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Monday, August 31, 2015

Brewing Beer, Leek and Potato Soup and Listing of the Jubilee Issue Continues With the 2c and 3c

As a birthday present, Steph's dad Brad decided to take me for an outing at the Black Creek Pioneer Village in North Toronto. Unlike many period-inspired historic attractions, that can come off as somewhat contrived, this one felt very real. It was meant to be a replica of a small 1860'town in Ontario and all the buildings are original to the period, but have been moved in from other locations. The businesses are staffed by employees who wear actual period clothes and speak as people in the 1860's would. It was a very fascinating experience.

As part of this outing, we joined the brew master at the on-site brewery and learned how to make beer, something which I would like to share with you now.

First off, it is not nearly as intimidating as you might think. There are a few pieces of equipment that we used, and some very definite rules about temperature and sanitation that we had to follow, but other than that, the making of beer took us six easy steps. We were making a stout ale, and for that we used:

1. 80 litres of hot water heated in a copper kettle to a temperature of 65-68 degrees Celsius. The actual temperature was made a little hotter than this because we wanted the actual temperature at the start of the first stage to be between 65 and 68 degrees.

2. A large sack of malted barley (looked like about 40 pounds to me).

3. A large copper kettle, called a mash tun, with an oak skirt to stop the radiant heat from the liquid and a spigot at the bottom, protected by a screen on the inside of the spigot for draining the liquid (sweet wort) out when the malted barley has been thoroughly soaked.

4. A small amount of dried hops in pellet form. The quantity was about a small ramekin full.

5. A large copper cooling tray into which the liquid from the mash tun was poured.

6. A 36 gallon keg into which the cooled liquid was poured.

7. A small vial of brewer's yeast.

In any event, brew kits are going to give you the right quantities of ingredients. What I wanted to explain was a bit of what I learned about the process itself.

All beer is made from barley, including wheat beer. Wheat beer will contain a large proportion of wheat, but will not be 100%. Barley is a starch and when starch is broken down, it becomes sugar (glucose). Yeast will convert that sugar to alcohol.

What a lot of people don't know is that in the 1860's, the labourer's diet was often lacking in nutrients, and the purity of local water supplies was often suspect. Water often had to be boiled before it could be drunk. So when labourers worked in the fields, beer was often a cheap, safe alternative to water that had the added benefit of providing nutrients and calories. It was not like the mass produced, tasteless beer of today, but was more like the ales that are produced by the smaller microbreweries today.

So the first step in the brewing process is to extract the sugars from the barley. This is done through a process called malting. Once the barley kernels have been separated from the chaff by thrashing, it is placed on a floor and moistened to start the germination process. As this is occurring, starch is being converted to sugar and when the optimal amount of sugar is present, the germination process is halted by roasting the barley. The degree to which it is roasted, just as with coffee, will dictate the flavour and colour of the resulting beer: Guinness or other dark ales, will use barley that has been roasted to a dark brown colour, as well as lighter brown. Most golden beers use barley that has been roasted to a golden brown colour. This stage doesn't concern us, as we would buy the malt already roasted from a brewing supply store. But it is nonetheless interesting to understand the process.

The next step, which is really our first step is to take the water out of the copper kettle and transfer it to the mash tun. Then we add the malted barley and stir until it is the consistency of runny oatmeal. We leave it for 45 minutes to an hour. During this time the heat is activating the enzymes in the barley and causing more starch to be converted to sugar. The water is drawing all the sugar out of the barley and much of the colour as well.

When the 45 minutes is up, we open the spigot and slowly drain the liquid, called sweet wort, into a bucket. We have to be careful not to crush the barley mash by draining it too quickly. Also, we want to get the most sugar out as possible, so to do this, once we have drained a bucket, we gently recirculate it by pouring it back into the mash tun. We repeat this for about an hour and then we start transferring the sweet wort back into the boiling kettle. At this point, the wort tastes very much like a dark ale, but without any bitterness at all. That is going to come from the hops.

I had thought that hops was a grain. But it turns out that it is a flower that grows on a vine. The way it has been grown traditionally is to have poles that stick straight up and have the vine climb the pole. So when you see poles sticking straight up in the gardens of old 19th century villages, chances are, they were growing hops. Hops contains a bitter oil that acts as a natural preservative. When the flower is dried and boiled with the sweet wort, it forms the liquid that later becomes the beer, with its characteristic bitter taste.  So that is the next step: add the hops to the sweet wort and boil it for about another hour. The liquid at the end of this stage is just called wort, the "sweet" being dropped, as it is no longer just sweet.

When the wort has been boiled, this is where sanitation becomes critical. We don't want any foreign bacteria to multiply in the wort. We only want the yeast to multiply and do its job. So we have to cool the wort to room temperature as quickly as possible, while straining out any debris that could clog the spigots in the casks.

To do this, we pour the wort through cheesecloth onto a large shallow copper pan that has a spigot and draining trough attached, that in turn is fitted with a funnel assembly that will allow the cooled liquid to be poured straight into the cask. The bucket used to pour the wort into the trays is kept in the boiling kettle so as to prevent any contamination from germs that the bucket could pick up from any surface it is sitting on. It takes a good hour for the wort to come to room temperature once it is poured into the cooling trays.

Once it has cooled, the spigot is opened, and it slowly drains out into the cask. When the liquid is all in the cask, which is nowhere near full, it is time to add the yeast. The yeast comes in a small bottle and this is carfully tipped into the cask from the hole at the top, being careful not to touch any of the yeast including any spilled yeast. Then a square of cheesecloth is placed over the hole to stop anything entering the cask, but allowing carbon dioxide to escape.

Then depending on what type of beer is being made, the cask will be left for anywhere from 4-7 days. After that time, it is fit to drink, although most brewers recommend that it be left for another week to age and develop the flavours.

So that is brewing in a nutshell. I can't wait to buy a kit and try to make some of my own beer!

For this week's menu I broke out the slow cooker cookbook, so that I can get more listing done and the first item on the menu is potato and leek soup. It is extremely simple. All you need, in addition to your slow cooker is:

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 medium leeks (white part only) fully washed to remove all sand and sliced thin.
4-6 cups chicken broth, just enough to cover the vegetables when they are in the slow cooker insert.
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste.

You don't add any seasonings at the beginning. Just place the vegetables and stock on the slow cooker, turn to low and cook for 5-7 hours.

When the vegetables are done, puree the soup, in batches in a food processor, adding the butter and salt and pepper to taste at that point. Serve it with a nice French baguette and some butter.

My productivity in listing improved quite markedly over the weekend, with all the 1c and most 2c Jubilees being listed. I close out August with just over $2,000 in sales, which is very encouraging. Today, I will be tackling the 3c and 5c values. I attach scans of the 2c and 3c values now, which I haven't shown before:

2c dark green

3c bright rose

Well its time to go list some more stamps. Enjoy the soup recipe and the rest of your day! If you want to see the stamps I have listed, click on the following link:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Month 2 Comes to a Close Listing of Jubilees Begins, Huge Purchases Made and Apprehension Starts

I am now at the end of my second month, and while I am happy with much of my progress to date, I fear that I am not getting material listed quickly enough. The administrative tasks of running a business all chew up time and cut into the core business activity. Without employees, I am left having to do everything myself. So Steph and I had a chat last night about my workload and we decided that for the next little while, I am not going to clean during the week, and for dinners we will make use of my new cookbook for Slow Cookers, so that I can get the prep done the night before which will save me some time. I've also been spending an hour or more composing many of these posts, so I may go a bit lighter on future posts for a little while. As I try out the slow cooker recipes, I will share the better ones in  future posts.

I have begin to list the stamps of the 1897 Diamond Jubilee Issue which appeared in June 1897 to Celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign. There were 16 stamps in the set ranging in face value from half a cent to five dollars. The first two stamps of the set look like this:

They really are exquisite examples of engraver's art and remain very popular with philatelists to this day. A complete set in below average condition can be put together for about $3,500, but a really top notch quality set will set you back at least $30,000, as there were 5 dollar values and each of them can cost upwards of $5,000 in top notch condition. 

This week I also spent $9,000 of the investor funds that I received, filling in the gaps that were present in my British West Africa stock. I had begin amassing Gambia, Gold Coast, Ghana, Morocco Agencies and Sierra Leone in preparation for my offering of these countries in 1-2 years time. I had purchased a considerable amount in July at auction and had just sorted it out this past week so that I could see where the gaps are. I then went online and begun purchasing some of the missing stamps at retail. I paid more for these stamps than I had buying at auction, but many of these stamps were the ones that are not coming up for sale at auction because of their scarcity, and I believe that I can mark them up accordingly. So My base stock in these areas is now almost complete, and I can begin building it up as sales of Canada and Nigeria increase. 

So, I'm still optimistic, but apprehensive now, as I can definitely feel the clock ticking. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Another Perspective on Overpopulation, Climate Change. Pandemics and Depletion of the Earth's Resources

As a species, we have always faced perils and threats to our continued existence. We also tend to view things from our own perspectives and fail to realize how limited our perspectives are. We don't compare what happens to us today and look back to history for examples of events or circumstances which were worse or just as bad. Nor do we look at how we learned from the past and made improvements that protect us in the future.

We hear a lot of predictions of the end of us as a species, with some extremists always predicting the end during the current year (2012 ring a bell for anyone?), but still, other less extreme people believing that we only have 20 years left before overpopulation, pandemics, wars, pollution etc. wipe us out.

I believe that we will endure as a species and that we will continue to thrive. I am not going to quote a whole bunch of scientific facts in this post because frankly, I do not have time to do the rigorous research that would back up what I am saying. This post is merely meant to represent my perspective, and my believe that I have formed, based on my limited knowledge of history and my general observations about humanity that I have gleaned from 44 years on this planet. You can take what I say with a grain of salt.

In this post, I will address:

1. Overpopulation
2. Pandemics
3. Environmental degradation

I will explain that while each of these things is indeed serious and does pose continued challenges for us as a species, I will argue that we have always faced challenges on these fronts, and we have always handled them with great ingenuity. I have no reason to believe that we will not continue to do so. I will show that the scientists are indeed right in their predictions, but most of us misunderstand the significance of what they are saying, and we catastrophize  information that really should just inform and caution us.


The term only makes sense when viewed in the context of scarce resources. The earth isn't overpopulated until there isn't enough food, water, shelter and other resources to sustain people. The classic argument that has been disseminated is this idea of "carrying capacity" - that if you grow an organism in a petri dish, it will multiply until it reaches carrying capacity of the dish and as the food supply is depleted, the organism dies off and then we are told that this is what is happening to us. The problem that I see with this lies in how overly simplistic it is. The food supply in the petri dish is finite. While many resources on earth are indeed finite in the short term (short term being millions of years), most of them are not totally consumed in the strictest sense, and are constantly being recycled. This means that it is entirely possible that for all practical purposes, the earth's resources, as required by us to survive, may not be all that finite, or at least their finite nature will not become an issue for a very long time.

Air and water are the most fundamental resources that we require, next to food to survive. Both are always being recycled in nature. When we exhale carbon dioxide, the plants convert it back to oxygen. Water evaporates from us or is eliminated, and comes back to us in the form of rain. Sure it can be contaminated, but we have found ways to clean it for re-consumption. We don't think about it, but you can be pretty certain that any given glass of water you take from the kitchen faucet has been through a treatment facility of some kind several times, and it's just fine. I suppose that it is possible for us to run out of air and water, but it is not very likely when we stop to consider the fact that in terms of biomass, we are vastly outnumbered by all other creatures on earth, all of whom need air and water as well, and we haven't run out yet.

So it is really only when resources are consumed at a faster rate than we can recycle them successfully that we have a real problem, and so far, I don't see any evidence of this. Most people under 40 today have grown up and lived their entire lives with the concept of recycling, not understanding that recycling is a very new concept. When I was a child, there were no limits on garbage collection - you threw away absolutely everything. There were no refunds on any bottles other than pop bottles. Today, almost all bottles are recycled. There are strict limits on what the garbage man will take away and we are asked to put recyclable materials out separately. We have recognized that the way we lived in the 1960's and 1970's is not infinitely sustainable, and we as a society put measures in place to address it. Now, there are still lots of places on earth that don't recycle, but I believe they will when it becomes apparent to those societies that it is in their own best interests to do so.

What about food? Well again, many people alive today don't remember that we faced a huge crisis in the early 1960's with hunger. In 1963 there was a worldwide "Freedom From Hunger Campaign" which sparked what is known as the "Green Revolution", or the birth of modern agribusiness. Modern agriculture has received a lot of negative press and it has become fashionable to favour "organic" produce, without understanding that organic farming simply did not produce enough crop yield to sustain the world's population. The Green Revolution resulted in the production of disease resistant strains of wheat and rice that exponentially improved crop yields to the point that worldwide hunger is no longer a threat. Technological innovation is improving yields all the time, so that even if the earth's population continues to grow at the same rate that it has, it is entirely possible that we may have improved the efficiency of food production to the point where we still have the same relative amount of food per person as we did before. Sure, the mass produced fruits and vegetables might not taste as good as the organic stuff, and yes the long term exposure to pesticides may have long term health effects, but there is no direct evidence that eating non-organic produce that has been carefully washed has long-term health risks.

Finally, it is not a certainty that the world population will continue to increase at the same rate that it has historically. We can see evidence of this all around us. 50 years ago, you were practically considered a cipher if you went through life without raising children. Today it is perfectly acceptable socially to decide not to have children, because we instinctively understand as a society that our survival does not depend on everyone having children. Consequently birth rates in many western nations are the lowest they have ever been. As mortality rates in the Third World fall with the availability of cleaner drinking water and medical supplies, people there will have fewer children because they don't need to have so many if they all survive. Also, as those countries become less agrarian and more industrial, the need for large families will diminish, and along with it the birth rate. Finally, attitudes towards sex and birth control play a pivotal role as well. So that while the earth's population did indeed double this past century, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that that it will double again.


Most people who are frightened of pandemics today have never lived through one. Read about the great influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 which killed millions upon millions, or the Black Death (plague) that spread throughout Europe in the 14th century and killed a quarter of the world's population. In both instances, while great numbers of people died, neither one wiped us all out, and we have since learned techniques for screening, quarantine, detection, containment and finally treatment that did not exist in those days. Look at Ebola. There are at least two instances I know of where there was the potential for this to become a pandemic. In all cases, it was successfully stopped and contained. There are other examples too such as SARS and Asian Bird Flu, which were also successfully contained after humans became infected with them.

Of course, it is entirely possible that we may indeed face a disease that thwarts our attempts to detect, treat and contain it. However, based on our track record in dealing with all the diseases we have faced so far, I believe that what we would face at worst, is a temporary state in which we do suffer a limited loss of life before we learn how to combat it, and then we do - successfully.

Environmental Degradation

The great London Fog of 1952 killed over 10,000 people. It was a 6 day period when the pollution in London was so bad that most people couldn't see more than a foot in front of them. What caused it? The pollution from all the coal fires that each household in London had been burning at that time. What was the result? Government regulations put in place to control industrial emissions from factories and the beginnings of attempts to control pollution. There hasn't been anything like it in London since, and it has been 63 years.

At the turn of the 20th century there was a summit in one of the European countries (I can't remember which now) where the world leaders gathered to discuss what to do about the growing problem of horse poop in the streets. You see before cars, the standard mode of transport was a horse and buggy. This had not been a problem until the mid 19th century when people began migrating from the countryside to the cities. By 1898 it was a huge problem - the gutters in the streets were literally filthy and there was a real risk of disease and also large quantities of methane, which trapped pollutants in the lower atmosphere above the cities. Within 10 years of that conference, automobiles had become widespread and replaced most horses and buggies. Then the problem became pollution. I can well remember my parent's 1969 Ford LTD Station Wagon and the thick, grey clouds of exhaust that would billow out of it as it idled in the driveway of our house. Then in the late 70's catalytic converters were invented. They weren't very effective at first, but by the mid 1980's they had been perfected to the point that, except for vehicles that run on diesel, you never see visible exhaust fumes any more. Why? Because the catalytic converters convert the emissions into carbon dioxide and water, both of which are non-toxic and used by plants in photosynthesis.

Now the problem is that we are supposedly running out of oil and global warming. I believe that the earth's climate is definitely changing, although I'm not convinced that this is a catastrophic thing for humanity as a whole. It certainly will be catastrophic for anyone living on the coast because of floods and hurricanes, but that isn't any different from the perils we have always faced from the elements, and our ability to track, study, measure and prepare for these phenomena are getting better all the time. I also believe that it is true that we are running out of oil. But so what? I remember as child hearing Jimmy Carter, then president of the US saying that we would run out of oil in a few years. It seemed to be true at a time when cars got 1 mile per litre of gas. Today they are 10 times more fuel efficient than they were when he said that. Also, we have been exploring solar power wind power and fuel cells. We have yet to find a way to make these three energy sources efficient, but give it time and necessity. I believe part of the reason we haven't figured it out yet is because we haven't had to: there has been plenty of cheap oil to meet our needs. But as this oil runs out and it gets too messy and expensive to mine the tar sands, we will see research and innovation in alternative fuels expand. I have no doubt that as a species, we will figure out how to effectively harness these sources, so that by the time we run out of oil in the next 50-75 years, it won't matter that much. It is not much of a stretch, when you consider the fact that the entire petrol engine technology is little more than 100 years old to think that we can't come up with something better in the next 50 years.

So these are some of my thoughts. We make mistakes and chase blind alleys as a species, but we are always exploring and looking for ways to be better, and as long as we are like that, I don't believe that we will die out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Back From Vacation, Family, First Investor Funds Received, Sales Approach $2,000 and on to The Jubilee Issue

I returned from my vacation to Vancouver on Saturday, so I am a little late in writing this post. I sold a lot of stamps from the Large Queens and Small Queens while I was away, so it took me all day yesterday to fill the orders and send them out. After yesterday's orders, my sales total for the month period from July 23 to August 23 was just under $1,900, which is very encouraging indeed. In fact, it is about double the sales I had projected in my business plan. I have to be careful not to get too excited lest I jinx myself. It is difficult to tell if the sales are due to the fact that the Large and Small Queens are just more popular, or whether I will see this kind of sales activity across the other issues as well.

What is interesting is to see what has been selling: it is generally the stamps in the $2-$25 range. For this period, that generally includes a lot of stamps with faults, such as creases, tears or thins, since the sound examples are much more expensive. The reason why this interesting is that historically, these have been the most difficult stamps to sell. Dealers have usually found the scarcer, high catalogue value stamps easier to sell. But on e-bay that seems not to be the case. I am wondering if there has been a shift in collector preferences, or whether e-bay simply reaches a larger base of collectors, many of whom are less concerned about condition that traditional collectors have been.

The purpose of my trip was twofold: to meet with my primary investor to collect payment from him for his shares and to re-connect with my family on the occasion of my birthday and my mother's birthday (both on August 19). I was reconnecting with two families as well: my adoptive family and my birth family (my birthmother Pat and her daughter Gillian and partner Tyson). In addition to family, I had my friend Nicole and her children to see as well as former co-workers from my early days in accounting. So many connections and so little time to make them. But I felt very blessed on this trip because this was the first time in almost 20 years that my brother, sister, mother and myself had attended a family event together, and we were all getting along. We had been estranged for so many years that it seemed many times as if that day would never come. But it did: I will never forget the look on my mother's face when I introduced her to my son, who was now almost 21, that she had not seen since he was 6. She looked so incredibly happy to see him. I also finally met my youngest nephew Aran, who is the cutest boy I think I have ever seen - walking around with a permanent grin pasted on his face. It was all a reminder of one of the reasons why I am on this journey in the first place: the preciousness of family and creating memories with it.

I had a very successful meeting with my investor and collected a cheque for just under $42,000, which will cover most of the purchases made with my own funds over the last several months. So the clock is now officially ticking as of August 31. That is when the interest clock on the investment starts. But with sales being what they are this first month, I am fairly confident that making the annual interest payments and the share redemption in 5 years will not be a problem. However, I am reminded that I need to establish a sinking fund to ensure that those payments will be made on time.

I did purchase a few select used Small Queens while I was away, so I will list those first today before I move on to the Diamond Jubilee Issue of 1897, that was issued to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign.

Finally, I came back to a thriving garden. I post pictures pof what it looked like 6 weeks ago when I planted it versus now:


The upper bed 6 weeks ago

The upper bed now


The lower bed 6 weeks ago

The lower bed now

Nature really is amazing. It is so easy in today's busy, attention-challenged world to remember that. Tomorrow I will share some of my thoughts on a topic that has been on my mind quite a bit of late: the prognosis for humanity. I hear many pessimistic predictions for the future of our planet, but I want to offer another, more uplifting perspective. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Other Examples of Narcissistic Behavior in Relationships and the Last of the Small Queens

I'm going to be taking a one week break from posting and working starting tomorrow. It is a very much needed break, as I have been working continuously since I left my job just over 6 weeks ago. I am hoping to finish off the Small Queens today with some really nice high value stamps:

The last two stamps are particularly hard to find in such nice condition. They are nicknamed the "Widow's Weeds" because of the fact that Queen Victoria is shown wearing her veil. In fact she wore that from 1861, when her husband, Prince Albert, died of Typhoid, until her death in 1901 - almost 40 years!

Anyway, I do see that a few of you are reading my posts about narcissism and hopefully at least one person is getting something useful from what I have written so far. It is really dreary topic and I have to admit that my mood after writing these last few posts has not been that upbeat. I much prefer to write about nice things like recipes. But it is an important topic and I do have very real experience with it. So I figured that if I want to be of help to the greater world at large, that I should write about my experiences and observations.

I had promised that I would finish giving real, everyday examples of narcissistic behavior in the context of relationships, and I will address the last four categories mentioned in yesterday's post:

5. Lying about opinions
6. Taking credit for your initiative
7. Projection
8. Misuse of truisms

Before I get into these examples, I want to point out that in many of the examples I have given so far, it is not the specific behavior by itself that constitutes the narcissism. Many normal people who just are just behaving badly or being insensitive can do many of the things that I spoke about. For example in the case that I gave about being told by your partner that you actually earn less than average for someone of your education and background, a person on the Spectrum could easily make that remark because they really are thinking literally and factually, and are not thinking about how it would make you feel. The key difference is in how they react when you call them out on it. A normal person will be sorry and will immediately apologize, whereas a narcissist will take it as a further challenge to add insult to injury.

The other thing that I want to say is that my list is by no means exhaustive. There are many, many other facets to narcissism and it would take an entire blog to describe them all. What I am trying to do with my short series of posts is give you examples of the type of behavior you are likely to see if you are in a domestic relationship with a narcissist. Some of the examples that you read about online, such as a person making jokes about 9/11 while it was happening as evidence that they have no empathy, I think are of less value because those situations just don't come up very often, and you can be in a relationship with a narcissist for years before the first situation like that does. My examples will come up all the time. In fact, I will bet you that if you are in this kind of relationship now and you take any given week, you will find examples of at least half of them.

Lying About Opinions

All narcissists lie as a general matter of course. The noted blogger Anna Valerious in her blog "Narcissists Suck". Has actually said that "Narcissists themselves, are walking, breathing, living lies". Of course she is referring to their completely false, contrived personas. This calls to mind someone who lies indiscriminately about everything, and you think "oh it will be easy to tell that they lie because they lie about everything". However this is not so, or at least, they are so skilled at it that it can be very difficult to spot.

Very accomplished narcissists will actually avoid lying about any factual things that can be easily and objectively verified. They will often be scrupulously honest about factual, albeit inconsequential things to the point of obsession. They will hold this up as evidence of just how honest and trustworthy they are. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist this will be very effective because you are already prone to taking what they say at face value anyway due to your trusting them. So when you see them being so diligent about getting their facts straight, it reinforces your perception that they could never lie. This makes it very difficult to deal with the lies they do tell.

The lies they tell tend to be lies of perception and opinion - all things that cannot really be proven or dis proven. For example, when a narcissist is in a bad mood and feels like picking a fight with you for no good reason, they may tell you that you have been acting really cold toward them. But you feel that you aren't acting any differently than you always do. When you point this out, they will assert that it must be so because "it feels that way" to them, and you just aren't self-aware, and "do you think I'm making this up?!" in an angry, accusatory tone.

Another example of this is when you partner tells you one day that you are the most loving and thoughtful partner and they are lucky to have you, but then a week later they tell you that you are a completely uncaring and insensitive asshole for something that they claim you did or didn't do but should have. Clearly, those two realities cannot exist at the same time, so either they were speaking in anger and didn't really mean what they said the second time or they are screwloose in the head. Sure, normal people make angry remarks that they don't mean all the time. But generally, they will almost always apologize shortly afterward and take back what they said. Most of the time, in a healthy relationship when you do something you partner doesn't like or don't do something they expected, it elicits a discussion and they let you know how your actions made them feel. With a narcissist, there will be no apology later and when questioned about whether they really feel that way, they will say that they do, that they make no apology for their honesty and that there is no conflict between the two things they said.

Taking Credit For Your Initiative

Narcissists are fond of taking credit for everything that goes well in your life. If you are doing well in your career, it is because they told you how to succeed or gave you all the ideas. To make this perception stick in your mind they will make many suggestions for the things that they think you should do. Usually they are fairly obvious things that a sensible person in your position would have probably already thought of, but sometimes they are actions that they sense you were about to take anyway. They do this so that when you do the said thing, they can take credit for it and tell you that you were only doing what they told you to do and then follow it up with "Why do I have carry the burden of the relationship? Why do I have to make all the decisions? God, I feel like I'm raising another child!". This works against you particularly if you are the silent type that believes in getting the job done and not talking about it.

A good first example of this is that you have been out of school for a few years, having run out of money to pay for university and have gone to work. When you met, you were explaining the situation and your partner appears to understand. Clearly, you have expressed an intention to go back at some point. Fast forward three year into the relationship. One night over dinner you partner says "You know, you really should consider going back and finishing your degree.". When you finally do finish five years later, your partner says something like "It was a good thing I told you to go back. Where would you be without me?". When you point out that you were always planning to go back, they say "Well it sure didn't look like it to me. Why you hadn't done a thing about it until I said something."

A second example is that you have your job evaluation and you come home to discuss how it went. You were planning on negotiating your salary with your boss, but you haven't actually gotten around to telling your partner that part, when they interrupt you and blurt out "You should negotiate for more money!"Then we when you actually do it and get the raise you wanted, your partner tries to take credit for it.

In a third example you really want to take your partner on a romantic trip away. You pick the destination, and start saving up for it. While this is happening, your partner says "Gosh I really wish you would take me on a romantic trip somewhere.". You don't want to ruin the surprise, so you don't say anything. When you finally do take the trip your partner acts unsurprised and unimpressed. When you ask why they are acting that way, they say "I told you to take me on a trip months ago!".

Again, its not the fact that they make the suggestion that is the problem. Well meaning partners do this all the time. It is the fact that they attempt to use it to either take credit for what you did, or to denigrate it in some way.


Projection occurs when a person sees something in themselves that they don't like and instead of doing the work to deal with it, they put it on someone else and then criticize the other person for it. This is probably the most common, crazy making behavior that the narcissist engages in. Examples of this are:

1. You are constantly being accused of selfishness when you are a very giving and generous person and most people know this.

2. You are accused of being lazy when you know yourself to be hardworking.

3. You are often accused of lying, when you are basically an honest person.

4. You are accused of cheating when the thought has never crossed your mind.

Generally, speaking 99% of all accusations from a narcissist are projections of the "doth protest too much" variety, and they should have you seriously questioning the character of the person you are with. Someone who genuinely loves you would think long and hard before accusing you of anything improper. But narcissists make accusations easily and all the time. When they are shown to be groundless, little to no apologies are forthcoming.

Misuse of Truisms

There are a lot of truisms in general parlance that most people take at face value, such as:

1. You shouldn't dwell on the past.
2. Forgive and forget.
3. Everybody makes mistakes.
4. Nobody's perfect.

When normal people use them in everyday speech they are usually trying to convince the listener to cut a person some slack, Occasionally they utter them because they are the person who wants some slack, but usually they are uttered on behalf of someone else, as in "Don't be too hard on him darling, nobody's perfect and everyone makes mistakes".

A narcissist uses them to disarm you and uses them inappropriately to try and re-characterize a major betrayal or hurtful behavior as a mere faux-pas. One of their favorite truisms is the first one. Why? Because they can attack your character if you refuse to grant them a pass for one of their shitty behaviors. This is especially the case because a narcissist will define the "past"to include what they did 5 minutes ago.

That's my take on narcissism in relationships. I can't comment on histrionics because I've never dated one, and borderlines commit many of the same behaviors. I hope this was a useful segue from the usual topics.

Enjoy the weekend and the next week, and I'll be back online on the 25th.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Everyday Examples of Narcissism and More Small Queens

If you read the online psychological literature about narcissism, you will be told that narcissists, among other things:

1. Lie effortlessly as a matter of course and often lead double lives.
2. Engage in gas-lighting where they misplace something of yours or do something and then claim not to know what you are talking about when you bring it up.
3. Put you down constantly in front of others.
4. Constantly try to control your behavior.
5. Are very grandiose in their outlook and are always pursuing wealth and power.

The problem I find with these descriptions of narcissistic behavior is that it is easy for us to conclude that our partners are not narcissists because their behavior isn't as egregious, or blatant as we imagine the above examples to be. What if the behaviors are much more insidious and subtle? The fact is that really adept narcissists are very good at subtleties. They can separate cause and effect by just enough time that an outside observer who is unfamiliar with the relationship dynamic would never connect the behaviors. This is why it is so hard to discuss the problem with family and friends - because they initially won't believe you.

So in this post, I want to give everyday examples of narcissistic behavior that are much more subtle. I will describe over the next two posts:

1. Baiting.
2. Unfair comparisons and "I'm just being honest".
3. Passive aggressive actions disguised as attempts to help you.
4. Subtle attempts at control.
5. Lying about opinions.
6. Taking credit for your initiative.
7. Projection
8. Misuse of truisms

This post will discuss the first four of these.


Imagine that you and your partner have just bought your first house and you are over the moon about taking this important first step in your life. You invite your parents over for dinner and to show them the house. Within 5 minutes of arriving, your father tells you that you'd better consider selling the house within the next five years because by then there will be all kinds of problems with it, and then proceeds to rattle off a list.  You get upset and hurt. Your reaction is greeted with surprise that you are not grateful to your father for his "helpful" advice. What everyone on the outside sees is your dad trying to help you out. But you are only one who picks up on the just barely disguised glee in his voice when he says this to you. In other words you know that he is enjoying this, but he covers it up just well enough that nobody else notices, so that you look like the over-sensitive one for reacting the way that you have. That is one example.

Another one is that you are on vacation at a really nice resort and you are having a ball. You are telling your partner about how much you are enjoying the trip, how relaxing the trip is, how good the food is etc. At the end of the trip, you partner looks you square in the eye and says "I don't think I ever want to do that kind of vacation again!", again with a certain amount of glee in their voice as they say the words. They don't acknowledge anything you said about the trip over the last several days, or that their opinion and what they want is at odds with your preferences and that this is a problem to be discussed. No, it is as if you never spoke, or what you said was of no importance.

A third example still is if you had to save hard to pay for the above vacation, and at the end of it, after a week at home, you partner says something like "I need a vacation!" or "It feels like we were never away!".

What makes the above examples baiting, is the way in which your partner obliterates you as a person in the relationship. In the first example, father has completely steamrolled over the son or daughter's pride in an accomplishment and is refusing to give them the satisfaction of their approval, turning it into a sport. In the second example a normal partner who was considerate of their partner would acknowledge that their partner really liked the vacation but would say that they did not like it so much and would want to use that difference as a jumping off point for a discussion as to how both of their needs could be met. In the above example there is no attempt to initiate a discussion - the person making the statement is simply asserting a contradictory position without offering a solution. In the third example, again the person is denigrating the experience they have just had and acting like it was nothing, without actually saying anything bad about it. A normal person would say something like "Gosh I know this was an expensive trip and you had a really great time, but I just don't feel rested, and I'm not sure what to do about it.". This is deliberate and done so that if you get upset, they can accuse you of being too sensitive or always being defensive.

Unfair Comparisons

Imagine that you have worked in your career for several years and each year you have been promoted. After five years, you feel happy and content with the salary level you have reached and you honestly feel that you make enough money to provide for the needs of your family. You now want to focus your energies on other pursuits, such as mentoring, of honing your skills or your hobbies. You tell your partner this and their reaction is to tell you that you are actually making far less than average for someone your age, with your level of education etc. When you get upset by their remark, they tell you that they are just being honest and then they accuse you of "just wanting to be with someone who always tells you what you want to hear".

Well no actually, you just want to be with someone who knows when to keep their goddamm mouth shut. If you are happy with your level of career accomplishment and you express this to your partner, there is really no appropriate response other than "I'm glad dear" or something to that effect. To denigrate that person's accomplishment by comparing them to a nebulous group of people is a violation of emotional trust. If your partner feels that the two of you are having financial problems that's another discussion entirely that they should be initiating at another time.

Another example would be that you partner is telling you about their day and they mention a gift that their co-worker got for an anniversary or other occasion and then they say "gosh their hubby is so romantic. I wonder what that is like?" or something to that effect. Never mind that you are stressed out trying to pay the never ending stream of bills or its been years since you spent any significant sum of money on something for just yourself. It is an unfair comparison because you partner doesn't really know anything about their co-worker's circumstances beyond the superficial. But also, if your partner isn't getting what they need from you it is their responsibility to tell you in a straight forward, non-hurtful manner.

Passive Aggressiveness  Disguised as Help

Imagine that you have a friend who lives thousands of miles from you. You really enjoy their company and you miss them all year. So you take a trip each year to see them. It is expensive, but not something that you cannot afford with your income level. A month before your scheduled trip you are telling your partner how much you are looking forward to seeing your friend. Your partner kind of just nods and changes the subject. Nothing more is said about it for the next couple of weeks. Then just two weeks before you are scheduled to go, and you are about to book the ticket, your partner starts talking about what an expensive trip this is and they think you are both spending too much money in general. But they don't tell you to not go. Another week goes by and they come to you and say that they think you should really consider going somewhere else for a change since you always take the same trip each year. They suggest somewhere exotic like Iceland, which just happens to be a place they have told you before that they want to visit, but they don't tell you they want to go with you. When you get upset with the fact that they are completely ignoring your need to see your friend, they get upset and tell you that "they are just trying to help you".

This is inappropriate on many levels. First, they clearly object to you taking the trip, but refuse to just come out and start a discussion about it. But their stated reason (i.e. the cost) is clearly not the real issue, since they go on to suggest something else that costs even more money. The real issue is that they just don't want you taking the trip because they can see how much you enjoy it, and they want to put a stop to it, without actually having to forbid you to take the trip. They are hoping in this situation to talk you into not taking the trip so that later when you regret not going they can point out that "it was your decision".

In most situations like this, the red flag will be that they are offering you "help" that you didn't indicate you needed and you most certainly didn't ask for.

Subtle Attempts at Control

Narcissists don't want anybody to see them as controlling. So they will rarely resort to blatant attempts to control your behavior. Instead they will make a lot of suggestions about what they think is appropriate and will make suggestions about creating conditions in your relationship which restrict your future choices, all ostensibly for good reasons.

Nowhere is this more subtle than in the financial realm. A narcissistic partner will almost always suggest that you must combine your finances with theirs. That is not to say that everyone who suggests this is a narcissist: far from it. There are a lot of good reasons for couples to combine finances, but in my experience the most healthy model is usually one in which the couple has a joint account into which money is deposited for family expenses and each person maintains their own account for personal purchases. This enables open communication about the amount of money available to pay expenses and fosters trust between the couple, without eliminating individual autonomy. A narcissist though will usually insist that everything must be joint because "you shouldn't be hiding anything from one another." But I digress.

An example of a subtle attempt at control of the finances would be as follows:

Your partner makes a lot of remarks from time to time about how they are worried about your financial future together. They worry aloud about what happens if you lose your job, they get sick, your children go to school for longer than planned - all things that are way, way off in the future, if they ever happen at all. You talk about making a budget and agree that this is a good idea. But then when you try to sit with your partner and lay out the actual budget line items and discuss them they grow impatient and tell you that "you aren't dealing with the big picture" and they refuse to continue the discussion.  Then a short time later they suggest that they want to be "tight each month". When you ask them what they mean, they say that they want to open another joint account that cannot be easily accessed and they want to transfer all the money into it, except for a very small amount each month. The idea is that there will be so little in the normal joint account that it will curb spending on "senseless things". Sounds like a good idea right?

Yes, until you start getting into the discussion of what the senseless things are. You are essentially told that all the things you partner spends money on are really essential and not something that they want to give up, but the things that you like to spend money on are frivolous. You are told that your daily trips to Tim Hortons for coffee are a waste of money and would stop under the new system. When you object and express reluctance to go along with this they question whether you really have the family's long term welfare as a priority. They say things like "Do you want us to wind up like one of those couples who is broke when they retire?" or something similar. Of course they know you don't and you eventually agree to go along with what they have suggested.

Technically, your partner in this situation is not overtly controlling you since if you opened the account, it would be a joint account that you would both have access to. However, they have stacked the deck by not giving up the things they spend money on while guaranteeing that you would have to go to the bank to buy the things that you feel you need. This places all your spending under scrutiny, but not theirs. Of course under those circumstances you would probably just stop spending on your things because its just not worth the hassle. The control comes in the form of the overall atmosphere of arbitrary scarcity and restriction that they are trying to impose in the relationship, that is so unnecessary to grown, responsible adults. They are doing it because the know that it wouldn't really affect them negatively. In fact, it will place more of the financial resources than before at their disposal, since they will feel that they now have a right to discuss what should be done with those savings.

So that is a few examples of how narcissism can manifest itself on a day to day basis in a relationship. I will cover the other four tomorrow.

Now some more pretty Small Queens that went up yesterday:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Part One of How Narcissism Manifests in Relationships and Small Queens are Well Underway

In this post, I will describe the overall pattern to a narcissist partner's behavior and in the next post will giving specific, everyday examples of such behavior. But first, I want to share an update about the business.

This week I began listing the next series of stamps that was in use between 1870 and 1897, the longest running in Canadian history. Philatelists call them the Small Queens, as they are more or less exactly like their earlier Large Queen counterparts. I have completed listings for the first printings of the half cent, 1c, 2c, 3c and 5c. Below are some of the better stamps that I listed:

I also began reaching out to my customers: I am now sending them e-mails, welcoming them as customers, thanking them for their business and asking them to tell me what they collect, what their condition and budget requirements are etc. So far the response has been very good. I've heard from one collector who inherited her collection from her father and is trying to learn as much as she can about it. I'm glad to help where I can. I am recording the information given to me in Excel, which will come in very handy for future e-mail campaigns. I am also in discussions with an individual about his uncle's collection, which appears to be a nearly complete Canadian collection, well into seven figures. I am hoping to make an offer on that this month. If I can reach agreement with the seller, that acquisition will go a long way to putting my store on the map so to speak. 

So back to the topic at hand. Narcissists are after what psychologists call Narcissistic Supply, which is a fancy term for attention. It's a bit more than just that. Because they are essentially damaged from childhood, narcissists crave feeling "on top", "all powerful". So when they get the upper hand in a situation, they have obtained supply. Even if the attention is negative, they get supply because in their minds they have gotten the upper hand over the people who are upset with them. This is an important concept to understand, because the overall pattern of their behavior is essentially guided by the need to arrange sources of supply and to maintain them, usually through creating drama. A typical relationship with a narcissist follows a life cycle that looks something like this:

1. Initial overwhelming display of charm and reeling you in.
2. Attempts to seal the deal
3, The narcissist attempts to isolate you
4. The narcissist abuses you, then reels you back in, then abuses you again and again
5. The narcissist discards you

I will now describe each of these stages and how subtle, and consequently how difficult it can be to recognize what is happening. 

Initially, when first begin dating a narcissist, you feel like the most important person in the world to them. They will hang on your every word, finish your sentences for you and seem to just be completely in tune with you. You will think that you have met your soulmate. They will wow you with their stories of incredible accomplishments in the past and the promise of what they have yet to accomplish with you at their side. They promise you a life filled with wealth and privilege - all the finer things. They will be interested in your hobbies and will encourage you to pursue them more deeply. They will like everything about you and make up little nicknames for you and the personality traits that they seem to love so much. It is very natural to become smitten under these circumstances. This is very much how my mother describes her initial interactions with my father, and it was definitely my experience with my ex. Why 2 weeks into the relationship with her, she sent me a note, with a sticker picture of herself saying how she "reveled in me". I kept that note in my wallet for several years. There will be really little to no red flags at all during this time. 

The first red flag that something is amiss will come when out of the blue, very early on (i.e. within less than 2 months) your partner will take some kind of action to try and "seal the deal" so to speak. To move your relationship to a much more serious level. In my case, my ex began laying the groundwork for this move within days of meeting her. How? She described her current, quasi long-distance relationship with me and her past relationships and then she told me that she really didn't want to bring a succession of men into her son's life and with being a single mom and all, she didn't want to waste time dating men she couldn't be serious with. On the surface, this all sounds very reasonable, doesn't it? The reason why, in retrospect, it was a red flag is that I hadn't brought it up yet. What she was doing was laying the groundwork that would make it very difficult for me to say no to her when she suggested less a month in, that we look for a place to move in together. I remember very well when she suggested this to me. I was at her place on a weekend when she had my son and we were just finishing breakfast. She suggested that I could avoid going back and forth between my place and hers and at the same time we could both save some money, and with her being a single mom and finances being tight, with having to save for my son's college education, this made a lot of sense. See what she did here? She knows that I am a decent man and that I would already be starting to care about what happens to my son. She is using that to convince me, less than a month in, to moving in with her. In some cases, it will be more than just moving in that your partner will suggest. It could be engagement, marriage, buying a house together, lending them a large sum of money, starting a business together anything that ties you down. If they have been particularly adept and played their cards very well in the first stage above, you will miss this red flag, even when your family and friends try to point it out to you. You may even find yourself resenting them for "raining on your parade". I know I did with my family. The narcissist counts on this because it lays the foundation for the next stage. 

The narcissist knows that their ability to control you depends on you being completely dependent on them in every way: emotionally, financially and even for your own concept of what constitutes reality. To accomplish this, you cannot be allowed to have any outside influences whatsoever: no private interactions with friends, no close family, no hobbies, no really successful career, no control over your own money. In other words the narcissist attempts to isolate you. Most people when they hear this think of isolation from other people, but it runs far deeper than this and it can be extremely subtle. 

In my case, because my family objected to how quickly things were moving, that became her justification for trying to isolate me from them: "Your family treats you differently because you are adopted. Your brother is horrible to you. I can't believe how he treated you the night I met you. Your family doesn't see the potential in you that I do. You shouldn't let them so close into your life." Those were some of the early things she said before we moved in together. When I was ambivalent about moving in with her, she turned up the heat: "I need to be with a man who knows what his priorities should be. I'm not going to tell you what to do. You what you think is right.". Once we moved in together, then she suddenly lost her job a month after a conversation in which she asked me whether I would support her financially if she lost her job. She didn't get another one for six years. It wasn't long before the stress of having to support her and my son ,made me very disillusioned with accounting. So as I began exploring the idea of getting into stamps she suggested that I apply to the foreign auction houses for a job in stamps. Seems really supportive right? Well maybe. Or maybe she knows that the job will mean a move away from the influence of family and friends. So we move across the country to Bathurst, New Brunswick where I go to work for an auction house there. She never gets a job the entire time we are there, forcing me to financially support everyone on $60,000 per year. 

Of course my family sees what is happening and continues to object prompting me to become estranged from them. I don't see my friends in person for several years and because we have no extra money, I cannot afford to pursue my hobby. So I've been successfully isolated from family, friends and my hobby. When I attempted to get into my hobby by collecting and studying the very cheap modern stamps, I was quickly told that I spent too much time on them and she suggested that she couldn't be with someone who neglected her so much. She isolated me from my money by simply making arbitrary rules like because we are now a couple and are sharing finances, I can't buy anything over $50 without checking in with her first. I can still remember her yelling at me over the phone in Toronto while I was at the Rogers store replacing my phone because I had dropped it in the toilet the night before. I was spending $200 at time when I was the sole breadwinner making $95,000. 

The narcissist will achieve isolation in subtle ways by doing things like:

1. Suggesting that they want to be with someone who puts their family first and is unselfish with their money, and how if you were really like that, you would want to check in with them before you spent the family's money. 

2. Telling you that your friends really don't like you the way you like them. If your friend does not travel to visit you, or call you regularly, they will suggest that they really don't see you the same way you see them. Another favourite is that they will "remember" private conversations they had with your friends while you were temporarily gone and will reveal some of the remarks that your friend confided in them. You will believe them of course and be very hurt by what was "said". But then years later when you ask your friend why they said what they said, they will tell you that the conversation never took place. 

3. If you have a demanding job and promotion or excellence requires you to devote yourself beyond the normal 9-5, your partner will develop depression or will simply tell you that they cannot be with someone who "isn't around". Why is this unreasonable? Because if you were in that career when you met them, then they knew what they were getting into when they chose to date you. No one has a right to start dating you knowing what your career demands are and then trying to manipulate you into sabotaging your prospects. I'm not saying that if your partner suffers from depression that they are manipulating you. But in a legitimate case, the two of you would be having a conversation about how you, as a couple could manage the needs that the depression was creating and the career demands. If what you are getting instead are unilateral requests to effective chuck your career success out the window, chances are you are being isolated. 

The next stage, which lasts almost the entire relationship is called the Abuse Cycle. It is well known and written about extensively in the psychological community. In a nutshell your partner will build resentments towards you for some perceived slight. Usually it is simply because you are living well and having a good life. Then they will explode in anger, always out of the blue, unprovoked and they will start a fight. If you get sucked into responding to their accusations, the fight can escalate very quickly into physical violence,as it did with my ex. I remember a time when my friend Scott was having a birthday party on April 25, five days from the end of tax season. He had just had his first child also, who was six weeks old at that time. Despite being a very busy time for me, I was determined to attend his party, with my ex of course. It was a Saturday and I had to work in the morning and early afternoon as was the norm. I had telephoned my ex from the office to please be ready when I get home so that we could drive straight out to Kitchener, which was an hour and a half from the house. I got home and she was in the bathroom. When she finally came out half an hour later she was humming and hawing over what to wear! I became understandably annoyed that we were going to be late. She responded angrily to my apparent "snottiness". This escalated into a physical fight where she punched me in the face and broke my glasses. I had to go to the party alone and was over an hour and a half late. That's the first part of the cycle. 

The second part of the cycle is the romance stage. In this stage, your partner will either express remorse for what has happened and will heap affection and gifts on you. Or in the other extreme they will act all nice towards you as if nothing happened. When you bring it up, they will seem surprised that you are still thinking about it. It will be like "Oh that! Yeah I was just in a very bad mood yesterday. Sorry.". It is this stage that makes it very difficult for a person to accept that they are indeed embroiled in an abusive relationship. You will have memories that are genuinely good - vacations, family times, experiences, good sex and so on. It is only when you look back that you begin to recognize that most of the good memories come right after a bad incident, and that therefore they do not really have the significance that you thought they had. 

Then the cycle starts all over again and repeats for the entire relationship. At some point the narcissist will grow tired of you, either because you aren't giving them the supply they want anymore, or because they are genuinely bored, or because they have found something better. In this case, they will initiate an incident aimed at ending the relationship or creating a situation where they can have their cake and eat it too. If they end the relationship it will be in the coldest, most abrupt and complete manner you can imagine. It matters not how long you were together. They will want to divide property and assets right away. They will want the house and you out of it, but they will expect you to keep on paying for it, at least for a time. The person that you thought had some caring for your welfare is dead and is replaced by someone who insists that they still care about you, while sparing no consideration for you whatsoever. In my case, my ex opted for the second option. She became enthralled with a male co-worker and several female co-workers and wanted to spend her evenings hanging out with them. She wanted to be free to do as she pleased, while I continued to have all the responsibility of a husband. So she initiated a separation - one in which I was to move out, while continuing to finance the renovations on the house and pay my half of the mortgage and all the other bills. If I played my cards right, meaning give my position as Partner and my business, I might, just might be allowed back. She wanted to continue to maintain joint control over the finances. When I told her that this was not going to happen if I moved out, she insisted that I had to come to her with a proposed financial settlement.  So I did. It took her two years to finalize the settlement and pay me the $40,000 that she agreed I would get for giving up my half of our house in downtown Toronto.  

When I made it clear that she couldn't have her cake and eat it too, and they she wasn't going to get to call the shots at the reconciliation, it was my ex who told me that she would be seeking a divorce. I never brought up the D word. That is significant because if you are with a borderline or a narcissist and they end the relationship they will try to convince you that YOU were the one who ended it. It feels very convincing because much of your behavior, which is aimed at protecting yourself from further abuse, will appear, on the surface to be cold, discarding behavior. This is not lost on the narcissist. They know this and they will use it to convince you that everything is your fault. The way that you know this is not the case is that a normal person, if you behaved the way I did would be shaken to the core and would want to discuss what went wrong and would be willing to assume some responsibility. This is particularly the case if your behavior follows years of being the contrite and agreeable partner. It would be very difficult for a normal person to just accept the notion that you are "not who they thought you were". But the narcissist accepts this and expresses it almost instantly and effortlessly. 

So there you have it - the cycle of behavior explained. Tomorrow I will give some specific examples of behaviors that narcissists engage in. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Personality Disorders Versus the Autism Spectrum

In yesterday's post I mentioned how having discussions about the state of your relationship can be very frustrating and painful if your partner suffers from a personality disorder. They can also be difficult if your partner is on the Autism Spectrum as well. There is a world of difference between these two things and the prognosis for your relationship should you choose to remain together very different as well.

So what are personality disorders and what is the Autism Spectrum (hereafter) referred to the "spectrum"?

For starters, personality disorders are a group of pathologies, all of which involve behavior patterns that are essentially anti-social and lacking in empathy for other people. By anti-social, I don't mean "prefers to be alone". Rather I mean "against society - essentially evil". There are a lot of different kinds, and many of them occur together in the same person. But the main ones are:

1. Narcissism
2. Histrionics
3. Borderlines

There are a lot of characteristics, and over the next few posts, I will explain what these are and how they tend to manifest themselves in relationships. I will also explain what the spectrum is and how people often confuse being on the spectrum with having these kinds of disorders. The internet is awash with blogs that are very good at explaining what the basic characteristics are of these personality disorders, in broad terms. But I find them lacking when it comes to giving good examples of everyday situations where an individual is displaying narcissistic, histrionic or borderline behavior. Narcissists are overly concerned with their image. Everything flows from their desire to be #1, and on top of that, they have no conscience when it comes to their behavior. They behave, in essence in almost exactly the same way as sociopaths. Indeed they share many of the same characteristincs as sociopaths. That is narcissism in four sentences - its much more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Histrionics are similar, except that their behavior is overtly sexual. So that coworker at the office that keeps hitting on you inappropriately and threatens to start a harrasment complaint against you if you don't accede to their advances is likely a histrionic. Borderlines look almost exactly like depressives, in that they often complain of suffering from depression. But the giveaway with them is their behavior is a lot like that of narcissists and pushes people away. A typical depression sufferer can be challenging to be around for long periods of time, but if they are normal in terms of their empathy, they typically will try to avoid upsetting those around them, or at least they won't engage in aggressive behaviors. At very least they will usually try to get better because the drpression is so unbearable. A borderline will actually resist all attempts to get better, and will lash out at other people all the time. It doesn't matter who they are - they can be the closest family members of trusted friends.

The spectrum on the other hand is different. Individuals can be on the low end of the spectrum, i.e. what is called "high functioning autism" or "Aspergers Syndrome", or they can be on the high end, having full blown autism. The spectrum is complicated, and it would take a book to explain all the characteristics and permutations, but generally a person on the spectrum has problems with over-stimulation and anxiety and everything else stems from that. Where most people can be in crowded places, noisy places, hot or very cold places and in all these environments, can either regulate their feelings or otherwise "suck it up", a person on the spectrum cannot. I began to notice a few years ago that whenever I am in a crowded place, or in extreme heat for any length of time, I just shut down and disengage from everyone around me. One charcteristic that defines many people on the spectrum and the one that most people notice are very narrow interests. A person on the spectrum will often fixate on something of interest (i.e. sports, coins, stamps, movies - it could be anything really) and will seem to know almost everything their is to know about it. Another characteristic that most people notice is social awkwardness. People on the spectrum are often accused of being unfeeling, insensitive or passive aggressive because they can do and say things in social situations that others deem inappropriate.

But the main difference between these two things is that a person on the spectrum has a lot of empathy. if you point out the inappropriateness of a behavor or a remark, they may want to argue about why you think it was inappropriate, but once they themselves conclude that you are correct, they will be genuinely embarassed and/or sorry. They will want to make it up to you somehow. Generally a person on the spectrum will respond positively to reasoned discussion, so while they will argue, they will not usually stick to with an untenable or illogical position.

On the other hand, a narcissist, borderline or histrionic will not respond positively to reasoned discussion. They will instead try to turn the discussion back on you. They will not be sorry at all and will be generally outraged that you would accuse them of such a thing. This can be extremely subtle by the way. Have you ever been in a situation where you got an apology for someone, but felt worse afterward? Chances are, you were dealing with a personality disordered person who turned the discussion back on you without you even realizing it.

So the upshot of all this is: personality disordered individuals know that their behavior is inappropriate, but they don't care enough to to do the work that it will take for them to stop. People on the spectrum see the world differently from neurotypicals and are often misunderstood. But with a little empathy and understanding from neurotypicals they can avoid common misunderstandings that can undermine a relationship. So if you find yourself having a lot of talks with your partner about your relationship that seem to be going nowhere, take a step back and consider that the culprit may be one of these two things, and then set about trying to determine which it is. My next post will deal with narcissism and how it manifests itself in relationships.

I am speaking with the experience of someone who is on the spectrum and also as someone whoose father was, I believe a narcissist and whose ex is possibly a borderline.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Mini Series of Posts About the Importance of Equality in Relationships and Taking Action to Ensure Equality

For the next few posts, I will veer away from focusing on recipes and the day to day running of the business to address an issue that has been weighing on me of late. That issue is the juxtaposition  of two emotions:

1. Immense gratitude toward my current partner, Steph for her undying support and belief in my potential. It was she who suggested to me that it was indeed possible for me to pursue a full time career in stamps and she has worked tirelessly to support me in my efforts to become self employed. She has also kept many of her needs at arms length so that I would be able to focus my energies on establishing my business. She has had to do without on several occasions and I know that it has not always been easy for her. But she has done so with the utmost graciousness. I owe everything to her, quite literally. 

2. Sadness and regret towards my ex-wife, who did not believe in me enough to see me through to this point. I was married to her for eight years, and with her for almost 13 years. It is indeed weird at times to see my new life unfolding and being aware the entire time that none of this would ever have been possible if she was still in my life. 

These two emotions have been popping up from time to time as I sit here listing my stamps and selling them. So I thought I had better write about the underlying issues. The main one being that probably the largest impediment that many of us face to reaching our full potential and living the lives we were meant to live lies in our domestic partners. It is sad, but very much true, largely because an intimate relationship gives each person the opportunity to take so many liberties with the other person that they wouldn't dare take with someone they weren't close to, that selfish behaviour, often fueled by fear can take hold. 

In my case, when I first started dating my ex, I made no attempt to hide my passion for philately and quite often spoke of my desire to make my career in it. That was back in 2000, when the technological innovations which made it possible to become a dealer without a physical store were just taking hold. But I was also a budding accountant who had just earned his CA designation. I had only been in the profession for 6 years at this point - not long enough to really understand its lack of long-term suitability as a career for me. In common with many young professionals I was eager - at least on the surface. But it didn't take long for me to become disillusioned with the profession and for the yearning to become a full time dealer to begin in earnest. My ex bore full witness to this and yet many years later she claimed to not understand how important stamps were to me. 

My ex and I were the type of couple who fast-tracked the relationship. We met at the end of June 2000 and by November 2000 we were moving in together after knowing one another for a mere 4 months. I was to be a step-father to my son, who I love very much and am very close to as of this day. I mention this merely to provide some perspective as to how intense things became in such a short period of time. Prior to moving in together, she was attentive to my needs; she was respectful; she reciprocated when I did nice things for her; she genuinely seemed to value my happiness as much as she valued her own. Within about a month of moving in together, all of that became a distant memory, slowly but surely. All of the sudden her entire focus was on being ubermom to my son. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything revolved around  her role as a mother. When I say this I mean: where we lived, what we ate, where and how often we went away, and what my financial obligations were. It got to the point very quickly where I felt for the most part like an appliance - like my only role was to go out and work, bring home my income, hand it over and repeat. If I expressed any needs of my own I was being "selfish". It did not help when she lost her job and did not get another steady one for almost six years. 

Under those circumstances, my ex experienced a great deal of fear. I know what she went through. But I believe that what distinguishes a good partner from a bad one is how they react to that fear and what they choose to do with it. Steph has told me in no uncertain terms that she does not ever want me to give up on stamps because she sees how unabashadly happy they make me. She values that happiness - she doesn't want to see me lose that. So I know that if the going gets tough and she starts feeling afraid for the future, she will fight the urge to encourage me to give up on my dream and just go back to work. Of course, I will not abuse this generosity. I am only going to  pursue this dream as long as I can see that it is clearly viable and that any down period is due to temporary circumstances. I also make very clear that I don't think there is anything wrong with the focus of all family decisions being on the children for a time when both parties agree to that. However, I believe that to make children the focus of a marriage or domestic partnership for the entirety of the relationship, to the exclusion of all else, and not with the bilaterial agreement of both parties is the surest way to divorce, or a situation of extreme resentment. Quite sadly, I haven't had anything to do with my ex in almost three years. I'm still as close to my son as I can be, given that we live on opposite sides of the country. 

Much of that is because instead of doing what Steph is doing now, my ex tried to eradicate, or significantly curtail my involvement in stamps. She placed time limits and dollar limits on what I was allowed to do, and god help me if I went over on either count. When I established my e-bay store five years ago, she told me that she wanted no part of it. Most of our conversations about stamps that she started were about how she thought stamps were a dying hobby and there was no future in stamps because she did not personally know any stamp collectors. But they weren't the kind of conversations where  she was open to learning. No, they were her way of rubbing my nose in the fact that she wasn't willing to support me in the life that I wanted.  It was very clear that she saw my passion as something that threatened her position. She wanted to be #1, and I couldn't have anything in my life that would consistently compete for time or resources that could be better directed to her and the life that she wanted.  

I actually tried for several years to adapt to these requirements and be a good husband in spite of them. At no point did I tell her that the limits were unreasonable. I tried to live within them, while working very hard in public accounting and rising to the position as partner. This was my mistake. I say it was a mistake because over the years, my ex completely lost respect for me. By the time I made partner, instead of being appreciative of what a decade of personal sacrifice on my part had brought us as a family, she accused me of never being around for her and pulled away emotionally for the umpteenth time. It all came to a head when she went out late one night with a co-worker for drinks and did not come home until 7:30am the next day. I don't believe, by the way that there was any infidelity. When I got understandably upset with this show of disrespect, she suggested we separate. At that point, I had literally nothing left in the tank. And I felt that our relationship was now setting a REALLY bad example for our son. I didn't want him growing up thinking that this is how you treat people you love. I had to make a very clear and firm statement: I moved out, and I cut off all contact and waited to see what would come from her. There was no contrition whatsoever. No admisssion of responsibility. Nothing. Not then. Not a week later, a month later, not six months later and most definitely not now. 

I paid a very large price to extracate myself from that abusive marriage: I gave her the house and all the furniture in it. The only thing I took were some pieces that I had inherieted from my parents,  my stamps and 10% of the equity. It was a pittance really, and less than half of the $100,000 that I had put into rennovations. In fact the rennovations were in progress when I moved out, and I continued to pay the contractor from my office several months after I moved out. 

But it was worth it. Within a few weeks of moving out, I met Steph. We didn't fast track our relationship - we took it slow. It would be a full month before we even started dating, and a year before we moved in together. She has a wonderful spirit and a joy for the simple things in life. Unlike my ex, she is not in a race to get every single experience that life has to offer. There is no "to do list" with her. She take life as it comes, and that makes her eminently easy to live with. 

Around the time that I met Steph I was at a crossroads professionally: I was being offered equity partnership in my firm. This is something that would have required to make a huge financial commitment. It was what, in the absence of my ability to pursue stamps, I had been after all throughout my marriage. Now, it just seemed irrelevant, but prior to meeting Steph, I didn't feel like I could turn my back on it. Being with her helped me see that this was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. 

All of this brings me to my main point in the title of this post: the importance of maintaining equality in your long-term relationship and how vital it is to take action if that equality falls out of kilter for any significant length of time. By equality, I mean something very specific: I believe that for a relationship to work in the long term, both parties have to value the happiness of their partner as much as they value their own. Maintaining that equality requires action in the form of communication  and checking in with one another. It requires both parties to shed assumptions about what they think their partner has agreed to give up and actually discuss it. So if you have agreed together that you want to start a family, it means acknowledging the impact that this will have on all your other goals and desires, and discussing how you as a couple will navigate that. If one of you becomes unemployed and has to be supported by the other, as uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge the effect that has on the one left working, it must be acknowleded and discussed. My point really is that if you have married or moved in with someone, it does not mean that you agreed to give anything that you didn't specifically discuss, such as your friends and hobbies. The same goes for starting a family with someone. 

If you find that the equality has left your relationship and you feel that you may be taking your partner for granted, check in with them. Ask them "Are you getting all of your needs met in this relationship? If not, what can I do to rectify the situation? And be prepared to listen and act. If you are the one who feels taken for granted have a talk with your partner. Remind them of what your needs are. Acknowledge that you are aware of theirs, and you are aware of the importance of the decisions you made together, but you still need to meet your needs. If you are with a suitable partner, these should be relatively painless discuissons to have. 

However, if your partner suffers from a personality disorder, or is just immature, or otherwise emotionally disturbed, your are going to find such discussions very difficult and painful. I will address the subject of personality disorders in my next post.