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.

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Part One: “Heart-Sync”– a psycho-spiritual therapy for trauma and attachment disorders.

heart-in-hands-thumbnail

*****

This article will be in two parts.

This part is a brief overview of HeartSync and how it works. The second part will be about my personal experience in Chapel Hill over the past four days.   I just returned today from a four day intensive spiritual/psychological retreat that addresses childhood trauma and helps you release that trauma to re-connect the various parts of your heart that were separated or dissociated due to trauma.   HeartSync attempts to re-synchronize the various parts of your “heart” (really different parts of the brain), to make you whole again, recognizing that God himself (Jesus) is the only one who can bring a person back together again and rebuild the neural pathways that were broken by a lack of early attachment to the mother.  The therapist is just a facilitator.

The goal is to release “trapped pain,” through emotional catharsis facilitated by “God as primary therapist.” Once the trapped pain is released, the person usually begins to see improvements. Sometimes this can be pretty dramatic (as I will describe later — we got to see four “live demonstrations”).

I can’t give you a exhaustive description of everything I learned, because there was so much information. In a nutshell, HeartSync is a type of trauma and attachment-therapy that merges psychoanalytic and traditional psychological modalities (including brain science) of healing with Christianity and spirituality.

It’s believed that anything can be healed with God/Jesus present in the therapy room guiding the session, but there are certain protocols that must be followed by the therapist, as with any other modality of psychotherapeutic healing.  The patient or client must also be willing and have at least some belief in God or Christianity for it to be effective.

An Overview of HeartSync

HeartSync was developed by Father Andrew Miller, an Anglican minister and licensed therapist (LCSW), using an intriguing combination of his knowledge of brain science, traditional psychology, psychoanalytic techniques, and Christ-centered spirituality used to heal trauma and “mend the brokenhearted.”

It is believed that there is no one with any disorder who cannot be healed–and not only that, healed much faster than using traditional, secular therapy–just by using HeartSync techniques.   Some people whose trauma doesn’t run too deep can be healed in a single session.   Others take longer, but it normally doesn’t take as long as traditional therapy, due to the presence of inviting God/Jesus into the sessions to direct the course of therapy.

Here is their website. 

Unfortunately, it’s under construction right now, so the information on the site right now is minimal and a bit hard to navigate.   I’ve been assured this is being worked on.

The human brain and its “core parts.”

All humans are made up of “core parts,” which make up the “heart” of a person.  These core parts correspond to various areas of the brain.   These “core parts” are:

Emotion (feelings, intuition, creativity, visual — overseen by Right Pre-frontal cortex).

Function (thinking, learning, language, beliefs, verbal — overseen by Left Pre-frontal cortex).

Original Self (The Identity Center; “who am I”? — this is overseen by the Orbital Prefrontal Cortex and regulates Dopamine (the “feel good” chemical.)     In a healthy person , the Original Self can move around freely and is not obscured or buried by Hidden Guardians, or renegade Function or Emotion parts that have overtaken the Original Self in reaction to traumatic events.   A person without access to or who is dissociated from their O.S. will feel an inner emptiness or a “void” they cannot fill.  This “emptiness”  is common in C-PTSD, BPD, NPD, and other personality disorders.  It is also present in DID.

Guardians (precortical — amygdala).  Guardians stand between Function and Emotion but under normal circumstances do not block the interface between them in pathological ways.  These guardians allow the person to have healthy boundaries, not only between themselves and others, but between their various “core parts.”   In a healthy person, there is free communication between all the core parts, but only as needed.     The Original Self (soul–prefrontal cortex), Emotion (right brain–cortical), and Function (left brain–cortical) work together beautifully when they are synchronized and allow God in to guide the person along in their life choices.

The “Attachment Center” is ruled by the thalamus and basal ganglia — these are the most primitive pre-cortical (primitive) brain structures.  Attachment is our most basic need.  If attachment and bonding was not sufficiently formed during infancy, the person will experience problems with all the higher brain function listed above.   A trauma occurring at a lower level/more primitive level of brain function will be much harder to heal than one occurring during later childhood or adolescence, when the cortex was fully formed and cognitive memory and language had kicked in.

But “remembering” an event is not necessary for healing.  Even if a trauma occurred during early infancy or even in the womb,  before myelinization occurred, thus making  cognitive memory possible,  a person can still release emotional or physical trauma, even if they can’t remember what the trauma actually was.

Every human possesses all these core parts.   They should all work together like a symphony.

Unfortunately, with trauma, the core parts get so separated they can no longer communicate with each other, and in severe cases, become so dissociated or blocked the entire personality splits up into alters (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

Severe trauma, especially Type A trauma, can lead to a physical altering of the actual brain itself, which cannot normally be healed without the intervention of God through prayer and the willingness of the individual who is to be treated to change.

brain4levels

The lower the level of the brain structure (1 – 4 in the diagram ), the earlier the trauma occurred and the more difficult the treatment will be.

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Type A and Type B Trauma

There are two types of trauma:

Type A trauma:  not getting what you need from a caregiver (outside of physical needs like food, shelter, warmth, and fluids): the lack of love, acceptance, positive mirroring, acknowledgement, nurturing, communication.   The Still Face experiment,  which I’ve talked about in previous posts, shows very graphically the changes that come over an infant denied those important attachment signals from the mom, even if only for a few minutes in a controlled setting like a therapist’s office.     We are wired for attachment, and the lack of it has devastating effects on the personality.

Type B trauma:  any bad thing that happens to you, either in childhood or later on.   This could be physical or overt emotional abuse, sexual abuse, ritual abuse (many DID patients were ritually abused in satanic or other cults),  PTSD caused by trauma in war combat, natural disasters, serious illness, being battered by an abusive spouse, being abandoned, the death of a loved one, the sudden loss of a job, or even loss of a dream.

Type A trauma can be worse than Type B, because it tends to happen during infancy, is pre-verbal, and unlike later trauma (which is stored in Emotion or Function, which are both part of the cerebral cortex of the brain) is stored in the very primitive, subcortical, “reptilian” regions of the brain (the amygdala, basal ganglia, and thalamus).  The victim can’t name or describe the trauma because they have no language for it and it may have happened so early the brain wasn’t myelinized yet and so there is no corresponding cognitive memory of the trauma.

It’s harder for a patient to describe Type A trauma– a “lack” of attachment–or convince others that this is abuse, because most people are more likely to show sympathy when you can “name” the abuse or traumatic event and it was overt (Type B trauma).   People may not be sympathetic when you received all your physical requirements, were physically well cared for, and were not physically abused.  But if there was a failure of maternal/infant bonding, the person will never know learn how to connect meaningfully with others and build a healthy relational capacity until and if they can address the Type A trauma they endured.

Type A trauma is why children who were orphaned or abandoned as infants so often develop severe attachment disorders, which can and do lead to Complex PTSD and the personality disorders (the partial fracturing of the Original Self — in the case of NPD the person sets up an “alter”-like “personality” called the False Self) or even DID (the complete fracturing of a personality into separate “alters”) later in life.

heartsync

The roles of the Guardians.

We all have Guardians.   Guardians are universal core parts situated between Function and Emotion; they are responsible for all our defense mechanisms and decide what Emotions can be felt by the person at a given time and which ones can’t.  They help us maintain good boundaries. Everyone has at least one Guardian (the Primary Guardian).  A person with trauma-or attachment-based disorders such as Complex PTSD, DID or the personality disorders, probably has several or many Guardians (Hidden Guardians), which may appear to the person as different “people.”  Hidden Guardians are all split off from the Primary Guardian at the time of the trauma that created them, so some guardians are still very young children and their particular “job” (defense mechanism) is the only thing they ever knew how to do. There are at least 15 kinds of Hidden Guardians. Most of these are merely dysfunctional; a few are aggressive and hostile.

All Guardians (including Hidden Guardians) have one primary purpose: to protect the inner child (Original Self) from having to feel or experience further trauma or painful emotion by keeping it locked up in the Emotion part of the brain, not letting it through to Function (or only letting it through when it’s appropriate to do so, if the Guardian is healthy). Guardians are the mind’s Gatekeepers.

In a person with DID, the guardians (as well as the split Emotion/Function core parts) are so disconnected from each other that the person has amnesia for some or most of their alters and there is little to no communication between the various core parts, or hostility/animosity between the core parts, including the Guardians.

When healthy, Guardians enable the person to create healthy boundaries and allow just enough information as the person needs to filter from Emotion to Function, and back again.  When a person begins to heal, Guardians don’t disappear, but they may “flip their role” from a pathological defense mechanism to a healthy defense.

For example, a Guardian, when healed, does not go away. Instead, it can learn to switch from negative judgment of people and situations (that keeps a person trapped in unhealthy and self sabotaging life habits) to a role of wise discernment, or making the best choices (this is where God comes in, who helps the person make those healthier choices).

Levels of trauma.

Here is the continuum from normal brain functioning to the most pathological due to severe abandonment/abuse trauma:

  1. Daydreaming: partial, temporary “dissociation” when uncomfortable feelings (including “boredom”) begin to arise.   Everyone does this.   Type A or B trauma is not necessary at this stage.
  2. Painful Memory: No dissociation, but could comprise traumatic memory and possibly the use of defense mechanisms (this is part of what Guardians are for).    Painful Memory can be experienced by a mentally normal person who has experienced Type B trauma (a bad thing happened to them).  Most humans have experienced Type B trauma and the painful memory may be a trigger for them.
  3. Ego-States:  Includes partial dissociation.  “Ego-states” (more circumscribed than painful memories that may include some separation but not to the degree of DID “alters”)  include the Personality Disorders, Complex PTSD, severe PTSD, and possibly Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and other serious mental conditions outside the common “neurotic” anxiety states and mild depression that most people experience from time to time.   For people stuck in the ego-states, Type A (and possibly Type B) trauma were present.    As an aside, my own theory about NPD in regards to this theory is that it is probably the closest of the personality disorders to DID — due to the development of a distinctive “false self” (a sort of “alter”) that differs from and almost completely obscures the true self (Original Self), which the person may not be consciously aware of. In other PD’s the true/original self is not as well hidden. My feeling is NPD is a takeover by a strong, hostile Guardian or group of hostile Guardians who will not allow any vulnerable Emotion through to Function unless it serves their immediate purpose.
  4. DID and DID caused by Ritual Abuse:  Complete dissociation resulting in a fracturing into separate “alters” who may have amnesia for other alters or the core personality.   Usually both Type A and Type B trauma were present, especially in Ritual Abuse, an especially traumatic type of abuse that may involve the deliberate “programming” of a person to carry out certain actions, even suicide, if a certain “trigger” is activated.     The effects are even worse if this type of abuse has been going on since infancy or early childhood, and the prognosis more grim.

Because there is SO much more information and my goal here isn’t to be a HeartSync instructor (at least not now), I am going to stop this post here.  You can check their website above if you’d like to learn more.

My next post (Part Two) will be about my personal experience  over the past few days.  That will be up tonight. I need to get it here while it’s still fresh in my mind. In some ways, I feel like a completely different person and feel a lot “lighter” mentally and emotionally.

You can read about my first day in this post (that resulted in am intense release in a very large pocket of trapped pain).
https://luckyottershaven.com/2016/11/16/checking-in/

BPD vs. NPD

npd_bpd

This graphic I made shows that BPD and NPD are really the same disorder.    Both have their roots in childhood trauma and fear of abandonment, even though the symptoms may not be evident until later childhood or adolescence.    The primary difference is the outer layer–the narcissist develops a nearly impermeable and rigid false self or mask (usually of grandiosity, but sometimes can present as do-gooder or even a victim). This mask remains stable unless narcissistic supply is removed, which causes it to atrophy, revealing the rage, fear, and hurt beneath that.

The borderline develops a highly permeable, chameleon-like outer layer.  In the diagram, it looks like a flower.   This outer layer of “petals” is analogous to the false self, but is not rigid and not even always present. It is easily penetrated and does not require narcissistic fuel from others to keep it intact.   It changes and morphs its shape and form like a Lava lamp.   Since it’s so easily broken through and is so changeable, Borderlines seem to be “crazier” and seem to have more intense mood swings than narcissists.  They are also skilled in adapting to different situations and people in a chameleon-like way: this usually manifests as codependency.  Sometimes they don’t seem to have minds of their own and take on the behaviors and belief systems of whoever they happen to be with.   Borderlines seem more emotionally unstable than narcissists because the second layer of rage/hurt/fear is often on the surface, causing the Borderline to act out in frequent rages, panic attacks or crying jags.

Beneath these outer layers, NPD and BPD have the same structure:   a layer of rage, hurt and fear when they are triggered, hiding the emptiness and grief under that (which is what both–especially the NPD–are so afraid of confronting and take such desperate measures to avoid feeling).  When this part of the personality structure is finally reached, the NPD/BPD feels as if they don’t exist and that is excruciating for them.   NPDs in therapy may quit at this point.   Hidden deep within the “emptiness” (which really isn’t empty at all) is the diminished and damaged true self (inner child).

The goal in therapy is to break through all those outer layers and finally reach the true self, then give him or her the nurturing and validation they should have received in the hopes that he or she can become a whole person.   It can take a very long time for this to happen, if it ever happens at all.

Borderlines, although they might seem crazier than narcissists, are more easily cured because the permeable chameleon-like outer layer is so much more easily broken through.   In contrast, the NPD false self can take months or years to even crack.   It’s a thick and stable structure, not given to weakening easily, but even the strongest concrete building has hairline cracks somewhere in its structure.   A tornado can reduce the strongest building to rubble.

The key to breaking a narcissist is to find those cracks and weaken the false self. This is usually done by removing narcissistic supply, which serves as a psychological tornado to the narcissistic defensive structure. Sometimes this has already happened; and in this more vulnerable state, with the false self temporarily disabled, a narcissist is more likely to enter therapy.   Unfortunately the narcissistic defense mechanism is so ingrained they will soon find a way to get supply again and rebuild the false self.   The therapist must work to permanently disable it but the narcissist must also be willing for this to happen.

In a low spectrum narcissist, the false self may be rather weak or thin to begin with, and for them, a cure may be more likely or happen sooner.  In low spectrum narcissists, the false self is more like a  cheaply constructed trailer than a stone castle.  It will only take a weak tornado to smash it to smithereens.

When an NPD’s mask begins to fall away, they will begin to act a lot more like a Borderline–raging, dissociating, experiencing crying jags, and showing their underlying inability to regulate overwhelming emotions.   At this point the treatment for NPD should be much the same as for BPD–empathically penetrating the “void” to reach and begin to nurture the diminished real self.

How a child develops BPD or NPD.

These disorders begin when a young child or toddler is hurt or rejected by their parents, especially the mother.  This hurt may not even be intentional–sometimes the illness, death, or absence of a non-disordered parent can set things into motion, because the child can’t discern the difference between deliberate abuse or neglect and something that cannot be helped.  Many, if not most, children who live in orphanages or are moved from foster home to foster home develop some form of Cluster B disorder.

Because a toddler or very young child has not yet completely separated their sense of self from their parents’, when they don’t receive the mirroring and unconditional acceptance they need, they feel as if they’ve been annihilated, and that feeling of annihilation becomes the black void that now surrounds the hurt or abused child.

But because the void is too painful and frightening to cope with, something else must cover that over too, and also protect and hide the inner child.  So the defensive emotions (anger, paranoia, fear, and rage) develop over the void because even though they feel unpleasant, they’re still better than the horrible feeling of having been annihilated, and they also protect the inner child from ever being hurt again.

And over that, for a narcissist, to attract people who could provide the attention and validation they never got as children, they develop a fake self, which is usually “nice” but is only a mask so it isn’t real.  If they feel that the mask is under threat of exposure, they fight tooth and nail to retain the image they want the world to see.

For the borderline, instead of developing a false self to cover the rage and other defensive emotions, they learn to adapt depending on the situation or the people, and that is why they so often become codependent.   Also, because they are closer to the void than the narcissist is, they tend to have dissociative episodes and may engage in self destructive actions like cutting to make them feel like they exist. Or they may engage in other risky behaviors or taking drugs or drinking too much in an effort to self-medicate.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional, but I’m well-read on these disorders and these are from my observations and opinions.

Is narcissism caused by nature or nurture?

narc_child
Credit: davidwolfe.com

Although the consensus seems to be that narcissism or NPD (clinical narcissism) is a result of abuse or neglect during childhood, there may also be genetic factors involved.   An article from The Narcissistic Life cites several studies and concludes that narcissism results from a combination of nature and nurture, describing it this way:

These factors include biological vulnerability, social interactions with early caregivers, and psychological factors that involve temperament. There are studies that suggest that a gene (or genes) for narcissism can be inherited but that a person also needs the “right” environment for narcissism to be manifested.

What this means is that while a child may be born with a predisposition to becoming a narcissist, they won’t unless environmental factors are also fulfilled.  If the parents do their job well and give the child a secure emotional foundation, they will not develop NPD even if they are predisposed to it.    In this way it works a lot like alcoholism:  alcoholics are probably born predisposed to becoming alcoholic, but if they don’t take their first drink until they are well past adolescence or if the culture they are raised in discourages heavy drinking (or drinking at all), they will not develop alcoholism.

Some babies are born more demanding or needy than others.   These may be “difficult” children who are easily hurt or upset and have trouble learning self-soothing.   Such a temperament doesn’t necessarily indicate the child will become a narcissist, but they are probably more likely to than a calm baby who can soothe themselves, if the parents fail to mirror them properly or don’t attend to their emotional needs.

Most children whose parents were abusive or neglectful do not become narcissists.  They may develop some other problem like C-PTSD or BPD or be prone to depression or anxiety instead.  These are probably children who have a calmer, less sensitive or less demanding temperament than children who grow up to be narcissists.  Personally I think people who develop narcissism were children who were especially sensitive and had no emotional defenses at all so they sent the true self into exile and replaced it with a false one.   No other mental disorder causes a person to completely reject their own vulnerability and authenticity.

geneticNPD

It’s not always abused children who become narcissists.  Some are children who are spoiled by their parents. Spoiling may actually be a form of abuse, because it’s a lie and doesn’t acknowledge the child’s real self.  It still fails to mirror them properly.  The child is constantly told how perfect they are and showered with gifts and praise for being so “perfect.”  As a result, they feel like they must always be perfect which of course is a lie.  They feel entitled to whatever they want because of this belief in how perfect they are, and they never learn how to deal with criticism or setbacks when they get out into the real world.

I also think the nature of the abuse and role in the family plays a big part in whether a child develops narcissism and what type of narcissism they develop.   Golden children, who are essentially spoiled children, are more likely to become narcissists than scapegoats are.   Children who serve as both scapegoats and golden children (common in only children) can also become narcissistic, but I think they’re more likely to become Borderlines.   If a scapegoated child does become a narcissist, it’s more likely they’ll become the covert, fragile type of narcissist than the grandiose, overt type.

Some studies have also shown that narcissists’ brains have less grey matter in the left anterior insula region of the brain, thought by researchers to be involved with both the regulation of emotion and the generation of empathy.   But the jury is out on whether these brain differences are genetic or if the brains of narcissists fail to develop properly due to being raised in a narcissism-inducing (abusive or spoiling) environment.

Further reading:

Does Excess Praise and Spoiling Create Narcissists?

 

Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD)

PPD, though more common than NPD,  is often ignored or overlooked and I think can be (and often is) mistaken for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).   The symptoms are remarkably similar and resemble the way a narcissist acts when in defense or attack mode. These are not very nice people. Someone with PPD acts like narcissist who is perpetually suffering narcissistic injury (must be fun!).   They are combative, controlling, envious/jealous, unforgiving, and quick to project blame onto others.  Also like narcissists, they are unlikely to think they have a problem so they rarely try to get help.

I wonder if PPD should actually be classified as a Cluster B personality disorder, since it involves a weak sense of self, hypersensitivity to real or imagined slights, and resultant abusiveness toward others and lack of insight/inability to accept blame.  Other then a tendency to avoid social interaction, PPD doesn’t seem that much like the “odd/eccentric” (Cluster A) disorder it is currently classified as (it’s in the same subcategory with Schizoid and Schizotypal Personality Disorders, neither of which bear much resemblance to PPD).

I’ve known people who I thought were narcissists and who were definitely abusive, but their behavior actually more closely resembles PPD than NPD.

One thing that’s unique about people with PPD is that they are more likely than others to have a parent with schizophrenia.

PPD2

Source:

http://www.mentalhealth.com/home/dx/paranoidpersonality.html

 

 

Borderline Personality traits linked to lowered Empathy

A new study found that people with BPD may have lowered or limited empathy, and that it may be biochemical. I sometimes think I’m a bit empathy challenged, though not in a general sense. For example, I feel just awful when I see or read about someone’s suffering (especially if it’s an animal or a child) but it’s hard to me to empathize on an interpersonal, emotional level with another person (which could be due to my introversion and social awkwardness, and also my complex PTSD).  I do have cognitive empathy (KNOWING how another feels), even if its sometimes hard for me to feel WITH someone else. This is something I want to change and am working on in therapy.

I’ve known other Borderlines who seem to almost have too much empathy, and are very profoundly affected by the moods of those around them. The problem for BPDs, whether they have too much or too little empathy, is that we get so caught up in our own problems we can seem to be oblivious to what others are feeling. Usually when we’re called out on our selfishness though, we feel pretty badly about it and try to make up for it.

I think a lot more research needs to be done on this matter before any blanket judgments are made. Unlike people with NPD or Antisocial Personality Disorder, I don’t think lack of empathy is a defining characteristic for Borderlines.

living in stigma

image: google.ca

Those with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, a mental illness marked by unstable moods, often experience trouble maintaining interpersonal relationships. New research indicates that this may have to do with lowered brain activity in regions important for empathy in individuals with borderline personality traits.

This short article appeared on ScienceDaily.com

The findings were recently published in the journal Personality Disorders: Theory, Research and Treatment.

“Our results showed that people with BPD traits had reduced activity in brain regions that support empathy,” said the study’s lead author Brian Haas, an assistant professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences psychology department. “This reduced activation may suggest that people with more BPD traits have a more difficult time understanding and/or predicting how others feel, at least compared to individuals with fewer BPD traits.”

For the study, Haas recruited over 80 participants and asked them to take a…

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Solipsism syndrome.

dave the solipsist

A few times throughout my life, usually when overtired/anxious (and once when VERY high), I’ve had this peculiar (and terrifying) feeling of being the only person in the universe (the time I was high and it happened it was even worse–I was disembodied consciousness, a singularity in space/time–I finally came to the conclusion at the time that I must be God and must have created the entire universe and everything in it from my mind–talk about narcissism lol!). It’s a rather frightening experience, if truth be told. If you’ve ever experienced it, you’ll understand the overwhelming feeling of immense and indescribable loneliness, even though your rational mind is telling you it’s an illusion and isn’t true.

I was thinking about this today for some reason so I looked it up on Google. I found out this feeling of nothing else existing except your own consciousness is a fairly common dissociative experience called solipsism syndrome. It’s a form of derealization. I never knew it had a name.

Some Eastern religions are built around the concept of solipsism and many philosophers throughout history have considered it a possibility too. Of course I don’t believe in it but during the few times I’ve experienced it, it does feel very real.

A similar phenomenon is the feeling/belief that everyone else is just yourself in another incarnation and/or is a projection of yourself. Solipsism seems extremely narcissistic, even though it has nothing to do with NPD and is a fairly common experience in both psychotic and dissociative conditions, drug intoxication (especially psychedelics and dissociatives), and PTSD and C-PTSD. It’s also common in astronauts who spend long periods of time living in space.

solipsism+syndrome

I read this story today and wanted to share it.

The Egg
By: Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us a ‘universe’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” (Albert Einstein)

Derealization and depersonalization in NPD and BPD.

Worlds_Collide___Phaeton___by_Meckie
Worlds Collide-Phaeton: by Meckie at Deviantart.com

A common symptom of both NPD and BPD is dissociation: a splitting or fragmenting of the personality not very different from what occurs in the Dissociative disorders such as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and Psychogenic Fugue. It usually happens in response to a severe loss of supply or major narcissistic injury, or a sudden awareness of oneself as not oneself (realizing your false self is not who you really are–which happens when a narcissist becomes self aware). These disorders themselves, especially NPD, are dissociative in nature because a split in the personality has occurred. In the narcissist, it’s a substitution of the original personality for a false one.

Borderlines, rather than having a false self per se, are more like chameleons, adapting their personalities to fit the people and situation around them. That’s why Borderlines can seem so changeable.

I first started to experience dissociation as a young child. I remember at age 4, waking up for breakfast and walking down to the kitchen where my parents were already eating, and seeing colored specks like glitter falling all around me. When I asked my parents if they saw the “glitter,” they just looked at me like I was crazy. I also had dreams that would continue after I awoke and often felt I was living in a dream. Maybe that’s the case with most young children though. I also remember hearing music from TV shows late at night after everyone was asleep that couldn’t possibly be coming from anywhere, as this was in the 1960s and no one had the capability to record a show on VCR yet, nor was there TV after midnight or so–all we’d get in those days was a test pattern until morning.

I remember at around the same age, banging my head against the wall in the family room to relieve some kind of congestion in my head. I think it may have been to relieve those odd feelings of unreality–not much different than the way a Borderline will sometimes cut herself to “feel alive.” In fact, this may well have been an early symptom of my BPD (and I always thought it was autism).

Most people have probably experienced dissociation, perhaps under the influence of a drug. Sometimes people experience it on hearing shocking news that could be either tragic or fortuitous–like hearing one’s child just died, or winning the lottery.

But for people who have certain personality disorders (as well as people with various dissociative disorders and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, and also those with PTSD and C-PTSD), dissociation is both common and chronic. It’s also severe enough to sometimes interfere with functioning.

Q: So what does dissociation FEEL like?
A. Because something so ungrounded in the tangible and everyday reality is so hard to explain in words, I’m not sure if these descriptions of what it feels like will make a lot of sense, but I’ll try.

Derealization.
I’ve actually experienced this the most. The world seems odd and dreamlike. Reality seems somehow “off” the way things are in a dream. In a dream, a familiar scene can look the same as it does in reality, but at the same time there’s this feeling of offness and otherworldiness about it. When I was younger and used to ride the subway, sometimes I couldn’t look up at the people because they all seemed like masks…sinister, somehow. It’s a very weird feeling but not always unpleasant. Sometimes that dreamlike oddness about everything is sort of compelling and interesting.

Depersonalization.
This definitely causes me serious panic attacks. I first had episodes of this at about age 9 or 10 and thought I was going crazy. I felt oddly disconnected from my body, like I was floating. People talking to you sound like they’re coming from either a great distance or out of a tube. You can’t focus on what they’re saying because you’re freaking out and panicking but trying to hide it to keep from appearing as crazy as you feel.

I think people with NPD and BPD (as well as the Schizoid, Schizotypal and Paranoid PD’s) who do not improve or try to change, are probably at high risk for developing psychotic disorders and even schizophrenic like conditions when things are going badly for them, there’s been a massive loss of narcissistic supply, or when the person becomes gravely ill or very late in life.

How does avoidant PD differ from covert (vulnerable) narcissism?

avoidant_pd_bagoverhead

Covert (vulnerable or fragile) narcissism (cNPD) can, on the surface, look an awful lot like Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD–not to be confuse with AsPD!), which I have been diagnosed with, along with BPD.

But appearances are only skin deep.

I found an article on Psychforums (in the Avoidant PD forum) that describes the differences very well. Because covert/vulnerable narcissism is not an officially recognized diagnosis, and is not included in the DSM (yet), covert narcissists are frequently (if not almost always) diagnosed BPD comorbid with AvPD, as I am. Aspergers can also be easily confused with cNPD, and has been by many. But this article focuses on Avoidant PD, not Aspergers.

“Vulnerable narcissism could be misdiagnosed with at least two other distinct DSM personality disorders: Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In the diagnosis of AVPD, there are several criteria that may overlap with vulnerable narcissism. First, avoidant individuals are observed as appearing shy and being fearful of developing close relationships with others. Second, individuals with AVPD may meet criteria for experiencing fears of feeling humiliated, rejected, or embarrassed within individual relationships. Finally, Millon (1996) proposes that the use of fantasy in individuals with AVPD is a major element in the presentation and perpetuation of this disorder. This is striking in the fact that the use of fantasy has long been denoted as primary to the realm of narcissistic pathology.The vulnerable narcissist will likely exhibit significant interpersonal anxiety, avoidance of relationships, and use of fantasy, but this is guided by a core of entitled expectations. That is, vulnerable narcissists may avoid relationships in order to protect themselves from the disappointment and shame over unmet expectations of others, in contrast to fears of social rejection or making a negative social impact typical of AVPD.

Another false positive diagnosis that may occur as a result of misinterpreting vulnerable narcissismis in the diagnosis of BPD. Masterson (1993) forwarded this issue in an elaborate discussion about the potential for misdiagnosis of the closet narcissistic personalitywith BPD. Misdiagnosis can occur because of a clinician’s attention to the overt presentation of the emotional lability in the individual to the exclusion of an understanding of the cognitive and socio-emotional experience that guides the lability. As with social avoidance, the emotional lability of the vulnerable narcissist is influenced by his or her covert entitlement and difficulties managing disappointment and self-esteem threat. In contrast, the emotionally lability of the individual with BPD is a byproduct of unrealistic anaclitic needs (e.g., the need for a strong caretaker to manage his or her fears of being independent).

avoidant personality

Both the AVPD and the vulnerable narcissistic character will likely report difficulties with feeling self-conscious in interpersonal situations, along with the tendency to avoid situations in which they expect to be ridiculed. The difference between AVPD and vulnerable narcissistic characters lies in their expectations for themselves and others. Individuals with AVPD have needs to be liked and accepted by others, but fear they will fail to be acceptable to others. In contrast, vulnerable narcissistic characters need others to respond favorably to them and to admire them regardless of their behaviors, beliefs, skills, or social status, but fear that others will fail to provide them with narcissistic supplies. For vulnerable narcissistic characters, it is not mere concern about being liked or not. Rather, the vulnerable narcissist’s fear is that he or she will not be admired. Furthermore, vulnerable narcissistic individuals experience significant injury and anger in response to perceived slights. Their avoidance of relationships is based upon their fear of not being able to tolerate the disappointment of their unrealistic expectations.

The assessment of entitled expectations and exploitative motivations are important variables that would guide how an individual approaches and experiences relationships, including a therapeutic relationship. Not acknowledging narcissistic entitlement when it is present could lead to important misinterpretations of clients’ experiences that either reinforce their sense of entitlement or lead to unrecognized self-esteem threat in the therapeutic relationship (Gabbard, 1998).”

From “Interpersonal analysis of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism” Dickinson, Kelly A; Pincus, Aaron L

Cluster B disorders: an explanation

Informative video about the Cluster B disorders that discusses what they have in common and what causes someone to develop them. BPD has been unfairly stigmatized because of its similarity in some ways to the other disorders in this cluster, but few people recognize that borderlines don’t lack empathy or a conscience the way people with NPD and ASPD do, even though they can be difficult to deal with and even abusive when they are triggered.