Learning to become the mother I wish I’d had

Amazing and insightful post written by a diagnosed NPD (non-malignant) who has been working hard to stop the generational transfer of NPD and raise an emotionally healthy and empathic son, while she works on herself. They are learning together, and she may have prevented her child from developing a personality disorder by using the techniques discussed in this post.

I sure wish my mother had become self aware enough to do this with me.

Advertisements

Why empaths and narcissists seem to need each other.

narcissist-and-empath
Credit: Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed

The concept of narcissism and HSP (highly sensitive person) or empathic traits coexisting in the same person is a matter that has very little research behind it, but I definitely think there is a strong case to be made for it. Hear me out before you hit the backspace key. I actually think it’s at the core of why empaths and narcissists are so uncannily drawn to each other.

In my article A Match Made in Hell: Narcissists and HSPs, I wrote about the tendency for narcissists and HSPs to form trauma-bonds with each other–that’s really just a fancy way of saying these two seemingly opposite types of people are often attracted to each other and form codependent relationships.

The trauma bond.

The narcissist is both attracted to and envious of the empath’s vulnerability and high empathy. They are attracted to it for a very simple reason:  they need it badly. As children, narcissists failed to be mirrored or loved unconditionally by their parents, and are love-starved, even though they’d rather die than ever admit it.   The empath, in turn, is able to love the narcissist without condition, to the point of allowing themselves to be sucked dry.

Narcissists also envy the empath’s ability to love unconditionally because on some level, usually unconsciously but sometimes consciously, they know they jettisoned their own ability to love and feel empathy a long time ago in order to survive.  Most were highly sensitive children but shamed for it.  Many were bullied.   So they learned to bury their emotions behind an invulnerable facade because continuing to be so vulnerable hurt too much. Empathy may be a gift, and I think most narcissists were born with that gift, but were never shown how to use it and were punished for having it.  It became a curse instead of a blessing, so they sent the gift into exile and shored up a false self to make sure it never saw the light of day again.

Knowing they jettisoned their ability to access their own vulnerability, combined with a continued starvation for unconditional love and acceptance, is what draws narcissists to empaths. They abuse the empath, either consciously or unconsciously, because they hate the fact they need their love so badly, and the empath’s sensitivity also unconsciously reminds them of their own sensitivity that caused them so much pain. It’s a constant reminder of the shame they felt as children for being so sensitive, but they also can’t live without it. So they punish the empath for reminding them of their own “weakness” and making them feel so needy.

The narcissist, in their neediness and simultaneous resentment of being so needy, feeds off the empath like a vampire. If they are malignant, they don’t care that they’re destroying the very person who gives them a reason to live. They may even get some satisfaction in knowing they are punishing them. If the narcissist is not malignant, they may feel some guilt over what they do to  the person who gives them so much love, but be unable to stop doing it. Or more often, they aren’t even aware they are doing it. They just seem like a bottomless well that can’t get enough and keeps on demanding more.

Of course such a relationship is extremely unhealthy, even deadly, for the empath, who will eventually either leave the narcissist or be completely sucked dry or in the worst cases even destroyed. But the empath does gets something important out of the relationship too. They truly believe that through their unconditional love, they are saving the narcissist from him or herself.

Common roots.

Empaths and narcissists often both come from abusive or dysfunctional families. Both started life as highly sensitive children. But at some point they diverged. While the empath embraced their own vulnerability and learned how to use their gift to help others and find joy and authentic connection with others, the narcissist rejected it because it seemed more like a curse and made them feel too much pain. If they were never shown any empathy or were shamed for being too sensitive, it’s understandable why they might have rejected their own empathy and covered it over with a facade of toughness.

Why are empaths drawn to narcissists?

Empaths, like narcissists, often have narcissistic parents, and are unconsciously drawn to those who remind them of their parents or perhaps a sibling or other close family member.  They are naturally drawn to those who seem to need healing, and in embarking on a relationship with a narcissist, they are unconsciously attempting to heal their parent or other family member. This is why empaths so often become codependent to narcissists.

Empaths are able to see through the facade the narcissist presents to the world, to their hidden true self. They can see the hurt, abandoned child that lives inside every narcissist. They truly believe they can “fix” them and transform them into authentic, feeling humans capable of returning what they have been given. Of course, this belief is almost guaranteed to end in disappointment (if the empath is lucky), and possibly much worse. For a narcissist to change and stop the pattern of abuse, the desire to do so must come from inside of them. They must be willing to drop their mask of invulnerability and do the hard work of reclaiming the vulnerability they were born with and gave up a long time ago. The empath can’t make a narcissist want to change. Just because they can see through to the sensitive true self doesn’t mean they will be able to draw him or her out. They can die trying, but it probably won’t work. The unwilling, un-self-aware (or malignant) narcissist is likely to punish them for trying.

Failed empaths?

There may even be a genetic connection between narcissism and those who become empaths. I’ll go out on a limb and even speculate that they might even be the same thing–the narcissist being a “failed empath.  It’s ironic but I definitely think there’s a connection.

But how can that be? Narcissists are incapable of empathy, have problems feeling and expressing deep emotions, and are incapable of loving anyone but themselves. Isn’t that the opposite of being an empath?

Well, yes and no. The explanation is complicated, so I hope you stay with me here.

As I’ve explained before, I think most narcissists began life as highly sensitive people who at an early age suffered trauma due to abuse. This caused them to shut off their too-vulnerable true (authentic) selves from the world and in its place construct an elaborate defense mechanism–the false self–initially meant to protect the vulnerable true self from further harm, which has no defenses at all. Even empaths who are not narcissists have some protective psychological armor, so they did not need to construct a false self to take the place of the true one. Healthy empaths are truly authentic people who feel deeply and are emotionally honest with themselves and others. Narcissists were born with no emotional defenses at all; the false self replaces the true one and appears invulnerable. But this is only an illusion. When you face a narcissist, you will never know who that person really is because all they will show you is the protective mask they have created. They are so terrified of being hurt again that they will attack with vicious ferocity if they think you pose any threat to its flimsy underpinnings. It must be a terrifying way to live.

The high sensitivity of a narcissist is retained in the way they react to personal insults or slights. They overreact when they feel like they are being attacked, ignored, or they perceive their source of narcissistic supply may be in danger. They are paranoid, touchy, and often lack a sense of humor about themselves. They may try to appear as if they don’t care, but if you know narcissism, it’s usually not too hard to see the emotional fragility behind their defenses and acts of false bravado. When it comes to other people, they can seem incredibly insensitive.

Narcissists who aren’t high on the spectrum and become self aware may be able to reclaim emotional empathy toward others, because empathy is a skill that can be learned.  A forum member on the NPD board I read (who has NPD) described something that happened with her husband that warmed my heart.  She said he had hurt her feelings, and she caught herself about to attack him.  She felt her defenses go up, but instead of acting out, she decided to NOT act out and just allow herself to feel the hurt.  Instead of attacking him as she normally would have, she cried.   He put his arms around her and she allowed herself to be held and comforted, to feel vulnerable and cared for.   She said at first she felt awkward and uncomfortable, but the next time it happened, she felt less uncomfortable.  Now allowing herself to be loved is becoming second nature and she says she is starting to feel some tenderness toward him too, and even moments of a new feeling that she thinks is real love, a warm feeling not based on getting supply from him or bolstering her ego.   So I think empathy takes practice.  If you were born with it, you don’t lose it, but it may be hard to access and takes a conscious effort to learn to reclaim and use.

But before a narcissist can really get better and feel empathy toward others, they first need to develop self-compassion (this is NOT the same as self-pity, but is actually empathy for the rejected child-self). They must also be courageous enough to stay in treatment and confront and release the traumatic feelings that lie hidden beneath the mask.

This usually only happens when the narcissist hits rock bottom and suffers a massive loss of supply, sending them into a depression.  At that point they may enter therapy or realize the problems they have are because of themselves.   The problem with this is once things begin to improve or they begin to feel better again, they are likely to leave therapy because the work to get to their authentic self is too painful.    It takes an enormous amount of motivation, courage and positive thinking for a narcissist to stay in therapy long enough to begin to access their true self and embrace their own vulnerability.  It can be done, but it’s not easy.

For malignant narcissists though, things are very different.  Stay with me here because things are about to get complicated.

The connection between malignant narcissism and high sensitivity.

warm_cold_empathy
Warm and cold empathy.

In my research about NPD, there has been a lot of discussion about a concept called “cold” empathy.   Most of us associate narcissism with a lack of empathy, but this isn’t exactly the case. Most narcissists–especially malignant ones–do have empathy, but it’s not emotional or affective empathy; it’s cognitive or “cold” empathy. What this means is that a narcissist KNOWS what you are feeling, and may use what they know you are feeling against you. Cold empathy is “felt” on the cognitive (thinking) level, but not as an emotion, and that is why the narcissist can feel no compunctions about turning your feelings against you in order to punish or hurt you.

An extreme example of this would be the sadistic, psychopathic rapist. The rapist “smells” your fear and uses that against you to become even more sadistic. It *is* empathy, but it’s “cold”–the rapist understands exactly what you are feeling and your fear makes him feel powerful, so he increases the level of torment. He feeds off your fear like a vulture feeds on carrion. You don’t need to tell him you’re afraid; he KNOWS. He just doesn’t care and even derives pleasure from it.

Cold empathy is the twisted mirror image of warm empathy, which non-pathological people are capable of feeling on an emotional, not just a cognitive level. HSPs and empaths have an excess of warm empathy.  Here’s where things get complicated. If a narcissist is also a failed empath, their high sensitivity could morph into a quality that seems almost supernatural and is utterly chilling–a cold, sadistic form of “empathy” where they seem to be able to see into your mind. A non-sensitive person would not be able to detect your emotions without you telling them how you feel, and therefore not have that creepy, unsettling way of “seeing into your soul” that the malignant narcissist does. So, the higher the sensitivity a narcissist has (and the more the “warm” empathy has been shut out or turned “cold”), the more malignant they will be.

narcautism_spectrum
Malignant narcissism is high on the HSP spectrum.
Credit: http://dondepresso.rujic.net/post/116940034025/manic-chart-narcautism-spectrum

This idea was actually illustrated in the humorous-but-true graph (shown above), where initially I wondered why malignant narcissism was showing so high in empathic/HSP traits. But actually it makes perfect sense. An empath who adopts narcissism as a way to cope and whose warm empathy all turns cold will become malignant. A less sensitive person (or a highly sensitive person who still retains some warm empathy) may still become a narcissist, but they won’t become malignant. Of course, at their core, all narcissists are highly sensitive. They just don’t want you to know.

In summary, then, empaths and HSPs can be the most kind and caring people you can ever hope to meet–or the most dangerous. A narcissistic empath is definitely someone you’d want to avoid.

They are two sides of the same coin. The tragedy is that a malignant narcissist can destroy a previously healthy empath, but it doesn’t work the other way around: a non-narcissistic empath can’t change a malignant narcissist into a good person.

*****

Further reading:

Narcissists and Empaths: The Ego Dynamic

When is narcissism a good thing?

preening

Originally published on November 23, 2014

Narcissism has become a dirty word. But the kind of narcissism that’s such a hot topic all over the media and the Internet right now is the the type we call malignant narcissism–or at the very least, NPD. Narcissism isn’t a bad thing itself, but like most good things, it becomes bad when it becomes extreme or there is too much of it.

Why do we always hear about “malignant” narcissists, but never “benign” ones? Do they exist? This was a topic that was brought up in the comments section of one of my posts a few days ago.

Of course they do. Not everyone with narcissism is malignant. Narcissism, like autism, runs on a spectrum from practically non-existent to mild to moderate to severe. Most of us have some degree of narcissism, especially those of us with blogs! Studies have shown that people who post lots of photos on Facebook or Twitter or are very active on social media, who take a lot of selfies, or keep online journals or blogs where they talk about themselves are narcissistic, or at the very least, vain. Well, vanity is one aspect of narcissism.

Benign narcissists are lower on the spectrum than malignant narcissists. Some in the middle of the spectrum or close to the middle may be self-centered, can act like jerks, talk about themselves a lot, and may be overly concerned with their appearance, likeability, athletic prowess, or some other quality. Think of the popular kids you knew in high school, the cheerleaders and the overconfident jocks on the football team. (Of course, some of the “mean girls” and boys are probably malignant narcissists). Even farther below the annoying jerks on the spectrum, a benign narcissist is just a normal person with high self esteem.

meangirls

Benign narcissists don’t normally use or manipulate others to get what they want, they have a conscience, and they can feel remorse, guilt or empathy. They can feel genuine love or care for someone else. They can be moved by beauty or truth. They can be happy for you. They can weep tears that aren’t of the crocodile variety. They may be annoying at times and seem full of themselves, but they are not generally dangerous to others. A malignant thing, whether it’s a tumor or a narcissist, is a threat. Something benign will generally not hurt or kill you.

Benign narcissists do not have NPD. Not all people with NPD are malignant narcissists, but they are still above the midpoint on the spectrum and can be manipulative and make other people suffer. They are more malignant than benign narcissists, who populate the entire lower half of the spectrum. In fact, most bloggers probably “suffer” from benign narcissism, at the very least.

Benign narcissism has evolutionary advantages. A woman wanting to look beautiful and who preens in the mirror or takes time choosing an attractive outfit is more likely to attract a mate than one who is slovenly and doesn’t take care of her appearance. A man who works out at the gym and takes pride in his appearance is likewise more likely to attract a beautiful woman than a flabby man who sits in a La-Z-Boy all day munching on hot wings and drinking beer. On the evolutionary level, attractiveness and beauty signify fertility and good health. Even if we don’t want children, we are unconsciously more attracted to people who appear fertile and healthy–which means a good looking person. Wanting to feel good about ourselves is healthy–and narcissistic. So reasonable levels of narcissism are healthy and have advantages in propagating the human species. A person without narcissism at all is a person who thinks they’re worthless and deserve nothing. That can be just as “malignant” as a dangerous narcissist, the difference being that person is more likely to hurt themselves instead of others–and are likely to suffer instead of making those around them suffer. Benign narcissism is good. It’s only when it overtakes other qualities necessary for survival that it becomes malignant and dangerous.

There’s even an increasingly popular theory stating that malignant narcissism (psychopathy) is an evolutionary strategy that was adaptive before we became sentient and civilized. Malignant narcissists and psychopaths normally fear commitment but have high sexual desire and like to have many sexual partners. They may be “serial monogamists” (keeping one lover at a time, but will callously leave one lover for the next) or they may be promiscuous, having several lovers at the same time.

manwithlovers

For a man, being promiscuous or bedding many women can result in having many children (even if having children is not consciously desired). There are many male mammals that use this strategy–they don’t stay with the female or care for the young. They will mate with the female, impregnate her, and move on to the next. This strategy results in more offspring, which helps propagate the species. Of course, many of the young will die, but overall, the strategy works. Think of male lions: they are terrible fathers and “husbands.” Male lions are lazy and spend most of their days sleeping and lounging around while the female does all the hunting, caring for the cubs, and defending the pride. Male lions insist on being the first to eat a kill, even though the female was the one who did all the work and brought the kill back to the pride. A hungry male lion will aggressively cuff an upstart cub or a female who dares to eat before him (the male lions in the movie “The Lion King” are anthropomorphized and are atypical of real lions). Male lions are also known for killing unrelated cubs of a female he wants to mate with. This is to ensure she can only devote herself to his cubs, once she gives birth to a new litter. This isn’t far off from the psychopathic stepfathers we hear about in the news who abuse or even kill babies and young children that don’t belong to them.

malelion

It’s harder to see how this strategy would work for females, but think of reptiles or fish–or spiders. Non-mammalian females (except for birds, which are very nearly mammals) do not have the capacity to feel love for their young, and evolution has ensured they give birth to many young at a time to ensure that some survive. It’s to their advantage to drop their load of young and abandon them, moving on to finding another mate. In the case of the spider, the female will even eat the male after she mates with him. That’s pretty psychopathic, but the strategy works if you’re a spider.

spider

A person with psychopathy seems to lack the higher, mammalian part of the limbic system of the brain that enables them to feel love or provide care for their young after they are born. They are acting on the reptilian (or in the case of males, the lower mammalian) brain instead, which all of us still possess. The problem is that as humans have become civilized, these reptilian, callous strategies that many animals use to propagate themselves have become maladaptive to civilization. That’s why we’ve developed laws that keep psychopathic behaviors that were once advantageous under control.

But a little narcissism is adaptive, because it helps us attract and keep a mate.

“How to Spot a Collapsed Narcissist”

archie-bunker

The following is is a very interesting article I found on a site called  Flying Monkeys Denied, that explains how to identify a narcissist who has “collapsed” –in other words, a narcissist who has been denied adequate supply (leading to narcissistic injury), perhaps by having failed to meet his or her goals or obtain the admiration they thought was their due.    He (or she) will spiral into “pit bull” attack mode in their last ditch efforts to force others to provide them with supply.   They become hypersensitive, hateful, rage filled, tantrum throwing, angry, snappish, intolerant, and sometimes even violent.   Any pretense of niceness or charm they might have formerly displayed when things were going better for them disappears and the rage just underneath the mask of pleasantness comes out full throttle.

They still cannot accept any blame or criticism of themselves.    They project their self hatred onto the “targets” they have selected (people of another race, religion, ethnic group, gender, or people with a non-traditional lifestyle).  It’s as this level the narcissist displays bigotry and small-mindedness.   It’s at this level you see xenophobia and intolerance toward viewpoints outside their narrow worldview.   It’s at this level the collapsed narcissist may batter his wife or girlfriend so badly she winds up hospitalized or dead.

Archie Bunker in the ’70s hit TV show, “All in the Family” was a narcissist who was painfully aware he was at or very near the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder.   Fearing he’d sink to the even “lower level” of the minorities and various ethnic groups he looked down on with so much contempt, Archie hung onto that one thin thread of hope: his whiteness, his conservative values, and his blue-collarness.

There’s another narcissist in the public eye right now, similar to Archie Bunker in many ways (only with a lot more money),  who is running for president.  This narcissist also displays all the signs of having collapsed or being in the process of collapsing, perhaps due to the pressure of running for the highest office you can obtain but deep down knowing he really isn’t qualified, so he attacks those who question  his competence or criticize his agenda.   His bigotry, sexism and racism ensures that should he fail (lose the election, win the election but become the most hated president ever) he will still be “above” these other groups who he has deemed are beneath him.

The next stage in the narcissistic collapse (if getting supply through aggression, threats and intimidation fails) would be a descent into depression, suicide, or even psychosis (when a narcissist reaches this point of having hit rock bottom, they may become so desperate  as to voluntarily enter therapy, and this is when inroads into their psyche are most likely to be made).   Such a massive blow to the narcissistic ego could also result in complete loss of control  called “going postal.”   It is this possibility I think many of us sense in The Donald that makes his possible presidency so terrifying.    Should he collapse that far, he could start a nuclear war or turn America into a police state or order the extermination or deportation of all the groups of people he dislikes.  Gay people, people of color (particularly Muslim-Americans),  even women are at risk should that happen.

My apologies for applying Godwin’s Law,  but I believe this is how Hitler went from winning an election as a smooth talking populist who promised to “make Germany great again,” to the monster who became responsible for the extermination of 6 million Jews and other groups he disliked.   I could see this happening with Donald Trump all too easily.    There aren’t enough checks and balances any more to keep him at bay should he decide to unleash his narcissistic fury.   This is one angry and disordered man who is coming undone on national TV and I wouldn’t put anything past him.

I didn’t intend for this intro to be so long.   Here is the article I’m linking to:

http://flyingmonkeysdenied.com/2016/10/10/how-to-spot-a-collapsed-narcissist/

How narcissism got to be a thing.

This article was originally posted on October 7 and 11, 2015 in two parts. It has been updated and merged.

narcissist_nation

Disclaimer:  It was pointed out to me that this post may seem overly critical or stereotyping of Baby Boomers.   I’m aware that the selfishness and lack of empathy we see today extends across ALL generations.  Also, many Boomers were never narcissistic and some were, in fact, abused or neglected, especially toward the end of that generation (which I myself am a part of).   But it is a fact that on a societal level, this was an especially indulged generation that led to an overall entitled mindset, even if many individuals never fit that trend.  As far as the neglectful parenting so rampant during the 1970s that is described, most of these parents were actually Silents, not Boomers (Boomers were more likely to indulge their Millennial children). 

*****

When I was compiling my lists of songs about narcissism, it didn’t pass my notice how few songs there were prior to the 1980s that focused on it. Oh sure, there have always been a few here and there (Carly Simon’s 1972 hit “You’re So Vain” immediately comes to mind) and there were always those “you/he/she done me wrong” love songs, but songs specifically about narcissism were pretty rare.

I think the reason for this is because it wasn’t until the 1980s that narcissism became so dominant in western (especially American) culture that it became a new virtue–something to aspire to if you wanted to be financially and professionally successful. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that narcissism became recognized as a real problem and websites, blogs and forums about narcissistic abuse began to spring up all over the Internet.

But I think the problem really started long before that, back in the post-WWII days when the Baby Boomers started being born. Of course there are exceptions, but as a generation, the Boomer generation was raised to be grandiose, entitled and lack a collective sense of empathy for others. As the Boomers aged, their collective sense of entitlement bled over into everything they touched–politics, business, and the culture at large. Today this narcissism affects all living generations, but generations older than the Boomers generally frowned on it.

Ripeness for the rise of a culture of narcissism.

I need to add that America was ripe for the rise of a culture of narcissism long before the hubris created by our WW II victory and our subsequent rise to the most powerful nation on earth and the arrival of what some believe was the most indulged generation of children, the Baby Boomers.

As a nation, we have always adhered to principles of “rugged individualism” and the “Protestant work ethic.” We have always eschewed communitarian values at the expense of individual achievement. But in the past, we were nicer to each other. People were expected to at least get involved in their communities when neighbors were in need and to show some grudging respect for those with less. Today, not so much. People were generally less about themselves and more about building strong families and communities. Even in the 1920s, another era of hedonism, greed, and other holdover values of the Gilded Age, these values had less hold on the population than they have today. That’s why during the Great Depression, someone like Franklin D. Roosevelt could rise to power and his New Deal (which allowed a prosperous decade like the 1950s to happen) was able to be implemented, though it certainly had its critics. Today, I doubt anything like the New Deal would be voted in by the majority of people, which is tragic.

1950s.

boomer_girl

After our WWII victory, America became very hubristic. We had become a superpower to be reckoned with the world over, and American life never seemed better. Life was very different than it had been even a decade earlier, and most newlyweds now had TVs, new kitchens with modern appliances that made a wife’s job much easier and left her more time to spend with her children, and often two cars. Employment was high and jobs paid well compared to the cost of living at the time. Young husbands were able to afford to buy tract homes and new cars on the GI bill, and could afford to support a wife and children. Of course, these were very conformist times too, and “keeping up with the Joneses” was a thing.

Enter the victory babies born in this national mood of optimism following the war: the Baby Boomers. Raised according to Dr. Benjamin Spock’s indulgent philosophy of “feeding on demand” and “Johnny will clean up his room when he feels like cleaning up his room,” Boomer infants and toddlers were pampered, indulged, and trained to be entitled. They were given anything they wanted and discipline tended to be light and consist of trying to “reason” with children. There was an endless array of new toys and snacks marketed to children, and mothers were made to feel like bad parents if they refused to comply with what advertisers told them to buy. The kids caught onto this attitude of entitlement, and if Sally got the new Barbie doll or Eric got the new battery operated toy truck, then Debbie and Paul had to have them too. The culture at the time was child-centered. It was a given that a child’s needs and wants always came before the parents’ and children were constantly told how “special” they were.

All that being said, I don’t believe on demand feeding in itself leads to feelings of entitlement; in fact it does just the opposite:  In an infant who hasn’t yet learned to separate themselves from the mother, such “indulgence” nurtures a child with high self esteem (NOT the same as narcissism) who is capable of healthy attachments to others. The problem is when the child continues to be indulged when older (spoiling), and many little Boomers boys and girls were, though certainly not all.

As they entered school, young Boomers’ attitude of entitlement and specialness carried over into the classroom. As a generation, they expected to be treated as little gods and goddesses, just as their parents had treated them.

1960s.

hippies

As the Boomers entered their teens, they began to rebel against the parents who had showered attention and material comforts on them. I believe this rebellion was due to a collective fear of engulfment by overindulgent parents. They were attempting to break away by reacting against the very lifestyle that had given them so much. Of course not every child had overindulgent parents, but teenagers always try to emulate what’s popular or cool. Rebelling against “the Establishment” or the Vietnam War (which also represented the values of their parents) became hip and cool. Adolescent Boomers, having been raised to believe they were unique and special (and most of those middle class and above were able to attend college and were often the first in their family to be able to do so) embraced causes that were anathema to the values of “the old fogies” and at first, really believed their causes were superior to those of their parents. They tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. They experimented with marijuana and LSD. They dressed in hippie clothing and wore their hair long, which horrified “The Establishment.” They listened to rock music, the louder and harder and more offensive to the older generation, the better. They protested the war, attended “love ins” and participated in campus sit-ins, and eventually riots. Young Boomers believed their values were exactly what the world needed, but their attitude was based on entitlement rather than realism. They were idealists who believed the world could be changed by smoking pot and listening to the right sort of music.*

* I’ve amended my attitude toward Boomer idealism some since I wrote this post. Idealism in itself isn’t a bad thing, and some of the youth movements of the ’60s had wonderful intentions–surely there’s nothing wrong with peace and love, and the anti-war, women’s, and civil rights movements (the latter which had actually started in the late 1950s with the Silents) all had their positive points and changed society for the better in many ways. The most disturbing thing about early Boomer idealism was its shallowness–the way it was so quickly abandoned when they entered full adulthood and as a generation they were able to move so quickly from “make love not war” to its polar opposite, “greed is good.”

Due to the sheer size of the Boomer generation, anything they did got a lot of national attention. Besides the many disapproving and negative news stories about the Vietnam protests, communal living, and recreational drug use, others were also beginning to emulate them. The next-older generation (The Silents), who had been largely ignored as they came of age, tried to seem younger by emulating the Boomers in their dress, tastes, and general lifestyle. The Boomers were never short on collective narcissistic supply (both negative and positive), and this continued to feed their attention-getting behavior.

Parents wondered where they had gone wrong, and why the children they had raised so lovingly had turned so rebellious and so insistent on “doing their own thing.” They wondered why this new generation seemed to hate them so much.

By the end of the 1960s, the “hippie lifestyle,” like everything else the Boomers would ever start, had become a lucrative market. But by the time The Establishment caught on, the Boomers were beginning to move on to other things, including embracing what they had rejected.

The power was still in the hands of the older generation of course, so narcissism had not yet become a noticeable part of the culture (although hubris and conformity definitely still was). By the 1970s, the first signs of a growing narcissistic culture would begin to make themselves felt.

1970s.

disco_ball

Boomers, now entering their 20s, had by now largely abandoned their earlier hippie incarnation for a more subdued “back to the land” movement, in which they opted for whole foods, fresh air, and healthy living. Others began to infiltrate the job market, often with degrees in esoteric subjects. Having children was something to be avoided, as Boomers wanted to prolong their adolescence or make a mark on the world. The Pill and newly legal abortion made all this possible. Around the same time, women began to demand equal rights in society and the workplace. The 70s wave of feminism was very anti-child and pro-career. If you preferred to marry and raise children, you were looked upon as a throwback to the 1950s.

Around the same time, various forms of non-traditional, humanist psychotherapies (EST, Esalen, etc.), grassroots religions, and cults became popular. Collectively known as “the human potential movement,” self-improvement and self-development became a priority for Boomers. Putting your own needs before those of others was not only normal, it was considered healthy. New York Magazine dubbed the 1970s “The Me Decade” for this reason. Couples opted to cohabitate rather than marry(because it was easier to break a commitment), and divorce was becoming very common. But the true victims of all this self-discovery were the children.

“Non-parenting” in the 1970s.

Children raised during this time (Generation X and tail-end Boomers) found themselves pretty much ignored, treated as second class citizens, or sometimes even abandoned by their self-involved Silent Generation or Boomer parents, who seemed to put their own needs ahead of theirs. This was a generation full of latchkey kids and kids prematurely taking care of themselves and their siblings while Mom attended to more interesting and “fulfilling” things.

To be fair, it wasn’t all the parents’ fault. The new “me” culture and the women’s movement, which gave women more options that just being mothers and housewives, gave them permission to turn their kids into second class citizens. Second-wave feminism especially (though this movement was probably for the most part a good thing) literally threw out the baby (Gen-X kids) with the bathwater in the 1970s. In spite of then-recent discoveries made by psychologists in the field of early attachment, women–including mothers–were encouraged to put their own needs first. I remember some “child-care” book my mother was reading that I thumbed through that actually advised mothers to not be “slaves” to their children–this attitude extended even to babies! Kids were considered to be small, demanding tyrants who hobbled women’s needs for independence and fulfillment in the outside world, rather than vulnerable little people who happen to have many needs. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were found that disorders caused by emotional neglect and failed early attachment (C-PTSD and personality disorders) are especially high among Generation X and “Joneser” (born 1955-1965)adults. Given the ages of most narc-abuse victims on the web, I suspect this is the case. These were the scapegoated kids of an increasingly dysfunctional society.

Around the middle of the 1970s, a new kind of music (disco) became associated with materialism, hedonism, and over the top sexuality. By now, Boomers had done a 180 from their emergence during the 1960s as hippies, and now embraced the crass materialism they had once rejected. They were ready for a President who would encourage their pursuit of luxury and material success.

At the same time, fundamentalist Christianity, which had been “rediscovered” by some Boomers as an outgrowth of the Jesus movement of the 1960s, was becoming increasingly popular, and the new conservatism was using it as a way to attract newly saved Christian voters.

The new narcissism wasn’t lost on Christopher Lasch, who published his book, “The Culture of Narcissism,” in 1979.

1980s.

yuppies

Ronald Reagan popularized trickle-down (or “supply side” economics), which basically meant allowing people to pay less taxes and keep more of what they earned. This played right into the hands of financially successful, entitled Boomers, who didn’t want to share their newfound wealth. The hippies had become the Yuppies–young urban professionals who had to “dress for success,” live to impress, and have the best of everything. Clothing wasn’t acceptable unless it had a designer’s logo on it. Housewares weren’t acceptable unless they were handmade in Outer Mongolia by native women. Food wasn’t acceptable unless it was “nouvelle cuisine.”

Having the perfect body was a priority, and Boomers started going to the gym or even personal trainers to tone and sculpt their bodies, sometimes to the point of unhealthy obsession. Boomers, mostly in their 30s by now, were finally deciding to have families, but children themselves became a status symbol, and getting your child into the “right” preschool or having the “right” designer clothing, or the “right” dance instructor became all-important. It was common for Boomer parents to watch other people’s children closely, to find out what they needed to do to “one up” each other as parents.

We were all enthralled by TV shows about fabulously wealthy people. Dallas, Dynasty, and its imitators became wildly popular and its stars became icons to imitate and aspire to. With the exception of emsemble shows like Cheers (a show about bartenders) or Taxi (a show about taxi drivers), there were hardly any popular TV shows about the poor or working class or anyone else of humble means. In the 1980s, you would not be able to tune into a new Little House on the Prairie, Sanford and Son, or The Honeymooners, except in reruns.  Teenagers in shows were more likely to be privileged prep-schoolers than inner city toughs like those in Welcome Back, Kotter.   Situation comedies no longer focused on middle or working class people, but on the comfortably upper middle class. Even the cops on police shows were somehow (and unrealistically) fabulously wealthy and always dressed for success.   The rich (or at least aspiring to be rich like the characters in thirtysomething) just seemed more interesting…and worthy of our time.

In 1987, a popular movie called “Wall Street” was released, in which its most famous quip, “greed is good,” became a national meme. While it was intended as a joke at first, “greed is good” quickly became a new philosophy of life, in which greed was not only good but became a virtue. Greed may have been one of the seven deadly sins, but even Christians made an exception for it, and we even had a Christian president who encouraged as much of it as possible. After all, it was the American way and America was a Christian nation, right?

In summary, during the 1980s, narcissism came out of the closet, with the election of a president who encouraged greed, materialism, and entitlements for the wealthy. At the same time, empathy, neighborliness, and general goodwill toward others seemed to become almost quaint, a naive relic of the past. The juggernaut was the new “greed is good” philosophy, normalized by a popular film. Narcissism was no longer something to be hidden; now it was almost something to aspire to.

1990s.

cast_friends

The greed worshipping culture begun in the 1980s continued during the 1990s, as Boomers rose to power and we elected our first Boomer president, Bill Clinton, in 1992. Under Clinton, the economy boomed, and a new breed of Yuppies, the Dot Com entrepreneurs (who were mostly Generation X), rode on the coattails of the newly born Internet, and they made money hand over fist until they went bust several years later. But people still went shopping and the culture at large was becoming increasingly exhibitionistic, obnoxious, and in-your-face (reality shows were born during this time), while corporations grew bigger and more unwieldy (unlimited growth, like a cancer, was encouraged, and smaller companies merged into megacorporations the size of small governments). Meanwhile, government institutions built in the more sedate and community-oriented 1950s and 1960s began to splinter and crumble. The government, especially the part of the government that tried to help its less fortunate citizens and attempted to even the playing field through fair taxation, became The Enemy.

But a backlash was beginning to silently bubble under all the glitz and bling of the ’90s. Back in 1983, a psychiatrist turned born-again Christian named M. Scott Peck published his groundbreaking book, “People of the Lie.” Here, for the first time, was a self help psychology book that focused on “evil”–specifically, people who were evil. The traits described in the book are exactly those of malignant narcissism. The book resonated with many, particularly with Gen-Xers and later born Boomers (Generation Jones), who had been raised by narcissistic parents. In some cases, especially for younger Boomers and early Gen-Xers, these kids had been betrayed by initially doting Silent generation parents who suddenly, during the 1960s or 1970s, seemed to suddenly care only about their own self-development at the expense of their confused and hurt adolescent and preteen children who they no longer seemed to even like much (this is exactly what my experience had been growing up in the 60s and 70s: my parents changed and no longer seemed to care).

But in the early 1980s, Peck’s “evil people” were not automatically equated with narcissists or people with other Cluster B disorders. Until the mid-90s, narcissism–or more specifically, NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder)–was simply a psychiatric label given to certain patients with a certain set of traits, who may or may not have been evil. NPD wasn’t demonized yet.

Then along came Sam Vaknin in 1995. Vaknin, a former white collar criminal and self-confessed narcissist, had written a tome about narcissism called “Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited.” Written initially to obtain supply and a guru-like status for himself, Vaknin’s book actually helped many of the narcissistic abuse victims who read it and recognized their abusers in its 600+ pages. Vaknin’s idea of NPD didn’t fit that described in the DSM: he mixed in with NPD several traits of psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), and Borderline personality disorder (BPD), to describe a particularly dangerous type of malignant narcissist that made the toxic people described in M. Scott Peck’s book seem almost tame in comparison.

The book was successful, and soon Vaknin started his own website, and discussion groups, and abuse victims all over the world jumped on the bandwagon. Vaknin, exactly the sort of person they sought to avoid, had become their savior and guiding light out of darkness.

Until the 2000s, Vaknin’s was pretty much the only voice on the Internet about narcissistic abuse. But in the very late 90s, a few books were beginning to be published about this “new” type of abuse that didn’t necessary include physical violence (but could). Parents, particularly mothers, were the focus, and a subset of the narcissistic abuse community–one that focused on narcissistic mothers and the damage they had done to their now-adult children–formed the template for the explosive ACON (Adult Children of Narcissists) movement.

2000s.

bling

For a brief time, after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it looked like Americans just might start to care about each other again. There was an outpouring of support for the victims of the 9/11 disasters, and solidarity shown among all Americans. For the first time, regional differences and even racial differences didn’t seem to matter, and Americans were united by their flying of the flag. No one seemed all that concerned by the curtailment of certain freedoms and and increase in xenophobia–after all, it was for the protection of the country, right?

But as a result, the economy was suffering, so George W. Bush Jr. (“Dubya”) gave us all permission to “go shopping.” And so we did. It was back to the bread and circuses and the shallow, materialistic culture of the 1980s through pre-2001.

Reality shows rose in popularity and the badder the behavior, the more popular they got. New celebrities were famous only for “being famous,” having a famous parent, or just for acting badly. People aspired to be just like Snooki and The Situation from The Jersey Shore, or Tiffany “New York” Pollard from Flavor of Love. All of these characters were narcissists, or at least acted that way for the benefit of the camera. And people loved them for it.

During the 2000s, Millennials, the rising young adult generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, started being being accused of being narcissistic, but if they are, you can blame their parents for having taught them these values. In addition, a lot of gaslighting is going on by older generations, who blame the Millennials for their inability to find jobs that pay a living wage and provide benefits, forcing them to live at home and be dependent for longer than earlier generations–and accuse them of being “lazy,” “spoiled,” and “entitled.” But what about their mostly Boomer and Gen-X parents, who modeled this sort of behavior?

old_boomers

Politicians became more blatantly narcissistic and their lack of empathy sank to new lows. One politician said if you weren’t rich, you should blame yourself. Blaming the victim became increasingly popular, and was even seen by some conservative politicians as a “Christian” way to behave–for if you were favored by God, He would bless you with wealth and material comforts. Religion itself became a way for narcissists to rise to positions of great power, and use their “favored status” in God’s eyes as a way to abuse their flock of followers.

Meanwhile, the narcissistic abuse commmunity continued to grow, and blogs written by abuse survivors were beginning to pop up all over the Internet. The abuse community developed their own lingo, some of it borrowed from earlier movements such as 12-step programs (codependent, enabling, people-pleaser are examples), some from pioneers such as Sam Vaknin (narcissistic supply, confabulation), and some from mental health experts going all the way back to Freud. Some terms were taken from popular movies, such as “flying monkeys” (The Wizard of Oz), and “gaslighting” (Gaslight).

2010s.

tea-party
Tea Party protesters.

Now we’re nearly 7 years into the 2010s. While it’s hard to see any patterns yet, it does seem that the problem of narcissism is finally being noticed by the general public. Pundits and media critics write about the narcissism of politicians and celebrities and “cluster B type” reality TV stars.  Now there’s a call by many for more empathy and community spirit over selfishness, self-aggrandizement, and greed.  2011’s Occupy Wall Street movement enjoyed a flurry of popularity, especially among Millennials (though older generations had their fair share of supporters) before it was ultimately silenced.  But at least it was a start.


Occupy protesters. 

On the other hand, the problem is even worse now, with the possible impending presidency of Donald Trump, who has even been remotely diagnosed with NPD by psychiatrists (breaking their own rule never to diagnose anyone who hasn’t been formally evaluated). Sam Vaknin has called him a Malignant Narcissist (and I do believe he is one) and even publications like Psychology Today and news media have picked up on that and written about it. The news is peppered with so many articles about Trump’s malignant narcissism that it’s a wonder he is still a contender. But Trump has a powerful bloc of supporters (mostly “angry white men”), who seem to be in denial about how dangerous this man could be should he become President. I don’t think he will win. But no other presidential candidate in living memory showed the same level of arrogant, entitled, and grandiose behavior that Trump has shown in his campaign–and politicians are by nature a narcissistic bunch! Can you imagine someone like Trump making it this far 30 or 40 years ago? I can’t. Even ten years ago, someone who acted that way would have been booted from the race during the primaries. We as a nation have normalized the type of pathological behavior someone like Trump displays.

Narcissism is a fashionable topic now. Maybe it’s just a fad, but it’s making people pay attention. I’ve noticed a number of Christians–at least online–who are abandoning the fiscally conservative values held by groups such as the Tea Party, who are about as collectively entitled as you can get (they better get their social security, but to hell with that child who needs special medical treatment but can’t get it because his parents are too poor). It’s probably too soon to tell whether the “social gospel” is making a return, but there does seem to be a greater desire for an increase in empathy, kindness, and community spirit instead of just building up the Almighty Self. The enormous popularity of Bernie Sanders, especially among the Millennials, proves this. Of course a Sanders-type figure wouldn’t have solved all our problems (it took decades for us to get to this point and it won’t be changed overnight), but the fact one made it so far and people actually paid attention gives me a little hope that the tides may be turning. It will be interesting to see what the rest of this decade holds.

*****

For further reading:
1. Are Millennials Really the Most Narcissistic Generation Ever?
2. Why is Narcissism so Hot These Days?
3. Generations Explained

How does malignant narcissism differ from NPD?

demonic

There’s a lot of talk about the narcissistic spectrum — the idea that narcissism runs on a spectrum from “normal” narcissism (healthy self esteem) all the way through malignant narcissism at the top. Somewhere in the middle, “normal” or “healthy” narcissism shades into Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

While I do think narcissism runs on a spectrum, I don’t think “healthy” narcissism has much, if anything, to do with pathological narcissism. Healthy narcissism is what makes us stand up for ourselves when we are being attacked. Healthy narcissism is what makes us feel proud of ourselves when we’ve accomplished something good. Healthy narcissism is what makes us want to look our best when we’re going on a date.

People who are narcissists, on the other hand, have little to no self-esteem. They either hate who they really are, or they don’t know who they really are, so they develop a false self to stand in for their real one. The false self can only survive by feeding off the reactions of others (narcissistic supply). That’s why narcissists can be so manipulative and dangerous. Since they are usually in their “false self,” and can’t risk exposure of their vulnerable real one, they will go to extreme measures to keep their false self intact, which includes projecting any bad traits onto others, denial, lying, gaslighting, and other tactics meant to deflect attention away from any flaws and transfer them onto others.

To a narcissist, you are not a real person, since a false self can’t acknowledge your humanity, only your usefulness to them. Like an infant who hasn’t yet realized they are a separate entity from their mother, your only purpose is to serve them and keep them alive. Narcissists, like babies, are emotionally unable to recognize that you are a human being who has needs and desires of your own.

You can be a pathological narcissist without being a malignant one, though. Malignant narcissism isn’t a person with NPD who is “more” narcissistic; it’s a person who has both Narcissistic and Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)or an NPD with ASPD or sociopathic/psychopathic traits. Malignant narcissists are very dangerous because they combine the traits of narcissism with the traits of a sociopath or psychopath.

From Wikipedia:

The APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, text revision (DSM IV-TR), defines antisocial personality disorder (Cluster B):[19]

A) A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:
–failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
–deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
–impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
–irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
–reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
–consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
–lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.
C) There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.
D) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode.
Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) falls under the dramatic/erratic cluster of personality disorders, the so-called “Cluster B.”

I probably don’t need to define NPD here, since so much of this blog is about that.  While several of the traits of NPD and ASPD overlap (lack of empathy, aggression, and dishonesty), there are some differences too.   Conscience isn’t entirely lacking in a narcissist (though empathy, which is different from conscience, probably is).  In fact, some narcissists are overly concerned with “right” and “wrong” (of course, they’re always right) and never do anything remotely illegal and may seem concerned about “morals.”   That’s why so many of them are so judgmental and they can so commonly be found in churches and the helping professions.   Narcissists are also over-sensitive to criticism and care very much what others think of them, since the mask they wear requires the approval or at least attention of others.   People with ASPD and psychopaths (the latter are merely people who were probably born without a conscience or the ability to feel empathy) have no need for narcissistic supply from others since they aren’t wearing a mask.     They just want to do what they want to do and don’t care what you think of them.   They are not what anyone would call “sensitive” but most narcissists are incredibly sensitive (about themselves).   Unlike narcissists, who have strong emotions which are hidden due to shame, people with ASPD seem to not have any emotions, or their emotions seem limited to anger or boredom.    People with ASPD are also much more impulsive than narcissists, and don’t plan their actions ahead of time.  They act on whim, according to whatever strikes their fancy at the time.   They are also much more likely than people with NPD to break the law and be incarcerated (so there are a lot more narcissists walking around than antisocial people, which makes them more dangerous).

Malignant narcissists are a deadly combination of antisocial and narcissistic traits.   Because they are still narcissists, they are oversensitive to criticism, but unlike garden-variety narcissists, they have no conscience or sense of right from wrong.  Or if they do, they don’t care.  They are sadistic and enjoy the suffering they cause others.   They go out of their way to hurt others, because hurting others makes them feel good.    If you cause a malignant narcissist to suffer narcissistic injury, they will react in very antisocial ways.  They are spiteful and seek revenge when they are hurt.  They also tend to be extremely paranoid and act out against others pre-emptively to prevent injury.  A garden variety narcissist, when injured, may annoy you to death, demand reassurance, project, gaslight, or disappear, but won’t deliberately seek revenge just to hurt you.   They are broken people desperately trying to keep their false self intact but are almost always unaware of this.  They may be paranoid, but not to the point of pre-emptive attacks to avoid narcissistic injury.   Malignant narcissists also like to create chaos and tend to thrive in chaotic environments, where other people (including non-malignant NPDs) would just fall apart.  They may not be criminals or do anything against the law, but they like to cause upheaval, chaos and suffering.

Non-malignant narcissists are manipulative and dangerous too, but they don’t go out of their way to hurt others.   They are probably unaware of the pain they cause other people, and just think they are always right and that others are just extensions of themselves.   They may truly believe they are doing the right thing, truly believe you are at fault, or truly believe the person they are victimizing is really victimizing them.   Some non-malignant narcissists, if they ever become aware of the harm they cause to others, suffer from feelings of guilt and shame and even remorse.    Not so with malignant narcissists, who are usually fully aware of the pain they cause to others and derive sadistic pleasure from it.

Malignant narcissists, outside of an act of God, probably can never get any better.  They will never voluntarily enter therapy because they don’t think they have a problem; it’s everyone else who has the problem and deserves their wrath.   If there are evil people in the world, people with malignant narcissism would fit the bill better than anyone else.  Non-malignant narcissists may be extremely disordered, but they aren’t evil.  They may have moments of humanity and even emotional empathy.  They may be very difficult to cure (NPD is probably the most difficult personality disorder to cure outside of ASPD) but sometimes they voluntarily enter therapy, especially after a great loss.  A malignant narcissist would never be caught dead in a therapist’s office.

The real reason why my attitude toward narcissism changed.

The narcissist’s dark and twisted brand of empathy.

twisted_tree

Do narcissists have empathy?  Yes, and some of them have a lot of it, but it’s probably not the kind of empathy you want anything to do with.

Some lower spectrum narcissists do have some capacity for normal emotional (not just cognitive) empathy, but it tends to be selective–that is, they can turn it off when it’s too dangerous or it makes them feel too vulnerable. That’s why, for example, a low-to-mid spectrum narcissist can feel empathy for fictional characters in a movie or novel and even shed tears for them, or can feel empathy for a stray or sick animal, but when you tell them you just lost your job, or that what they just said hurt your feelings, they turn into a block of ice. Their reaction to your pain is about as heartwarming as the Siberian wilderness in January. If they’re love-bombing or trying to hoover you, they may FAKE emotional empathy, but they don’t really feel anything.  They show you what appears to be tender compassion in order to manipulate.

It’s not news that most narcissists are ultra-sensitive, but their sensitivity is retained only for themselves, and that’s why they are so easily offended. But that sensitivity seems to have a switch that turns to “off” when it comes to other people and they can appear appallingly insensitive. Many narcissists were so sensitive as children they were actually potentially empaths. Their empathy didn’t really go away, but remained in a twisted and barbed form. Their developing disorder transformed their natural emotional empathy into something dark and malevolent. Some experts call he kind of empathy narcissists have cognitive empathy–which means the narcissist KNOWS how you feel, but can’t share your feelings or care how you feel. If they are malignant or sociopathic, they may even want to hurt you. Because most of their emotions went into hiding as a form of self protection, the emotional, caring aspect of any empathy they might have once had disappeared too, and what remains is only the cognitive portion. Narcissists have an uncanny and unsettling way of knowing EXACTLY how you feel–and if they are malignant, they use their twisted brand of empathy against you. For a malignant narcissist, empathy–a quality we normally associate with loving concern–becomes a weapon used to control, attack, and belittle you.

homer_simpson
Cognitive empathy.

On HG Tudor’s website, Knowing The Narcissist, he wrote a post about the way some narcissists mock their victims using mimicry of their emotional reactions as a form of abuse. I am going to quote a portion of that post, because of how well it illustrates the way a malignant narcissist uses cognitive empathy as a weapon to cause pain. It’s quite amazing how well they know EXACTLY how their abuse is making you feel, but instead of feeling remorse and apologizing the way a normal person would, they instead use that knowing empathy as fodder for their mockery cannon. My ex did this to me constantly, and Tudor’s description of the victim’s feelings of overwhelming helplessness and frustration at the receiving end of this type of abuse is absolutely spot on.
WARNING: THIS MAY BE TRIGGERING.

When you stood there crying with frustration and I drank deep of the delicious fuel you provided me, I would raise my hands to my eyes and draw pretend tears on my cheeks and make a sobbing noise to humiliate you further. Here I was letting you know that I copied everything that went before yet now I copy again but not with the perfection I once exhibited. I allow the sting of sarcasm and the malicious mockery to infiltrate my copying of your behaviour so that your hurt and bewilderment was increased. You would shout at me and I would shout back using the exact words before standing and laughing at you as you burned with frustration, unable to find any response. You might stamp your feet in exasperation and I would do the same but with a leer of disdain writ large across my face.

There were times when you would scream. A terrified scream as my vicious manipulations would take their toll and as you tried to curl into a ball and hope you might just disappear and escape this nightmare, I would lean in close to you and mimic your scream into your ear, creating this fabricated falsetto of distress in order to further your own. Every reaction to my devaluation of you had the potential to be met by a mimicked reply from me in order to further your misery and demonstrate I did not treat your responses with any sincerity or concern.

Another way a narcissist can use cognitive empathy is to scope out your vulnerabilities–knowing exactly which buttons to press to upset you. In the comments, Katie provided a great example of this. Her mother, who scapegoated her and knew she was sensitive about her poverty, used this against her, saying things like, “Oh, Katie dear, it must be SOOOOO hard to be living the way you do and never have enough money for the basic things.” And then followed that up by crowing about how successful her siblings were and the vacations and new cars they were buying. My mother used to use my sensitivity itself, knowing I was sensitive about my sensitivity, saying things like, “It must be so awful being so sensitive.” What’s happening here is a kind of fake, sarcastic “empathy” is thinly veiling a cruel jab at one of your buttons, which their cognitive empathy is used to discern. And then, should you complain, they will act all hurt and innocent and tell you they were only trying to be nice or were showing concern for your well being. This is a vicious kind of gaslighting.

Please keep in mind that cognitive empathy in itself is not a bad thing.  It could be a tool used in mindfulness training to help a person learn to “walk in someone else’s shoes” before acting out against them.  Cognitive empathy can be learned, but emotional empathy cannot be taught–it’s either there or it isn’t.  Most empaths have both cognitive and emotional empathy.  Cognitive empathy lets them know how someone else feels, but the emotional aspect allows them to care.

Narcissists and instant gratification.

Veruca-Salt

My MN ex always had to have what he wanted, right that second.   During those seven years he freeloaded off me and refused to work (AFTER the divorce), he’d interrupt me at the most incredibly inconvenient times to take care of some minor need, and he’d become very petulant or even angry when you refused to jump when he said jump.    He used to wake me up in the middle of the night, knowing I had work in a few hours, saying he needed a pack of cigarettes.   Or when I’d go shopping, if I didn’t get him exactly what HE wanted (remember, he didn’t work and I paid for all the groceries myself) he’d rage and hurl insults at me until I went back to the store to get him what he wanted.   He never even thanked me for going out of my way for him.   He assumed this was his due and that I existed to carry out his bidding.   Boundaries meant nothing to him–unless they were HIS boundaries (woe be to you for crossing over THOSE!).   He’d never return the favor if you wanted something from HIM.   He just kept taking and taking and taking, draining me of my sanity, my money, and even my looks and my health.  If I hadn’t kicked him to the curb in early 2014, it probably would have killed me.  He was like a giant baby living on my couch, only not at all cute or funny.   Maybe more like a giant cancerous tumor attached to my couch and wallet would be a better description.

My mother, also a narcissist, used to call me at any old time.  You were not allowed to refuse.  You were supposed to drop whatever you were doing.  When I’d tell her I was in the middle of work, or busy, or on another call and could I please call her back later, she’d pour on the guilt:  “I’m your MOTHER, you can certainly spare a few minutes to talk to me!” followed with an ultimatum: “Tell them you’ll call back later.”   How DARE I have priorities over taking a call from her?  How DARE I make her wait?    She wanted what she wanted when she wanted it, and did NOT want to wait.  No narcissist does, because waiting for something requires a degree of empathy–that the person you want something from may have needs at the moment that override your own.

Instant gratification isn’t something that’s usually associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder; more often it’s associated with Antisocial Personality Disorder.  I think for a narcissist, the inability to wait for anything is part the entitlement problem they have.  To make a narcissist wait means you’re not putting them FIRST, which means they’re just not important enough to you otherwise you’d jump when they tell you to.  To make one wait is a narcissistic injury.   A baby can’t wait when it’s hungry; he cries and screams until Mom comes to feed him–that’s because he doesn’t realize yet that Mom is a separate person.  To the baby, they are one, and Mom exists only to serve him.

babycrying
Right up there, that’s your narcissist.

A narcissist is an overgrown adult baby. They never learned to differentiate other people from themselves.  Due to something going terribly wrong during their early childhood when they were supposed to be learning that they existed separately from others, they are stuck at a pre-verbal level of emotional development, where other people exist only to serve their needs.   If their immediate needs aren’t gratified, and you don’t put yours on the back burner or sacrifice your needs completely, to the narcissist it’s tantamount to annihilation.  They feel as if they don’t exist.   Hence, they must punish you–their rages and abuse are the equivalent of a two year old’s temper tantrum when they can’t have their ice cream RIGHT NOW.

Don’t enable a narcissist by letting them invade your boundaries this way.   If you can’t go No Contact, stick to your guns and let them get mad–and get away as soon as you are able.

*****

Thanks to My Child Within for the idea for this post, which arose from a conversation in the comments.

Are narc abuse blogs a wake up call for some NPDs?

empty_mirror_by_dred8667

I’ve sometimes been critical of ACON bloggers who seem trapped in hatred and over-the-top narc-bashing, but that’s because I think of hatred as a dangerous emotion that eventually hurts its bearer (and I think can even turn the victim narcissistic themselves), not because narcissists don’t deserve the vitriol (even though admittedly I have some empathy for ego-dystonic, low-spectrum narcissists, who are pretty rare).

Besides the obvious benefits of such blogs that preach No Contact and have probably saved a lot of victims’ sanity as well as lives, there’s another, unintentional advantage of ACON blogs that harshly call out narcissists and the things they do.

Sometimes I get emails from lower spectrum, ego-dystonic NPD’s who want to change or have been shocked into self-awareness by reading the victim blogs.   I got one such email from a recently diagnosed NPD.   I won’t post the whole thing because it was long, but there was this:

I didn’t even know what NPD was until my diagnosis, but since then I’ve been reading lot about it on some of the victim boards.  Am I really like that?  I hate to think that’s what I’m really like.  I always thought I was a person who cared about others and has lots of empathy, I never thought I was manipulative or god forbid, an abuser.   I don’t know…I think it’s true though.  I don’t know why I couldn’t see these things about myself before.   I always did wonder why people said I was so selfish. Why my relationships always fail. Why I get fired from all my jobs.  Why I can never finish anything.  Why people avoid me.  Why I’m always so angry and depressed.  But I can see why now, kind of.  It’s horrifying.  I never thought I was evil but my readings on these boards have made me realize how badly I treated my friends and my family, and my coworkers, and so many other people.  I hate the idea I treated people like that.  It’s like looking at myself in the mirror for the first time and seeing how ugly I really am.   How was I so deluded?  I am very depressed over this.   I need to get rid of this.  I don’t want to be this way anymore…

I don’t know how many narcissists read the victim blogs, but probably quite a few.  Most narcissists–especially malignant ones–are probably secretly pleased that they have so much power and control over their victims, and that might be why you don’t see many of them fighting against the stigma, the way BPDs do.   Malignant narcs LIKE the stigma because it makes them seem big and bad and dangerous, which is how they want to be seen.

But for narcissists who had no self-awareness before, perhaps reading these blogs is a sort of wake up call, like a mirror being shoved in their face.   Of course, some like what they see and it’s a kind of validation, but a few do not.   The ones who are shocked and dismayed by the image being reflected back at them might even, like the person I quoted above, begin to take steps necessary to change their behaviors.