Empathy and conscience are not the same thing.

Empathy-definition

I recently saw this little gem on another website.

If you feel upset, worried, and guilty that you don’t care about others enough, then you don’t lack empathy. That right there shows you you have a conscience. Also guilt is a sign of empathy. If there’s guilt, there’s empathy. There can be no guilt without empathy. No empathy, no guilt because they are part of each other.

I’d like to take issue with this paragraph. The author is stating that feeling guilty or having a conscience means you have empathy. I beg to differ.

Empathy is the ability to feel an emotion with another, to be able to “put yourself in another person’s shoes.” It has nothing to do, really, with having a sense of right and wrong, which is what both guilt and conscience are based on. It’s entirely possible to be a self-righteous, stiff-necked prick and not have an ounce of caring for the way others feel. Think of that teacher you hated. Chances are, that teacher had a very strong conscience and a clear idea of what was right and wrong (and held themselves to the same tough standards they expected you to meet), but thought nothing of making you feel like a wad of old gum on her sensible orthopedic shoes when you violated their lofty standards. It’s also possible to feel guilty over things that aren’t even your fault but be completely oblivious to the feelings of others. Think of the worst covert narcissist you know. Chances are, that person is constantly saying “I’m sorry” and flagellating themselves until they draw blood, but their over the top guilt stems from a need to prove they’re really a good person, not because they really care that they just put your feelings through a cheese-shredder. They aren’t going to feel your pain with you–they just want to redeem themselves and have you forgive them.

Empathy and conscience do often go together though–they’re like the peanut butter and chocolate of the world of emotions–and I don’t think it’s possible to be a high empathy person and at the same time have no conscience or the inability to feel guilt or shame. But to assume that a strong conscience or the ability to feel guilt automatically indicates high empathy just makes an ass of u and me. All having a strong conscience or sense of guilt means is you’re not a sociopath.

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Psychopathy may not be what you think.

gearhead

I’ve been doing some reading about psychopathy and have found out some surprising things. I always was a little confused as to how psychopathy differed from sociopathy and have used those terms interchangeably on this blog due to my confusion. I’ve also used the term interchangeably with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) and sometimes even malignant narcisissm. It turns out it’s probably something completely different from the other three disorders and may not even be a disorder at all!

Before you start laughing, hear me out.

It all started with this colorful, humorous description someone wrote on a forum I’ve been active on, describing how a Psychopath differs from a Narcissist:

When I picture a Psychopath, I think of someone who at bedtime bounces around from one thing to the next, essentially a high-energy, happy person. When I picture a Narc at bedtime, I imagine someone wearing long pajamas and a nightcap (yes, a nightcap), walking around a 19th Century house, holding a candle, checking for ghosts.

At first I thought this was a weird (but funny) analogy. But it really isn’t. According to psychologist Theodore Millon, Primary Psychopathy is something you are born with and is not due to abuse, unlike NPD or ASPD. Studies have shown that the limbic system (emotional center) of primary psychopaths is simply less active than in normal people. So they don’t experience empathy or have a conscience regardless of how they were raised, but they also don’t have very deep emotions in general.

Millon

Because they lack deep emotions, primary psychopaths tend to be fearless risk takers. They also aren’t moody because they don’t experience anxiety or depression the way others do–if they experience those states at all. But psychopathy has become associated with sociopathy and/or ASPD or malignant narcissism because a born psychopath may be more prone to developing personality disorders than the normal population, if they are abused. Because they don’t have the capacity to develop a conscience or empathy, if they do develop a personality disorder, it’s likely to be Antisocial Personality Disorder, where the right of others are callously violated. That’s why so many psychopaths are also antisocial and dangerous.

But there is nothing wrong with the cognitive functioning of a psychopath. They are able to learn the difference between right and wrong, and if they do not develop a personality disorder, theoretically they can choose to do what’s right. Only the limbic system is impaired, so any decisions a true psychopath makes are cognitively based. Emotion simply doesn’t play into it at all. They do “whatever works.” They lack a conscience because conscience is emotion- or shame-based, and a psychopath isn’t capable of much emotion in general.

So a primary psychopath can theoretically be a good person who is just extremely unemotional and only uses logic and reason to make decisions. Unlike narcissists, who actually have deep emotions but have turned all their emotions inward toward themselves and require “supply” to bolster their fragile egos, a non-disordered psychopath has no need for supply. They simply don’t care what anyone thinks. What you think is simply not something that even occurs to them. In contrast, a narcissist cares very much what you think and falls apart like wet toilet paper if supply in the form of approval or adoration is not forthcoming.

Primary psychopathy seems analogous to the Myers-Briggs ESTJ (Extroverted/Sensing/Thinking/Judging) personality type. In other words, a psychopath is an outgoing, sensation seeking, hedonistic thinker who happily jumps around from activity to activity like someone jacked up on Red Bull, yet they don’t have ADHD either because the J(udging) aspect means their high level of activity always has a goal or purpose. Such a person would be easily bored (which could also lead to antisocial behavior), never worry about things or experience (or even understand) guilt, and unafraid to try and experience new things. Their lack of emotionality would suit them well for the business world. In fact, people who have become very successful in business tend to score high in psychopathic traits.

two-brains

While many high level executives do abuse the rights of others and callously close entire departments and treat their employees like so many pieces in a chess game (whatever works, right?), because psychopaths can tell the difference between right and wrong, some will try to do the right thing just the same. The difference is, they are using cognition rather than emotion to back any prosocial decisions.

Looked at this way, primary psychopathy may not be a disorder at all but a personality variation. Of course, the term “psychopathy” has negative connotations because most of us associate it with antisocial criminals, shady con artists, and serial killers. And in fact many of them are, but not all.

Sociopathy differs from primary psychopathy because (according to Millon, above), it’s antisocial behavior that may develop in a person with ASPD or NPD and is always due to abuse somewhere in the person’s past. A primary psychopath can become a sociopath if they become disordered, and that’s where you would find the serial killers and criminals (and these people usually have ASPD). But a sociopath isn’t always (or even usually) a psychopath. Sociopaths who aren’t psychopathic are usually very malignant narcissists (high spectrum NPD + ASPD) or sometimes even Borderlines, and they differ from psychopaths because there is no logic or rational thinking behind their antisocial or destructive behaviors, only unhealthy, toxic emotion. They seem to have no empathy because all their empathy–and most of their other emotions except anger–are turned inward toward themselves. The false self is what they present to others instead of their real emotions. Narcissists have plenty of empathy but it’s all for themselves–that’s why they are prone to wallowing in self pity. A psychopath would never wallow in self pity. They simply don’t care what you think.

I can’t relate to narcissists who love their disorder.

android

I read this post at Psychforums written by a person who sees their narcissism as a huge advantage.

I spent all my life trying to figure out why I felt so different from other people. A few months ago I was researching in detail narcissism for my master thesis on The Picture of Dorian Gray when I suddenly realized that I fit perfectly with all the criteria to be assessed as a high functioning, cerebral, covert narcissist. I immediately felt amazing about it. Not even for one second I believed that there is something wrong in me, but I soon realized that the rest of the world doesn’t seem to agree with my view.

The idea that my malignant tendencies have a reason to exist empowers them, and all the studies I have read on this topic instead of making me feel like I have a mental illness that should be cured provided me with the tools I need to expand my narcissism and use it in my favor. I guess this sounds like I really am sick, but bear with me: why would I, as a narcissist who feeds upon the desire of being special and unique, have a problem with being diagnosed as such? It makes me different from others for real. I am not going to stand in line with all those narcissists who fear themselves, who punish the way they are. Becoming self-aware opens infinite doors to the great potential I have.

I always deeply enjoyed manipulation, now I know why, but I also know that I have the power to bring this skill on a higher level and the more I master this “science” the less people will realize what I am doing to them. I don’t have a problem letting people know that I am a narcissist, but they never believe it – they still see me as a caring, loving, trustworthy girl who would go out of her way to help, too nice and interesting to be classified as “evil”. This discovery has given a great boost to my self-esteem which used to be pretty low. But it was low because I didn’t embrace and accept who I am. Knowledge is power. I am more functional now than before, I test my potential daily to see how far it can go, how much more I can get from it. Why would people ever want to heal from this?!

They say that a lack of empathy is a terrible thing. I don’t even know what empathy is, so why would I be concerned about owning it? They say I will never be happy with the way I am, but, let’s state the truth, people are never satisfied and fully happy anyway; they live for unhappiness because hope is far more enjoyable and stimulating. They say I cannot have fulfilling and real relationships, but that’s not true: given the right partner I can make him feel like he is the most special person in the world. Of course, all of this is done primarily to make myself feel like I have total control over them, but it can still provide them with some good things for themselves. It’s twisted, but I find unconditional love far more twisted. Self-awareness helps me regulating my depression since now I understand that it’s triggered by a lack of NS, so I just need to adjust that to feel back on track.

And when a NS is not readily available I feed my ego by trying to achieve success and praise in my work or studies. The more difficult and stressful it is, the larger my ego grows when I get there. Have you ever felt a proper ego boost? When it feels like there is something extremely warm in your chest which is expanding throughout your body? I live for that feeling.

I always wanted to become a teacher, but I was scared that I wasn’t good enough for that. Right now it has become clear that this is the only thing that I can do successfully. What’s better than a group of people who you can manipulate on a daily basis without being perceived badly? And here by manipulation I don’t mean in a bad way: you can convince them that they can be and do whatever they want in life. And they will repay you by making you feel omnipotent.

That’s a fair deal to me. Last but not least, being a narcissist made me finally forgive my mother for all the years of psychological and physical torture I had to endure. She made me the person that I am today, for better and for worse. I let go of all the grudge and hate and established a far better relationship with her.

I am human, but if my being a narcissist means that I am an evil human being, I can totally accept that and carry on. I would rather be good and be a hero for others, but I always found villains much more charming and true to themselves.

android2

This is an example of ego-syntonic narcissism and is common in high spectrum grandiose (classic, not covert) narcissists whether they’re self aware or not. It seems psychopathic to me. While on an intellectual level I can understand the logic behind it, and yes, I’ll even concede that it is possible to be devoid of empathy or a conscience and still choose to be prosocial (people with NPD and even ASPD can tell the difference between right and wrong, but usually won’t choose to do the right thing, only what suits them), I simply cannot relate to this way of thinking. It seems very machine-like to me, almost a parrot-like existence.

Sure, without a conscience you don’t suffer from guilt and shame the way most people do, but living this way just seems so cold and sterile to me. I spent years unable to feel much of anything, and am recently beginning to discover my softer emotions and wouldn’t have it any other way. Even sadness adds depth to the experience of being alive. How can a person like this be able to experience higher emotions like love, empathy or real joy? A machine can’t experience joy, sadness or love, all they can do is fake it. To me, this seems like a sterile, joyless way to live, an imitation of being a human, and I want no part of it. How can you really enjoy life when everything and everyone becomes nothing but narcissistic supply? I’m sorry, but I’m a person, not a parrot.

That being said, high functioning/high spectrum narcissists do seem to like their narcissistic traits, because they tend to be beneficial in the selfish and narcissistic society we currently live in. The enormous popularity of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of selfishness as a virtue attests to this. But such a world, run by people who feel nothing and get high off their own perceived power and superiority, is deeply frightening to me.

Cognitive dissonance and NPD.

narcissism_childhood

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of cognitive dissonance and its role in creating a narcissist or turning a narcissist into a malignant one.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

–Wikipedia

A computer will crash or stop working when given conflicting sets of instructions. Although people are not computers (because we have emotions and a soul), if we receive conflicting sets of “instructions” or information about ourselves, it causes so much mental distress that a personality disorder can develop if the conflict appears very early in life.

A child who is constantly invalidated by narcissistic parents tries to correct the cognitive dissonance by “becoming” what the parents tell them they are. If the parents tell them they are evil, bad, always misbehaving, etc. they may become aggressive, overt narcissist themselves to “match” the parents’ assessment of them. If they are told they are incompetent, a loser, stupid, etc. they may develop covert narcissism or BPD instead.

Golden/spoiled children.

Veruca-Salt

Spoiling a child is actually a form of abuse, because being a golden child negates the child’s own reality that they are human and less than perfect. The spoiled, golden child will either try to be as “perfect” as they are told to match their parent’s unrealistic assessment (and a grandiose false self develops from that) or they know they can’t ever be the image of perfection their parents insist they be, and to correct the cognitive dissonance they may become rebellious or adopt covert narcissism (in which the child believes they are worthless and the parents are wrong) as a coping strategy.

Other personality disorders.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is also a way to correct cognitive dissonance. I think BPD develops in many children who were both golden children and scapegoats (which is often the case with onlies) who were given inconsistent parenting, sometimes abused, sometimes treated like little gods. That’s why they’re so conflicted and seem to act in contradictory ways that confuse themselves and those around them.

Not all abused children develop narcissism or BPD, but it’s my belief almost all children of narcissists develop personality disorders, all of which are the adult incarnations of childhood attachment disorders.

Malignant Narcissism.

monsters-nietzsche

Malignant narcissism is NPD that is high on the spectrum and mixed with antisocial (ASPD) traits. A low-mid spectrum narcissist (or even a non-narcissist!) can turn malignant during adolescence or even as an adult. I think this is almost always due to some choice they made or action they were forced to engage in that went against their conscience. Let me explain how this works.

M. Scott Peck in his book, “People of the Lie,” (the book that popularized the concept of malignant narcissists as “evil”) told the story of a man who narrowly escaped becoming evil/malignant. The man, a non-narcissist who loved his family dearly, suffered from debilitating panic attacks when crossing a certain bridge on his drive to work. Even though he didn’t believe in the devil, one day while suffering a severe panic attack he made a “deal with the devil”–he told the devil he could take his favorite son’s life in exchange for allowing him to cross the bridge without having any more panic attacks. Of course nothing happened, and the son was fine. The man, filled with remorse over having these thoughts, told Dr. Peck about it, and was told he did the right thing to repent, because otherwise he would have become evil himself, especially had something actually happened to his son. If he had turned to darkness and narcissism, it would have been to correct the cognitive dissonance between what he had done and his internal moral compass. He would have had to discard his previous moral standards and embrace darkness.

A person forced to engage in something they find morally reprehensible, such as a soldier forced to kill innocent civilians, can turn toward darkness. Many veterans return suffering severe PTSD and in some cases seem to have lost the souls they went to war with. Many, who have committed atrocities in war, correct the cognitive dissonance created by doing something that went against their conscience, by discarding their conscience altogether. This isn’t a conscious choice usually, but is the end result of severe PTSD. (I think all personality disorders are, in fact, manifestions of severe PTSD caused by chronic abuse starting when the personality was still forming.)

It’s my opinion that adolescence is when malignant narcissism is most likely to develop, because adolescents are by nature risk-takers and trying to establish a separate identity from their their parents. This usually takes the form of some type of rebellion, and rebellion is normal as long as it doesn’t go too far. Some adolescents may be “dared” by their friends to engage in antisocial activities. Adolescents are so eager to be accepted in a group of their peers that sometimes their desire for acceptance overrides their conscience, which isn’t fully developed yet. If these antisocial activities hurt others (such as robbing someone’s house on a dare), the teenager’s fledgling conscience is halted in its growth, and may be discarded altogether. It’s at this point an adolescent can turn to malignant narcissism. This is why the choices kids make are so important. Here’s an excerpt from my article, “Healing Narcissism: Stephen’s Story,” in which a fictional boy I called Stephen turns to narcissism as a coping strategy, and it all began with a dare.

The Choice.

bullied_child

Stephen recalled a dare when he was 8 years old. A group of boys who had bullied him dared him to set a paper bag of dried dog poop on another boy’s rickety wooden front porch and set it on fire. The boys promised him that if he did this, they would no longer bully him and they would be his friend and protect him against any further bullying. Stephen knew that doing this could set the other boy’s house on fire and at first he protested, explaining what could happen. At this point he still had a conscience. But the boys threatened him and told him if he didn’t do it, their bullying would become worse and they would kill his pet rabbit. Stephen believed them, so against his will, he complied.

They set out after dark for the targeted house. The boys watched from the darkened yard as Stephen lit the paper bag on fire and hesitantly walked up the front stairs of the boy’s porch and set it next to a dead potted plant. The deed done, all the boys ran away before anyone saw them. Stephen looked back in time to see the flames ignite the plant, and quickly start to spread over the railings of the rickety old wooden porch. He felt awful and considered going to the police, but he didn’t dare. He went to bed that night and had terrible nightmares.

The targeted boy’s house burned down and he, his baby sister, and his mother had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Soon after, the family moved away, never to be seen again. No charges were pressed because no one knew who the culprit was.

To protect himself from his unbearable feelings of guilt and shame, Stephen shut off his painful emotions of guilt and conscience. From then on, the group of bullies accepted him as one of them, and they continued to engage in tormenting other children and even petty crimes.

This is an example of cognitive dissonance. Stephen would not have been able to live with himself had he not turned to narcissism as a coping strategy. The irony here is that, the more intense the child’s guilt or shame over committing an act that goes against their morals (or the more heinous the act), the more likely it is they will turn malignant, because to do otherwise would mean the overwhelming shame they feel could likely cause them to become severely depressed or even suicidal. This isn’t an excuse for anyone to turn to narcissism (or malignant narcissism) as a coping strategy, but is an unfortunate reality.

Acquired narcissism.

narcrealityshows

Sometimes people who become extremely successful, such as celebrities, sports stars, business leaders or politicians, can become narcissists, even if they were not narcissistic before their success. It doesn’t happen to all of them, but if it does, this is another example of how cognitive dissonance tries to “correct” things. In order to close the mental gap between their actual assessment of themselves as imperfect humans and the adulation they receive from the outer world that treats them as if they’re somehow more than human, a successful person can turn to narcissism to align their self-assessment with the way they are regarded by others. This is why some celebrities become so full of themselves or manipulative. It’s a form of acquired narcissism, but because it’s acquired fairly late in life and isn’t due to a choice, this type of narcissism may be temporary and only last as long as the person remains famous or very successful. If they fade into obscurity, the person faces a narcissistic crisis, but after that I think they can return to a non-narcissistic way of being in the world.

What my fear of rejection makes me do

borderline_pd

Time for a true confession.

I’ve been focusing a bit less on narcissism because the topic itself is somewhat of a trigger for me right now.

But I’ve recently decided to write openly about my BPD, which (along with Aspergers) is often misdiagnosed as narcissism.

Besides the envy and pride I’ve previously mentioned as my worst narcissistic traits, there is one other thing that has sometimes made me wonder if I might really be a narcissist.

Whenever any male in a position of authority has tried to tell me the truth about myself (like a therapist or teacher), I want to attack them. When I was much younger (teens and 20s) this manifested as rage attacks (as it did with my therapist during my 20’s). Today it’s more likely to be expressed as sarcasm, snarkiness, or just…silence. All of this is very narcissistic of me and makes me want to cringe in the corner when I think about it. Because knowingly hurting someone goes against the bigger, better part of me, a person who is kind and compassionate and hates to see anyone suffering or hurt.

I used to torment my therapist back in the 1980s. He didn’t know the intense feelings I had for him. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. If you’ve ever watched the ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon “Hey Arnold,” you will remember how cruel Helga always was to Arnold, but secretly she mooned over him.

helga_arnold

My therapist must have hated me. I LIKED tormenting him. He sat there week after week taking it like a trouper. If he was angry or upset, he never showed it. Most likely my strong feelings and verbal attacks were a form of transference. Maybe I experience a form of transference toward any male in an authority position who mirrors me.

I finally told that therapist I was quitting. Why? Because of my fear he was so tired of my mindfucking him that he’d tell me he couldn’t be my therapist anymore. I knew I wasn’t cured, but I left anyway. Sure, I was having trouble handling my infatuation, but now I know it was really all about hurting him before he could hurt me. How stupid of me, since he was probably more than happy to see the back of me.

hateyou_leaveme

I’ve really been thinking a lot lately about my BPD and the unpleasant ways it sometimes manifests itself. The behaviors are narcissistic, and they don’t happen all the time, or with most people (thank God for that!) But the reason they exist at all is because as a Borderline, I live in mortal terror of being rejected or abandoned, and certain men in authority who tell me truths about myself may represent my father, who I was afraid would reject me (even though he wasn’t really the problem at all).

Sometimes I do wonder if I may be a narcissist.

But I know I’m not because it makes no sense. Real narcissists don’t have a conscience or empathy. They can’t be happy for you or sad for you and I can be. If I do something wrong–even if I derive some kind of sick pleasure during the time I’m engaged in it–afterwards I feel terrible. I just want to run and hide.

I’m working on these behaviors, using an old workbook I got in 1996, because lately I’ve been thinking about possibly dating again. I’m getting over my fear of finding myself with another narc, because I feel like I know enough to read them now, to see the red flags and know when to run if I must–but I also don’t want to drive a nice guy away due to my “I hate you….don’t leave me” Borderline tendencies.

There’s so much apologizing I would like to do to so many people. I know that’s not possible but I wish it were.

I know I’m changing for the better, but a lot of bad and painful emotions are coming to the surface in the process of discovering who I am, because I’m feeling again. I think my PTSD is almost healed, and that’s a great thing, but mixed in with all the nice, loving, tender emotions are some not so nice ones too. Like a maggot crawling on the petals of a rose.

I never said I was perfect.

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.

Narcissists attack your conscience

This was another post I just found at Fivehundredpoundpeep’s blog that I just had to repost because there is so much truth here and it really hit home for me. I have experienced this “attack on the conscience” firsthand with a MN mother who seemed to look down or be critical of any genuinely good qualities in others (she called them “insipid” or “weak.”) I don’t ever remember her praising anyone for being altruistic, generous, or kind, but she did admire (and envy) narcissistic, mean, materialistic traits in others.

My MN ex, although on the surface almost the opposite of my vain, always-must-appear-perfect mother (he was a “needy” narc, while she was a histrionic, somatic one), was the same way. He walked on the side of darkness and was attracted to dark things, including the occult and death metal music. He made fun of the positive, wholesome things in life. He made snide remarks about people who believed in God or who lived a clean, moral life–as if his choice to walk on the dark side was better and “cooler.” He actually used the word “uncool” to speak of people who lived moral, functional lives–he was a perpetual 13 year old even into his 50s.

Narcissists Attack Your Conscience
By Fivehundredpoundpeep
http://fivehundredpoundpeeps.blogspot.com/2015/01/narcissists-who-attack-your-conscience.html


Smakintosh is a survivor of narcissistic abuse who has a Youtube channel with many similar videos about narcissism. Although speaking from a Christian perspective, you do not need to be a Christian to appreciate what he has to say.

This video sums up so much to me. This is a video that spoke so much to me, that I have watched it three times. Smakintosh is right about the narcissist’s moral darkening. He is right when he says, “They attack our very consciences.” This is completely true. I think the narcissists do know that something is missing in them and that they hate the “light” and “conscience” in others. Remembering my parents yelling at me for being “too sensitive” as a child, by then they were trying to stamp out the flicker of goodness and a conscience within me. I understand what he means too about this being difficult to express in words.

Spiritually, I had these thoughts as a child, knowing I was different in my core from my parents. I knew I lived among dark individuals who saw the world in a completely different fashion. Destroy or be destroyed. I wanted to help people. They saw this as offensive. I was nothing like them.

Clear consciences are something narcissists hate. They live in the darkness of seared conscience. They do not want good people around them. If anyone is “good”, they want to make them bad just like themselves. They do want people to be the same as them– moral degenerates who live for self gain.

My mother attacked my conscience. My father did as well. I was even told I was not to have my own beliefs a few times which I refused at a very young age and brought forth more of their anger. Smakintosh is right about how narcs prop themselves up as people’s moral authorities. My mother definitely is seen as such within my dysfunctional family. She is seen as the moral authority not God to those people. It is crazy how everything is tested and judged according to HER standards. I watch both siblings living as slaves to these standards, still seeking to please “Mom”. Everything is done with the idea of her watching them and her pleasure or displeasure. What about pleasing God?

Abusive parents will tell you that you are wrong a million times and elevate themselves above you, where they are always right and you are always wrong. This is something they do to people where they will try to separate you from your own conscience and intuition. They try to train you in thinking what they think and believe is above what you think and believe. They do extreme spiritual damage to individuals.. I believe this is one way they gain so much control over entire groups of people. Exploration, discovery and introspection and spiritual yearning is stamped out under many a narcissist’s foot.

I believe God has helped me separate from my narcissists. When I was saved in Jesus Christ, and put God first, I was able to test the narcissists [we need to of course test ourselves as Christians] and see them for what they were. I was able to stand for my own values with God’s help. God broke the chains of the narcissist’s false authority.

Could “reparenting” actually cure a narcissist?

depression

Almost all professionals who deal with narcissists and psychopaths insist they cannot be cured, but say that Cognitive-Behavioral therapy can help “train” them to act in more prosocial ways. Of course, this isn’t going to work unless there’s something to be gained for the narcissist in doing so. Most won’t even enter therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy isn’t a cure though and does nothing to address the underlying problem or access the “true self” which even the narcissist has obscured from their consciousness with their elaborate series of masks.

I was thinking about a much more intense form of therapy, that would be costly and difficult, and takes into account several different methods of treatment, that may actually be able to cure narcissism. This therapy would take place in several stages:

Stage One: The Narcissistic Crisis/Narcissistic Injury
I was skimming through Vaknin’s book and toward the end he has a chapter about curing a narcissist. He believes these incorrigible people can actually be cured (which of course begs the question, why isn’t he cured? Or is he?) However, in order to be open to being cured they must have undergone a “narcissistic crisis” or “narcissistic injury”–that is, his or her sources of narcissistic supply must have been removed (such as after a divorce or the death of their primary source of narcissistic supply, loss of a career, financial ruin, incarceration, what have you).

In a state like this, without anything to prop them up or continually affirm their “greatness,” a narcissist will usually sink into a deep depression, and will do ANYTHING to make themselves feel better, even voluntarily entering therapy.

The tricky part would be identifying the depressed patient as a narcissist, but there should be enough signs in the way they talk about the glory of their “former life” and they will still lack remorse and empathy and blame others for their sorry condition rather than themselves. So identifying a severely depressed narcissist shouldn’t be too difficult for a trained professional.

The therapist cannot, under any circumstances, give the narcissist any sources of narcissistic supply or affirm them in any way, or give them any sympathy, at least not at first. In other words, they cannot mirror them. That will just make the narcissist feel good enough that their masks will go back up and they may think they’re “cured” and leave.

Stage Two: “Cold Therapy:” Deny the narcissist any narcissistic supply!
In order to force the narcissist to face what’s inside, it’s important the therapist does not affirm or mirror the narcissist. Instead, the therapist should stay nearly silent at first and make sure the narcissist is forced to confront his own emptiness. This will be extremely painful to them. They may leave, but if the narcissist is desperate enough he will probably stay. However, he will likely become angry at the therapist (transference) and rage. Still, the therapist must not show any reaction. When even their rage fails to elicit a response, the narcissist has no choice but to regress to the infant he really is.

Stage Three: Catharsis/”Remothering”
This would be a breakthrough point, and the point at which some real therapy could possibly be done. Becoming an infant will turn the narcissist into a blubbering, sobbing, needy, vulnerable mess. And this is where I can begin to see why in “People of the Lie,” M. Scott Peck, in his chapter about “Charlene” (a narcissist who entered therapy voluntarily because of her inability to maintain a relationship), wanted her to become vulnerable and baby-like so he could become her surrogate “mother” and give her the maternal nurturing she never had as a child. This might have worked too, had Charlene been ripped of all her sources of narcissistic supply and been undergoing a narcissistic crisis. Dr. Peck’s mistake was affirming her too much in the beginning of therapy and engaging her fantasies. By the time he realized his mistake, it was too late.

At the time I read Dr. Peck’s thoughts about how he should have “mothered” Charlene and held her in his arms (in a nonsexual way), I thought it sounded very odd and even unethical. But knowing more about narcissism than I did when I read that book, and more about why they’re the way they are, I can understand why Dr. Peck’s wish to “mother” Charlene may have worked. But not only did Peck start out all wrong, Charlene was not depressed enough to be open to such a technique.

So a vulnerable narcissist stripped of all their elaborate defense mechanisms, reduced to a dependent infant, is going to be going through an emotional catharsis as the true self (which was arrested in infancy and is still an infant) begins to emerge. They are going to be in unbearable terror and pain. A good (and very strong) therapist can offer maternal support through holding the patient during catharsis, stroking them in a nonsexual manner, but still must not tell them anything they want to hear, such as how they’re not a bad person, how they don’t deserve their pain, and the like. The therapist must remain quiet and let the patient go through the catharsis and only offer support by their mere presence.

smashingmirror

Stage Four: Retraining and Internalizing the Conscience
I’ve elaborated a lot on what Vaknin says about curing a narcissist in this post, and I’m going to elaborate even further. Because the narcissist, while rendered virtually harmless at this point in therapy, still doesn’t have a conscience. They would still go right back to their old ways if they stop therapy now or their circumstances suddenly improve. Psychologically, they are infants and an infant has no conscience: they must be taught by their parents and caregivers the difference between right and wrong.

So after a few sessions of this cathartic crisis (however long it lasts–by its nature it will eventually exhaust itself), I would propose something like the sort of treatment that was given to 6 year old Beth Thomas in the documentary “Child of Rage,” who at first wanted to kill her parents and brother and who tortured animals, but was cured of incipient psychopathy early enough that she was still able to develop a conscience and become an adult with normal levels of empathy and no desire to hurt anyone.

The narcissistic patient, if at all possible, should be in a setting, such as a hospital or residential treatment setting, where they are closely monitored and supervised by trained professionals. Any good behavior is to be rewarded, any bad behavior punished. Any privileges at all would have to be earned. Just like a small child, reward and punishment will train their brain to develop a conscience. This is basically the same thing as the cognitive-behavioral therapy currently used on narcissists, but it cannot cure a narcissist who hasn’t first been broken down by a narcissistic crisis and catharsis, because all their masks are still on. A narcissist who has been through the process of crisis and catharsis has lost their masks, and therefore cognitive-behavioral retraining would become internalized rather than just a “positive” mask they can wear to make them more bearable to others.

Disclaimer:
I am in no way a professional (though I did major in psychology in college). I’m certainly not qualified to propose new methods of treatment, but this process I’ve described isn’t one I made up: it’s basically a combination of Vaknin’s proposed method of breaking down all the narcissist’s defenses so they become infantile (with a little M. Scott Peck thrown in), followed up with cognitive-behavioral techniques for retraining the patient’s conscience in a highly supervised setting.

It would be a difficult and expensive therapy at the very least, but I really think it could work. Of course, it also requires the narcissist to voluntarily enter therapy, which means they would have to have suffered a grave loss that threw them into deep depression in the first place (the narcissistic injury or crisis).

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.