Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

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A Rare and Precious Gift

March 4, 2011

On my way home from a client appointment yesterday, I stopped at a local store to buy a birthday present for the love of my life. The store is quiet and there are more salespeople than customers filling the aisles. I take my time, browsing in various departments for that perfect gift. I am not in a rush like I usually am, having finished my work for the day, and feel satisfied that my time with the client was extremely productive. I am happy and content. My life may not be perfect, but it is pretty damn good.

After selecting a gift that I hope will be a big hit, and picking up a new cd for myself, I pay for my items and exit the store. I can’t wait to get in my car, open the cd, and insert it into the car’s stereo and crank the volume on the soundtrack for my drive home. As the first notes explode from my car’s speakers, I head for the exit to the parking lot. Sitting on a mound of grass to the right of the exit is a woman holding up a cardboard sign. From the distance I can’t make out the words on the sign. But as I approach, the handwritten words come into focus. “Single Unemployed mom needs help.” Sadness overcomes me. I look at the sign holder. She appears to be in her 30’s, is clean and neatly dressed in black jeans and a t-shirt. Her shoulder length auburn hair is neatly combed and she is wearing a defeated and sad expression. I can’t imagine what it must feel like, being so desperate and hopeless, dependent on the kindness of strangers. Her eyes catch mine for a moment. She looks away and lowers her sign.

About a-week-and-a-half ago I was in New Orleans, finishing up a seminar on the persuasive power of psychodrama. For four days my dearest friends and I worked with trial lawyers from all over the country, teaching them the basic tools of psychodrama and how to apply them to their practices. After finishing our last session and packing up our materials, we decide to spend some time exploring the French Quarter, a place we had little time to enjoy during the program.

Now if you ever go to New Orleans, you must visit the world famous Café DuMonde and sample the delicious, addictive and thigh destroying beignets. On this Sunday afternoon of a three-day weekend, I need a beignet fix. My friends and I arrive at this landmark establishment and discover a huge line snaking down the block.  Even the line for take out is enormous. After a wait, which isn’t too bad since one of the busboys is taking orders from those of us at the back of the line so we don’t have to waste too much time, and beignets in hand, my friends and I head out of the bustling Quarter to walk along the riverfront towards our hotel.

As we near the holocaust memorial, a man comes running from the side path waving his arms and pointing behind him, “please, someone call 911. She is having a seizure. Give me a cell phone so I can call 911.” Most of the people strolling along the riverfront ignore his pleas and pass by.

“I need a cell phone. Please. We need to call 911. She is having a seizure.” People continue walking past, as if they are deaf and the frantic man invisible. He is dirty and thin, wearing jeans and a jacket over a t-shirt with a dirty baseball cap on his head. I look in the direction he is pointing and see two other people, a black woman, short, chubby and shabbily dressed. She is staggering around near the park bench from where the man came. When she tries to stand, she staggers a few steps and then falls down on the bench. Across from her is an elderly man with long stringy hair and a wild, unkempt beard. He tries to help the woman sit, but isn’t too steady himself. Again the man in the cap calls out, “she is having a seizure, I need a cell phone to call 911.”

My friends and I stop and look again in the direction he is pointing. “Please, someone call 911.” I pull my cell phone from my pocket and shout to him, “I will call 911.” I dial 911 and a dispatcher answers. “What is your emergency?”

“We need paramedics on the riverfront walk, a woman is having a seizure.”

“Where are you?”

“On the riverfront walk, right near the holocaust memorial. Between the holocaust memorial and the IMAX.”

“Holo what?”

“The holocaust memorial.”

“Hotel, what hotel?” I pull my phone away from my ear and look incredulously at my friends.

I put the phone back to my ear, “No! The HOLOCAUST memorial. H-O-L-O-C-A-U-S-T.”

“What is happening?”

“A woman is having a seizure.”

“Oh, O.K. You need an ambulance, not the police. What is your number and I will have them call you.”  I can’t believe this. Here we are with an emergency and they can’t figure out where we are and then they tell us we have called the wrong place. I give the dispatcher my number.

Within seconds, my phone rings. A male voice is on the other end. “What is your emergency?” I repeat the information and tell him where we are. He starts asking questions about cross streets and addresses.

“I’m not from here. I don’t know the cross streets.” Getting help for a woman having a seizure should really not be this hard.

By this time, a couple walking by stops near us and is watching the homeless woman, who by now, is being held tightly by the man in the baseball cap. “I’ve got you Martha. I’m right here. I am not going to let you get hurt.” She is struggling to free herself. Her speech is slurred and one side of her face droops. At times she seems to convulse slightly. He holds her on his lap, his arms wrapped tightly around her.  She struggles to get free, “I want to go.”

“Martha, you are having a seizure. I am not letting you go.”

The couple overhears me trying to give our location to the ambulance dispatcher and approaches us. “I’m from here,” the male member of the couple says as he reaches out for me to give him my phone. I hand it over and he gives the information the dispatcher needs to send help. He hands back the phone and the dispatcher tells me to please watch for the ambulance and to flag them down when they arrive.

I call out to the man in the baseball cap, “They are sending an ambulance.”

“Thank you.” I hear the relief in his voice and see it in his eyes.

My friends and I stay nearby waiting for the ambulance to arrive. We want to make sure they come, and when they arrive that they help this woman. We watch the man in the cap hold Martha and try to soothe her. “You are my best friend Martha. You need help. I am not going to let you go.” She is struggling and appears a little out of it.

“I’m ok.” She whines.

“No, your not. You are having a seizure. You were seizing for 3 minutes. You need to go to the hospital.”

“No! I don’t want to go.” Her agitation increases as she tries to escape his hold.

“They hurt me.” She holds up her arm and her soiled sleeve slips down toward her elbow revealing a large swollen area on her forearm.

“They hurt me with the needle. I don’t want to go!”

“I promised Martha. You are my best friend. I love you. I promised. I am not letting you go. You need help.” He tries to calm her and keep her still.

“Yes Maatha. Yo haf ta gota the hospital.” Slurs the old man who is with them. He looks at the man in the cap. “You goin wif heh?”

“I will be with you Martha. I am not going to leave you. You are my best friend. I love you.”

“They hurt me. See, they hurt me.” Again she holds up her arm.

“I am airborne and I will go with you. You are my best friend.”

We watch, in silence, each of us deep in our own thoughts.

A siren in the distance breaks the spell.

The man who gave directions to the ambulance dispatcher calls to us, “We’ll go flag down the ambulance and direct them over here.” They head off towards the street.

Other than the four of us, and the couple who head off to flag down the ambulance, no one else has stopped. No one has even noticed what is happening. In fact, people are purposely avoiding the area where we are all gathered.

A man in a golf cart, who appears to be some sort of security patrol, drives over to the park bench where the man in the ball cap is holding Martha.

“You people need to leave.” He starts to get out of the golf cart to chase them off.

“She is having a seizure. We have called an ambulance and they are on their way,” we tell him. He gets in his golf cart and drives away.

The ambulance finally arrives and paramedics along with a gurney join us. Martha is still struggling and resisting help. The man in the ball cap stays right by her side, talking to her calmly, promising not to leave.

Eventually the paramedics succeed in lifting Martha on to the gurney and strap her down. She continues to struggle as they wheel her down the grassy hill towards the ambulance, all while her best friend, the man in the ball cap stays by her side.

The four of us stand there together watching, Martha’s cries fading away. None of us have words. We leave the riverfront walk behind us, and slowly head back into the French Quarter. I look at my three friends and am filled with immense love and gratitude. Martha may be homeless, but she has something truly rare, a real friend who is there for her and doesn’t leave her side when she needs him most. And that is a precious and rare gift.

I look at the women I am with. Amazing, kind, loving women. I know in my heart that each of them is my man in the baseball cap.

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The Road To Recovery From Burnout

August 10, 2010

About a year-and-a-half to two years ago, burnout took over my life. Like a parasite, it attached itself to me and fed on my energy, my happiness and creativity. It infested and destroyed a part of my soul. I was depressed, couldn’t sleep, and just didn’t care much about anything or anyone. Getting out of bed was hard, and staying out of bed was even harder.

A lot of people confuse burnout with stress but the two are radically different. Stress is having too many pressures that demand too much of you, both physically and psychologically. Stressed people can still imagine that if they get everything under control, they’ll feel better. And they often do. While burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, it is a far more serious problem.

Burnout is feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. Burned out people feel helpless and hopeless and that life does not seem worth living, and they experience frequent headaches, back pain and muscle aches.  They also feel tired and drained most of the time and have difficulty sleeping. The primary damage from stress is physical. But the primary damage from burnout is emotional.   Burnout often leads to detachment and depression.

People have a tendency to blame burnout on the individual and their own shortcomings. But years of research proves otherwise. After twenty years of pioneering research on burnout, researchers Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter have concluded that “burnout is not a problem of people but mostly of the places in which they work.  When the workplace does not recognize the human side of work or demands superhuman efforts, people feel overloaded, frustrated and well, burned out.”

After nine years of extreme stress, managing huge egos, outrageous hours, more work than was humanly possible to keep up with, not enough help or infrastructure to handle the volume of work and, little support from those in a position of providing it, I hit the wall and simply could not function any longer. I had nothing left to give. I was losing myself. To say the least, I was burned out.  And I was seriously depressed. My doctor had been warning me for at least a year before that something needed to change, that my stress and work environment and their attendant impact on my life was not healthy and was the root cause of some of my health issues, both emotional and physical, including my insomnia. I ignored the warnings and tried to cope. I asked for help but didn’t get any. And eventually, I had to speak up and out and walk away. I chose myself. It was the best, yet incredibly painful decision I have ever made.

It has taken a long time, but I have finally recovered from my burnout. I wish I could say my recovery happened quickly and effortlessly, but that would be a lie. The road to healing has been long and at times painful. With the help of a therapist, my incredible wife, son and some dear and cherished friends, I have processed my experience and found the path out of the black hole in which I was drowning. I have eliminated people from my life who were energy suckers and emotional vampires, who demanded too much and gave little; who were only there because they wanted something from me. I have reassessed friendships and kept only those that are real and genuine, mutual and reciprocal. Rarely do I have a headache and I no longer feel drained and exhausted on a daily basis. I am taking time for myself and setting boundaries. I have rediscovered and reclaimed my soul. I no longer need or rely on sleep medication. I am excited about life and the possibilities before me. My creativity has returned and is flourishing. And for the first time in a long time, I am happy, truly happy.

Don’t let burnout sneak up behind you and abduct your soul. Evaluate your work life and make the necessary changes to avoid burning out. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It is a gradual process. Be vigilant and pay attention to the warning signs. Listen to your doctor and your significant other who may see the warning signs long before you do. Learn to set boundaries and manage your stress. Remember what is important in life and make time for those people and things that matter.

I don’t wish burnout on anyone. I hope by sharing my experience I can help you avoid it. If you think you might be burned out, get help now! Don’t wait until it is too late. Life is too short to waste being burned out.

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Is Civility and Human Kindness Dead?

May 4, 2010

I wonder what it is that makes some people so mean and cruel? I am not talking about terrorists or some convicted criminals, but every day, ordinary folks who act or speak in hurtful and mean spirited ways. Is there something about human nature that makes people hurt others, spread lies and say mean and ugly things about them? I just don’t get it. I am certainly not a perfect person and have had my moments but I try to live and let live. I strive to be positive and support others. Sure, there are plenty of people that I don’t care for and whom I dislike, but I don’t purposely set out to hurt them.  It is the purposefulness of the hateful behavior that disturbs me.

It is as if civility and human kindness are dying, if they are not already dead. The lack of both is demonstrated daily by politicians, CEO’s of Corporate America, professional athletes and celebrities. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me when ordinary people follow suit. There seems to be a need in some folks to bring others down and destroy them for personal gain. And when you are the victim of this type of campaign it is hurtful and depressing. I have seen the pain in friends, colleagues and the people I work with. And I have felt it myself. Sadly, there is almost nothing you can do to protect yourself or your reputation. Often, the best you can do is turn the other cheek and refuse to respond in kind.

Maybe the worst part is that some people seem to enjoy hurting others and actively set out to do so. They take joy from their cruel acts and words and laugh about their behavior with their friends. If you aren’t a member of their “club,” “inner circle,” or “organization,” you are seen as an enemy that needs to be destroyed. And if they don’t act and you succeed, the belief is that you will take away from them, or somehow diminish their own success. Isn’t it possible for all of us to succeed and be fulfilled by our individual endeavors? Why must some act to destroy others? What are they afraid of? What would happen if we supported and encouraged each other?

Perhaps we can all grow and become better human beings by reversing roles with and walking in the shoes of those we attack, speak unkindly of and treat inhumanely. Imagine what the world would look like if more of us did this. What have we got to loose?

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The Courage to Believe in Ourselves

April 6, 2010

I have been thinking a great deal about a friend of mine who has been stuck in an abusive relationship for years. No matter how bad it gets, she continues to stay. I have a very hard time understanding this. Why would anyone want to stay in a relationship where they are treated horribly, suffering verbal and emotional abuse regularly? Where they get less than they give?

My friend has no satisfying answers to explain her failure to leave. When we talk about the dysfunction of her relationship and I ask her why she doesn’t leave, the rationale she gives include statements such as “I am afraid,” “I have to stay in this relationship for financial reasons,” “I don’t want to be alone,” “If I keep trying harder, things will get better,” “If I just keep my mouth shut, things will be OK,” and even “This is the best I can do,” “I need this person,” or “I don’t know what I would do if I leave?” All of these reasons make me sad for my friend. She is a kind, caring and wonderful person but has little self esteem. She doesn’t realize how unhealthy and damaging this relationship is to her, both emotionally and psychologically. I have watched this strong, capable women dissolve into self loathing and paralysis. She feels stuck and even trapped. It is obvious to me and to her other friends that the longer she stays in this abusive relationship, the more destruction to her self esteem and self worth. The light of her spirit is fading and she is loosing the joy that once flowed freely from her heart.

I guess it is just human nature to believe what others tell us about ourselves or say about us. Many of us carry such wounds from childhood. If you hear from someone who is supposed to love and care about you that you are worthless, not good enough, or wrong, pretty soon you start to believe these things about yourself. Even when you know what is being said isn’t true. Even when you know the handcuffs being placed upon you by the relationship aren’t deserved and do nothing other than to impede your own self determination and put others in control of your life and your happiness.

When I have let those with whom I am in a relationship bring me down, destroy my self worth and esteem, treat me poorly, verbally or emotionally and psychologically abuse me, I often turn on myself and start adopting as true the messages those people tell me, even when I know deep inside myself that they are wrong. It is both a painful and an incredibly lonely place to find yourself. It is hard to shut out those messages and believe in yourself. I know. I have been there.

It takes tremendous courage to leave a relationship where you are being abused either verbally, emotionally, mentally and/or  psychologically. It may be harder than leaving a physically abusive relationship. After all, psychic wounds aren’t physical and no one can see them. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But words often do more damage to us as people than physical injuries. Wounds to our psyche take time and effort to heal. They stay with us and impact all of our future relationships. Unless and until we find the courage to stand up for ourselves and believe we are deserving of better.

Our fears often immobilize us, keeping us trapped from growing and believing in ourselves. They keep us enmeshed with our abusers. They convince us we don’t deserve better and prevent us from defending ourselves, and often, from leaving.

When I have been in this situation, I have found that it helps  to look at my own issues and explore why I don’t feel I deserve better treatment. I ask myself, what in me propels me to tolerate such an unhealthy relationship? I talk to my friends. I have even spent time in therapy working on myself, my self esteem and self worth, exploring the issues that brought me to this place. And once I left the abusive relationship, I worked hard to build and nurture the relationships I have with people who value and appreciate me.

To my friend who is struggling, I am here for you. To listen, to lend a shoulder and to tell you how much you mean to me and how deserving you are of a healthy relationship where you are valued, appreciated and loved. All human beings are so deserving. Life is too short to waste energy on and with people who verbally, emotionally or psychologically abuse us, use us to make themselves feel better, stronger or more powerful, or who make us feel worthless and bad about ourselves.

I hope my friend finds the courage to believe in herself as much as I believe in her.

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Reclaiming Myself

November 19, 2009

Today I am rededicating myself to health, both emotional and physical. Since January, I have struggled, among many things, with my motivation to exercise and eat right. Depression, grieving of significant losses and plain old burn out and exhaustion forced me to put my physical health on hold. For the last several months I simply haven’t had the physical or emotional energy to lace up my shoes and hit the road. For months, depression ate away at my very soul. I lost a part of who I was. Having a tendency to gravitate towards emotional eating when I am struggling emotionally, I have eaten too much junk food. I have forgotten my healthy habits. But today, I declare war on idleness, ice cream and other junk food. Today, I am reclaiming that part of myself that has been missing for many, many months.

Since April, my nearly daily exercise routine decreased dramatically, first to a couple of times a week down to weeks on end with no activity. I would go to bed each night vowing to go out first thing in the morning for a run. Morning would arrive and I just couldn’t mobilize myself to put on my running clothes, lace up my shoes and head out the door.  And then summer in the desert arrived with its crushing heat. Only a fool runs outdoors when it is 100+ degrees. And I hate treadmills. July, August and September pass with little physical activity on my part. The heat makes running out of the question. I go on the occasional bike ride but just can’t manage to string several days of exercise together.

During these hot, sweltering months, I let my diet go and eat a lot more comfort food. Yes, I am guilty of emotional eating. Yes, I love blueberry pancakes, ice cream and dark, rich chocolate. Like most of us, I tell myself, “Oh, a little ice cream never hurt anyone.” Or “I am not going to deprive myself of things I like.” And the best, “I will watch what I eat tomorrow.” And tomorrow becomes tomorrow which becomes yet another tomorrow, finally leading us to today. Several months have passed in the blink of an eye.

Last night I complained to my wife that I have put on a few pounds. Nothing disastrous, but enough for me to notice and feel the difference. She listens patiently as she always does then gently asks, “What are you going to do about it?” Such a simple question, but really a reminder that I am the ONLY one who can do anything to alter this new pattern and stave off the accumulation of additional pounds.  Before bed I once again, as I have so often in the past, vow to renew my exercise plan and change my diet. But this time these are not empty promises. And so this morning, after my breakfast of a protein shake, I put on my running clothes, dust off my running shoes and head out for a run. I am slow and the minutes painfully add up. 25 minutes later I am finished. Breathing hard, sweat soaked, but proud. I realize how great running is for clearing my head and stimulating my creativity. I have missed my old friend. For the last several years’ exercise has been my salvation and a gift I give to myself. Perhaps the greatest insight I had on my morning run was the voice inside me shouting, “she’s back!” Since at least January, I have felt like a piece of myself was missing. In the dark days of depression I lost hope, optimism and had no energy. But this morning, with my heart pounding and the sweat pouring down my face, I reclaimed that missing piece. I am indeed back!

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Blind Loyalty, Betrayal and Self Preservation: The Silencing of Dissent

August 23, 2009

A person can’t be expected to be loyal to something or someone who is hurting or destroying them, that causes them pain or asks them to go against their personal morals, values or integrity.  It also requires the person from whom this blind loyalty is demanded to overlook, ignore or set aside their own ethics and beliefs and replace them with those of the person or group from whom the demand emanates. Such expectation of blind loyalty runs contrary to our fundamental human instinct of self-preservation and results in a loss of self.  Indeed, a high price to pay.

Expecting someone to chose another over themselves is akin to demanding an abused spouse stay in a dysfunctional marriage or risk being labeled disloyal or a betrayer. It puts all the blame on the person who has the courage to preserve themselves and end or leave the relationship. Speaking up as a way to defend oneself is simply not a viable option because to those who demand blind loyalty, objecting, or voicing dissent is, in itself, an act of disloyalty. And, it will nearly always be punished.

When one human being treats another badly, abuses them either physically, mentally, psychologically or emotionally, or asks or expects them to engage in behavior that goes against their personal values and/or morals, in essence, they force them to make a choice. Either choose to continue the relationship and suffer in silence in the dysfunctional environment; or, save yourself and preserve your integrity. Sometimes in life we must, for our own well being, choose ourselves or risk loosing our mental health and/or our integrity. This is true whether the dysfunction comes at the hands of a single person or through participation in a group.

When problems arise in groups, effective leaders focus on problem solving strategies in order to explore various ways to make things better. They are willing to open the lines of communication and hear all voices, whether they be concurring or dissenting ones. When this opportunity is not provided or such a mechanism is not in place, it forces a dichotomous decision on the part of the group’s members – me or them; self or the group.

The narcissistic leaders of dysfunctional groups never take responsibility for problems within the group, are not willing to hear the voices of dissent but rather, scapegoat or blame others, and in particular, those who chose to speak up or leave the group to preserve themselves. In this way, these so-called leaders maintain the myth of loyalty on their part and force the label of betrayer on those who chose themselves over the group. It is a convenient way to silence dissent and to vilify those who depart for their own reasons. And, in the twisted mind of these narcissistic leaders, they believe it builds greater loyalty on the part of those who remain. If they can successfully label someone a betrayer, those who remain will focus on that person rather than on the dysfunction of the group. It also sends a strong message to the members of the group; give us blind loyalty or be punished.

Betrayal is a loaded word, especially when ones only choice is to betray another or to betray yourself. How can a person be expected to maintain their loyalty when doing so is injurious to them, their integrity, mental, psychological, emotional, and in certain circumstances, physical well being?  Either way, the person who is forced to make this choice looses.
Some people like to use the phrase “The magic mirror is always at work” to describe the relationships between people. E.g., if I am feeling distant from my friend, they must be feeling distant from me. If I am not feeling heard by my friend, they must not be feeling heard by me. If indeed there is such a “magic mirror,” then it necessarily follows that when one person labels another “betrayer,” the one being so labeled also feels betrayed by the person labeling them.

Fundamental fairness dictates, at the very least, that the people being accused be given the opportunity to defend themselves; to speak their truth. Aren’t all of us innocent until proven guilty? Doesn’t justice, truth, honesty and love, yes love, demand that the accused betrayer be given a chance to tell their story? And as we all know, no story is one sided. If you love someone, or profess to love them, shouldn’t you treat them with respect and dignity? Shouldn’t you care about what they are feeling or have to say? Or do you act as judge, jury and executioner and condemn the person you allegedly love and demand their voice, which may be one of dissent, remain silent?  Do you threaten punishment in the absence of blind loyalty? If speaking up and telling the truth is considered an act of disloyalty, that speaks volumes about the person or group who requires silence as an act of loyalty. This is, at the very least, hypocrisy, and at most tyranny.

The bottom line is that it isn’t right, fair or just to expect any of us to give blind loyalty to someone or something that is toxic, dishonest or unethical, or not what it purports to be. Moreover, it is even more dishonest to silence the voices of dissent. The “magic mirror” is a myth, a convenient excuse used to justify bad behavior. A person who refuses to give blind loyalty to another or to an organization is not a betrayer but simply a person who made a choice that was best for them, to preserve themselves, their well being and in some cases their integrity. We all have freedom of choice and in the end, we are the only ones who can protect and preserve ourselves. We can’t, and shouldn’t, expect others to do it for us. Nor should we be punished for exercising our free will, or, our freedom of speech.

Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court Justice, perhaps said it best: “Those who begin cohersive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

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Narcissists and Sycophants: A Marriage Made in Hell

July 29, 2009

Whether we realize it or not, we all have at least one narcissist in our lives. In fact, according to authors Jean Twenge, PhD and Keith Campbell, PhD, there is a narcissism epidemic in this country.  (The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, Free Press, 2009, Twenge PhD., Campbell, PhD.).

After reading this eye opening book I found myself thinking about this subject in general and agree with the authors that narcissism is sweeping our country and wreaking havoc on the personal, social and professional relationships of the masses. Most of us, however, live in denial. We don’t want to view someone we look up to as a narcissist and we certainly don’t want to acknowledge the hold narcissists have on us and on the world at large. We also live in denial about the part we play in the creation of the narcissist and the perpetuation of his or her behavior. Far too often the people drawn into the narcissist’s force field enable, condone and tolerate the negative and destructive behavior of the narcissist. We absolve ourselves by saying we are doing it for the greater good, or by apologizing for the narcissist’s behavior. Often we take responsibility for the damage caused to other’s psyches by the narcissist. If truth be known, we do it because we are afraid. We don’t want to wound the highly sensitive narcissist because we will pay dearly for this narcissistic injury. We don’t want to be tossed out of the narcissist’s orbit for speaking up, for disagreeing or challenging the narcissist because what we get from the narcissist fuels our own needs.

I have a theory about why this is. From my life experience, I have come to believe that sycophants fuel narcissists and enable them to exist and even thrive. I am sure this isn’t a new or novel idea on my part. In fact, it is probably overly simplistic.

Let’s begin with some descriptions. A narcissist is a person with inordinate fascination with himself or herself. They have few social control mechanisms, fewer friends, little or no psychic demands to do the right thing (even though they give lip service to this concept) do not look for approval from others, lack social barometers of how to conduct themselves, and are driven to be captivating, inspirational, charming and seductive. They have a desperate need to get others to buy into their worldview–their vision, to create a world that they populate with their devoted followers. They are grandiose, don’t listen to others, are prone to angry outbursts (often used to control others who disagree with them), bully subordinates, dominate meetings and are often isolated and paranoid. According to Twenge and Campbell, narcissism is “a disease that causes others to suffer.” Narcissism is nearly always corrosive to social relationships as it breeds distrust. Narcissists are prone to using people like they use books, information and knowledge—they pump them for information and then when they are through, throw them aside. To the narcissist, there are only friends or foes; you are either for or against their vision. There is no middle ground.

Sycophants are self-serving servile flatterers and are often slavishly submissive to the narcissist.  The narcissist and the sycophant need each other. The narcissist is completely dependent on the sycophant to feed his ego, to feel important and powerful.  The sycophant, on the other hand, is also dependent on the narcissist for the narcissist makes the sycophant feel included and connected to someone the sycophant believes is powerful and important and will elevate the sycophant to great success, recognition or social standing. The sycophant derives a lot of self worth from the narcissist as the relationship with the narcissist gives the sycophant social standing he otherwise would not have. In short, the relationship between the narcissist and sycophant is symbiotic; each feeding and dependent on the other. Without sycophants, the narcissist struggles, becomes depressed and feels his or her life has no meaning. A narcissist must have blind allegiance and the adoration of sycophantic followers because that is the food of the narcissist. Most often, a narcissist surrounds him or herself with “yes men” (slavishly submissive flatterers) who the narcissist sees as no threat to him or herself but yet, who are also not much good for advancing the narcissist’s vision. But that is ok with the narcissist, because he or she has all the answers, knows what is best and right and doesn’t listen to others anyway. The “yes men” are the means to an end, they help the narcissist get what he or she wants and will only be kept close as long as they serve a purpose.

As a group, sycophants find meaning and purpose out of protecting and becoming the narcissist’s handlers. They bond with other sycophants in this common purpose and are simultaneously validated by each other for how dysfunctional this interpersonal interplay is, either on a conscious or unconscious level, depending on the dysfunction of each individual. In such groups, everyone suffers. There are no winners in this symbiotic relationship. The narcissist’s hold is so great it is hard for the sycophant to escape the narcissist’s seductive embrace. At some point, depending on the amount of pain the sycophant has had to endure, they will wake up when they are no longer able to tolerate being used or when their own ethics or integrity will no longer permit them to be passive participants in the destructive world of the narcissist. Faced with abandonment, the narcissist acts more and more out of desperation, devolves deeper into his or her pathology and ends up alone and even more isolated, completing the cycle of narcissistic self-destruction.

In the end, narcissists die alone and sycophants suffer stunted emotional and psychological growth, unless they grow strong enough to break their addiction and choose to value their own self-worth instead of abandoning it for the advancement of the narcissist.

I highly recommend anyone interested in the burgeoning narcissism epidemic read Twenge and Campbell’s excellent book. It is both eye opening and thought provoking.

Another good book on narcissists is Michael Maccoby’s Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails (Broadway Books, 2003).