Grief in the Digital Age

The Last Goodbye: Grief in the Digital Age

THE BUZZ OF MY SMARTPHONE broke my concentration. I picked it up and checked my messages. A grief-stricken family member had texted me to let me know my cousin Francis had died.

Frantic phone calls ensued as I struggled to come to terms with my shock and sorrow. A hidden heart condition had claimed his life. He died five days before Christmas. His funeral would take place in Massachusetts in the New Year.

I was heartbroken to find that I could not attend. Fortunately, technology made it possible for me to mourn with my family from a distance. Francis’ sister and I texted on WhatsApp, and she kindly sent me updates so that I could feel like I was part of the gathering. 

After the service, she sent me a photograph of herself standing next to the open casket. I saw my late cousin’s body, resplendent in a tailored ivory suit, carefully arranged in peaceful repose.

At first, the image overwhelmed me, and I shut my eyes to shield my mind from the painful reality that he was gone. My first impulse was to delete the photo.  

When I opened my eyes and looked again, I saw his sister standing bravely by his side among the countless floral wreaths that surrounded around him. I realized how happy Francis would have been to see how cherished he was and the tenderness that went into celebrating his life. From that perspective, the image began to give me a sense of comfort.

A Memento Mori

The photo reminded me of my finite existence and put many things into perspective. Instead of deleting it, I kept it as a memento mori.

Memento mori is a Latin phrase that means “remember death,” or “remember you must die.” It refers to works of art that recognize the ephemeral nature of the material world and encourage focus and meditation on the afterlife. 

These artworks became widespread when the Great Plague swept through Europe during the Renaissance. The concept reverberated in literature, paintings, and song.

As technology evolved, so did the memento mori. The invention of the camera made it possible to immortalize and preserve images of deceased loved ones. This became a popular art form in the Victorian era.

I was a child the first time I saw a memento mori. My grandfather and my mother were organizing our family archives and discovered a postmortem image of one of our ancestors. My grandfather was disgusted and threw it away.

That memory became especially poignant this year. As I write this, Francis has been gone for four months, and I still have the postmortem photograph stored on my smartphone. I don’t sit and stare at it but it’s somehow comforting to know it’s there, especially as the world navigates the uncharted waters of COVID19.

Its existence is not something I discuss with anyone. Occasionally, I find myself wondering about the emotional significance of keeping a memento mori. I can’t decide if it is a healthy, unorthodox or macabre custom. For answers, I turned to clinical psychologist Dr. Michael C. Kinsey, author of Dreams of Zugunruhe and founder of Mindsplain.com.

Why are memento mori images a source of comfort for the bereaved?

Human beings are both sensory and social creatures. The way we learn that we exist is by being seen by others. When we’re upset, we’re comforted by being held. Knowing that someone is “there” for us is a core element of being able to explore the world. Over time, the process of knowing ourselves and finding comfort becomes more and more autonomous and abstract. We represent ourselves and experiences of others instead of directly perceiving them. John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, called these representations “internal working models.” 

Internal working models are built around experiences, and experiences are built around the senses. Pictures give us something to look at and hold when someone is gone – no matter whether the separation is temporary or permanent.  

I think that looking at – and perhaps holding – pictures help us to make representations of the absent loved ones feel more immediate. They comfort us by giving us a rich sensory experience to scaffold our memories and procedural representations of that person.

I have an especially strong childhood memory of my grandfather’s disdain of postmortem photography. There is still a part of me that feels leery about the appropriateness of the memento mori image. Maybe because it was taken on a smartphone and transmitted to me via social media. Is this a normal response?

That’s interesting. My hunch is that funerals are a communal and social way of coping with grief, where tradition and sacred values are at the forefront of the experience. Snapping a photo with a phone may feel analogous to facing the back wall in a crowded elevator. That is a violation of norms at a time when there is a strong social imperative to submit to them.

In the Alejandro Amenábar film ‘The Others,’ memento mori images were used to excite horror and awe in the audience. Yet, there are Facebook groups dedicated to antique postmortem photographs, where they are regarded as things of beauty. What is behind the allure of such images to people who aren’t related to their subjects?  

Human beings are remarkable in our ability to create complex, abstract ideas and concepts. However, the more abstract, the less personal, immediate, and emotionally salient. Seeing a dead body is a profoundly impactful image. I think a corpse is incredibly evocative because of the way it’s both “real” in a material sense, yet devoid of any of the social emissions we expect. There are no facial expressions, noises, rhythmic breathing, fidgeting. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to encounter a “person” that is lacking the capacity to relate to others and the ambient environment in the way we expect of an entity so defined by its capacity to connect and attune.

In short, the conspicuous absence of the person within the body is emotionally striking, thus giving it stronger influence over our attention. When an emotion is strong enough to capture our attention, we are forced to deal with our feelings. We experience the heaviness of the moment, we imagine the life the deceased person lived, we search for meaning in life and death.

In your opinion, do you consider memento mori images a healthy custom?

It’s not a question of health vs. not healthy. Grief and loss are something we process collectively and personally. As you point out, at times communities have used pictures as a way to process loss. There could be any number of personal reasons why you might want to take a photo that is not based on shared meaning. 

I might speculate though that taking a picture of a dead person is much more of a “just in case” type of measure. It’s a last chance to see someone in the flesh, and taking a picture could be a precaution against feeling some type of regret. From a logical perspective, there is no reason to consider a final moment with a body to be more important than any of the moments we had with a person when they were alive. But psychologically speaking, last moments are among the most salient in memory and therefore carry added pressure to make optimal use of them.

Do you think the Victorian practice of memento mori images as an art form can serve as an aid for mourners, especially in the age of COVID19?

I’m sure creative people could make wonderful use of death portraiture to deal with personal experiences of loss and to say something both meaningful and relatable about impermanence and the human condition. As far as the psychology literature goes, there was an interesting study done by a colleague of mine about “coming to terms with” death. Her study examined the effects of death on the people who work around dead bodies in Varanasi, India–a place where many Indian people come to die or bring deceased loved ones. The hope was that the people who encountered death every day would achieve a deeper peace with and acceptance of death. The findings were essentially that people who work around death every day respond to it in basically the same way that everyone else does. An interesting and important null result. The study was the dissertation of Sylvia Fernandez at The New School for Social Research.

This interview has been edited and condensed. It is syndicated at Medium.com.

Follow Dr. Kinsey on Twitter and at Mindsplain.com. His book Dreams of Zugunruhe is available on Amazon.com.


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4 Subtle Ways Narcissistic Parents Abuse Their Children

4 Subtle Ways Narcissists Abuse Their Children

A PATHOLOGICAL NARCISSIST HAS MASTERED the art of inflicting psychological devastation without ever raising a hand. Their skillful manipulation of people’s perceptions and emotions leaves a trail of bloodless crimes in their wake.

This kind of person regards the pain and suffering they cause as a testament to their omnipotence. In reality, it is a manifestation of their sadistic nature.

A narcissist weaves a web of lies to entrap their victims. They win their romantic partners through deception and maintain their relationships through coercive and controlling behavior.

Thus, children of narcissists are born into a gaslit reality and given to the care of a psychological predator.

Here are four subtle ways narcissistic parents abuse their children.

1. The false self becomes a false idol

As a parent, the narcissist’s false self becomes a false idol that demands to be worshipped by their family unit.

Narcissists create glaring power imbalances between themselves, their spouse and children.

Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Because the narcissist’s needs supersede the needs of everyone else, the group internalizes the message that their needs don’t matter unless the narcissist says they do.

If the spouse is empathic, the narcissist undermines their authority. The children learn that might is right. They must appease the narcissist if they want to have their needs met.

4 Subtle Ways Narcissistic Parents Abuse Their Children

2. The narcissist engineers dysfunction

Because a narcissistic family unit is an organism that operates in a gaslit pseudo-reality, it is less akin to a family and more like a cult or a dictatorship.

In this dynamic, the group can’t be supportive, accepting, healthy, or just. Instead, family members behave and interact in unhealthy ways.

The children must learn to navigate the power imbalances and the inevitable abuses of power that ensue.

Thus, the default setting for existence in a narcissistic family is dysfunction.

3. Love is conditional

Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. The narcissist shows them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to punish them and call it love.

For the child of a pathological narcissist, love is having your personality rejected and replaced with one the narcissist prefers. Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.

Love is intermittent reinforcement with spouses and children alike.

The child is love-bombed when the narcissist feels the child reflects their false self. The moment the child fails to do so, the narcissistic parent blithely discards them.

4. Narcissists reject children who are not like them

Survival in a narcissistic family depends on each family member’s ability to take on and reinforce the assigned roles, toxic attitudes, and habits of the narcissist. No one is safe from a narcissist’s pernicious scrutiny, not even their children.

In the narcissist’s view, anyone who does not echo their image of themselves is rejecting them. Failure to reflect and affirm their false self is a threat. Thus, a child who does not accept the role assigned by the narcissistic parent triggers a narcissistic injury.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem.

The narcissist cannot process negative feedback, and by extension, nor can their family unit. They have zero tolerance for any person or thing they believe may endanger their fragile false self. When faced with such a threat, narcissists attack — even if the source of their ire is an infant.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination. Their response to this perceived narcissistic injury is contempt, oppression, and rejection of the offending child. As an act of expediency, the narcissist casts the child in the psychologically devastating role of the family scapegoat. The narcissist condemns the child to bear the blame for all of the family’s dysfunctional behavior and its outcomes.

Conclusion

To grow up in a narcissistic family is to grow up in an inverted reality, where right is wrong, and wrong is right. Anything goes as long as you tow the narcissist’s line.

There will be flagrant betrayals, hypocrisy, double standards, cruelty, and abuse. If one of the parents is empathic, the children will get a daily dose of how to manipulate, exploit, and subjugate another human being.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem. How the child turns out depends on how they navigate the harsh psychological terrain of the family.

This article is also published at Medium.com.

Resources


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What is Acquired Situational Narcissism?

ACQUIRED SITUATIONAL NARCISSISM (ASN) is a construct developed by the late Robert B. Millman, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School, to describe the late-onset narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) he identified in some of his celebrity patients.

NPD usually develops in adolescence or early adulthood, whereas ASN can develop in the late teen years or deep into adulthood.

Dr. Millman noted those who develop ASN are driven by a preexisting high level of narcissism to pursue wealth and status.

In these cases, highly narcissistic individuals develop full-blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) once they reached their goal of obtaining fame and power.

The Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) does not include ASN.

Characteristics of Acquired Situational Narcissism (ASN) 

Some of the characteristics that distinguish ASN from NPD are:

  • Late-onset – ASN develops during late teens or adulthood.
  • Real power – Someone with ASN has acquired real and measurable power as opposed to grandiose fantasies.
  • Response to the environment – ASN develops in part as a response to the enabling behaviors of members of the individual’s support system, entourage, and society as a whole.

What are some of the risks of Acquired Situational Narcissism?

Like anyone else with NPD, someone with ASN becomes maladaptive. They may experience high levels of anxiety and depression. Their relationship with reality may become distorted.

Some of the ways this plays out are:

  • Poor decision making.
  • Inability to maintain stable relationships resulting in divorce.
  • Dysfunctional relationships with their children.
  • Substance dependency to self-medicate, and
  • Abuse of power in the form of criminal behavior to test the limits of their influence.

Prevention of Adult Situational Narcissism

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some actionable steps you can take to prevent the development of ASN:

  • Work on your character – Develop personal and moral qualities to create an internal compass.
  • Adopt a value system – Clearly identify the values that reflect your moral qualities.
  • A strong support group – Your inner circle should include a small group of people who reflect your value system. These friends should not be impressed by wealth or status. They should not fear to call you out when your behavior is in conflict with your values. They should care about who you are not what you can do for them.
  • Develop a healthy attitude to power – Learn about how power can be used for its highest purpose so that you can create a positive and constructive relationship with it that’s in line with your character and values.

This article was originally published by Narcissistic Abuse Rehab on Quora. It is also published on Medium.

Photo by Ahmet Yalçınkaya.

Sources


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15 Signs of a Fledgling Narcissist

15 Signs of a Fledgling Narcissist

NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER (NPD) usually begins to manifest during a child’s teenage years or early adulthood.

While many teenagers may be somewhat narcissistic, it is usually a normal stage of development and self-corrects over time. For this reason, clinicians are reluctant to diagnose NPD and other personality disorders in minors. However, when children present as callous and unemotional they may be tested by for conduct disorder.

Good enough parents seek to cultivate empathy and mental wellness in their children. Parents who have experienced narcissistic abuse, either in their personal or professional life, are often keen to prevent these dysfunctional behaviors in their children.

So, how do you spot a fledgling narcissist?

What is a fledgling narcissist?

A fledgling narcissist is an adolescent or teenage child who mirrors the behaviors and attitudes of a narcissistic caregiver or role model.

It’s distinguishing features are:

  1. A sense of entitlement
  2. Inability to accept responsibility
  3. A lack of gratitude
  4. An air of superiority
  5. Low empathy
  6. Opportunism
  7. A belief that they are special
  8. Attention seeking
  9. Envious
  10. Exaggerations or compulsive lying
  11. Unreasonable expectations
  12. Exploitativeness
  13. Arrogance
  14. Contempt for peers
  15. Schadenfreude

In other words, they act out the narcissism present in their ecosystem in the form of role models and the culture at large.

Within the family system, a highly narcissist child is often cast in the role of The Manipulator, also known as The Mastermind.

Experiments of dominance

A fledgling narcissist usually experiments with these behaviors in the home, targeting an individual they feel confident will endure their aggression and insolence.

If the child’s expressions of superiority and dominance go unchecked, there is an increased probability that the child may become a full-blown narcissist.

Sometimes high levels of narcissism are encouraged in children. This can happen if one or both of the parents are highly narcissistic. In those instances, narcissistic behavior may be reinforced in the child(ren).

Who does the fledgling narcissist target?

They practices their behavior on a family member. Usually, this will be a sibling or anyone they perceive as vulnerable.

The targeted brother or sister will be subjected to sibling abuse which can take the form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, 

If one of the parents is the target of an ongoing campaign of coercive control by a pathological narcissistic spouse, a budding abuser may target the vulnerable parent with their aggression.

After they’ve enjoyed successful experiments at home, the fledgling narcissist will graduate to targeting someone outside the home. 

These early experiments are forays into discovering how far the fledgling narcissist can go.

What you can do as a parent

Abuse should never be tolerated, especially not from your own child. Here are some actionable steps you can take with a fledgling narcissist child:

  • Consider family therapy with a licensed professional.
  • Make it clear that there is zero tolerance for abuse.
  • Set hard boundaries.
  • Be explicit with the child about what behavior is acceptable.
  • Inform the child about your “deal breakers” i.e. behavior that is unacceptable.
  • Write down the terms of engagement and seal the deal with a handshake.
  • If the child breaks the deal, call out the behavior.
  • Consistently enforce the boundaries.

Have Your Say

Have you experienced a fledgling narcissist in your life? Do you recognize some of the characteristic mentioned in this post? Please share your story in the comments below.


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Feedspot’s Top 50 Narcissism Blogs

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab | Feedspot Top 50 Narcissism Blogs

NARCISSISTIC ABUSE REHAB HAS BEEN SELECTED as one of Feedspot’s Top 50 Narcissist Blogs and Websites.

Feedspot is a social feed reader that collects news feeds from online sources for users to curate and share on their social media platforms.

We would like to extend our gratitude to Feedspot founder Anuj Agarwal kindly for supporting our effort to spread awareness about narcissistic abuse.

Please visit their website and discover their collection of useful resources for survivors of narcissistic abuse.

Special thanks to Anuj Agarwal of Feedspot.

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Honoring Men’s Mental Health

Men's Mental Health | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

Our theme for the month of November is Men’s Mental Health and Suicide Awareness. Narcissistic Abuse Rehab will be using our platform to raise awareness on these critical issues.

Men often neglect their mental health

Social pressure on men and boys to conform to traditional gender roles can place a heavy burden on men’s mental health. Physical strength, stoicism, dominance and controlling behaviors are rewarded. However, they can also have serious consequences for the wellbeing of men and boys. 

Time and time again men and boys are often punished for showing emotion which can cause some to emotionally shut down. Because of this, it can be difficult for men and boys to recognize when they are in emotional distress. Ultimately, many men and boys don’t seek support until their problems have become a crisis. Many men and boys neglect their mental health.

Recognizing male survivors of domestic abuse

In cases of domestic abuse, men and boys are often unable to conceive of themselves as victims due to stereotypes of abusers being male and victims being female. The reality is that current research shows that 1 in 7 survivors of domestic abuse is male

Men and boys are less likely to seek support when they are experiencing domestic abuse, including narcissistic abuse by a family member, peer or employer.

4 of 5 suicides are men and boys

A staggering 4 out of 5 suicides are men and boys who take their lives, mainly due to relationship problems. According to the Office for National Statistics suicide is the biggest killer of men and boys under 45 years old in the U.K. For men over 45, suicide is second only to drug overdoses as the top killer.

Men and boys are facing a mental health crisis. This is why it’s critical to spread awareness about men’s mental health issues and options.

Our goal this month is to highlight some of the issues that are causing mental distress in men and boys and where they can turn for support in order to restore their sense of wellbeing.