less crazy after reading the book, which gives it a minimum of three of five 'wings' just for starters :)

The schematics of appropriate family dynamics nearly made me laugh out loud with amused horror, since they were so dead on with my own experience. The one with the Narcissistically dysfunctional family has Mom at the center, and then the Dad totally orbiting around her, and outside of that the kids. The chapter 'Where is Daddy?' is also dead on. It showed me that mine wasn't the only family where the father chose to sacrifice his own kid's mental, emotional, and even physical health to the beast ruling the house in order to save his own skin. The author describes the twisted relationship between the Narcissist mother and the man who enables this behavior as the 'unspoken agreement' and 'the pact'. Again, dead on.

The section called "My Turn" was very interesting - seeing how other people chose to deal with their mothers after they 'recovered.' It is hard for me to imagine why anyone would want to put someone back into their life who has no interest in them, mother or not, after going to the trouble to separate and create an authentic, individual identity. But of course Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, with people ranging from occasionally cruel and self-absorbed to the totally toxic. So those with less dysfunctional mothers may have some hope of a relationship with positive aspects, however small.

Some of the stories resonate so strongly with me, and are just heartrending, especially those of children trying so hard to get love from a mother who is completely incapable. One person gave her mom a plaque saying, "World's Best Mom". This eventually got returned to the daughter since it 'didn't fit her decor'. Another bought her mother an expensive present by saving her lunch money, only to have it flung back in her face with an accusation that she obviously stole it. Such stories are difficult to read, but help underscore how horribly damaging and traumatic it is to be at the mercy of this kind of mother.

What I Didn't Like

There are too many lists, questionnaires, categories, and steps to keep track of in this book. It appears the author was trying to break a difficult topic into bite sized pieces, but for me the result was just one list or categorization after another. I did not think the author made it clear enough that all the categories can overlap; no one box will fit just one person, either for the narcissist or for her daughters. In any case, I felt the listing and categorizing strategy was overused, and ended up obscuring what I thought were important subtleties.

I was really rubbed the wrong way by the author stating that a Narcissistic mother doesn't intentionally hurt her children, and that mostly such people are trying their best. I felt the author was saying that since the Narcissist isn't capable of empathy, they don't really know what the effects of their abuse really are. My own situation is so vastly different I can't believe I am the only one. I do not think it helps to suggest to people that they deny the very real possibility that their mothers knew perfectly well what they were doing, and enjoyed causing suffering. I am certain my own mother knew exactly how her actions affected the people around her, and did it all quite consciously.

The section that I was hoping to read about, the difference in how daughters and sons are treated, turned out to be very short. This and the section about how different daughters are treated were very interesting, and not something I've seen much about in other places. I really feel the book needed to expand these sections, they seemed to introduce ideas without any meaty follow up.

Part Three was also too short. As far as I'm concerned the best part of the book, and the reason I read these self help tomes, is to learn how to change myself. There was not enough guidance here for me. For example, the author talks about forgiveness, but does not do a good job of defining exactly what that is to her. She mentions that it can be different for different people, and that forgiveness is not the same thing as pardoning. The idea of forgiveness as 'letting go' does not make sense to me. I have no model for this, certainly not having seen it modeled as a child, and the text didn't have enough examples to show me how to do this.

Summary and Final Comments

This is a very helpful book if you are the target audience, or I imagine, the spouse of a woman with a Narcissistic mother. It accurately depicts the issues of being one of the 'daughters' and offers some real life ideas for how to cope and how to move on. I'm glad I bought it, and would recommend the purchase to anyone interested in the topic.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

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