In the almost year and a half since I’ve been blogging, an interesting picture has emerged. I started to blog after I went no contact with my ex (actually very low contact since we have children) as a way to process having been a victim of narcissistic abuse, first by my family of origin, then by my ex. My focus for the first six months or so was primarily on my abusers, and my rage at narcissists in general. Most of my articles were about narcissists and narcissism, and I read everything I could about it too. I became close with other ACON (adult children of narcissists) bloggers. I wasn’t ready yet to take a good long look at myself and what I could do to help myself, other than staying far away from abusive people. But it was a very good start to a journey that proved to be unpredictable and at times very confusing.
Last spring or maybe late last winter, I began to think something was missing. Inexplicably, I began to think more about the point of view of people with NPD and realized they were almost always abuse victims too. I wrote several articles that angered other ACON bloggers because, they felt, I was being too sympathetic toward narcissists and even being a “narc hugger.” The things I was saying were heresy to many in the ACON world (this was the only time there was ever any drama on this blog). I lost some of my followers.
It was time to look inward. I wondered if I was a heretic too, and also wondered why I felt sort of personally insulted by all the vitriol thrown at people with a severe personality disorder who, I felt at the time, simply couldn’t help themselves. I felt torn between two warring factions, and got caught in the crossfire. And that brought me to ask the big question: was I a narcissist myself?
I read up on covert narcissism and in early August, decided I must be one. After all, so much of what was described seemed to fit my personality. It would explain my feelings of ambivalence and my inability to take a firm stand. For a few months I posted on a forum for people with NPD, most of whom had never been diagnosed by anyone other than themselves, and most who believed themselves to be the covert (“fragile”) type of narcissist. I thought to myself, these people aren’t so bad. They all seemed pretty understanding and even empathetic and I felt like I could relate to many of them. Maybe NPD was unfairly stigmatized.
I decided I wanted to heal from my “NPD” and started a second blog about that (which I’ve recently transformed into a therapy blog and have admitted I do not have NPD). I “came out” about my “covert narcissism” on this blog.
Back on this blog, I lost interest in posting new articles about narcissism, because it made me feel like a huge fraud. If I was a narcissist, I had no desire to be the female Sam Vaknin (a narcissist who writes books and articles about narcissism) and if I wasn’t one, then I was some kind of spineless wimp and even a traitor to ACONs. I chalked up my waning interest in the subject to a matter of not being able to come up with anything new to say about NPD or narcissistic abuse. Been there and done that, I thought.
Rather than take this blog down, I decided to turn it into a “general purpose” blog and just post about anything that was on my mind. I began to write a lot more articles about how I could change myself and become a better, happier person. I read more self-help articles and found myself focusing more on my own spiritual and emotional growth. The focus was now off the narcs, and just on myself. The labels didn’t really matter.
After posting for a few months on the NPD forum, another thought began to play in my mind: maybe these people didn’t really have NPD. Maybe they were just confused, like I was. Maybe they were just suffering from other disorders, like BPD, or complex PTSD, or avoidant personality disorder, or even Aspergers (all of these disorders are often confused with covert NPD, even by professionals). These people were really just abuse victims who, for whatever reason, had labeled themselves as narcissists. Real narcissists would never post on a board like that or suffer so much or want to change themselves. Or would they? Who knew?
I felt too confused there. I didn’t know who these people were and I didn’t know who I was. I was getting more confused by the day. I wasn’t learning anything; I was going around in circles. I lost interest in the forum and started therapy. My therapist assured me I do not have NPD although I may have some of the traits. But most survivors of narcissistic abuse have picked up N traits from their abusers (what the ACON community refers to as “fleas”) and my other disorders (BPD and Avoidant PD) can mimic narcissism anyway. It’s understandable that I would have become confused.
Looking back, I can see that what happened was two things. First, my confusion stemmed from a weak sense of self. Many abuse victims have never been allowed to develop a strong sense of self. Some victims even identify with their abusers (Stockholm Syndrome) and in a worse case scenario, may collude with the abuse. Borderlines in particular are prone to becoming chameleons who identify with their abusers. Even though the abusers were gone from my life, they continued to have an influence over me. But that’s the unhealthy part.
Second, while initially I focused on my abusers (as all ACONs do when they realize they’ve been had), after all that righteous anger was almost purged from my system, I began to shift my focus on understanding rather than rage. Obviously this caused me a lot of confusion and raised the ire of some. My attempt to understand narcissists didn’t mean I condoned their behavior or what they had done to me, nor did it mean I was a traitor or a wimp who couldn’t make up her mind. Rather, the shift in focus enabled me to move on from that early leg of my journey (the righteous anger) and focus more on myself and what I could do to change me.
Things may play out differently for others. Some ACONs remain stuck in rage forever (not healthy, in my opinion); others, who have struggled with letting narcissists violate their boundaries, make the decision to shore up their boundaries and not take any more crap from them, but stop obsessing about them too. Others realize that their codependency has been as much of a problem for them as their narcissists’ abuse, and they begin to work on themselves. I think the path we take as survivors depends on a combination of individual temperament and the particular damage our narcissists have done to us. Whatever works best for us is the path we should be on. In my case, I need more permeable boundaries rather than reinforcements to them. When I was being abused they were too permeable, but after my escape, I shored them up too much. I need to re-learn how to let people in, but able to tell which people should be kept out.