Test driving narcissism (how I almost became a narcissist)

In answering a comment on yesterday’s post, I suddenly remembered something I had forgotten.
I remembered how I almost became a narcissist. I think I was finally ready to remember. It’s part of my journey to wellness.

I immediately began digging through boxes of old photos, because I was burning inside to write this post, to confess everything, and photos say a lot.

Narcissism runs in families, and although exacerbated by abuse or neglect, it can develop later in a susceptible person, and it happens because of a conscious choice the person makes. They may not actually be saying, “Okay, I’m going to be a narcissist now,” but they have been teetering on the brink of darkness and the would-be narcissist decides it’s easier to plunge right into narcissism than to keep being hurt as their true self.

family_dinner
3 generations of women: my maternal grandmother Anna Marie, my mother in the center, and me at age 5. (ca 1964) Our family dinners were always this stiff and formal.

Narcissists start life as Highly Sensitive People.
For a number of reasons, I’ve come to believe most narcissists started out as HSPs (highly sensitive people). I will not go into my reasoning here, but I strongly believe these are people who once felt things too much, and if they were abused, it would have been too much to bear. To survive, they constructed a false self in an effort to protect the too-sensitive self (true self) from further hurt. The problem is, for narcissists, the false front works way too well, so well that once it solidifies, it’s there forever.

Tormenting my therapist.
I remembered the therapist I had during my early 20’s. I was terribly infatuated with him, obsessed beyond all logic. This is called transference in psychotherapy and my therapist kept trying to get me to “work through it” but my crush kept intensifying. It was killing me. One day I told him I couldn’t take it anymore and walked out the door in mid session. I never saw him again.

I realize now how narcissistic I acted during my sessions with him. I was attractive and knew it so I flirted openly, tried to get him to hug me (he actually did this until he realized it was a manipulative game on my part and there was a definite sexual aspect).

One day I stormed into his office having a hissy fit because I’d found a magazine in the waiting room with his and a woman’s name on the label. I stomped in, started waving the magazine in the air demanding he tell me why he never told me he had a girlfriend. His answer was quite reasonable (and it was of course none of my business), but I sulked the whole rest of the session and refused to say anything. I’d show him!

After I quit therapy, I hoped I had hurt him. I think I was angry at him for “making” me like him too much and leaving him was my method of punishing him. Of course, my leaving therapy didn’t hurt him. I was just his annoying, demanding, manipulative little bitch of a patient and he probably couldn’t stand me. I wanted to think I was hurting him, but I was really only hurting myself.

It shames me to remember all this, but I really manipulated that therapist, and annoyed him all the time ON PURPOSE. I was sadistic…I was crushing so hard, maybe my strong feelings for him were causing me to want to hurt and anger him. I remember getting a thrill if I could see a look of hurt on his face. It made me feel more powerful–that I could do the hurting instead of always being the one to get hurt.

lauren_bennett2
1977: Still a nice, sensitive, codependent girl at age 18…things were about to get ugly.

I was becoming partly dissociated from the me that is now and the me that was before. But it was all a defense against being hurt, and I knew it. I just couldn’t admit it.

I never saw my therapist’s diagnosis of me (I was there for anxiety and panic attacks) but it makes me wonder if “NPD” might have been one of the diagnoses. I’m pretty sure it was still called NPD in the early 1980s.

lauren_bennett1
I think I can see the beginning of the “narcissist stare” in this photo of me from 1984. I look colder and harder than in the 1977 photo. I see this same look sometimes on my daughter, who is close to the same age I was here. I think this look can also be seen in some Borderlines.

The Danger Zone.
Sometime in my late teens and early 20s I began to act “like I didn’t care.” It was feigned but at the time my high sensitivity was shameful to me. I didn’t want it. It was my albatross, my curse. I was tired of being teased about it. So I made a choice to just act like a different person. Act like a person who didn’t give a shit about anything. I began to drink heavily and smoked a lot of weed to numb the pain of being me. I began to be over-critical of others and gossipy, something I had never been, and spread lies about people I didn’t like to anyone who would listen.

My envy of others (something I still struggle with) was off the charts. I couldn’t stand people who had more than me, were prettier or thinner than me, were smarter than me, or had a better relationship or job than me. I would spread lies and rumors about these more fortunate people. Mostly, it backfired, for my Aspieness made it almost impossible for me to maintain my masks or hold up a lie. A good narcissist has to be good at reading social cues. I wasn’t, but I sure did try.

I found it hard to feel happy for anyone. If a friend got a promotion or fell in love, I felt bitter and jealous instead of glad for them. I’d rant that they didn’t deserve it. And I actually believed this, to a point.

I imagined myself not “needing” anyone. I dated a few guys and unceremoniously dumped them, and yet I was so lonely. I longed to be in a happy relationship, but couldn’t allow myself to be vulnerable enough. I treated men like objects.

I didn’t listen to people. I interrupted them, only thinking of what I would say next. I only wanted to talk about me. Other people were becoming objects too.

I lied to people about my accomplishments (which in actuality were few), my background, my social status. But no one really believed me. I wasn’t good at this game. In fact, I sucked at it.

I think I came very close to becoming an N. Over time, this hard outer shell I’d constructed out of the ashes of my own pain ossified and grew more stable. I was forgetting what it felt like to be vulnerable and human.

There was something else too. During the time I was test driving narcissism, I suffered from severe panic attacks (which is what led me into the therapy described above). I felt like I was out of my body a lot, and that made me panic. Some of these attacks were so bad people thought I was having epileptic seizures, because when I was “out of my body,” I had trouble controlling my movements and would stumble around as if drunk, or my eyes would sort of glaze over as if I wasn’t quite “there.” To rule out epilepsy, I had an EEG done. It came out normal. The only thing I can think of is that somehow the dissociated state I was in was causing me to feel detached from my own body, because I wasn’t “myself.”

Coming back from N hell
One day when I was about 26 (and the same year I got married to my MN ex), a friend of mine from high school told me she didn’t think she could be friends with me anymore, because I was too mean and she didn’t trust me. Other people were calling me out for spreading rumors and lying and my whole flimsy construct came tumbling down. I couldn’t escape from the web of lies I’d created, and now that web threatened to engulf me. It was terrifying but was the wake up call I needed.

I finally realized I was hurting people. Even then, I hated knowing I’d hurt someone else more than I hated being hurt by others. I was overcome with guilt and shame, and realized I couldn’t keep up the mean-girl front anymore. I didn’t become a narcissist, but I came close, so close.

This wake up call catapulted me back into my normal self and the horrific panic attacks soon subsided. (I still have panic attacks from time to time, but they are specific to certain situations and nowhere near as numerous as they were from 1979 – 1984 or so.)

Choosing codependency.
I’d been balancing at the precipice, and ultimately chose codependency (sometimes now referred to as “inverted narcissism”). Looking back, that was actually a very wise choice for if I hadn’t, if my guilt had not been strong enough to stop me in my tracks, I would have been a much different person today, and would not be doing what I’m doing right now. Sharing my journey with other survivors of narcissistic abuse. It’s a contagious thing, and any of us from narcissistic families could have gone in that direction. But we didn’t. That’s why we, not the narcs, are the lucky ones.

I think my Aspergers actually saved me. Aspies cannot read social cues and therefore can’t lie well and are bad at maintaining a workable mask. To be a narcissist would require me to use skills I did not possess. So I chose codependency because I had not been trained by my MN family to think for myself or trust my own judgment. I was trained to be Narcissistic Supply. That was a role I was much more successful at and comfortable with than my Narcissist Test Drive period.

But I think there was an advantage to my visit to the dark side too, and maybe a reason. I feel like like I understand narcissists’ motives and thinking patterns and self-hatred more than the usual non-narc ACON. Because I almost became one myself and felt a little bit of what they feel. All the money in the world wouldn’t be enough to get me to turn into darkness again. It was like a trip to hell. But I do know, they are in excruciating pain. All the time.

lauren_bennett3
Refinishing a table as young wife (around 1989-1990). I didn’t know how malignant my husband was yet but he was showing signs.

Never feel guilty for feeling guilty.
If I had been able to ignore or deny my guilt or the pain of others that I’d caused myself, I think I would have crossed the line into becoming a fullblown narcissist (though maybe not a malignant one).

Most narcissists make a choice at some point, usually early in life because of abuse but sometimes later, like I almost did. But I think there is also an escape hatch: a window of time where a budding narcissist can still “get out” and redeem themselves before the door between the Ns and everyone else slams shut.

Unfortunately I still have a few narcissistic traits and think I still sometimes act a bit like one. *red face* But my ability to feel shame and guilt is very well developed, in fact too well developed (and always has been), so that overrides my N traits. Perhaps that makes me a Borderline (I was actually diagnosed with BPD comorbid with other disorders in 1996). But if I am a Borderline, I try to control those behaviors. I try to be aware of them. I think I’m doing pretty well.

Growing into me.
Now I’m changing, moving farther away from the N and B traits of my early-mid adulthood than I have ever been. I don’t envy people much anymore and am beginning to understand what it feels like to feel joy or sadness for someone else. To feel humbled by the simple but beautiful things that surround us. I’ve embraced my sensitivity and am finding rather than being a curse that brings torment and hurt, it’s a beautiful thing that allows the growth of empathy and true understanding. Instead of shame over it, now I’m proud.

The ironic thing about this is that, it’s because I like myself MORE now, that my N traits are disappearing. I used to think I was worse than a piece of dog poop stuck on the bottom of a shoe and had to go around proving I was more, much more than that. It’s not like that anymore, and I’m ever so grateful I saved myself at the 11th hour.

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About luckyotter

Recovering from BPD and C-PTSD due to narcissistic abuse from childhood. Married to a sociopath for 20 years. Proud INFJ, Enneagram type 4w5. Animal lover, music lover, cat mom, unapologetic geek, fan of the absurd, progressive Catholic, mom to 2, mental illness stigma activist, anti-Trumper. #RESISTANCE
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22 Responses to Test driving narcissism (how I almost became a narcissist)

  1. Alaina says:

    This is epic. Love the honesty and self-awareness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • luckyotter says:

      It came as a shock to remember this suddenly. It explains a lot…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alaina says:

        There are some things in my past that I wish I could cut out of my memory the way a surgeon cuts out a cancerous tumor. Things so foreign to the person I am now.

        Guilt? Oh boy, I have beat myelf half to death with guilt. Wouldn’t even allow myself to be happy for many years, because I thought I didn’t deserve it.

        It helps me to remember that going through multiple extreme traumas, and/or severe neglect, especially during our early, formative years, can warp even the strongest person completely out of shape.

        I am reminded of the trees I saw along the shore of the North Sea when I lived in England in the 1970s. Because of the fierce gales that blew in from the Arctic Circle, those trees grew straight up only a few feet, and then they were permanently bent, perpendicular to the ground, away from the sea. Big, thick trunks they all had, impossible to bend. But when they were little saplings, the wind twisted them all out of shape.

        Most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can with what they have, in my opinion. Yes, even the people we call Narcissists.

        Like

        • luckyotter says:

          I have seen those trees you’re talking about, and it’s a perfect analogy. We try to survive in whatever way we can, even if it means we have to grow “sideways.”

          I mentioned in my last post about crying, about a wildflower I saw in the yard the other day. It’s the middle of January and western North Carolina isn’t exactly warm in the winter (we do get ice and snow), and the soil in the yard is almost frozen but soft enough to allow a few stray strands of grass to grow–and among them, a wilted white wildflower, struggling to survive the harsh conditions. I felt bad for it but knew it was doing the best it could, trying to survive no matter what the odds.

          We all are trying to survive whatever way we know how, and yes that does include the Ns. It’s all they know how to do.

          Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      I think the reason I forgot about this period when I was “test driving” narcissism, was because I was actually dissociated from my true self. It was like another person took over for a few years, although my true self was definitely still in the background and gave me some semblance of a conscience.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alaina says:

        That’s what my therapist says, about the time in my early twenties that I have felt so much guilt about. He says I dissociated. But I asked him… wasn’t that still ME? I don’t really understand the dynamics of dissociation. I only know that, at the time and under the circumstances I was living in, I felt that I could not be any other way.

        You mentioned Ayn Rand in another post. During my most shameful period, when I was in my early 20s and living in England, I was married to an extremely malignant N. He was much older than me and he controlled me almost like I was a robot. He really seemed to be able to read — and control — my mind. He told me that one of Ayn Rand’s books was his “bible.” I think it was The Fountainhead. He wanted me to read it, so I did. It was all about the “virtue of selfishness,” I remember that, and the survival of the fittest.

        Oh yuck…. I am so grateful not to be living back in that time and place!

        Liked by 1 person

        • luckyotter says:

          I don’t really understand the mechanics of dissociation either, but basically it’s a splitting of the personality. Not like in DID (MPD) where people have “alters,” but a fake personality constructed from the pain of the true self. Nothing constructed from pain and hurt can be good and that’s why narcs are so miserable (even if, like my MN mother, they pretend everything is hunky dorry).

          Ayn Rand….she screams narcissist to me. Her and her twisted, ugly philosophy of greed and selfishness being virtues. Our society today embraces that mindset and it’s very scary to see what’s happening in the western world, especially America.
          But I won’t get on a political soap box here. Rand worshipped a serial killer–that should tell you something right there. Scary.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I am glad you did not become a narc. I think everyone hits that path sometime in life whether to go into evil or good. Spiritually it is a reality. This life beats so many down and so hard too. I think Aspies can’t be narcs, we suck too much at lying and mental and emotional manipulation of others. I know when I lived in the ghetto, I got a very intense edge to me, I had to learn to cool it down. I don’t think this has anything to do with narcissism but I know my personality has some rough edges from all the suffering I have gone through. I have never been diagnosed with a personality disorder but I do believe in the case of BPD, there are some overlaps with narcissism but the motives are far different. Being around and raised by narcs also people can pick up fleas being raised in a narc family. I was too much into the truth and fairness to be like the narcs. Mine constantly got angry at me for not being like them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • luckyotter says:

      Peep, I think you’re right and most people are faced with that choice. M. Scott Peck talks about it in People of the Lie.

      Rough edges don’t really have anything to do with narcissism. Yes, it is sort of a mask in some cases, but it’s also cultural. You can act rough and cuss like a sailor but have a huge heart. Some people act all badass but are nice people once you get to know them. They’ll never try to screw you over.

      Your last point is exactly what my situation was too. I always valued the truth too much, always looked for the truth in things. This enraged by MN mom, and she was always angry at me. She hated when I did my Aspie thing and went all “spooky.” But it was the only way I could escape.

      I had to laugh when you said narcs are like fleas.
      Fleas are less dangerous than narcs though and more easily banished. (and I freaking HATE fleas–I have pets and have a problem with them EVERY summer).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. luckyotter says:

    I had a thought about the dissociation. It was weird–I was having massive panic attacks (which is what brought me to the therapist) that were so bad people thought I was having convulsions or had a nervous disorder. I had an EEG which came out normal. But I never had panic attacks until I began to dissociate into my NPD-like state. I felt like I was out of my body a lot. I could never get used to it. That feeling of being out of my body I think led to the panic attacks. It got really bad.

    I think this is a very dangerous time, and I think you ARE out of your body, because you’re not really you. At this point , if there are evil entities trying to gain access to your mind, they could enter. Malignant narcissists may be overtaken by something supernatural. I know that sounds crazy.

    Aspies can be narcissists, but they probably can’t become malignant because that would require flawless skill in mask wearing and lie telling. Aspies aren’t good at that.
    The ones who do become narcissistic would probably be the whiney, wheedling, dependent, needy type. I actually did write about this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. luckyotter says:

    I just edited this post to add the part about the panic attacks and “out of body” experiences because I think those are important.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sam Vaknin says:

    Revealing and truthful self-journey. My compliments: it takes courage and determination and, above all, integrity.

    One minor correction: inverted narcissists are a sub-species of codependents. Not all codependents are inverted narcissists:

    http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/personalitydisorders22.html

    http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/faq66.html

    Does the Narcissist Have a Multiple Personality (Dissociative Identity Disorder)?

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/4950

    Narcissists as Drama Queens

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/4948

    Pathological narcissism is a reaction to prolonged abuse and trauma in early childhood or early adolescence. The source of the abuse or trauma is immaterial – the perpetrators could be parents, teachers, other adults, or peers. Pampering, smothering, spoiling, and “engulfing” the child are also forms of abuse – see these:

    http://vaksam.tripod.com/narcissismglance.html

    http://vaksam.tripod.com/npdglance.html

    http://vaksam.tripod.com/journal42.html

    http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php/type/doc/id/419

    Narcissistic and psychopathic parents and their children – click on the links:

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/4727

    The Genetic Underpinnings of Narcissism

    http://vaksam.tripod.com/journal43.html

    Portrait of the Narcissist as a Young Man

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/5048

    Adolescent Narcissist – A Case Study

    http://samvak.tripod.com/narcissistadolescent.html

    The Narcissist as Know-it-all

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/4945

    The Narcissist as VAMPIRE or MACHINE

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/4944

    Narcissists and Psychopaths Devalue Their Psychotherapists

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/4939

    Grandiosity, Fantasies, and Narcissism

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/4923

    Narcissists and Emotions

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/5248

    Narcissists and Mood Disorders

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/narcissisticabuse/conversations/messages/5067

    Take care there.

    Sam

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      A wealth of information here, thanks!
      I’m sick and staying home today so this will keep me busy when I’m not sleeping.

      Like

    • luckyotter says:

      One more thing. I’m going to go ahead and say this in the spirit of complete honesty and I know it’s a huge risk because you could snap like a viper again but here goes. Sam, because of what you are and who you are, comments like these from you always stun me. It’s so unexpected. I had the same reaction when you called my article about you “sensitive, erudite and well written” and thanked me with what I sensed a great deal of sincerity and gratitude. Both times, I was (a.) so touched I was close to tears (because I didn’t expect it) and (b. ) secretly wondering if I should take your words at face value, forgive me for saying that–it’s because you are a narcissist (so you can’t blame me for being cautious), but…maybe this is Sam with his N mask momentarily down and not just Sam working his considerable charm…I wonder. I don’t expect to ever know, but it makes me wonder. I believe you were sincere both times.

      Like

  6. Sam Vaknin says:

    I have yet to meet a person who deserves my dishonesty.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lucky, Could you explain “narcisstic stare” (and do you think all narcissists have a “look” about them?) and What makes a narcissist “malignant” as opposed to just a plain “narcissist?”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting to read this thanks. The pictures are great. You were, and are, a very nice-looking woman! I don’t think you looked cold at 26 either.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Empaths and narcissists « Mirrorgirl

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