Can an adult turn into a narcissist?

crossroads1

I believe the answer to this is yes. While most cases of NPD are formed during childhood as a reaction to abuse or neglect, there are situations where a person who is not a narcissist can later become one, even as an adult. It can happen because of narcissism being, essentially, a choice. Even a small child makes a choice to become a narcissist, even if they’re not really conscious of that “decision.” In an adult, it may be more conscious, but once made, the personality can change dramatically.

An adult who becomes a narcissist is probably more easily healed, because the disorder is less deeply ingrained in the personality, but I think there are certain situations where if someone makes a choice to walk in darkness, something evil grabs hold of the soul and there is no turning back to a normal way of relating to others. Here are four scenarios in which I think a person can acquire NPD.

1. Abandonment or abuse starting during adolescence.

teenage_depression

Teenagers are narcissistic by nature and vulnerable to peer pressure, so they often act out in risky ways and experiment with the illicit and unhealthy. This is normal to some degree. But for a few, if familial abuse or abandonment begins during the teen years, the narcissistic behaviors of adolescence may become a lifestyle and coping tactic that the person will not let go of as they enter adulthood. I believe my ex is an example of a psychopathic malignant narcissist who did not become one until the age of 13, when he found his father dead in the bathroom in the middle of the night and his mother refused to do anything and left it to him to take care of his father’s body. Although his mother had always been a malignant narcissist, my ex was a good kid until that point; after that he changed.

In most cases though, I think narcissism starting during adolescence is likely to be fairly mild. I have been in communication with a young man who believes he is a narcissist. He explained to me that he was raised by loving parents but his mother became severely depressed when he was in his early teens, and began to ignore him due to her depression. He didn’t understand it was her depression causing her sudden coldness; he thought she she didn’t love him anymore. He explained that’s when his narcissistic behavior patterns began. In such cases, I think the narcissism that develops is actually a condition called DNP (destructive narcissistic pattern disorder) which lies below NPD on the narcissistic continuum, and is a more easily treatable form of narcissism where the person does retain some ability to feel empathy, love, and remorse.

2. Choosing evil.

fearofbridge

M. Scott Peck talks about a man who almost became evil in his book “People of the Lie.” A family man who loved his wife and children suffered from severe panic attacks, especially when driving over a certain bridge. Although he didn’t believe in the devil, he made a “deal” with Satan that if he could pass over the bridge without suffering a panic attack, that Satan could do what he wanted to with his favorite son. He didn’t think it really counted since he didn’t believe in the Devil (and nothing happened to his son), but he realized later that if he hadn’t repented, his own soul would have been seared. I think when a person knowingly chooses evil over good, the soul can be damaged or destroyed. It’s even possible that making such a choice allows an entryway for an evil entity that works to destroy all goodness in that person. The change can be dramatic and happen almost overnight.

3. Severe reaction to trauma.

ptsd_soldier

Related to the above, I think sometimes a person can engage in evil through no choice of their own. Victims of Stockholm Syndrome, who identify with their abusers and cannot escape, will sometimes be forced to commit evil acts or help their abuser carry them out, such as Patty Hearst back in the early 1970s. It sometimes happens in war, too. A normal person forced to kill innocent civilians will often develop PTSD, but for some soldiers, in order to protect themselves from their unbearable guilt, they learn to shut off all their emotions and any feelings of empathy or remorse, and come to regard other people as less than human. Unfortunately, a few veterans have their hearts hardened during war, and become cold-blooded narcissists.

4. Overnight success.

narcrealityshows

Celebrities and other people who achieve overnight success or fame have to be careful not to let their success go to their heads. Many celebrities are narcissistic, which begs the question: were they narcissistic in the first place and that led to them becoming rich and famous, or did becoming rich and famous turned them into narcissists? I think both come into play, depending on the individual. Certainly narcissistic personality types are the most drawn to fame and fortune, but I’ve heard of cases where a highly successful person was kind to others until fame and success went to their heads. I think though, since evil wasn’t chosen by the person under these circumstances, that a celebrity who didn’t already have NPD can discard their acquired narcissism if their arrogance and sense of entitlement is pointed out to them, or they realize they have hurt someone. So a celebrity’s narcissism may not be true NPD, but a condition called “situational acquired narcissism” which may be temporary.

Why unrelenting, chronic rage is so toxic.

monsters-nietzsche

There is nothing wrong with anger when it’s needed. Righteous anger is a normal human emotion and helps us survive. When we are faced with danger, unfair treatment, or have been attacked (either overtly or covertly) by dangerous people, it’s normal to feel rage and anger. Anger is a stronger, more proactive emotion than fear, which it normally overrides if it’s powerful enough. Fear keeps us stuck in abusive relationships. Righteous anger is the only emotion that can give a normally fearful abuse victim the motivation and drive to leave their abusers and/or take action against them. All this is perfectly healthy and anything less than that is bound to keep you stuck in an abusive, codependent relationship.

But some people, especially those who suffered horrendous abuse by their own parents or caregivers who were supposed to love them, cannot let go of their rage, even after they go No Contact. That’s understandable, especially if their lives have been ruined due to the abuse they endured. But chronic rage isn’t healthy or helpful. Staying in a state of unrelenting, permanent anger is physically, mentally, and spiritually dangerous because it continues to fester and build on itself long after any immediate danger is past. Chronic rage destroys the body by releasing unhealthy levels of cortisone (the fight-or-flight hormone) into the blood, and this can lead to high blood pressure, headaches, heart problems including heart attacks, and a host of other medical problems. Anger is bad for the body when it’s chronic. High levels of cortisone brought on by rage are meant to be temporary and allow the person to confront or escape; otherwise it’s a poison.

rage2

Chronic rage is mentally and spiritually dangerous too. It festers away inside a person and causes them to become bitter and toxic to themselves as well as to others. It prevents a person from ever being able to feel true happiness or enjoy life. Chronically angry people are hard, unforgiving, bitter, cynical, easily enraged, and in great danger of becoming narcissistic themselves. I’ve become sadly aware of this sort of thing happening to some victims of abuse. That’s why I don’t think people should remain in a state of chronic anger, if it’s at all possible for them to move away from it. A good (non-narcissistic) therapist can help–or a pastor, rabbi or priest, or even a mature, empathetic non-angry friend if a competent therapist is unaffordable.

Letting go of rage doesn’t mean loving, enabling or forgiving your abusers. It doesn’t mean “hugging the narcs” or feeling sympathy for them, if you’re not so inclined. Letting go of anger when the danger is past is simply a step toward health and healing. The sort of unrelenting, chronic anger I’ve seen so often that keeps people stuck in a mentally dark place even without their abusers present can become a form of self-abuse. In essence, their abusers are continuing to destroy them even if they are no longer in contact.

Chronic, unrelenting rage can turn formerly good people into exactly the kind of people they hate the most–narcissists. They may not be aware this is happening to them, but others can see it. This is also one of the reasons why narcissism is so contagious and is sometimes compared to a communicable disease. Abusive, malignant narcissists can easily turn a person into one of them. Even Henry Rollins said so.

My inner narcissist

envy pride
The beautiful paintings in this article are by Marta Dahlig at Deviantart.

Narcissism isn’t limited to narcissists.

Most people have some narcissistic traits and that’s why it’s dangerous to try to diagnose someone you don’t know pretty well or have lived with. Mislabeling happens a lot, and ACONS and victims of abuse tend to be quick to label anyone who shows any narcissistic traits as a narcissist, because we’re so hypervigilant about everything and trust no one.

I hate my narcissistic traits, but I do have a few. Now’s the time I “come out” of the closet about them.

We also can’t forget a little narcissism is actually healthy and protects us to some extent from victimization. No one can be completely unselfish. It’s just not realistic or good for survival.

My two most deadly narcissistic sins are:

1. Envy. I’ve gotten better over the years, but I used to be pathologically envious of those who had more than I did, were more attractive, came from loving homes, had a better job or made more money (practically everybody!) I don’t think this is uncommon in people who were raised and/or married narcissists, and we are not incorrect about having been cheated in life. We have a right to feel like it’s unfair. It’s still an ugly, soul-destroying emotion though, because it makes us hate ourselves even more when we think we fall short of others.

I think what sets my envy apart from true narcissistic envy is that I have never had any desire to ruin or take away someone’s else’s good fortune. I might feel bitter and brood about it, but I never felt it was my right to interfere. Sometimes the people I envied could inspire me too. I also didn’t necessarily hate the people I envied, even when I wanted to. Or maybe it just sets me apart from the MALIGNANT narcissists, because those are the dangerous ones who really want to hurt you.

I’ve been getting a lot better–but another deadly sin that is envy’s polar opposite is slowly taking its place…

2. Pride (vanity). I haven’t experienced too much of this until recently. I think some pride is normal and healthy. If you have no pride you feel like you deserve nothing. But I have noticed a tendency to brag about this blog when it’s doing well or my stats are high. Maybe that’s a normal thing for bloggers (I think we tend to be competitive) but I bet it’s also made a few people think I’m a narcissist playing the victim. I hope not, but I still worry about it. I’m always tempted to delete those stats posts after they go up, but then again, why not share good news when you have some to share? Because until recently, I hardly ever had any good news to share. So I’m like a little kid on Christmas Day or something.

I still have to watch this though, because you can drive people away with too much bragging, and pride, as pleasant an emotion as it can be, can turn you into a narcissist eventually. It’s a slippery slope to selfishness and evil. I can’t ever forget that my primary focus with this blog is to get better, and maybe help others get better too through my writing. Not to have X number of views or Y levels of visibility. It’s not about me anyway, it’s about what God wants for me and how he wants me to be of service.

Acquired narcissism due to good fortune is probably why there are so many narcissists in Hollywood and the music industry (not all celebrities are narcissists of course). Their success has probably changed them. Or it drives them crazy. I think only the most mentally sound and insightful celebrities are able to escape from the clutches of acquired narcissism (or serious mental conditions such as bipolar disorder, drug addiction, and even psychosis). It can’t be easy being famous and sought after by millions of strangers and having to be “on” for the media all the time.

Then there’s the other kind of pride–the kind that keeps people from admitting when they’ve been wrong or showing humility when it would benefit them and others to do so. Fortunately, I don’t think I’m guilty of that kind of pride very much. I can admit when I’ve been wrong and am not “too proud” to do so. I think narcissists pretty much have a monopoly on that type of pride.

My last “deadly sin” is sloth. I can be the laziest person you ever met. I’m a world class procrastinator. But I don’t think that’s a narcissist trait.

sloth

What are yours?