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What Causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder … The Roots of Family Dysfunction.

This is an episode of a classic old Australian TV series called Mother and Son. In this show the mother is suffering from dementia and her two sons are great examples of narcissistic and codependent siblings. Let’s see if you can pick the narcissist!

If you are codependent and have a narcissistic marriage partner there is a very good chance a brother or sister of yours may have narcissistic tendencies too.

If you are interested in finding out what we believe causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the roots of this destructive cycle within families – and more importantly how it can be ended – I have a very short 5 page ebook on that subject here …

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This pattern of family dysfunction is very painful to live with and can devastate your health as well as your personal relationships.

However the power is not all in the narcissists hands.

Codependent behaviour is where the pattern begins and is also where it can end.

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Kim is the author of seven books on the topic of relationships and emotional intelligence.

A prolific multi-media content innovator, Kim has created and shared a library of articles and multi-media educational tools including radio shows,
movies and poetry on 'The NC Marriage', and 'The Love Safety Net'.

This Post Has 57 Comments

  1. Ok now this is just too close to home!! Currently I am embroiled in the biggest mess with my brother and sister. :). Let me back up and explain… My parents immigrated from a northern European country of which will remain nameless. I am the youngest of three children. We all arrived on “the boat ” together leaving all friends and family behind.

    Slowly my parents began to rely on my older brother and on all of us kids to translate the language and work in the family business. As a result of this, my brother became very “full of himself”. Currently we rent property to some foreigners and I have noticed that their oldest child exhibits some of the same narcissistic personality traits. As time went on and the business grew my parents neglected me and relied too heavily on us kids for everything. I rebelled as a teen. Growing up as a codependant with two narcissistic siblings, a hugely codependent mom and a very selfish father was just too much for me. So what does one do in these situations? Why, start the pattern all over again and marry a narcissist!! Ha ha…

    Fast forward to the present. My father died leaving my mom with a BIG mess… Imagine that! I have lived within driving distance to my parents and cared for them for the last 15 years. I begged my dad to move closer to me when he was diagnosed with cancer so I wouldn’t have to drive so far to take care of him. He refused and my siblings accused me of being selfish. (they after all help too ha ha they live in other states…). Now my mom is alone and hours drive from me. I begged her to move nearby so I can help her more. My sibling won’t speak to me. The reason? PRESERVE THE ESTATE at any cost. Don’t spend money mom is old and will die soon anyway. My mom doesn’t want to hurt their feelings and tries to keep everybody happy. She is lonely out there by herself. My brother is trying to persuade her not to talk to me because “I am a trouble maker”.

    Kim, I feel like an orphan. My own family has turned against me because I had the nerve to expose them and asked for some consideration. They used every tactic: bullying, lying, twisting the facts, and now shunning. My own mother won’t go to bat for me. She wants to keep the peace at my expense.

    So what is the plan now that I understand the dynamics of this whole thing? Don’t give them the pleasure of letting them know they’ve hurt me. Live my life to the full and be happy. Succeed in my business. Have meaningfully relationships with my own kids and grand kids. Have super girlfriends and have fun. Build back my marriage which has been to hell and back.

    Thanks you Kim and Steve for leading the way. I thanks God for you every day.

    1. Hey Ellen, I really feel for your situation. NOT wanting to ‘rock the boat’ is the number 1 symptom of codependence. I used to have an irrational fear that standing up to my mother would somehow make the whole world explode.

      You need to work through this slowly and with patience – but there is so much in the process of healing for yourself – not just your family. The Love Safety Net Workbook has exercises that will help you stay warm and connected to your loved ones, your own emotions and also your developmental growth while you also learn to stand up for yourself. While 10 Steps to Overcome Codependence will help you really see what behaviours of yours need to end. Back From the Looking Glass on the other hand is a step by step guide to dealing with fighting and abusive behaviour in your home.

  2. This is brilliant! I grew up with “Mom’s needs” being the predominant factor in the household, and she didn’t have Alzheimer’s as an excuse.
    I am the one who ran away – literally – for many years and my sister had to “take care of mom…”, until she got fed up and ceased all contact until the day Mom died.
    Ironically, I’m the one who came back to take care of Mom when she was dying. I had built a life for myself and had forgiven her.
    It is such an injustice that the very ones from whom you need the most are the ones you must “cut off” from emotionally in order to have a decent relationship. It seems like such a betrayal until one looks more deeply into it.
    We aren’t supposed to “plug into” those around us – we must plug into a higher power source. For me, that’s Jesus.
    It was a very hard and painful lesson that took decades to learn, but I am so happy to have learned it.

  3. “Don’t give them the pleasure of letting them know they’ve hurt me. Live my life to the full and be happy. Succeed in my business. Have meaningfully relationships with my own kids and grand kids. Have super girlfriends and have fun. Build back my marriage which has been to hell and back.”

    Sounds like a good idea to me Ellen! Good luck with your husband though – there are so many narcissistic men around aren’t there? But Kim and Steve’s strategies may work for you. (I think prayer helps a great deal) Unfortunately I couldn’t continue with my husband as the alcohol and psychological abuse was killing me, and he wasn’t improving, and his love for me became almost hate (more Borderline Personality I think now).

    I can relate quite a bit to the family stuff though – so typical that one person in the family (usually an obliging female) is left with the responsibility of aging parents etc. and in-laws can become out-laws. My own family is very loyal to me, but my brother didn’t like it when I spoke up recently about “me” (he went absolutely berserk and criticised me like my husband did!) I’m beginning to think he may be narcissistic too. Other relatives have been supportive, and a sister-in-law and two cousins-in-law have been the best really. And they say “Blood’s thicker than water!” – well I don’t know now …)

    Hope Kim can answer you soon!

    Love and best wishes to you.

    As our Australian Patron Saint, St Mary MacKillop said “Stay calm, and be full of hope.” 🙂

  4. “Stay calm, and be full of hope.”

    I like that very much. It reminds me of the first lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”:

    “If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too:
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same:.
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;”

    There’s more, but I’ll stop here.

  5. I totally agree with yo Kim. A codependent is the only one fully capable ot turning the dysfunction around. As for the last post, be stronger and break the abusive cycle. As sad as it is, it’s sometimes necessary to lose the relationship with your siblings for a while to get done what is necessary. I think it’s really sad when the silblings never get along. In my experience, I don’t always see eye to eye with my sister. She is more dominiring and I am less. So we are not that close. I hope that you find the strength required to face difficult times. I know you will!

  6. @RA
    “We aren’t supposed to “plug into” those around us – we must plug into a higher power source. For me, that’s Jesus.”
    FOr sure… people deifying others or themselves cause so many problems… GOd is GOd and anything else, put in his place will only disappoint or cause trouble.

  7. HI RA,

    It has taken me a long time but I finally get it. The lightbulb is on. I am responsible for myself and own myself. You say Jesus is your power source and He is mine as well. However my problem was found in psalms where David says to his very own soul, why are you down cast for I will hope in Him. That was eye opening. I was depending on others to meet my needs but i was the very one that needed to own me. Most people do that but those who are caretakers think they are doing right but are not in a sense. It is a bad habit of leaving one self. After one owns self, then they give freely and not whine as i did when I did not get back. So yes to Jesus.

    Steve and Kim have been very helpful as well as they have led the way in practical input to this huge community of those suffer…all suffer even the narrisitic people as they loss out of being there. This is all new to me and that is why I am so outspoken..thanks for reading this all. Finally after a husband left me, I get it and I think he is coming back as I follow the word and do pratical things…Kim has good tips..

  8. Chris, I think you may be referring to me there – yes I know I must be stronger (and my brother tells me to be with my elderly mother who is a darling, but also critical of me at times, but mostly loving – dementia is setting in tho, so it’s hard).

    Problem is that when I act in a strong and assertive manner with my direct family members and tell them I won’t put up with being mocked any more etc (they consider it’s just teasing) they can’t handle it – thinking I’ve gone mad, am acting out of character – they become retaliatory and try to put me back in my place (or so it seems to me). By the same token they are so supportive, generous, loving – but Domineering!! I am in a state of chaos at the moment, and I feel an absolute failure but become very defensive now – due to the abuse from my borderline/narcisstic husband I think. I still cry for his pain because I know how much he suffers and he has lost everything now including me – but I also sort of hate him! Need to see a therapist I know…

    RA, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘IF’ is my favourite poem!!
    It was good to read it again – thank you – inspiring and so relevant to what many of us experience in living with abusive partners!

    1. Hey Paula – Hang in there and keep working through our strategies with your family, especially your repertoire or comeback lines in the Love Safety Net Workbook!

  9. Thanks Kim ‘n Steve. Just working thru the Love Safety Net workbook now … Probably because the time is right. Fourteen year relationship now over, NPD very abruptly announced before our dream overseas trip that he needed to be alone. Slowly coming to terms with loss. NPD saw narcissism post on my computer and went ballistic. Too close to home I think. Am focussing on developing rapport and trust and will NEVER go back to where I once was, allowing myself to be psychologically and verbally abused. I know he is not well, probably confused and I suspect frightened, tho he acts full of bravado and withdraws to protect himself. The weeks of withdrawal after small incidents were blown out of all proportion, are just not an acceptable way to respond to conflict. NPD is in small business which has provided a very comfortable lifestyle at the cost of three marriages and countless staff who cannot ever meet his demands. NPD cannot see his demands as unreasonable in the workplace or at home. He is very generous and uses finances to control. Physically tall and can be very intimidating. At a counselling session years ago, a counsellor stood in front of him to demonstrate how his physical presence can be so intimidating (after I had related an experience I found intimidating) and he said she acted unprofessionally and walked out of the session, never to return.

    Now understand my part in this, in that I never drew my line in the sand and have become co- dependent? I am learning new scripts, using self soothing and “scissors” to snip myself free of the hurt and will never (should never say “never” – but I am trying) allow myself to be in the place I once was. I shall remain true to myself!

  10. My husband after almost 45 years has gotton worse then better its a shame you would think he would realize I am the one that keeps family together and keep us out of debt. I don’t want to destroy the family since the five granddaughters love him but the two older ones are noticing his behavior not normal and question what is going on with him. They are smart enough to see there is mental illness going on. He only wants to be around the ones that show him unconditional love and not look at him with doubt. He won’t have much to do with our son but still stays close to our daughter. They both have handicaps but he has only been there for the daughter. I just focus on my happy life at work with co workers and friends and my family is important. I just go enjoy all of them while he is around me at home but won’t take me out in public anymore. He refuses to be out with me and enjoy time together like we use to.He thinks if he does this its going to work for me to do rediculous things for him to get him lots of money to travel with his male friends it will never happen in my life time. I told him if he can’t get out and work and make money to travel then he will only get it from me by divorcing me. This man has never worked hard in all these years and has only let me be the bread winner. He has played and he uses people to get what he wants to do. He likes old people and befriends them only to get something from them he has done it before with an elderly lady and she left him her home. He uses people constantly its amazing how phoney he is to them he even has a phoney laugh its amazing NPD is a real sickness and they think they are fine. I have to stop reading respondes cause it sickens me inside. I see how you end up hating them for being so cruel.

    1. You hang in there Cindi and yes I do think it is normal to really hate them sometimes – but I can hear that hate is not what you have in your own heart.

  11. I have read your little ebook, and I have a hard time seeing that it is all in how the parents treat the children differently. My mother actually spent a lot of time complaining about my father to my sister, but she ended up being the narcissistic one. It always seemed to me that I was just more naturally tuned into others’ emotions, and so was more concerned about not rocking the boat, trying to keep everything on an even keel. It feels like survival for a child to keep their parents together and happy. But my sister did feel like my parents liked me better, and they were harder on her. But I really never did anything wrong. I was too afraid of rocking the boat. I was a perfect child, really, throughout my whole childhood. I guess I still feel like some people naturally feel others’ emotions more, and some people feel them less, and in a dysfunctional family, the ones who feel other people’s feelings more become codependent, and the ones who feel them less become narcissistic.

    Are you saying that narcissism and/or codependence aren’t created in one-child families? Or that with 2 siblings, there are never 2 codependents or 2 narcissists – that they always come in opposite pairs?

    My husband’s family sounds like an extreme version of this. His brother died many years ago, but I heard from an aunt that “everyone in the family was worried about his attachment to his mother”, and also that my husband used to practically torture him when they were alone after school. Perhaps, had he lived, his presence would have helped sort everything out. Also, listening to his mother talk about them was unreal… about my husband she said “I couldn’t believe I had a child who was so opposite from me and he cried all the time” & her tone was one of total rejection of him… about his brother she said “I understood him from his first breath.”

    Would you say, in general, that emotionally immature parents don’t treat their children fairly… they’re more likely to be nicer to the child who is more pleasant or who they understand better? Whereas someone more emotionally mature will make the effort required to really love the child who is different or who has a naturally obtuse personality? I mean I have one son, who at bedtime, will spend 5 minutes telling me how much he loves me. The other one just has a very different personality, and he’ll be quiet for a time and then very excitedly say something like “Mom, I just figured out how to make a catapult out of water!!” Now, being a mom, it’s easy to see that it’s easier for me to connect with the first son than the second. But an emotionally mature mom makes the effort to be fair with her love, right? I have read that it is to be expected for a parent to connect more readily with one child than another. But the truly loving parents double their efforts with the more difficult kids, right?

  12. Paula, thanks for your words of encouragement.  I’m so sorry things didn’t work out with your husband.  There is really no telling if things will turn for the better or not . Weather they stay or leave you will always have a lot on your plate to deal with.  Even though my husband and I are back together there are moments when his behavior drives me up the wall.  It’s a challenge always.  Prayer helps a lot and remembering that my relationship with God is the most important relationship I will ever have restores my soul.  Looking back I can see that He has never left me when so many others (including my own self) have…
    RA thank you for reminding us all of Rudyard Kipling’s wonderful poem.  James you are right about plugging into our “power source”.  It’s so easy to forget and go after love from those who are incapable of giving it isn’t it?  Kim thanks for your response as well.  I called my mom yesterday only to be further disappointed by her once again.  After giving myself some time to calm down and self soothe and pray I will call her and kindly explain that I will not be visiting her this week or bringing her to my city against her will to look for a place to live.  If she caves into my brothers desires for her to stay living alone then so be it.  I am not willing to invest any more time, money, and emotional energy in taking care of a person who is so double minded.  My mother is very immature in many ways and her behavior will drain me dry if I let it.  

    1. Hey good decision Ellen – you also need to be ready to stay calm and get on with your own life if this decision of yours creates a storm for a while.

  13. I have also been wondering for a while if you have ever addressed directly practical means for dealing with everyday issues, such as the ones in this video…when the narcissist won’t take on any shared responsibilities, and the codependent feels unable to let it go. I mean even a “normal” person would have a hard time dealing with the slick ways that a narcissist can weasel out of normal everyday responsibilities, like getting up in the morning with the children, doing dishes, cleaning the house, taking care of the cars, etc. I mean you would not believe the fit my husband-to-be threw when I really pressed him to actually clean the bathroom one day. We had no kids, were both working, and had a tiny apartment, and he threw the biggest fit. Kim, you tend to focus on bigger things, like physical abuse or bank account abuse or infidelity, but with my husband it’s just a regular barrage of little things.

    But I am improving. Your direct instruction to learn to calm myself down by myself is really the key that I needed so many years ago to create a stable & happy life for myself. I had 2 years of therapy when I was in college, and that man would tell me, in theory, about how I needed to be “more independent”, but he never practically explained to me what that exactly should look like. You have. It looks like calming yourself down when you are upset, and finding things you enjoy to turn to on a regular basis. Thank you so much for your work.

    1. Hey Tanya As for your questions about how the family structure causes these behaviour patterns – I think that there are many factors that influence which child learns n tendencies and which one ends up care-taking, and there are no hard and fast rules. Many people (like myself) were actually expected to play both roles! As for practical advice on day to day issues the Love Safety Net Workbook is a really good start.
      There is also a good book I recommend called Wifework. I do hope I get to writing more about this too one day — but time never seems to be on my side lately. The main thing is to tackle one problem at a time and really make sure you plan your approach when you are calm and in a positive state of mind and anticipate their tantrum or negative response in advance and have a plan of action ready to deal with it. Using your emotions to try and force the issue never works. Once you become emotional it is time to call it quits and wait until you are in a clearer state of mind to deal with it again. If that means that the bathroom remains dirty (for instance) so be it – what is more important you being exploited or a clean bathroom!!!!

  14. So this is kind of off topic, but your ebook talked about emotional manipulation, and my mind has been reeling wondering how much of this I am perpetrating on my kids. I remember reading in your stuff that some ways you improved your relationships with your kids were playing & doing fun stuff with them more, and “collecting” them with attachment-promoting behaviors like looking them in the eye and greeting them. Does anything else come to mind in terms of what you did to improve your relationship with your kids? What comes to mind to me is just to be happy. Not carry around that anger as heft for manipulating my husband. Choose happiness instead. That way my kids can feel like I enjoy them.

  15. Thank you again. I called him on something he was doing today that really bothers me, and he tried to pull all his stuff… ie it was really all about him and how I had wronged him, confounding, pseudo-logical arguments, complete absence of empathy for my point of view, subtly putting me down, etc. But I was able to keep my cool, sidestep the pseudo-logic, maintain my position that I did not appreciate what he had done and would not respond in the way he wants in situations like that in the future.

    Of course, it’s past midnight and I am still up calming down. But now that I have been educated about what it going on, it is much easier to not get drawn in. Sad though, to see his dysfunction more clearly.

    And I have some experience now dealing with my own anxiety around displeasing him. I was really fairly shocked a year ago when I realized how anxious I get when I am consciously doing something that I know he will not like.

    1. Hey Tanya – You are doing great – you hand in there and keep working through the steps and exercises 🙂

  16. Tanya,
    You are SO right about your kids. Maintaining your sanity and joy when your husband is playing the mind games takes a lot of skill. But, for the sake of your children you have to do it. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand self soothing or how to deal with all the accusations when my kids were little. They all (5of them) have huge emotional scars. I am trying to rebuild attachment with all five and my husband seems to be following my lead not wanting to be outdone by me! Funny how important it is to collect yourself after a “round in the ring” with a narcissist. They seem to be very good at self soothing but really it’s more like escapism, not calming themselves down. Not a lot of thinking or introspectiong going on in the grey matter. 🙂

  17. Hi There; I came from an alcoholic family where BOTH parents were alcoholics. Despite my “taking care” of everyone(very sensitive) I was the scapegoat for all that was wrong. My mother even blamed me for my dad divorcing her!!! I was eleven. My mother hated me & would tell me so, but my older brother was the “Golden Boy” and could do no wrong even though he really did nothing to help, but retreated & withdrew. My dad & brother left and left me with her. My dad ran off with another woman & did not contact me for 9 mos. I finally got his attys name off a letter that came for my mother & called the atty & said “WHERE’S MY DAD!” My brother went to private school. My dad said I could go too, but in true co-dependent form, I could not leave her by herself despite the abuse. Throughout both parents lives, I did not go overboard, but was the one that felt that no-one else would lend a hand if I did not. I am 57, and my mom died a little over a year ago. My brother & I were going through her stuff after she passed, and found in her wallet a list of things she was still holding against me from my teenage years! I am a femal & have been involved in a relationship for 25 years in which his father is a raving NPD, and he has some of the tendancies, especially a lack of compassion for others, especially me. He cheated on me a few years ago, which created extreme trust issues which needless to say, i already had to the nines. He is extremely remorseful, and i finally see some changes after the ensuing devastation to our relationship. At this age, I don’t feel as likely to move on easily, except to be alone. Just wanted to say that the practice of self-soothing and not feeding into the drama is great for anyone, especially those with diffacult people in their lives. It gives you a sense of power & non-reactivity to a situation(s) that may just pass if not “fed into.” You have been a brave soul to combat these forces and find some answers. I know your children must have been motivators, as well as love for your husband. With all you told us about him, I am inspired you would see hope. Thank you for this work you do, there are redemptive qualities to many of these folks if dealt with in the correct fashion. If we can retain our sanity, we start to become the rock instead of the stream. I give my background to give others hope that there are people out there with extreme co-dependent teachings that can still emerge halway sane & know good advice when they hear it.

  18. Oh yes I see myself my mother and my brother in this show for sure. 🙁
    I am only glad that I have learned a lot in these past few years so hopefully it wont repeat itself with my children.

  19. Ok, so I watched this over again and have been thinking about it. The part about emotional manipulation I am just really getting. I have had glimpses of it in the past, even the distant past, but I think I am finally actually grasping it. By “it”, I mean what emotional manipulation is, and what are the alternatives to it. 20 years ago I had a counselor who told me I was being manipulative, but I really just didn’t get what he meant, and he seemed to think that I knew better but was simply choosing to behave this way. When actually, I didn’t have a clue how else there was to live. As far as I understood, what people do when they want something from others was emotionally manipulate. Similarly, my in-laws believe that hurling insults is simply the way people behave when they are angry.

    But you make things so clear, and the two arguments against emotional independence that you list are so much the way I have been!. So would you say that narcissism is basically a defense against emotionally manipulative behavior? So that when they smell emotional manipulation, it really makes the narcissists get worse? I get it, after years of observing my husband, that he really doesn’t trust my emotions, because of what he learned growing up. He doesn’t trust that I am not going to manipulate and use him via my feelings. And then on top of that I’ve been using my emotions to manipulate.
    And what about the kids? I’ve been really focusing on keeping hold of my “happy place” lately, and the kids seem to be appreciating it. And we’ve been talking more about feelings. My husband today said something overly sharp to my 3 year old daughter – in a way that I think I’d call overly manipulative of her feelings – and she said to him “Daddy you hurt my feelings when you said that!” in a very appropriate voice. I was very proud of her.
    But really, what does emotional manipulation look like when it masquerades as child discipline? Besides things like making the child become a caretaker of the parent or something like that… that’s not really discipline. What I mean is, I have this vision of everyone having a “happy place” in which they should usually stand, and emotionally manipulative people are always trying to knock others out of their happy place in order to influence them. Right? Like jerking their chains, so they are jerked off their feet. So it seems like the discipline used by an emotionally manipulative parent would focus a lot on jerking the kids off their emotional feet, rather than supporting them to stay in their happy place while also teaching them. This is not very specific, but does it sound right?

    1. Hey Tanya – You really are getting this! I think what you surmised about people with narcissistic tendencies resenting emotional manipulation and also your conclusions about disciplining children are spot on. I often see my role with my kids as more of an emotional coach. This isn’t always easy as I am often the one making them face that they will not get something they wanted or that something is truly gone from their life (facing the heart wrenching pain of sadness and finding the silver lining on the other side) or helping them express their embarrassment or shame appropriately when their pride has painted them into a corner (never easy!). We also need to make sure that our kids learn to do what they need to without too much drama (on their part) or emotional manipulation (on our part) and that sometimes requires some serious planning, strategies and tactics including seeking help from other people who have influence with them. Key skills such as humility, delaying gratification and choosing goals wisely don’t come naturally to every child. It has really paid off in the end with us however – our kids do understand their emotions (to the point where my daughters friends all come to her for advice) and respect us most of the time.

      As for your questions about personality disorders – I am not so sure about those distinctions and so perhaps someone else here might be able to help with that!

  20. But narcissists are also kings/queens of emotional manipulation, even if their narcissism is a defense against such behavior. Right?

  21. One more question… are narcissism and codependence kind of like “gateway” personality disorders? This is a bit of a backwards analogy, but are they like the first spring grass that springs up from a childhood full of emotionally unhealthy rain, whereas other personality disorders are like bigger plants that develop if the unhealthy rain continues to fall more heavily or for a longer period of time?

    In The Road Less Traveled, I remember the author talking about “personality disorders” vs. “neuroticism”, saying that people are usually all to some degree either personality disordered or neurotic. The “personality disordered” people were the ones who tended to not take responsibility for their actions & effects on other people, and the neurotic people, he said, tended to take too much responsibility for other people’s feelings & problems. It sounds very much like our “narcissistic” vs. “codependent” distinction. Is anyone else familiar with that book?

    I have been writing a lot lately! I hope that’s ok!

  22. Thank you Tanya for all your posts. I learned many things from your insights. I connected with your thoughts on some people just being more aware of other’s emotions.
    I have the ebooks and have tried to find the time to keep returning to them to work on the next steps that are personal to my situation. I am realizing that although immediate changes do happen, the hardest part is really in keeping strong and consistent and continuing to make changes once the initial crisis is over. It helps a great deal to have the constant support of the information available on this blog site. At times it seems impossible to remember everything that I have read, and I start to feel tired of having to be the one with the answers for my family. It helps to know that I am not alone.
    Like Ellen, I too, thought narcissists were better at self soothing, and I felt inadequate about having to work on gaining control over my emotions. I did begin to realize that my range of emotions was just greater. Actually, the clue came from the N in my life, who happened to say that they did not feel what I felt. They also said that they did not spend much time thinking about our fights. They would just walk away or go to sleep and then act as if nothing had happened. She is right. There was not much introspecting going on. Why should there be when they always thinks they are right and nothing is ever their fault.
    I do also see narcissism as being a defense for emotional manipulation. And it is funny that this is what they are so good at. That’s where it starts to feel like this is a struggle for power and control. I began to see so much when I focused on just trying to stop being angry. It was not easy. It still isn’t sometimes. Again, being able to get support here at this blog helps to renew energy and regain perspective.
    Kim is right. We have to hang in there. Things are getting better. However, slowly that may seem. Small changes feel powerful.Thank you to everyone who shares here.

  23. Hello,

    I recently went to the Dr. with my elderly mother for her heart problem. She had stopped taking her medicine 2 months before. The Dr. Explained very carefully why in her case she must take her medicine which is stress hormone reducers. He told us that people with weak hearts’ bodies produce stress hormones to get the tired heart to work harder. These hormones actually damage the heart further and the body comes to rely upon them. The best thing she can do is reduce the stress horemones on her heart and let it work for itself. THis knowledge was an ephiphony for me, both for an understading of my mom’s health (thank goodness she is back on the drugs) and how she and I have led our lives running on anxious energy. I use it to motiviate myself, and don’t know how to get what I need to done without it. It makes it difficult to communicate with my husband who most certainly has NPD (although he seems to be getting a little better, slowly over time!) It is sad that my mom is running on stress at her age – she is very active and productive, but has some big big problems. I wrote this, because it seems to fit with the focus on calming oneself down for a better life. I have no idea how to motiviate myself to do all the things I think I need to, without using anxiety, but I know realize it is harmful for me and my family to continue being so upset all the time.

  24. Tanya– I can relate to your day-to-day issues with your husband in my situation with my partner. None of the things he does are worthy of calling the police, but they’re still hurtful and overly draining. So it really is hard to find a support network of other people to hold him accountable for his bad verbal behavior and lack of empathy. Have you found other people or ways to keep your boundaries in place?

  25. Hi Kim– I also have some questions for you. 1) my situation is upsetting in that my partner has told me painful experiences from his childhood, but there never has been an emotional or tearful breakthrough about them like Steve had with you that you mention in “…Looking Glass.” My partner seems more apathetic about his past if and when something is shared or brought up. How can he grow if he can’t fully feel the pain from his past painful events that made him this way? 2) Even though Steve is better and “cured” for all tense and purposes, is there ever still old behaviors that come up today that still upset you? Is there a certain base level of “unhappiness” that is to be expected in having an N partner even if they are eventually cured? Please advise when you can. I’ve been reading your materials for the past couple years, and it is so helpful but I find the problems return when I believe I’m not being consistent or still haven’t properly set up boundaries. Thank you and Steve in advance for all you do!! I can’t thank you enough.

    1. Hi ML – I will do my best!

      1. Yes he may need that – but you pushing for it won’t help. As I explain in Back From the Looking Glass those crises need to come up on their own. My experience is that once you stop trying to process his feelings for him and also stop being a vent for his anger and negativity those emotions will come to the surface. The trick is being there enough to say you care but not allowing yourself to be drawn in.

      2. Our relationship was a work in progress for many years so I would say yes but more so in the past than now. I learned to have a very low tolerance for emotional manipulation or disrespect and as the years have gone past with me teaching this work every day I do think I have got better and better at dealing with it when it comes up. One of the hardest things has been that Steve can handle a lot more negativity and stress as a baseline than me and so I often end up becoming a vent for his frustration. I got really frustrated and sad about that recently as it had got to where I seemed to always be working to help keep his stress levels down but then he would just pile something back on to take them up again. I had a breakthrough with this recently however after we both watched a documentary called The Big Silence which was about a Jesuit monk taking 5 people and teaching them about the wonders of silence. This included an 8 day retreat where none of them were meant to talk to anyone except their spiritual advisor once a day. The emotions that started coming up in all of them doing this was quite amazing. Watching that long documentary (it had a number of episodes) really slowed Steve down and I think helped him see how wound up he keeps himself a lot of the time. Then because he had slowed down a bit after that it gave me the chance to really calmly and quietly explain that that same kind of quiet and peace is really what I strive for in my life and that him (and my eldest son) always being wound up and, often irritated, really breaks into that serenity for me. I used the example of how when he cooks he usually is unhappy with everyone for being late (or something) before we even all sit down. I said “You set the tone in a negative way at the meal right from the start when you do that and that really doesn’t give yourself justice for all the work you have put in preparing it.”

      The great thing is that Steve really does listen to me now and he knows I don’t bring up things that are bothering me very often. I used to do nothing but complain – but for many years now I have reverted to the rule of action rather than words and dealing with situations by practicing new responses to use in the moment rather than complaining later.

      I just mention this because you really do need to have a lot of trust and rapport built and to choose your timing very well to expect any progress for bring something up in the way I mention here.

      It has helped though, and once Steve took it on and became more aware of it himself I got him and my son together and set them a challenge to start monitoring their own stress before it spills out and unbalances the people around them — and suggested they both help each other with that challenge.

      So just the other day when Steve was being grumpy and negative (and I asked him to stop) and then it then spilled over into a short angry exchange (with that same son) both of them (after they had calmed down) did kind of see what had happened and Steve on his own said sorry that he had started it – even though it was my son who ended up being the vent for his stress and negativity.

      As for us still having a baseline of unhappiness I would definitely say no. I take responsibility for my own happiness now – but even so Steve is such a great friend and companion that it is really a bit crazy. What I mean by that is that we really are pretty different than most other couples now. We spend 80% of our time together and still look forward to seeing each other after we have been apart. We are such a team that no one would even dream of trying to come between us – because it is so obvious they would get no where with that.

      This is really important for us now too. For my families privacy I don’t write much about our extended family – but as most people who come from dysfunctional families would know — there is often hard and very challenging stuff to deal with, a lot of which is ongoing.

      Being a team makes that all so much more manageable — even when it is hard and there are no easy solutions.

  26. Tanya, I have read The Road Less Traveled, what I understand is that Narcissism, Borderline, etc. are considered “Character Disorders” which are personality disorders in which people generally blame others for conflicts and problems and will not look at themselves…always ‘right’…and Neurotic people are those with more dependent-type personality disorders who tend to take responsibility for everything even when it’s not their fault or they have no control (codependency). It’s been years since I read that book, but I still remember the diagrams: The character disodered person with the arrows pointing away from the picture of the person, and the picture of the neurotic person with the arrows pointing towards the person…showing where each tends to direct blame.
    It’s so easy to see how these two people could get into a relationship when one is all too happy to blame the other, and the other all to willing to accept that blame! That has been our ‘dance’ for sure! I beat myself up for all that goes wrong and he joins in! Since his infidelity both sexual and financial have been exposed, he was for a time remorseful and willing to go to counseling and get help, but after a time of introspection and work, he has given up and is refusing to go to counseling or to take the periodic polygraphs as our counselors have recommended. I don’t believe he has stayed faithful in these 8 months since this all came out, and he expects physical intimacy even though he is not willing to ‘back’ his claim to faithfulness with the polygraph he is being asked to do. (He’s done two in the past, so its not a new experience for him.) He has also stepped up the verbal abuse and manipulation. For example, he recently agreed to the polygraph and then punished me for several days with intense passive-aggression and put-downs, and risky behavior (sexually (putting himself in front of soft-porn on purpose which he knows causes me anxiety)until I exploded in rage at which point he was so adeptly able to use my blow-up as an excuse to back out of the polygraph…now it’s my fault, of ccourse that he’s not complying…and its ‘so demoralizing’ that he’s being asked to do this, but of course, he doesn’t acknowledge that 20 years of lying to me and keeping me in the dark about his porn habit and secret spending are why he is in this boat in the first place…always playing the victim! It’s so hard not to feel infuriated. So, I’m in self-soothing mode right now, but wondering if setting a boundary not to engage in physical intimacy with him until he is willing to back his claim to faithfulness over the past 8 months is appropriate? (Having trouble understanding the difference between setting a healthy boundary and being controlling or manipulative myself???) I certainly am feeling violated that he thinks he should be entitled to this while he is refusing what I and our counselors are asking for…a commitment to telling the truth and proving his faithfulness. My other concern about polygraph with a narcissist is whether they can even be detected with a polygraph since they tend to be so skilled at lying???

    1. Hi Jennifer, Withdrawing intimacy is a personal choice you should make on what feels comfortable to you – it is not a boundary. Using it in that way will become like punishment and will only escalate his playing the victim. If you don’t want to have intimacy with him by all means say so and even explain that it is because you do not feel there is enough rapport and trust right now – but just be careful and do not think for a moment you can use withdrawing from intimacy as a way to control his behaviour.

      What you need to do is the exercises Your Personal Bill of Rights in The Love Safety Net Workbook. Please note when you do this exercise that the list is NOT to show him – it is something you need to work through yourself following the instructions very carefully.

  27. Great stuff. I’ve learned to be wary of negativity and static — (overt or vibe-wise) — as a signal for myself to not become involved personally in what’s going on. I can stand to the side, calmly observing, or with some possibly (or not) helpful, honest observations, but the negativities will have to resolve themselves, come to their own conclusions, without my personal skin in the game. These are perpetual “no win” situations, and there’s no point in getting bumped around in them. Let them take their own course without me, come what may,… It only seems “more important/louder and urgent” the more closely or directly one succumbs to becoming involved or drawn in, as if our participation in the frenzy could “fix” something. The sooner we let go if it, based on its own non-merits as a negative issue, the more quickly it will simply dissolve and go away, due to its own lack of real substance,… As Paul did in the Bible, shake the poisonous snake off into the fire,…

  28. Kim, thank you so much for your feedback. It’s much appreciated! You and Steve sound very much like me and my boyfriend in that he and I are such great friends underneath both our “disordered parts” that the “real us” is what keeps me going when we have our downs. I also relate to you and Steve in that I also have low tolerance for stress, and my boyfriend’s is much higher. Thanks for also describing your and Steve’s relationship as it is now because I think it’s important not just for me but for everyone else here needing help to have a realistic idea of how our relationships can be with our N partners even when things are much better. By this I mean that disagreements and negative attitudes and behaviors will still continue to happen and be a constant work in progress, but it should hopefully get easier to bounce back and less intense in the negative behaviors. I think my problem is that I feel like once I see a good amount of progress, I’m happy and think things are permanently “fixed” until my partner does something to upset me again then I’m extra mad/hurt that it happened because I thought it was finally over, if all this makes sense. I guess I’m a bit too ideal for my own good.

  29. I just got the book and read it. This is good stuff, Kim. I grew up “taking care of Mom” and am now trying to help my grandchildren who must always “take care” of their mom (my son’t first wife) instead of her taking care of them.

  30. Jennifer,
    About physical intimacy. Last year, before I had found Kim’s site, it really dawned on me that I was not being treated right. I realized that I needed to stand up for myself, despite the anxiety that caused me. I could clearly see that anxiety, and that my anxiety really wasn’t right – it was dysfunctional, and I decided to ignore it and stand up to him anyway. Our kids were barely 2, 5, and 8, and my husband hardly did any dishes (or any cooking, or ….). I was doing them at 11pm after putting away the laundry, etc. When I was 8 months pregnant one Xmas and I spent all day cooking for him and his relatives, he (& they) “let” me do the dishes that night. When I was on crutches and postpartum once he fought about who would do the dishes with my 65 yr old mother who had a swollen ankle from recent surgery. So last year I flat out said that we wouldn’t be intimate again unless he developed a good habit of helping with the dishes each night. He threatened (“you are ruining our sex life!” – to which I replied in my head, once I had calmed down a little, “and you haven’t ruined it through all these years by being so self-centered??”), he did the dishes with total anger for about a month, then we went back to having sex and the dishes habit has stuck. Because really he knew that he should be helping me, but he just has no self-discipline. He accused me of using sex as a weapon, but I said, “no, if you are sitting around watching tv while I am working my ass off late at night, that is not love. And if there’s no love, then I won’t be feeling like having sex.” I really don’t know if I was controlling him using sex, or if I was just expressing my true feelings for ONCE which were that I was not feeling loved and I didn’t like having sex when I didn’t feel loved. I tend to think it was the latter.

    I too am confused about the difference between setting a boundary and being manipulative yourself. And Kim, what I did does seem like setting a boundary, and I do think it was right, because I was saying, “this is my boundary… I don’t feel like having sex when I don’t feel loved, and frankly, you having a complex about not ever being able to do dishes is unlivable for me.”

    In general, I am confused about sex in this Narcissistic-codependent world. Lately I have been measuring things by asking myself, would it be a good idea to have sex with this man if we were not married and he was treating me this way? I think Kim’s Bill of Rights thing might help. I haven’t finished going through her stuff.

  31. Kimberly
    I LOVE what you said about anxiety. I have been totally thinking about what it would mean to stay in, and live from, a calm, happy center. And I know it would change the way I live dramatically! What you say about anxiety is just one example. And a big one. To do things from a calm, happy place, instead of working off of anxiety all the time. I think it points to the way we were raised and motivated as kids… we were motivated not with an eye to keeping us in our “happy place”, but with perhaps overly harsh means.

  32. ML,
    I am still quite confused about setting boundaries, so I can’t help much. I have found a counselor who specialized in Narcissism, and she seems to understand what’s going on in my house, so I am hoping she will help me. I have found one person to help me influence my husband, which is another counselor who did the amazing trick of actually winning my husband’s trust. (We had been to a number of them before and he never trusted them at all.) She has helped me/us in a number of small ways, but she does not understand the whole narcissism deal very well. She is sometimes fooled by my husband’s blustery, erroneous, account of events, and by his going on and on. But he even went to her of his own accord the other day, by himself. It can’t hurt. She at least has a good enough view of the situation. Apart from that, we have also been involved with the Marriage Encounter/Retrouvaille marriage help groups, and the group meetings that are associated with that have helped some in terms of providing other people to tell him what’s right and wrong.

    Originally, at the beginning of my marriage, I had gone to his mother and sister, expecting help from them with my husband, but they simply said that they didn’t believe me about the way my husband was treating me. Which shocked and hurt me, of course. Hello, in-laws are not the same as blood relatives. Or so I learned, at least in my case, that the caring was only skin deep.

  33. And this is really funny… about a month after our drag-out dishes war last year, we had Thanksgiving with his relatives, and he was ALL up in arms and disgusted with his mother and sister for the fact that they weren’t doing the dishes, and instead “let” the new mom’s boyfriend do everything. I had to chuckle and chuckle over that one, but also rejoice, because I could see the light dawning in him.

  34. Tanya– Thanks so much for your reply. I think it’s very helpful to get other people’s experiences whom we feel is somewhat more similar to our own. Like you, I’m still very confused about the boundary setting in general and how it relates to sex specifically. It sounds like you have a good start with people to be good influences on your partner such as the other counselor and the marriage groups. Out of curiosity, how did you get your husband to go to counseling to begin with? I know most N’s would refuse to go anyway. And I love your story about his mom’s new boyfriend doing the dishes! 🙂

  35. Hi, I am new to this blog, unfortunately, I am
    newly divorced from my former husband for 3 months.
    I have moved out and am trying to go it alone with
    my 15 year old daughter. That is my main objective to help her be her best. Sometimes though I feel I am taking all the responsibility for her welfare now. She is a good kid but having
    some issues dealing with the divorce, still sees
    her dad but I think I am becoming angry at her
    for her dad’s rejection of me. Kim how do we
    or where do we start trying to repair possible
    damage to our children? She is my only child?

    1. Hi Alice, The Love Safety Net Workbook has a set of exercises that will help you with any relationship including your relationship with your kids. You learning those relationship skills will help you become a positive role model for her as well.

  36. How can I get a copy the the Love Safety Net Workbook? From what others have said, it would help in bringing some clarity to all this confusion. Thank you Kim and Others for your help. I know my progress is slow but I want you to know that I appreciate you sharing alternative was to view and deal with the “messes” that always being in a “reactive state” creates. HuGs!

  37. Family portrait:
    Older uncle a narcissist and probably iincestuous, although he’s brilliant and famous he was condemned to jail for burglarizing his mistresses appartment cheated on his wife most of his life .She ended up in psych ward on account of depression. I swear I saw her going from a beautiful woman turn into a wreck over time. When I was a teenager, he used to pinch my nipples . My momom was standing there laughing. His children will not see him anymore.My older aunt: nacissist, she forced her own son to marry a woman he never liked, they have 2 daughters who get no attention whatsoever. My mom, narcissist or borderline beat me and abused me emotionnaly during all my youth and is now hoovering using my brother.My younger uncle was the scapegoat . Married twice , has three children he does not see. My younger aunt was designed to be the handmaid of the family, never married or had children. In my generation I m affraid my brother is turning into a narcissit also,I was the black sheep of the family because I was not raised by my parents until 6 years old. I was always ready to help and was the only grandchild to look after my grandparents. When my narcisstic grand ma died, there was photos of everyone but me.I could go on and on for pages . People tend to alwayay think parents want the best for their children, but sometimes, they deliberately sabotage their children. It was the case” for both of us.I always was affraid I ‘d become like that.And still think I m evil and should not get too involved with people because I would and could be violent and hurt them.I do not want to.

    1. Hi Ann – Thanks for sharing and I really feel for your situation. You have learned to see narcissism in the folk around you – now if you learn about codependence you will see the other half of the coin. Just as we learn these different patterns of behavior growing up we can also learn a new and more healthy role. I highly recommend you read 10 Steps to Overcome Codependence as a starting place for you and then see if you get interested enough to take on the exercises in our workbook. We do not peak in our ability to learn people skills until well into our 40’s and research shows that really it is never to late to learn more emotionally intelligent behavior.

  38. Hi Kim,

    I have read most of your stuff and I am working in the workbook. I am to the point in the workbook of having to call people my partner has respect for, which is only his sisters and ask advice. I already talked to one and have been stalling on the other. Not sure why.. I think I am nervous about how he is going to react. I truly agree with you on that he needs to know that others know how he is treating me and others. Not sure how they will look at me in the end due to him telling everyone that I lie and I cause problems. Hopefully they are mature enough to no the truth and if they don’t there is nothing I can do about that. Not only do I have his personality disorder to deal with I also have an ex that likes to text and constantly ask him to take his son, even if we have plans and he allows it. I am not allowed to go to his sons games or pick/drop off his son with him. I have asked and he has stated that I’m trying to rub it in her face (that we are back together) and that it is uncomfortable for him. I told him that is the way it will be for awhile and that I’m not rubbing anything in her face that I wasn’t the one that came back into his life. When the ex isn’t busy with her new boyfriend or she is bored she will text my partner about everything.. what she is doing, what is happening with her boyfriends children, with him, what she is doing.. etc… she even texts him and asks him to look up addresses and numbers. She has the top of the line phone, she is just doing that to cause problems between us and he allows it. Kim, do you have any suggestions for this situation? I am not sure how to handle this..

    Thank you, Ramona…

    1. Hi Ramona, Be sure when you talk to his sisters that you say you are concerned about HIM and don’t complain for your own sake. As always follow the advice in the exercises very closely and make sure you understand what you are doing and why. As for his ex – as they share a child you do not want to come between them but on the other hand you do not want to be treated as a second class citizen. This is going to take some time and patience and I would say look at it again once you have worked through all of the exercises.

  39. I’ve been martied to NPD, for 23 years. I am his target of emotional abuse. He has in the past controlled me using a cycle of fear, blame, intimidation, accusations, to any problem that arises. It is a pattern which he refuses to change so I am finally separating. We have 4 children, older now 16-22, and they support me. it is hard living with his manipulations. I daily forgive and love, just to keep my peace. I’m not trying to fix him anymore. I am setting boundaries that do not tolerate his secretive abuse, and therefore our marriage is breaking up. He is either angry constantly or pretending to be charming in public. This seems to be his comfort zone, intolerable to me and he’s unwilling to change. Why do I feel guilty for bailing? . I allowed myself to be punished and covered for him, but not anymore. I deserve to be treated respectfully too, not just him.

  40. Hi Kim and Steve,

    Thank you so much for your amazing website I am so glad I came across it. I have been with my husband 2 years and in the back of my mind I always knew that his behaviour wasn’t normal but I didn’t know what it was. I’m almost certain he has NPD but there are some things about him that are different to what you describe so please can you try to see if you think he does have NPD? I want to know I am taking the correct steps. He can be extremely arrogant, and thinks that he is very special and the best at everything. He has always put me down about everything, yet expects me to praise the ground he walks on. He is very demanding of me and whilst I am happy to look after him I feel that he does it to control me – for example he sometimes tells me to do the most simplest of things like take the lid off the water bottle for him. Or go and put his razor and shaving gel on the sink ready for him. He is very controlling towards me, to the point where he controls what I wear, my hair colour, make up, I can’t wear nail varnish as he says I look like a prostitute. He also controls when I see friends and family. We started off working together for a year as that is how we met and he once went crazy at me for laughing on the phone to stakeholders (I just want to add I am not a flirty person in the slightest it is not in my nature) he told me that it is not professional at all, so after that I had to just be silent if a stakeholder laughed or said something funny on the phone otherwise he would explode. I even smiled one time on the phone and he had such a go at me about that! When he explodes i get all sorts of nasty names and insults thrown at me, and looks that could kill, which in turn makes me mad too which doesn’t help the situation. In the beginning he used to always ask me where I was looking, thinking I was always looking at other men- which is completely not true. Even to this day he still thinks the same, but he has calmed down now (although this may be due to the fact that I am so conscious of this and keep looking at the floor). He also blames me for everthing that goes wrong even if it so clearly is his fault. I am constantly walking on egg shells, nothing I ever do is good enough. When he praises me for something (which is rare) it is usually said in such a patronising tone. Thanks to your site I have realised that I have gone wrong in a lot of ways. I always blamed myself anyway as that was easier than thinking I’d made a huge mistake, but now can understand why he does not think the same as me regarding the way you should treat the one you love.
    The differences with him are that he is the opposite of distant – he wants to spend all his time with me, he even goes mad if I don’t wait for him to brush our teeth together. He doesn’t watch porn and I know this as we are always together. He usually has no empathy for others yet sometimes he does and has even cried for other people. He can be so generous at times and selfless, yet so selfish at other times. He is like jekhl and Hyde. Also he lets me control our finances, he doesn’t even carry money with him I carry our money. So please can you tell me if you think he has NPD? I hope in a way he does as at least I know there is hope for the future as you guys have proven. After reading your article regarding the causes of NPD, I believe even more now that he has it- he told me many a time that his childhood wasn’t great, he went hungry a lot only having an apple for dinner as his mum was struggling with money. His dad kicked him out for a few weeks when he was a child, also his dad was very strict with him which is why I think he is strict with me. If you think he does have NPD please can you help me with just a couple of things that I am really stuck with? I have made it clear to him that I am not going anywhere, i have also been successfully staying calm with him but have been too silent as I have not known how to respond-
    What should I say to him when he tries to control me (which is most of the time) – such as making me not cross my legs (cos he read that women do that for sexual pleasure!) telling me to not wear nail varnish/ certain clothes/make up, seeing friends/family, asking me to do simple tasks that he can easily do, also he expects me to agree with him if he praises himself (regularly) and if I don’t respond he goes mad – so how should I respond without angering him?
    Sorry for the long comment I just think I really needed to get it off my chest, there is no one I can talk to about this.
    Many thanks for reading i hope to hear from you. Susan

    1. Hi Susan and welcome,

      Your husband sounds more like he is plain old insecure rather than having the classic NPD pattern of behavior. That said we do not diagnose people and believe that many people have narcissistic and codependent tendencies, without necessarily having a diagnosable disorder. The exercises we offer in the Love Safety Net Workbook will help you learn better ways to limit his controlling behavior in the chapter on limiting abuse. The little Book of Empathy Love and Friendship may be a good book for him to read 🙂

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