This post is probably going to make some of you angry or upset. I understand that. After all, many of us were badly damaged by the narcissists in our lives. Anger and even hatred is an understandable and very human reaction to their abuse.
The blood sport of “narc bashing.”
There are a lot of people these days writing about narcissism and the sentiments found on the Internet about “narcs” and “N’s” is overwhelmingly negative:
— They can never change.
— There is no hope for them.
— They are monsters.
— They are demons.
— They aren’t human.
— God hates all narcs.
— They all deserve to burn in Hell.
— There is nothing good about them. Everything they do is evil.
— They were born evil. They are bad seeds.
— They never tell the truth.
— They have no emotions. They are machines.
— They all deserve to die.
Pretty ugly, isn’t it? This attitude is fueled by hatred and behind hatred is fear. Again, I understand this. I’ve experienced that hatred and fear myself. We have a right to be angry if we were badly treated by a narcissist. People with NPD aren’t pleasant to be around. But here’s the rub: unchecked fear and anger lead to hatred, and hatred accomplishes nothing. Hatred builds walls and leads to a refusal to even try to understand people with a devastating mental disorder. Hatred is itself evil–and narcissistic.
Hatred also leads to bigotry and intolerance. There is already too much of that in the world. People with NPD are mentally ill. We don’t malign people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder the way we malign people with NPD, but people with those disorders can also be very unpleasant to deal with. If someone started a blog that spewed hatred toward people with schizophrenia, there would be outrage. That person would be called a bigot and possibly evil.
Narcissists are abuse victims too.
It’s true that people with NPD are extremely unpleasant to deal with. But all mental disorders are unpleasant. People with NPD weren’t born that way. There is no such thing as a “bad seed.” In almost all cases, a person became a narcissist because of severe abuse or neglect as children. In most cases, they were raised by people who were themselves malignant narcissists or psychopaths.
Pastor David Orrison, who writes about narcissism from a Christian perspective in his “Narcissist Friday” posts, illustrates this well in this sad story. He is rightfully critical of the disorder and its manifestations but his posts are always written in a way that attempts to understand narcissism and people with NPD the way Jesus would have done–holding them accountable without hatred.
Some of you have said, “but they don’t count because they made a choice to be narcissists.” Yes, that is true, it was a choice. But that choice was almost invariably made when they were young children, as a coping mechanism to protect themselves from being hurt anymore. Narcissists are people who started life with too much sensitivity, maybe more so than those of us who identify as HSPs (because we still found a way to cope with life without constructing a protective False Self). Narcissists felt too vulnerable and naked. They were born without any natural coping mechanisms at all. They knew they couldn’t survive without this protective natural armor, so they had to construct a False Self to cope. The False Self is a lie, but it protects the True Self from further harm. The reason they act so mean is because they live in terror of the False Self being damaged and exposing the too-vulnerable True Self. Like the rest of us, they wanted to survive. This was the only way they knew how.
This doesn’t give them an excuse to act as they do. It doesn’t mean we have to tolerate their manipulations and abuse. I’m not condoning abusive behaviors and that applies to anyone. But we don’t have to spew hatred against people suffering from NPD all over the web either. We don’t have to be so judgmental. We don’t have to pat ourselves on the back because we are “better” people. Only God can judge us that way. We can try to have compassion without giving in to abuse or allowing narcissistic behaviors to destroy us.
A serious dissociative illness.
Narcissists suffer. They are deeply unhappy people. They don’t know how to feel empathy, or experience joy or love for others. They never learned how–or they dissociated themselves from those feelings at an early age because it hurt them too much to be that way. They are not without emotions. In fact, their emotions are so strong they feel like they must always be on the defensive, 24/7, 365 days a year. Imagine how stressful it must be to go through life in mortal terror of your facade of invulnerability being ripped off, of constantly having to act a part in a play, of never being able to show your pain to others, of never being able to risk loving anyone else or feeling empathy, of being bitter and envious of everyone all the time? It must be hell.
Narcissists, in spite of their name, don’t love themselves. They only love their False Self, and will do anything to protect it from exposure as the mask it really is. Because the False Self was constructed when they were so young, they don’t even know themselves most of the time. How can you love someone you never got to know? If anything, they live in deep shame of who they really are so they hide from the world behind their masks.
Some mental health experts believe NPD should be classified as a severe dissociative disorder. You can read about that here and here. It’s not that narcissists don’t have any goodness in them, but that they have “split” from their good (true) self to avoid further harm–even to the point where they can no longer access who they really are. But the pain they feel still comes through and if we listen closely enough, we can hear what they are really saying: “please love me.”
Narcissists never got to grow up. Their true self is at the emotional stage of a very young child. Inside every narcissist is a little boy or girl of 3 or 4, sitting in a dark corner crying because they feel so lonely and unloved. Their reactions are at the level of a young child too. They never learned how to experience more mature emotions, because the False Self was constructed when they were too young to feel the emotions of an older person.
NPD is a spectrum disorder running from mild all the way to psychopathy and sociopathy at the top of the spectrum. Most narcissists are not psychopaths (who actually have Antisocial Personality Disorder rather than NPD and have built a wall so impenetrable even they can never access it and will never be able to admit they are the ones with the problem). Even malignant narcissists (just under psychopathy on the spectrum) may have rare moments of insight and regret for the way they behave. It’s my belief that NPD is as much a spiritual disorder as a mental one, but that doesn’t automatically make all narcissists “evil.” Who are we to assume that God hates all narcissists and can’t help even the most malignant ones? I believe God can perform miracles should He choose to do so. To speak for God this way is itself narcissistic.
Art allows the True Self to find expression.
The pain and hurt that fuels narcissistic behaviors can find honest expression. I’ve noticed many or even most narcissists have a talent in one or more of the arts–William Shakespeare, Ezra Pound and even Michaelangelo (who probably had NPD) come to mind, to name a few. Good art is about Truth and is one of the greatest blessings God can give. It’s through these artistic endeavors that a narcissist’s true self comes through, that they dare give that vulnerable hurting child a means to express the truth of how they really feel. Having a creative ability–whether in the visual, literary, or performing arts–is all the proof I need that people with NPD are still loved by God. Through their art, they are crying out through their mask. They want to be loved and they want to feel love. I can think of many examples of this, but the other day I received an email that really stood out to me and made me take a second look at my own negative attitude toward “narcs.”
The email was from a young man who admits he has NPD. He expressed a strong desire to try to heal himself. He hates his disorder because of what it has done to his life and the ways it has caused his relationships with others to suffer. He wants to know how to feel empathy and genuinely love others. I have no doubt his words were sincere and came from his True Self.
This young man said he was a singer-songwriter so I checked out some of his stuff on Youtube. (I can’t post it here right now because I have not asked for permission to do so). I was blown away by his talent. The words of the songs he writes express emotions almost too deep for words. His powerful emotions of pain and the desire to love and feel connected with others come through in his beautiful voice–and in his face when he sings. I have no doubt his music comes from his True Self, not his false one. Through music, he’s able to break through his wall of narcissism and allow himself to become vulnerable, to cry out in the darkness.
Insight and willingness: ingredients for change.
I don’t know if this young narcissist can heal himself. It’s a difficult enough disorder to treat by professionals, but he says he can’t afford a therapist and can’t find one willing to treat NPD anyway. Most narcissists won’t present themselves for therapy because their disorder is so deeply ingrained they have no insight and think it’s everyone else who has the problem, not them. Some narcissists may have insight into their disorder and know they aren’t well but still not be willing to change because their mask has become too adaptive or they are too afraid. But insight is the first step toward redemption–it’s not possible to have willingness without insight. This man has both the insight and the willingness. With both present, I think there is hope for him.
Tough love, not hate.
Just because we should stop spewing hate against people with NPD doesn’t mean we have to tolerate their manipulative and abusive behaviors. It also doesn’t mean we can’t leave a narcissist or go No Contact. In fact, doing so may be the most loving thing we can do for them. Going No Contact removes the source of supply we have been giving them, and in rare cases may cause a narcissist to seek help or at least begin to question their own motives. Going No Contact is also the most loving thing we can do for ourselves. Refusing to have further contact with a narcissist isn’t an act of hatred. It’s an act of self-love and survival.
St. Augustine said, “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Jesus inspired this quote because He hated no one but was no pussy either. We can hate the behaviors without hating an entire class of people with a severe mental and spiritual illness that causes them even more misery than they cause those they attack. Going No Contact or refusing to play their narcissistic games isn’t an act of hatred. It’s an act of survival and is just plain common sense. It may even be a way we can show them love–“tough” love.
I realize this post may be controversial because we ACONs have gotten so used to thinking of “narcs” as evil. Their behaviors may be evil, but people with this disorder are still human beings who have feelings–even if they don’t know how to show them properly or keep them under wraps. Except for the most malignant narcissists and psychopaths at the top of the spectrum–who probably can’t ever change–I think calling narcissists evil, or referring to them as demons, monsters, or machines is a form of bullying a group of very sick people and is just as hurtful to them as what they have done to us.
I also realize I may sound like a hypocrite. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve engaged in the popular sport of “narc bashing,” and recently too. While the anger and rage we feel toward people with this disorder may be adaptive while we are trying to disconnect from an abusive narcissist, when these emotions no longer serve a practical purpose (after we have gone No Contact or disengaged from our abusers), they become bitterness and hatred, emotions that eat away at our own souls and can even turn us into narcissists.