“I was diagnosed with cancer and my relationship fell into the Pursuer/Distancer dynamic, after which it ended.”

"Tempest" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Tempest” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I was diagnosed with cancer and my relationship fell into the Pursuer/Distancer dynamic. I needed more and more support, care, and demonstration of love while he grew colder. My relationship ended shortly afterwards, as I was unable to deal with the fact he distanced me in my time of greatest need. The same pattern occurred again in the relationship that followed this one.”

The effect of increased anxiety on relationship

A relationship should be able to withstand imbalances of need and support. However, people vary in how they handle increased stress from serious problems such as illness or job loss. The fact that someone is ill does not necessarily lead to their desiring more care, support and demonstration of love from their partner. Some people would become more emotionally closed.

A person’s illness or other challenge will intensify a person’s already existing tendencies. So the increased anxiety from an illness will tend to magnify any existing imbalance in the relationship, and may cause the relationship to become destabilized.

Emotionally self-contained vs emotionally open

Generally, people are attracted to those who balance out their own propensities. People who tend to desire support and connection are often drawn to emotionally-independent types. An unconscious need to become more emotionally self-sufficient causes them to be attracted to those who instantiate that characteristic. The opposite may also be true — self-contained people may initially be drawn to someone who has the ability to be emotionally open and express his or her needs.

However, people do not become emotionally contained by accident. Such a tendency is often promoted by the family of origin, which may have fostered self-reliance, toughness, and action, rather than feeling, connection, and interdependence. It may also be a defense mechanism to protect oneself from being disappointed, hurt, or criticized.

Because such inclinations are generally deeply ingrained, it would be best to contain your need for support from those uncomfortable in giving it. Ironically, when there’s less need of support, Distancers don’t recoil from giving it because they sense a limit to the need. What Distancers dread most is what feels to them like a devouring need that has no end.

Avoid one-sided caretaking

Also beware of allowing a great imbalance in caretaking to develop in a relationship. This may be difficult when you’re serious ill. However, when the primary way of relating in a relationship becomes focusing on one person’s needs, you will see passion and mutuality diminish or disappear. So it would be best to try to find additional support for your extra needs from outside the relationship. I recommend that you look for emotional support from people eager to give it, whether they are supportive friends, nurses, counselors, or support groups.

I’m sorry about your diagnosis, and hope that you feel better and that you get better soon.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “I am overwhelmed by worry.”

Read “Pursuing Connection with a Distancer? ‘We never spend time together.’”

Read “Opposites attract: ‘Can’t you ever stop and just sit down with me!’”

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“What happened to our relationship? It used to be so great.”

"Grazia" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Grazia” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

A relationship is made up of the totality of interactions between two people. All the fleeting moments, glances, words, and focus of energy sculpt a relationship. Consider whether most of the interactions in your relationship consist of those on the first list or those on the second:

1. Connection,
2. Collaboration,
3. Cuddling,
4. Caring,
5. Conversations, and
6. Compliments


1. Commands,
2. Complaints,
3. Criticisms,
4. Clinging,
5. Cringing, and
6. Contempt.

When two people first meet, strong attraction can sustain a great deal of togetherness. However, sustaining the enjoyment in a relationship over the long term is an art that requires skill and practice. This is true for all relationships not just romantic ones. Specific changes in our daily interactions can enhance our relationships.

Questions to consider to improve your relationships:

1. Social media

Do you check social media too frequently, which distracts you from being present with people or doing something ultimately more fulfilling? If so, limit your time with social media or at least postpone checking and responding to social media. This will make you a better friend, parent, and spouse and leave more time for doing things that truly inspire you.

2. Messy or thoughtless

Do you leave dirty dishes in the kitchen or a mess around the house? If so, consider how that impacts you and the people you live with. There is no extra effort in cleaning up now rather than later. It simply requires changing the timing of when you do it.

3. Lack of self-care

Do you eat junk food and forget to get exercise? If so, think about how your lack of self-care makes you feel less healthy and attractive to both you and to those around you. Taking care of your health and physical vitality affects both you and others.

4. Rude or complaining

Do you frequently complain or display rudeness or disrespect? Staying calm and taking time to think before you communicate will greatly affect your relationships and effectiveness in the world. Noticing and appreciating good things about people and the events in your life will also improve your relationships and increase your own happiness.

5. Not present

Are you often in a rush because you’ve taken on too many responsibilities? There is nothing more annoying than being with someone who always has more “important” things on his or her mind. The message a busy person conveys is that other people are not that important.

Some people have no choice but to have several jobs and to carry a large burden in life. Even so, it’s important to make the effort to be present with loved ones. Other people, however, have chosen to be busy and blame their haste on deadlines that they have chosen to make a priority.

You gain freedom in your life when you realize that many of the duties and endeavors on your list are the result of the choices you make. Saying “yes” to your top priorities and “no” to a few lesser priorities will free up your time so you can truly enjoy your life and your relationships.


If you want a good relationship, communicate in a way that deepens the relationship and builds upon positive interactions. If you want a great relationship, practice being thoughtful, respectful, reasonable, and enjoyable, and sustain an atmosphere of desire.

If you want more fun, be more fun and do more enjoyable things together. If you want more passion, take care of your physical and emotional health, be more sensual, and seduce your partner with your own vitality and desire.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Watch “Seven keys to a great relationship.”

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”

Read “How to predict a divorce or the breakup of a relationship.”

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GUEST AUTHOR Sam Vaknin: The Narcissist’s Disabled, Sick, and Challenged Children

"Prism" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Prism” by Mimi Stuart ©

Guest Author Sam Vaknin writes:

The narcissist regards his disabled or challenged child as an insult, a direct challenge to his self-perceived perfection and omnipotence, a constant, nagging source of negative narcissistic supply, and the reification and embodiment of a malevolent and hostile world which tirelessly conspires to render him a victim through misfortune and catastrophe. The precarious foundations of his False Self – and, therefore, his ability to function – are undermined by this miscegenation.

Relentlessly challenged by his defective offspring’s very existence and by the persistence of its attendant painful reminders, the narcissist lashes out, seeking to persecute and penalize the sources of his excruciating frustration: the child and his mother. The narcissist holds her responsible for this failure, not himself. She brought this shame and perturbation into his otherwise fantastic life. It was she who gave issue to this new fount of torment, this permanent reminder of fallibility, imperfection, mortality, impotence, guilt, disgrace, and fear.

To rectify this wrong, to restore the interrupted balance, and to firmly regain an assured sense of his grandiosity, the narcissist resorts to devaluation. He humiliates, belittles, and demeans both the unfortunate child and his suffering mother. He compares their failings unfavourably to his own wholeness. He berates and mocks them for their combined disability, frailty, weakness, meekness, and resourcelessness. He transforms them into the captive butts of his unbridled sadism and the cowed adherents of a cult-like shared psychosis. Serves them well for having thus ruined his life, figures the narcissist.

Casting himself as a compassionate proponent of “tough love”, the narcissist eggs his charges on mercilessly. He contrasts their slowness with his self-imputed alacrity, their limitations with his infinite grasp, their mediocrity with his genius and acuity, and their defeats with his triumphant life, real or imagined. He harps on and leverages their insecurities and he displays his hateful contempt for this mother-child diad with a fiery vengeance whenever he is confronted, criticized, or resisted. He may even turn violent in order to enforce the discipline of his distorted worldview and delusional exegesis of reality. By reducing them, he feels elevated yet again.

Bonding and attachment in infancy are critical determinants and predictors of well-being in adulthood. A small minority of children are born with dysfunctions – such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Asperger’s Disorder – which prevent them from properly bonding with or attaching to the primary caregiver (mother, in most cases). Environmental factors – such as an unstable home, parental absenteeism, or a disintegrating family unit – also play a role and can lead to the emergence of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Toddlers adapt to this sterile and hostile emotional landscape by regressing to an earlier phase of unbridled, self-sufficient, and solipsistic primary narcissism. Disabled and challenged children of narcissistic parents may well end up being narcissists themselves, a sad but inescapable irony.

Narcissistic parents of seriously ill children derive narcissistic supply from onlookers, friends, family, colleagues, and community by attracting attention to their role as saintly caretakers. They are demonstratively and ostentatiously patient, compassionate, suffering heroically, and dedicated to the child, its welfare, and ultimate healing. They flaunt the child’s sickness as a kind of a hard-won but well-deserved medal, down in the trenches with their tortured offspring, doing desperate battle with a pitiless enemy: the disease. It is an intoxicating part in the unfolding film that is the narcissist’s life.

But this irresistible craving for attention should be demarcated from the sinister affliction colloquially known as Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome.

Patients afflicted with the Factitious Disorder colloquially known as “Munchausen Syndrome” seek to attract the attention of medical personnel by feigning or by self-inflicting serious illness or injury. “Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome” (Factitious Illness or Disorder by Proxy, or Imposed by Another, or FII – Fabricated or Induced Illness by Carers) involves the patient inducing illness in or causing injury to a dependent (child, old parent) in order to gain, in her capacity as a caretaker, the attention, praise, and sympathy of medical care providers. Both syndromes are forms of shared psychosis (folie a deux or a plusieurs) and “crazy-making” with hospital staff as unwilling and unwitting participants in the drama.

Superficially, this overwhelming need for consideration by figures of authority and role models (doctors, nurses, clergy, social workers) resembles the narcissist’s relentless and compulsive pursuit of narcissistic supply (which consists of attention, adulation, admiration, being feared or noted, etc.) But, there are some important differences.

To start with, the narcissist – especially the somatic variety – worships his body and cherishes his health. If anything, narcissists tend to be hypochondriacs. They are loath to self-harm and self-mutilate, let alone fake laboratory tests and consume potentially deleterious substances and medications. They are also unlikely to seriously “damage” their sources of supply (e.g., children) as long as they are compliant and adulating.

As opposed to narcissists, people with both Munchausen Syndromes desire acceptance, love, caring, relationships, and nurturing, not merely attention: theirs is an emotional need that amounts to more than the mere regulation of their sense of self-worth. They have no full-fledged False Self, only a clinging, insecure, traumatized, deceitful, and needy True Self. Munchausen Syndrome may be comorbid (can be diagnosed with) personality disorders, though and the patients are pathological liars, schizoid, paranoid, hypervigilant, and aggressive (especially when confronted.)

While narcissists are indiscriminate and “promiscuous” when it comes to their sources of narcissistic supply – anyone would do – patients with the Munchausen Syndromes derive emotional nurturance and sustenance mainly from healthcare practitioners.


by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, who is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.

Read Guest Author Sam Vaknin’s “Munchausen and Munchausen by Proxy Syndromes: Forms of Pathological Narcissism?”

Read Sam Vaknin’s “How Does the Narcissist React “http://to Illness and Disability?”

Watch “Authoritarian vs Permissive Parenting”

Posted in Parenting, Personality Traits, Vaknin, Sam PhD, Visiting Authors | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I try so hard to make her happy.”

"Noble Love" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Noble Love” by Mimi Stuart ©

Responsibility for another’s wellbeing

People who put excessive energy into trying to make others happy tend to lose their sense of self and the accompanying groundedness and objectivity. The suppression of their own values, needs and desires often leads to growing resentment and a lack of vitality.

The more compelled a person is to promote someone else’s wellbeing, the more anxious that person becomes. People who put excessive energy into “helping” others and to making them happy are often completely unaware of the anxiety which drives them, because they are projecting their own anxiety onto the people they are trying to help.

Dependence on validation from others

The opposite dynamic also leads to trouble. The more your own wellbeing depends on validation from others, the more anxious you become. Thus, when people are desperately seeking validation, they tend to use emotional manipulation to get it. The resulting validation isn’t very gratifying because it has been coerced. Thus, their craving for validation is never satisfied, and becomes a drain on the relationship.

People who crave a lot of validation may be aware of their own anxiety, but they believe it is up to others to take care of them. Their efforts to get others to relieve their anxiety are ineffective in resolving the ultimate problem—that is, learning to tolerate their own anxiety.

Escalation of anxiety

Anxiety increases when you have less control over achieving your goals. Since you are not in control of someone else’s wellbeing, and you are not in control of someone validating you, anxiety for both parties increases. Hence relationships between emotionally fused people tend to generate considerable chronic anxiety.

The more anxious people become, the more reactive and intolerant they are of others. They become more frantic to “fix” things. They may feel alternatively overwhelmed and isolated, needing more emotional connection, but rejecting all but the “right” kind of connection, that is, total validation. A lack of response or the wrong kind of response hurts or angers them, which causes them to say hurtful things or withdraw, leading to an escalation of anxiety and conflict.

It is paradoxical and unfortunate that undifferentiated people have more need of emotional support, but are less likely to get it or to be satisfied by it.

Healthy relationships

In healthy relationships, people are helpful, considerate, and care about the one another’s wellbeing. They will do things they think might make the other person happy. However, they are emotionally differentiated, which prevents one person’s anxiety from infecting the other and spiraling out of control. Differentiation means that you avoid emotionally manipulating another person and you avoid walk on eggshells. Instead you respect that person as autonomous, though perhaps interdependent. This requires being aware of and tolerating your own anxiety when someone else is not happy or when you are not receiving the validation that you were hoping to receive.

Murray Bowen, who developed the notion of differentiation, puts it this way: “The goal always is to work on oneself, not to attempt to change one’s family. The goal is not to get the family to “accept” you, to “love” you. The goal is to be more of a self, which is not contingent on acceptance.”

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Recommended Kerr and Bowen’s “Family Evaluation.”

Read “Happiness: ‘We must have a terrible marriage because I’m so unhappy.’”

Read “I can’t live with her and I can’t live without her.”

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”

Posted in Happiness, Intimacy, Relationship Skills | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why would someone who cheated me treat me as though I had wronged him?”

"Percussion" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Percussion” by Mimi Stuart ©

When a person who has cheated someone is ashamed, the wronged person becomes a perpetual and painful reminder of that shameful behavior. Consequently, perpetrators often become annoyed and angry with their victims.

To reconcile their bad behavior with their self-image, perpetrators will distort facts about the victim in order to rationalize and excuse their own actions. As Rudyard Kipling wrote, “Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.” Thus, the fear of self-loathing that would result from honest self-assessment may drive a wrongdoer to fabrication.

If you are being blamed for something you didn’t do, defend yourself without sounding defensive. Avoid viewing yourself as a victim, but also consider how your own demeanor and actions may have contributed in allowing someone to cheat you.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Dealing with conflict and volatility: ‘You’re being irrational!’”

Read “Lying: ‘I am a coward and I am dishonest.’”

Read “What is the best way to deal with a dishonest, condescending, Machiavellian narcissist at work, whom I need to partner with to obtain my objectives?”

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“I miss being close to my adult son.”

"Lady Liberty" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Lady Liberty” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

“My very close relationship with my son who is now 22 changed when he changed schools in 9th grade when he dramatically distanced himself from me. When he is with us during Christmas or summer breaks he is nice and family oriented but somehow always avoids spending quality time with me, never talks about private matters, and sometimes reveals that he blames me for things in his life that never occurred to me, like changing the school for him which put him through hard times or not taking his problems seriously enough. I feel his rejection of me and it hurts. We are slipping apart and I think I am not very able to deal with this. It sometimes makes my life feel worthless. Do you have any advice for me??”

Young adults separating from their parents

I’m so sorry for your pain. Younger children will generally idealize their parents, and when they become old enough to recognize their flaws, they can become disappointed, annoyed, and openly critical.

It is also very common for children to distance themselves from their parents when they are teenagers and young adults – this is natural and to be expected in a healthy child. They can become hyper-critical of their parents, blaming them for any struggles they face. They also can become hyper-sensitive to being judged or controlled by their parents.

It is a positive sign that your son is visiting you during Christmas and summer, and that he is polite. It is important to keep that connection even if it feels superficial to you. You may desire deeper connection and to talk about private matters with him, but you must resist pressing him in any way. When he is ready he will come to you.

If and when he does say anything about his life, try hard not to be reactive; do not judge or give advice unless he asks for it. Simply listen and try to be supportive. Do otherwise, and he will clam up and further distance himself from you.

Sudden change in child

It is possible that something bad happened to your son in 9th grade, either an event or simply unhappiness in being in a new school where he did not feel comfortable. As this was not your intention, it was not your fault. These transitions and minor traumas are part of life, and often prepare the teen for difficulties that are bound to occur in life. On the other hand if you do suspect that something horrible happened to him, you should ask him about it in a letter or in person. Otherwise let it pass.

Not a perfect parent?

No parent is perfect. As long as a parent provides love, consistency, and has reasonable expectations and consequences, the parent is doing a good job. No parent can satisfy a child’s every need, nor would it be the healthiest way to prepare a child for life. It is through one’s parents’ small failures and mistakes that a child learns to survive challenges.

A theory developed by Winnecott and called “good-enough mothering” (or good-enough parenting) shows that it’s better to be a pretty good parent with flaws than a “perfect parent” who anticipates every need of the child. It is the omissions and small mistakes of the parent that enable a child to gradually develop resiliency. Of course, abuse and great neglect do not fit into this category of “good-enough.”

Children criticize where it hurts – beware of your vulnerabilities

Ironically, children often criticize their parents for having the very qualities that the parents try hardest to avoid having. Better than anyone, children know their parents’ vulnerabilities. For example, if a child senses that a parent would hate to be seen as “rude”, then the child is likely to say to the parent that he or she is rude, even though the parent is indeed the otherwise. The child unconsciously knows the parent’s vulnerabilities and triggers and will exploit them in certain situations.

Thus, your son’s criticism of you for not taking his problems seriously enough may simply be his way of getting your attention because he unconsciously knows it will hurt you. Or he may simply be projecting his own inability to deal with his problems onto you.

On the other hand, if his criticism is apt, it’s not too late to take his problems more seriously.


When your son visits,

1. Be polite,

2. Show you’re happy to see him, but don’t idolize him or make him the center of all your attention,

3. Let him approach you,

3. Don’t ask too many questions if he’s sensitive to intrusive questioning,

4. Try not to make any judgments,

5. Try not to give advice,

6. Try not to be reactive when he discusses anything about his life,

7. Don’t lay any guilt trips “you’re seeing your friends again instead of having dinner with us!”

8. When he criticizes you, don’t get defensive; simply say, “I’m sorry you’re hurt, but unfortunately I’m not perfect. But you know I’m on your side and want what’s best for you.”

9. When he leaves, tell him how much his visit has meant to you ,

10. Try to do something interesting or fun together. You could say, “it would mean a lot to me if you go (skiing/on a hike/to a museum) with me while you visit, perhaps on Thursday.” “I’d love to go …. with you during your visit, perhaps ….”

I predict that as he matures and becomes more self-confident, he will become more appreciative of and comfortable around you and desire a deeper connection with you. However, you have to accept the natural loss of the close connection you once had when he was young. It is a fact of life that our children will grow up and will have their own lives independent of us – and that is a good thing.

Thus, I suggest that you let go of the hope to be as connected as you once were. I suggest enjoying his visits as much as possible, and letting him live his life while you focus on finding some things that you truly enjoy and are passionate about. Pursue your interests, enhance your relationships with your wife or partner if you have one, enhance your relationships with friends and the community. This will make you happier, and make you more appealing to your son, and a better role-model for him.

Write a letter to him

If it feels appropriate, you could write a letter, though not too long and detailed. Make sure you’re not judgmental, pleading, needy, demanding—anything that would cause him to feel guilty. For example,

“Dear ___________,

I want you to know how much joy you’ve brought into my life and how much our relationship means to me. It’s probably healthy and normal for a you to live your own life and in so doing to distance yourself from us a bit. However, I feel quite saddened by the distance between us since you went into the 9th grade. It may be simply a healthy distance for a young adult, but it seems as if there is something else causing the distance, some hurt or disappointment on your part. Of course I am not a perfect parent, but I have always been on your side and tried my best.

I dearly hope that you can forgive any hurt I have inadvertently caused you, and that over time we can become closer, as you mean the world to me.”

Good luck. Let me know how it goes.



Read “Good-enough Parenting: ‘I feel so bad when I let my children down.’”

Read “I worry a lot over my adult children and I often call them to give advice.”

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