Today I was reading a couple of new blog articles by Dr. George K. Simon, which can be found here and here. Dr. Simon has written a number of books about psychopathy, narcissism and other “character disorders” (his term for the DSM “Cluster B” personality disorders, which are in part characterized by a lack of empathy or capacity to feel remorse). The two articles I was reading focus on narcissistic/antisocial behavior and addiction.
Indeed, many disordered individuals have a concurrent alcohol or drug problem, but unlike neurotics (people with anxiety issues who have the capacity to feel shame, empathy and remorse–usually so much that they sabotage themselves), the character-disordered are not very likely to seek treatment for their addictions. This really isn’t any surprise, since Cluster B types (especially Narcissists and people with antisocial personality disorder) aren’t likely to seek any kind of psychological treatment or therapy because they’re not the ones suffering–they’re more likely to cause others to suffer. Narcissists and those with APD also think they’re superior human beings who don’t need any help. Instead, they blame their victims for being the ones with the mental or emotional problems.
But there are some character disordered people who do join 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. They may be aware they have a substance abuse issue, but that’s as far as any insight into themselves goes. These are the “recovered” addicts and alcoholics who lord their recovery over others, and treat their 12-step program like a religion that allows them to believe they are superior to everyone else.
My mother falls into this category. She’s a Narc who, back in the early 1980s, decided she was an alcoholic and became involved with AA. Speeding through the 12 steps at a pace that was most likely unrealistic for most people trying to recover, she went from being merely abusive to intolerably, infuriatingly abusive. While her drunkenness had been mostly unpleasant, at times she could almost be “fun,” or at least so out of it that she handled her abuse of me clumsily and sometimes forgot she was supposed to be abusing me and would shift into treating me as a younger woman she could party with. But after discovering AA, suddenly she became a self-righteous, judgmental, rigid you-know-what who lorded her new “religion” over me in particular. Mind you, I am not dissing AA or any other 12 step program, as they have helped many people turn their lives around and free themselves from addiction. But when narcissists find these programs, they use them to further their own agenda, and as they do with everything else, turn the steps of recovery into weapons to be used against others. Narcissists in recovery programs are as bad as the worst kind of religious zealots and treat the program as if they alone discovered it, seeming to equate themselves with Moses being hand picked by God to discover the Ten Commandments.
They also turn the various slogans associated with these 12 step programs into handy justifications for being even more self-centered, arrogant and unempathic than they already were. My Narc mother, for example, now had handy canned excuses for her horrific treatment of others. For example, if you called her out for a hurtful action or comment, she’d respond with “your feelings are your own responsibility, not mine” or “stop taking my inventory.” If she wanted to belittle you, she’d say “you’re on a dry drunk” (actually she was the one on the dry drunk) or “that’s your addiction talking.” (she thought everyone who wasn’t a teetotaler or occasionally indulged in a little pot was an alcoholic or drug addict).
The 4th step of AA is “taking a fearless moral inventory” and a later step is “making amends to those you have harmed.” While these two steps would seem like holy water is to the devil for a Narc, sending them off flailing and screaming, some narcissists can and do take these steps (others get “stuck” at step 4, and may quit the program), but if they do, they work these steps in a shallow, glib manner, usually only addressing the substance abuse itself, while glossing over any pain they caused others. This is how my mother handled these steps, and when she “made amends” to me, I didn’t feel any sincerity there at all. Her “amends” seemed as phony as an mass-mailed Christmas card from your local bail bondsman. I suppose I’m guilty of “taking her inventory” but that’s how it felt to me. She was never one to apologize for anything, ever. No narcissist is.
Another interesting thing about Narcs who join 12 step programs is they don’t dig any deeper. Many non-narcissist alcoholics and drug addicts come to a point in recovery where they want to learn more about themselves, what makes them tick, and perhaps what led them to self-medicate in the first place. They realize that the addiction, while it very likely has a genetic component, can also be caused by psychological factors and they want to dig deeper to find out why they drank or used in the first place. A Narc will never do that, because any sort of therapy requires introspection into their own behavior and that is terrifying to them–because even they know that all they’ll see when they look into the mirror is….an endless black void of nothingness. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, for whatever reason, narcissists don’t have a true “self”–instead they wear a series of masks meant to dupe others into believing there is something there when there isn’t anything there at all.
So beware of the recovered addict or alcoholic who treats their 12-step program like a religion and uses it as a pedestal to make others feel deficient–you’re almost certainly dealing with a narcissist. And as you might expect, many narcissists are active in churches, especially those that are autocratic, evangelical or fundamentalist in nature, because it allows them an easy way to feel superior even if they haven’t achieved anything notable in life: they’re “saved” and you’re going to hell. Narcissists in 12 step programs use the program’s tenets almost exactly the same way.