Is narcissism really a form of possession?

demon

I usually avoid topics like this, because of their obvious religious implications.   I try to avoid getting too religious on this blog, but I must write about it because I’ve been thinking about this topic all day and I won’t rest until I do.    I’m going to try to stay away from religious terminology though.

A young man I know on another site who insists he has NPD (but has no official diagnosis and therefore may not be one) says he can remember when he “chose” to be a narcissist, and now wishes he hadn’t. He’s adamant that it’s too late to change and nothing can be done.   He said he felt as if his false self was “installed” and didn’t actually come from himself at all.

His story got me thinking.  What if narcissism really is a form of possession?  (I hesitate to use the term “demonic,” although it could be).  What if it’s a kind of choice that’s made and that once it’s made, an outside spirit or entity or whatever it is, lets itself in and it begins to obliterate the true self?

We know that people with NPD have a false self, and we know it’s a lie whose purpose is to hide the true self even from the person themselves, to the point that they believe the lie and actually believe the false self is who they really are. But where exactly does this false self come from? How does a child know how to build such an elaborate defense mechanism that works nearly the same from one narcissist to the next? It’s like there’s a rule book that all narcissists follow.   How can that be?   Are they of a hive mind?  Or is it something else entirely?

Installation of the false self.

Let’s imagine this false self is actually not something  you constructed as a defense mechanism to escape from your true self and bury your pain for good. Let’s imagine something else–that it’s something from outside of you, something that’s been installed. Call it demonic possession, if you wish–that’s probably the closest thing we can imagine to what I’m describing.  The false self isn’t created by you because it never was a part of you–it’s probably not even something human. It was installed there at a time when you think you needed it, most often when you were very young and defenseless and were faced with this yawning, vast, terrifying emptiness caused by not being validated, mirrored and loved when you needed it most. A young child or toddler who feels rejected has not yet learned to separate themselves from the parents, usually the mother–so the rejection feels like an annihilation. It feels like you are dying.

At that moment, when you feel this unbearable reality–because it’s real to you even though it isn’t actually real–of being snuffed out of existence–this entity comes along, an entity who promises something better, a way out, a way to feel “alive” again. M. Scott Peck talked about this in his book “People of the Lie.”   The entity lies to you and tells you your life will be much easier and you can get rid of that awful feeling of emptiness if only you let it in.   It doesn’t tell you what it’s really going to be doing to you is destroying your soul and the souls of others by proxy.

There’s only one catch–in order to keep working, the entity must feed off the emotions of others, because when it takes over you, it pushes down your own emotions so you can’t feel them anymore. It obscures your pain and emptiness so you don’t have to feel those emotions, but it throws out the baby with the bathwater: it also obscures any sublime emotions like love, empathy, joy, sadness, and gratitude. If other people aren’t available for this thing to feed off of, the entity will starve and you are back to where you started–feeling like you no longer exist and facing that awful emptiness.

Faced with a choice. 

You have a choice–you can invite the entity in or not. It never forces itself on you. You may remember standing at such a crossroads when you were very young. I know I did.  I “test drove” narcissism for awhile, but ultimately rejected it.   Playing with narcissism is like playing with fire.   It’s not something you want to mess with.

If you’re an empath, you probably will reject it and choose to suffer rather than invite it in, because as an empath, you can feel its malignancy and know it will destroy your soul eventually, and the souls of others by proxy. If you reject the invitation, it will go away and leave you alone, but you might develop C-PTSD or BPD or become codependent, and allow yourself to continue to be abused and rejected without any defenses against the pain and emptiness inside.  But your real self remains intact and you don’t have to walk around wearing a mask all the time and hurting others to keep that mask on.

If you’re desperate enough–or can’t sense how evil this thing really is, you will be tempted to say yes and allow it inside. It probably won’t be a conscious choice.  It’s not something you THINK about and then decide, like what shoes you’re going to wear  that day.  It’s a choice made on the spiritual level so even a very young child can do it. It could happen later in childhood, or during adolescence or even early adulthood.  It’s a spiritual version of “if you can’t fight ’em, join ’em.”   An example might be a socially awkward boy who faces a group of sociopathic bullies every day and is given a dare:  set another kid’s house on fire and be accepted by the group, or continue to be bullied.   So he chooses to do what the bullies say, in exchange for acceptance.  What he doesn’t realize is what that does to his soul.  Faced with cognitive dissonance–unbearable guilt over what he did even though it was against everything he believed in–he resolves this by identifying with the bullies and represses his guilt and shame.   Soon his behavior begins to change and he begins to act less socially awkward and even becomes “cool”–but he also starts to act arrogant and entitled.  He no longer accepts blame for his actions and begins to play mind games with others.  He seems more confident–but he’s actually in much worse shape than he started because he isn’t even himself anymore.   He’s a puppet for the evil entity that used the promise of “acceptance” as the carrot on the stick–and now resides inside him and has no intention of leaving.

Becoming a puppet.

If narcissism is a form of possession, than narcissists are just puppets being operated by an outside force that is not them.   For awhile at least, the true self is still there, but it’s no longer able to emerge at will because it’s been repressed by a more powerful force that keeps it at bay.

The entity lies to you and you begin to believe those lies.  The biggest lie it tells you is that your false self is your true one, and the true self was a lie. It twists things around so black is white, and up is down and day is night. You don’t even know what’s real anymore, and so a fantasy becomes reality and reality is sent down the river in a tarpaper boat.

The NPD spectrum and perfect and imperfect possession.

If narcissism is a form of possession , it’s still possible for it to run on a kind of spectrum, though not the kind of spectrum referred to in the mental health profession.   In “People of the Lie,” M. Scott Peck talked about “perfect” and “imperfect” possession. Malignant narcissists are perfectly possessed–which basically means that the entity has completely obscured the true self, making it utterly inaccessible, or possibly even destroyed it. Such a person cannot become self aware or even if they somehow become aware of their own narcissism, there’s no desire to change, because there’s nothing left of the true self; if it’s not destroyed, it no longer has a voice and there’s no conscious awareness of its existence.  This is a person who has become evil, but they aren’t inherently evil because they’re no longer who they once were–they have become whatever has taken up residence within them.

Narcissists lower on the spectrum are imperfectly possessed–which means the entity hasn’t completely obscured the true self. Such people are not evil–they are victims of an evil entity that is trying to take control over them. If they have realized what they have become and no longer want it, they become engaged in a kind of spiritual warfare.  You may notice some lower spectrum narcissists can be very changeable, almost Jekyll-and-Hyde-ish.    From time to time their true self will appear, sometimes even without a grave loss of supply. That’s when they may admit they want help and when they’d be most receptive to it.   For non-malignant narcissists who are ego-dystonic, therapy could work, but there MUST be a spiritual component in the therapy itself.   M. Scott Peck believed narcissists (even though he didn’t call them that in his book) who are not perfectly possessed (in other words, not malignant) can be cured by exorcism.  It doesn’t even have to be done by a priest or minister–it can be done by a trained therapist too. Peck described the 2 exorcisms he performed in his book, “Glimpses of the Devil.”

Usually I’m very skeptical about supernatural things.  Although I’m Christian, I tend to be analytical and prefer scientific explanations over religious ones.  I also tend to be very suspicious of people who immediately start talking about God and Satan and quoting the Bible whenever the subject of narcissism comes up.  But it does make sense to me that the false self  is really some kind of malicious entity that presents itself during a crisis and makes all kinds of promises to a child or young adult who feels like they’re about to be snuffed out of existence.     It’s all too easy to be taken in by the lies when you’re desperate, but once the choice is made, the thing has too much power to get rid of without spiritual intervention of some kind.   You can see it in the empty, soulless gaze or unnerving, predatory stare some narcissists have, especially if they’ve crossed the line into malignancy (or perfect possession). And it gets worse over time, which may be one reason why narcissists tend to grow worse with age. Unchecked, whatever this thing is takes over more of your original soul until you become perfectly possessed and your true self is either totally eclipsed or obliterated.  If it’s obliterated, you’re nothing more than a walking dead person–a zombie impersonating someone you never were and feeding off the energy of others.

As much as you might want to, you can’t fix a narcissist.  Don’t even think about it because you have no idea what spiritual dangers you might be taking on–but it’s certainly alright–more than alright–to pray for their deliverance.

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How did narcissism get so “popular”? (part two of two)

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Here is the second installment, as I promised–I apologize for the delay. In part one, I covered the way narcissism has increasingly infiltrated our society and become a near-virtue to be emulated, starting in the late 1940s and 1950s in a postwar America now regarded to be a world superpower. The babies born in this mood of can-do optimism, the Baby Boomers, were indulged by their parents, who believed anything was possible and showered their children with all the new toys, space-age technology, and new permissive child-rearing techniques that were suddenly popular.

In Part One of this article, I discussed how the indulged Boomer generation influenced western society at every stage of life, and (as a generation) grew into grandiose, entitled adults who demanded (and got) special treatment every step of the way. I covered the decades from the 1950s through the 1980s, and described how narcissism became increasingly regarded as a desireable quality. By the 1980s, narcissism came out of the closet, with the election of a president (Reagan) who encouraged greed, materialism, and entitlements for the wealthy with his “trickle down economics.” 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, made popular by a 1987 hit movie, “Wall Street,” (which was of course the place to be). Narcissism was no longer something to be hidden; now it was something to aspire to.

In this next installment, I’ll be focusing less on the Boomers and more on the continued growth of narcissism in society, as well as the backlash against it–the narcissistic abuse and ACON community–which began as an Internet phenomenon during the mid 1990s due to one self-professed narcissist named Sam Vaknin. But actually, the seeds of the backlash had been planted as far back as 1983, with M. Scott Peck’s bestselling book, “People of the Lie.”

1990s.

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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 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.

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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?

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

Being only 5 years into the 2010s, it’s hard to see any patterns yet, but it does seem that the problem of narcissism is finally being noticed by the general public. One of the Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump, is well known for his “NPD” and called out for his grandiose antics constantly, even by people outside the narcissistic abuse community. Narcissism is a fashionable topic now–the fascination by it may only be a fad, but it’s making people pay attention. Lately I’ve noticed a number of Christians 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 had 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 call for an increase in empathy and caring for each other and building communities instead of just building up the Almighty Self.

It will be interesting to see what the rest of this decade holds.

Cognitive dissonance and NPD.

narcissism_childhood

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

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

–Wikipedia

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

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

Golden/spoiled children.

Veruca-Salt

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

Other personality disorders.

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

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

Malignant Narcissism.

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

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

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

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

The Choice.

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

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

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

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

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

Acquired narcissism.

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

Narcissists in fantasyland.

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We already know narcissists lie. It’s the one thing they’re all good at. I read a conversation today about the way narcissists lie even about things there is no reason to lie about, and that they also begin to believe their own lies.

Narcissists have been telling lies for so long and have gotten so good at it that they really do believe their lies are the truth. Sometimes they even become skilled at using lies to cover up other lies. To a normal person, living a lie and trying so desperately to cover the truth would be an unbearably stressful way to live. Narcissists are stressed out by this as much as anyone else, but they don’t know where their stress comes from. They are deluded and think their lies are the truth. They honestly don’t know any better so they can’t stop lying and they can’t stop the stress that comes from that.

Think of a young child playing pretend. The child may know the fantasy is just a fantasy, but while they’re in it they believe it’s the truth. Tell the child their fantasy is a lie and they will rage and get very upset. But for young children, living outside reality to some extent is normal. When an adult lives outside reality and creates a fantasy world they think is real, we call it crazy.

If you tell a narcissist to stop lying, they will attack or sometimes, withdraw or even disappear. This happens because: 1. They hate the truth because if they know you can see through their lies, you have blown their flimsy cover and that is terrifying to them; and 2. like a young child, they don’t want to leave their fantasy world–a dream where they are perfect and superior to everyone else. Because in reality they know they aren’t. In fact, narcissists have dismally low self esteem. They hate themselves–but are in love with the false self they created. That’s where their grandiosity and sense of entitlement comes from. They need a constant influx of narcissistic supply from you to keep their false image of themselves alive.

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In “People of the Lie,” M. Scott Peck discusses a malignantly narcissistic patient of his named Charlene. After years of therapy (during which Charlene spent most of her time sadistically playing with Dr. Peck like a toy), in one session she told him about a dream she had of a “marvelous machine.” The machine did everything and was perfect in every way. Charlene proudly told Dr. Peck she had designed and built this marvelous machine herself. When Dr. Peck suggested this machine that did everything was actually an elaborate weapon Charlene had created in her mind to avoid facing the truth about herself, Charlene’s cover was blown and she reacted with unreasonable rage, attacking Dr. Peck for not agreeing with her about the perfection and beauty of the “machine” she was so proud of and what its true purpose was. She could not bear to face the truth and preferred to keep living in her fantasy world of delusions.

wizard
Wizard: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz wanted to appear to be a powerful and ruthless tyrant, so even though he was actually a weak and unassuming little man, he hid behind a curtain, amplified his voice, and projected a scary image onto the far wall when Dorothy and her friends entered the Wizard’s castle. What gives the Wizard away as not being a true narcissist (I’d venture to guess he was probably a borderline) was the fact that when exposed, he took responsibility and showed true remorse for behaving the way he did. It’s still a good illustration of the way narcissists deny reality though.

Narcissists hate themselves and only want you to see what they want you to see. While perhaps done unconsciously, they construct a False Self which is a self of lies. This mask isn’t who they are but they sure get good at convincing everyone it is. Their abuse of others stems from the need to protect “the marvelous machine” they created. If they feel this cover may be blown by the truth, they attack, abuse and rage (or leave), because they’re so terrified you may see the emptiness inside or even worse for them, the vulnerable and defenseless True Self hiding in the dark corners of their unconscious.

I’ve seen narcissists talking to themselves, sometimes in public. It’s weird. It’s as if they don’t know they are talking to themselves. I used to point this out to my ex when he was holding conversations with himself, and he’d deny it or get angry. Could narcissism be a psychotic or dissociative disorder? Do they hear voices in their heads? Sometimes I wonder.

By telling themselves so many lies, they are abusing themselves as much as they abuse others. Only they never realize this. And they won’t ever let you tell them. They’d rather wander forever in the confusing labyrinth of their disordered minds where up is down, north is south, dark is light, yes is no, wrong is right, and they are gods. They can’t face reality because it might destroy them. Or so they believe.

NPD vs. BPD: they are not the same thing!

BPD-Awareness

Articles like this one make me want to rage. The author, Doug Bartholomew, a licensed social worker, believes that people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are pretty much the same as people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). He even goes so far as to say BPD’s, along with NPDs, fit the criteria for M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie.”

Wait just one second. Peck’s People of the Lie don’t even include all narcissists–his definition describes those with Antisocial Personality Disorder and malignant narcissism (there’s a huge difference even between MN’s and garden variety narcissists–a malignant narcissist has ill will toward others and decided antisocial traits while a “benign” narcissist isn’t necessarily ill-intentioned but is just self centered and doesn’t care about your feelings). Peck never said all manipulative people (people with one of the four Cluster B personality disorders) were by nature evil, but evil people is what his book is about.

At the same time I understand where Bartholomew is coming from. On the surface, people with BPD can be manipulative and even resort to some of the same unpleasant tactics and mind-games (gaslighting, etc.) that narcissists like to play. They can appear to lack empathy, because they get so caught up in their own drama that they can literally forget that others exist. They can be demanding, high maintenance and prone to irrational rages (just like narcs) but are far more likely than narcs to turn their rage inward and become self-destructive or even suicidal.

Narcissism Clinic.
Not much to do with this article, but I couldn’t resist.

Borderlines also usually regret their acting-out and selfish or manipulative behaviors when the crisis has passed or their bad behavior is called out to them. They may be self-centered and impulsive but are not lacking remorse or the ability to feel shame and guilt. The problem with Borderlines is they tend to act as they feel at the moment without thinking things through. They can get so caught up in their own fear of abandonment that they almost literally forget that you have feelings too. However, after the fact Borderlines usually will feel remorseful and ashamed of their behavior, and on top of that, realize that their offputting behavior may cause others to do what they fear the most–abandon them.

Bartholomew also states that all Cluster B disorders are characterized by a lack of empathy:

The overwhelmingly most commonly mentioned behavior or trait associated with all the Cluster B Personality Disorders is a lack of empathy or compassion. They seem unmoved by the effect their behavior has on their loved ones other than what is necessary to keep their loved ones engaged and around. It is as if they were tone deaf or color blind to the feelings and experiences of others.

While it’s true that people with NPD and ASPD are characterized by a lack of empathy, I disagree that this is true of people with BPD. I think this is a gross overgeneralization.

Borderlines can feel empathy, but due to their impulsiveness and fear of abandonment, they can act in selfish, defensive, and manipulative ways that may hurt others (but they hurt themselves even more so). However, unlike malignant narcissists and people with ASPD, Borderlines do not set out to hurt others and they do care how others feel. Unfortunately their good judgment is clouded by their disorder which makes it difficult or impossible for them to regulate their emotions. That’s why they act so impulsively and often fail to think things through before they act out. It’s also why their relationships tend to be stormy and short-lived.

BPD_cartoon

A person with BPD does not wear a mask or have a “false self” like someone with NPD–but their fear of abandonment can cause them to knowingly or unknowingly push others away. Their ambivalence in relationships can be very confusing to others–they can seem to adore you one moment, and then hate you the next. They can seem needy and rejecting by turns. When others grow tired of this crazymaking and confusing “I hate you, don’t leave me” behavior and finally leave them, the Borderline genuinely doesn’t understand what they have done to drive the other person away, and so they become even more fearful of being abandoned. Their behavior is maladaptive because it tends to cause the very thing they are trying so desperately to avoid.

63380797
We are just burning toasters.

A much better description of the similarities and differences between Borderlines and Narcissists can be found in “Borderline vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: How Are They Different?” from the Clearview Women’s Center’s website.

While the two disorders, both being part of the Cluster B group of personality disorders, do have overlapping symptoms and are often confused with each other and/or misdiagnosed as the other disorder (with males being far more likely to be diagnosed with NPD and females with BPD), this author, unlike Bartholomew, understands that both the motives and mechanics of the disorders are quite distinct from each other:

[…]both BPD and NPD deal with conflict in a way that is unhealthy to themselves and those around them. It’s the expression of the anger that results from the conflict that is different.

In her article “Blame-Storms and Rage Attacks,” Randi Kreger, co-author of Walking on Eggshells, points out the difference in how those with BPD and NPD express anger. While those with Borderline Personality Disorder may fly into a rage and push people away, they will often calm down, feel shame for their reaction, and promise never to do it again.

“Unless they’re in treatment, the underlying issues don’t go away. Some conventional [borderlines] do not get angry at all, but hold it in or express it inwardly through self-harm,” says Kreger.

“The anger of narcissists, on the other hand, can be more demeaning,” she continues. “Their criticism evolves from their conviction that others don’t meet their lofty standards — or worse, aren’t letting them get their own way.”

Healing Narcissism: “Stephen’s” story.

who_am_I

Disclaimer:
I am not a licensed mental health professional and as such, have done no studies or surveys to find out if the healing regime I am going to propose here would actually work on people with NPD. I have no guarantee such a therapy regime would work, but I feel like I’ve done enough reading about the disorder (NPD in particular), both from Internet material written by a number of people, and books by professionals who specialize in this disorder, to outline a possible therapy regime I feel might give sufferers of NPD (as well as BPD and other disorders of the self, and even PTSD) who want to get better some hope of doing so. This is not a therapy I “made up,” since I am not qualified to do so, much less diagnose anyone with any disorder. Instead, it’s an almagamation of several different therapies–drawn from both from traditional insight psychotherapy and alternative therapies proposed by both people who suffer from this disorder or are involved in alternative medicine and spiritual therapy.

For several months I have been reading everything I can about healing Narcissistic Personality Disorder, because as a victim of narcissistic abuse who has cared for and loved people who are narcissists, I have a vested interest in the possibility there may be hope for some of them. I also think our world would be a much nicer and safer place for the rest of us to live in if narcissists could be cured of their disorder!

In my readings, both on the Internet and from books about healing NPD (I just received a copy of James Masterson’s book “The Emerging Self,” recommended to me by fellow blogger BPDTransformation. Although I have not had time to read the book, I have skimmed through it and can already see that its premise of the narcissist getting in touch with their true self and confronting and releasing long buried true emotions of sadness and fear is not much different than therapies others have proposed for NPD).

Overview of Some NPD Healing and Treatment Techniques.
Following are some brief descriptions of some therapies that have already been proposed to heal or treat the symptoms of people with NPD. A few come from traditional psychotherapy disciplines; others are more alternative/experimental.

Cognitive-Behavioral Training/Therapy (CBT)

CBT

Currently, the only psychiatrically sanctioned and accepted “therapy” for NPD is Cognitive-Behavioral Training (CBT). CBT is useful and may help some narcissists who are not psychopathic or sociopathic learn to control and monitor some of their more antisocial and hurtful behaviors. It has been used with some success on prison inmates who want to change their behaviors, children with ODD and CD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder) such as 6 year old Beth Thomas, who might have become a psychopath had she not had early intervention that intercepted her early antisocial behaviors and murderous impulses toward her brother and parents; as well as other people with NPD or BPD who are insightful and willing enough to want to change the way they act and stop hurting others.

The problem with CBT is it does not really cure the narcissist (unless done at a very early age, like Beth Thomas). CBT doesn’t address traumatic childhood issues or make the narcissist shed their protective masks or get in touch with the painful emotions that caused them to choose narcissism in the first place. It’s really just a band-aid and probably helps those who must deal with the narcissist more than it helps the patient. The narcissist remains a narcissist, and must constantly monitor their behaviors or be reminded by others to do so. The more positive behaviors never become internalized because the narcissist has not really changed from the inside.

That being said, I believe CBT is a valuable component in the type of therapy I am going to describe, but must be undertaken once the NPD patient has gone through a complete emotional catharsis resulting in the release of painful emotions stemming from childhood (or whenever they “chose” to become a narcissist to protect themselves). I’ll describe how this can be used later in this article.

Narcissists adopted their False Self to survive.
I hold to the probably rather unpopular belief that people with NPD started life as Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) or possibly even empaths. Sam Vaknin’s journal entries, especially his descriptions of himself as a sensitive and generous child who cried when his malignant narcissist mother was upset (I cannot find the link for that right now but will look for it), as well as writings and journals by other NPD sufferers on message boards and forums have made this evident.

It came as a surprise to realize this, because Narcissists (as opposed to those suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), who really are hopeless and can never get better) seem like the most insensitive and cruel people on the planet. But their obnoxious and cruel behaviors stem from the False Self, not their true one, which hasn’t died, but is atrophied and in hiding. The False Self was constructed as an elaborate defense mechanism to protect the child from further hurt and abuse. Most people with NPD were abused or neglected as children, and being more sensitive than other children, the only way they could survive further hurt and abuse was to construct a False Self which makes them appear big and bad when deep inside, they still feel utterly worthless, despised and vulnerable.

crying_is_okay

One thing I noticed in all these therapies (not including CBT, of course), is the key to healing is emotional catharsis. Crying–not the usual narcissistic manipulative crying–but deep and honest crying resulting from releasing past pain, grief and fear–is an absolute necessity if any healing is to occur. Of course crying is key in any psychodynamic therapy for any disorder that can be healed by such means, not just NPD. As the False Self breaks down and the True Self begins to emerge, painful emotions from the past will start to be released. This is necessary and healthy. In fact, healing from NPD (or many other mental disorders) isn’t possible without it.

The following are some techniques used for actually healing NPD rather than treating its symptoms. It’s probably prudent to keep in mind their efficacy is iffy at best. If a narcissist is neither insightful nor willing, none of these therapies will work. Insight and willingness to change are necessary and must come from the narcissist him or herself. As I’ve described before, the willingness to heal is a cost-benefit analysis. If the narcissist has benefited from their narcissism, they may not think going through all the emotional work required to heal from NPD is worth it.

1. Attitudinal Healing.

attitudinal_healing

Tony Brown was a self-professed narcissist who decided he no longer wanted to be one. He believed narcissism stemmed from fear. (He’s probably right). He healed himself using a 12-point (not the same as a 12-step program) technique of replacing thoughts of fear with thoughts of love. He called this therapy Attitudinal Healing. Eventually, he says, these thoughts of love and empathy become internalized and the patient begins to remember past hurtful incidents that turned them into narcissists. During this process, the patient finds themselves crying a lot as they remember things long forgotten and the many ways they have hurt their loved ones. AH is kind of a New Age technique, but his followers swear it has worked for them. Tony Brown died in 2008 of natural causes, just after he was cured. His forum, HealNPD, is no longer active, but you can read his material about AH there and posts by others who were undergoing AH to heal themselves of narcissism.

Criticisms of AH: There’s some skepticism because there have been no studies or empirical evidence for AH’s efficacy, and some believe thought-replacing isn’t deep psychology and therefore can’t access the true self.

2. Reparenting.

remothering

“Reparenting” is a term used by Sam Vaknin for his theories of healing NPD, but the techniques involved are not his alone and partly derive from New Age therapy practices and traditional psychodynamic therapy and Freudian psychoanalysis. Reparenting requires an initial accidental or intentional removal of all the narcissist’s sources of narcissistic supply, which sets into motion a “narcissistic crisis” (a time during which the narcissist’s defenses and masks break down). This is the only time a narcissist may present themselves for treatment. At that point, the therapist offers only “cold empathy,” which means giving the narcissist acknowledgment and the “mirroring” they missed out n as children, without offering approval, criticism, sympathy for the narcissist’s plight, or any other means of narcissistic supply. The narcissist’s frustration and anger with the therapist (transference) for only mirroring them but not giving them the supply they want (validation or approval) results first in rage, then dissolves into emotional catharsis and release of negative and painful emotions associated with childhood abuse and neglect.

Criticisms of Reparenting: Intensive therapy like this could not practically work unless the narcissist was in a closely supervised setting, such a a rehab center or hospital, because of the strong possibility that even a willing narcissist, when undergoing such painful cathartic emotions, would suddenly leave therapy and go back to their old ways. I personally don’t believe such a therapy would work permanently unless combined or followed up with behavioral training such as CBT to retrain the conscience and internalize it into the psyche.

3. M. Scott Peck: “Remothering” and physical touch.

woman-holding-newborn

Dr. M. Scott Peck proposed a technique similar to reparenting called “remothering” in his book “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.” Peck doesn’t go into great detail about re-mothering a patient in his book (and in fact doesn’t discuss treatment much at all outside of exorcism), but in his description of his malignantly narcissistic patient Charlene, he expresses his regret that he had not offered her unconditional love and support (not the same as narcissistic supply) and actually physically holding her as a mother would a baby, instead of allowing her to manipulate and torment him and making him continue to pander to her need for narcissistic supply.

Criticisms of “remothering”/physical holding: Peck’s briefly expressed ideas of holding (in a nonsexual way) and nurturing such a patient as a loving mother would are similar to reparenting, but would require the narcissist to be willing to allow themselves to become vulnerable enough to undergo such a treatment, which is unlikely unless they were undergoing a severe narcissistic crisis and utterly desperate. There’s also the problem that physically touching/holding a patient could lead to accusations of sexual abuse, or sexual feelings between the patient and therapist (which is a common but questionable outcome of transference/countertransference).

The problems of possible legal allegations of sexual abuse/harassment are addressed here, and there is a consent form in some states a patient can fill out to give permission for limited touching in therapy sessions to occur.

4. M. Scott Peck: Exorcism.

exorcism

Peck, a born-again Christian, believes that many cases of narcissism are a result of a malignant entity entering the body of the patient, at the time they made the choice to become a narcissist, whether in childhood or later in life.

In some cases, where the possession by an evil entity is not complete (that is, a patient with narcissistic tendencies who is not psychopathic or malignant), a patient can be healed through the centuries old religious rite of exorcism, formerly only sanctioned by the Catholic Church, and even then, was only approved in extreme cases that were approved by the Pope. Peck believes any highly trained psychotherapist with a strong faith in God (not necessarily Christian) and with strong unconditional love for their patient can successfully perform an exorcism on a patient who is willing and properly prepared ahead of time. Peck writes about exorcism in both “People of the Lie” and goes into more detail about the two exorcisms he successfully performed in his later 2005 book, “Glimpses of the Devil.”

Criticisms of Exorcism: Besides its obvious medieval and superstitious connotations, exorcism can be physically, mentally and spiritually dangerous for both the therapist and patient. Death is a possible result. There should be others in the room during the exorcism if additional hands are needed to control the patient undergoing the rite. But because I believe NPD is as much a spiritual disorder as it is a mental one, I don’t think exorcism should be dismissed as a possible healing technique in extreme cases where other therapies have not worked.

5. Dr. James F. Masterson: Psychodynamic Treatment of Narcissistic Disorders of the Self.

closet_narcissism

I have not yet read his book “The Emerging Self” (I just received it in the mail) but from what I have seen, the therapy is psychodynamic (as opposed to merely behavioral) and requires the patient to confront and purge past hurts and undergo catharsis. Narcissism and “closet narcissism” are not the only disorders addressed in his book; he also addresses similar disorders such as BPD which can be healed using the same or similar techniques.

From Wikipedia:

Masterson’s subtypes (exhibitionist and closet)
In 1993, James F. Masterson proposed two categories for pathological narcissism, exhibitionist and closet.[40] Both fail to adequately develop an age- and phase- appropriate self because of defects in the quality of psychological nurturing provided, usually by the mother. The exhibitionist narcissist is the one described in DSM-IV and differs from the closet narcissist in several important ways.

The closet narcissist is more likely to be described as having a deflated, inadequate self-perception and greater awareness of emptiness within. The exhibitionist narcissist would be described as having an inflated, grandiose self-perception with little or no conscious awareness of the emptiness within. Such a person would assume that this condition was normal and that others were just like them. [Masterson’s definition of the closet narcissist sounds more similar to the “covert” narcissist or “inverted” narcissist Sam Vaknin discusses on his website].

The closet narcissist seeks constant approval from others and appears similar to the borderline in the need to please others. The exhibitionist narcissist seeks perfect admiration all the time from others.

Criticism of Masterson’s techniques of treating NPD: I cannot offer any criticisms as I have not read his book yet.

6. Rebirthing.

rebirthing_session
Rebirthing session.

Rebirthing is a controversial New Age healing technique that involves deep and circular breathing. It has been proposed as an alternative healing therapy for people suffering from NPD and many other mental disorders, as well as for healthy individuals who just want to get more in touch with their spiritual nature. It’s supposed to improved the mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of anyone who decides to undergo this process. During the rebirthing process, the patient will begin to remember painful emotional incidents long forgotten and crying is common, but is usually followed up by laughter and a feeling of spiritual lightness.

Criticisms of Rebirthing: The type of deep breathing rebirthing requires can lead to hyperventilation and a feeling of being high (from intaking too much oxygen) or having left the physical body. In some cases it can freak out the patient or even cause a psychotic break, much like hallucinogenic drugs can. Because it’s an experimental, alternative therapy given by practitioners not schooled in traditional psychotherapy, there is no proof of its efficacy or empirical studies showing it actually works.

Skepticism among mental health professionals.
pIt must be said, that most professionals are highly skeptical about the possibility of healing (rather than just treating) NPD and feel that because they suffer less than their victims (or at least seem to), that it’s best to treat the victims for the PTSD, anxiety, depression and other disorders their narcissist has caused in them.

I won’t argue with this, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think narcissists, at least those with both the insight and willingness to change (which probably means the non-malignant, non-psychopathic types) are as hopeless as most mental health experts claim.

So I’m going to propose a healing regime here using a hypothetical man named Stephen that comprises elements of ALL of the above techniques (except rebirthing and exorcism due to their highly controversial nature), as well as CBT for helping to retrain the conscience.

There are a few prerequisites necessary for successful healing of NPD:

1. The narcissist must have insight into their disorder and know they have NPD and see how it damages their minds and souls. But insight alone isn’t enough.

2. The narcissist must have willingness to change from the inside–and that means a willingness to undergo intense emotional pain as their True Self begins to emerge and their masks break down. You can have insight without willingness, but not willingness without insight. Both must be present for change to occur.

3. The narcissist undergoing such treatment would be best treated in a highly supervised, even residential setting such as a hospital or rehab center, where their natural tendency to revert back to their old ways of behaving could be intercepted by trained professionals. This is especially necessary during the crisis period where their painful emotions may cause them to want to quit therapy or leave. They could sign a waiver prior to treatment that such attempts to escape would be intercepted or not allowed, and the patient brought back to treatment.

4. The narcissist is probably already undergoing a narcissistic crisis where they have lost all sources of narcissistic supply or a major one, such as a divorce, loss of a fortune or career, death of someone who was a source of supply, serious illness or incarceration. Having lost their sources of supply, the narcissist is already in a vulnerable state and if they are going to present themselves for help, this will be the time.

I am going to describe a hypothetical successful therapy used on a fictional man named Stephen who is afflicted with mid-spectrum (non-malignant) NPD, using a combination of the above techniques I think could be successful for some narcissists in a highly supervised and intensive setting.

STEPHEN’S STORY

'It's all about YOU, isn't it? YOUR hopes! YOUR wants! YOUR needs!'

1. The Master of the Universe has a Narcissistic Crisis
Stephen was a 45 year old successful owner of a video game company. He was married to a meek and quiet but intelligent woman named Lisa who elected to stay at home with their only child Cayden, who was two years old. They lived in a large home they built themselves, and owned two late model SUVs. Stephen could afford to take his wife and son on several vacations a year. To outsiders, they seemed like the picture perfect family.

But all was not well behind closed doors. Lisa was threatening to leave Stephen and take Cayden with her because of Stephen’s constant gaslighting, projecting, blaming her for their child’s excessive crying and misbehavior, and most recently, isolating Lisa from her former college friends and even her family. Lisa was so depressed that often she had no energy to take care of her son and Cayden was left to his own devices, at first crying and demanding attention from Lisa, but finally withdrawing into a quiet, withdrawn, almost autistic world of his own.

Lisa wanted to take Cayden to a psychiatrist, but when she proposed this to Stephen, he flew into a rage and accused her of calling him a bad father. He told her that if she was a better wife and mother, Cayden wouldn’t be having these problems. He also told her that taking Cayden to a therapist was something only a weak person would do. Cayden would just need to learn to “man up,” in Stephen’s words.

Lisa became increasingly depressed and one day she attempted suicide. Her suicide attempt landed her in the psychiatric ward, and Cayden’s care fell on Stephen’s shoulders. He resented his fatherly duties to Cayden, and grew increasingly impatient with him, and Cayden’s behavior grew worse. He resented having to leave work early or not come in to attend to one of Cayden’s many needs when his nanny would call saying there was a problem with his son.

sad-mother-child

One day Stephen was called into his boss’s office and confronted with his poor attendance and sloppy work. Cayden’s needs were not a concern to management. Stephen was told he needed to find some other arrangements or he would be let go. Stephen panicked. His high flying job and the money he made were the only things in his life he cared about. He hated to admit it, but Cayden was nothing but a burden. He had never really wanted a child at all due to all the responsibility.

Stephen’s problems continued. He had no choice but to keep leaving work when his son was sick or when the daycare center called saying he was throwing another one of his uncontrollable tantrums. Stephens’s boss summoned him once more and let him know he was being let go.

Stephen was devastated and began to feel hate toward his son for making him lose his job. He sat at home dejectedly staring at the TV or computer screen but felt so deflated he didn’t bother looking for another job. Cayden screamed and threw tantrums and Stephen, overwhelmed and filled with resentment for Cayden, began to physically abuse him.

A week later, Lisa was released from the hospital and announced she no longer loved Stephen and was taking Cayden with her to live with her parents. Stephen flew into a narcissistic rage and tied to stop Lisa from leaving, but there was no stopping her. She grabbed Cayden, tossed some of their things hastily in some bags, and took off for her mother’s. It was then she noticed the bruises on Cayden’s body and decided to press child abuse charges against Stephen.

Stephen was eventually arrested for child abuse. Now he had a police record and was probably unemployable, except perhaps in some sort of consulting role. He had lost his wife, his job, his child, and now his freedom.

2. Self-awareness and willingness.

Vector illustration of a man lock up in prison

In prison, Stephen broke down and cried almost nonstop. He made no friends because of his emotional instability. So he spent time by himself, reading books in the prison’s library about mental disorders and realized he suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. At first he tried to deny this to himself, but in his heart he knew it was true. He also realized this disorder was the cause of all his problems. He didn’t feel remorse, exactly, but knew he needed to do something about it. Some of the prison staff took pity on Stephen and referred him to a psychologist who specialized in character disorders, NPD in particular. Stephen was desperate to change his ways and willingly entered an experimental but intensive therapy for people suffering from NPD and other character disorders like BPD. Although the therapist was a licensed Ph.D, he was open to incorporating alternative techniques in his regime.

3. Cold empathy.

narc_rage
Narcissistic rage.

Stephen started therapy (which he was taken to from the prison) with a litany of complaints about his failures and how no one understood him. He talked about his dickhead of a boss, his emotionally disturbed and annoying son, and his bitch of a wife who betrayed him. Stephen took no responsibility for his own contributions to his downfall. He demanded sympathy and often resorted to rages and tears during his sessions. Rather than sympathize or offer emotional support, Stephen’s therapist listened quietly to his litany of woes, only nodding here and there or asking questions when he needed to know something pertinent.

Stephen became enraged by his therapist’s supposed lack of caring and sympathy, and began to attack his therapist, calling him a charlatan, incompetent, and an idiot. He threatened to leave, but knew the prison wouldn’t allow him to quit, so his abuse escalated. Projecting his own feelings of rage and other emotions onto the therapist is a process called transference in the psychiatric community (the opposite, the therapist’s projections of their own emotions onto the patient is called countertransference and is nearly as common).

One day he became so enraged he physically attacked his therapist. An officer was called in to intervene, and together, they got Stephen to calm down. Stephen, defeated, slumped in his chair and dissolved into convulsive sobs. The guard stood nearby, and the therapist quietly waited for Stephen to finish crying.

4. Stephen’s True Self begins to Emerge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After several more intense sessions like these, Stephen reluctantly began to talk about his mother, who had abused him as a child. He tearfully discussed the time she held his hands on the hot stove to teach him a lesson, and the time she locked him in a closet for two days for refusal to eat the vegetables on his plate. After releasing him, she made him eat the half-rotted vegetables from a plate on the floor along with the family dogs. Stephen recalled being a good kid until he was about 5 or 6, and always very sensitive to his mother’s moods. He wanted to please her, but never could seem to accomplish that. No matter what he tried–bringing her flowers he picked from the garden (which he’d be punished for), or hugging her (where he’d be pushed away), she always rejected him or punished him. At first he talked about these incidents in a matter of fact, almost flippant way, but after about three more sessions, he began to choke up and tears began to run down his face.

But these tears were different than the ones he used to shed to get his way or manipulate his sources of supply. These tears felt different and came from a deeper, more honest place. He was embarrassed about the uncontrollable crying he could not seem to stop. He tried to hide these tears but his therapist told him they were healing him, melting away his False Self, and to let them come. So reluctantly at first, Stephen did. He told his therapist his “heart hurt” and then he broke into wracking sobs and buried his face in his hands. This was the breakthrough needed to move to the the Reparenting/remothering level.

In some difficult cases where he patient is having trouble bringing emotions to the surface or recalling past events, hypnotherapy could be useful in helping the patient recall painful childhood experiences.

5. Reparenting Stephen’s Lost Self.

inner_child

When Stephen broke down into convulsive sobbing of honest grief for the mother love he never received, and his intense fear of her as a child, his therapist knew he was no longer being manipulated and these were honest emotions from Stephen’s lost self. So the therapist came over and sat down next to him, and encouraged Stephen to cry on his shoulder. If the therapist is an empath, I think that’s an enormous advantage, for I feel that for this type of therapy to have the most success, the therapist must be able to share and feel the patient’s emotions–even if that means crying or grieving along with them. This may also make the patient feel less alone and more comfortable if they are not feeling their emotions alone.

Stephen, in his infantile, vulnerable state, didn’t hesitate to let his tears flow and allow himself to be held, and they stayed like this for a long time. The therapist was careful to stay quiet during this event, and limited himself to stroking Stephen’s head and back and holding him gently as a mother would hold a child. He did not offer judgment, congratulations or explanations. He simply let Stephen release all that pent-up emotion that had been hiding inside him for decades. And felt along with the child that still lived inside Stephen and longed to be able to live a normal, happy life in the world instead of forever hidden away behind Stephen’s disintegrating False Self.

Stephen felt comforted and nurtured. He told his therapist he wished his own parents had held him like that. His father never had either, because he had died in an accident when Stephen was only a baby.

Several more sessions passed like this. In each session Stephen remembered other things that had happened to him as a child. He remembered how sensitive he had been and how he felt hurt by everything. He remembered how much his mother hated it whenever he cried. He remembered being bullied by other kids in school and always running away in terror.

And then he remembered when he had to make a choice. That choice changed the trajectory of his entire life and transformed him from a highly sensitive little boy into a heartless and cold narcissist.

6. The Choice.

monsters-nietzsche

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

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

bullied_child

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

7. Becoming a Narcissist.

narcissism_childhood

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

Almost immediately after the incident, Stephen’s personality changed. Due to his choice to disobey his own conscience, he was becoming evil. He became a narcissist to protect himself from any further painful feelings. It was all just too unbearable.

Stephen confessed not only this, but also the way he used and manipulated others for his own gain, how he obtained his high level job dishonestly by faking qualifications on his resume, the way he emotionally abused his codependent wife who was so easily manipulated, and the abusive way he treated his own son Cayden. He cried and cried some more, and in return, his therapist held him without speaking, only projecting unconditional love and acceptance.

8. Return to Humanity.

freedom_man

Within a few more weeks, Stephen felt like a different person. He had become a model prisoner, and also found God during his incarceration. He was asked by the chaplain to speak to prisoners after the Sunday services, and Stephen used his own story to help and motivate other prisoners. He proved to be a good public speaker, and took courses in psychology and motivational speaking. He started to write a book about his experiences.

Stephen’s therapy was followed up with an intensive outpatient CBT program, to help him internalize the lessons he had learned about right versus wrong, and further help him develop his fledgling conscience.

When finally released from prison after two years, Stephen found employment as a counselor for prisoners and became a professional motivational speaker. He published his book, which became a best seller. He was asked to appear on TV shows and interviews to promote his new book and offered hope to thousands. Soon he met and married a psychology professor and today they have three children, who he loves very much. He would never dream of abusing them. He’s a very involved father and admits he’s happier than he’s ever been.

Recently he met up with his prison therapist, and the therapist noticed Stephen’s eyes and whole face looked different. He looked younger and happier, but more tellingly, in place of the cold, dead eyes of the narcissist he used to be, Stephen’s eyes sparkled with love and joy. His smile, instead of a sneer, was genuine and happy.

Malignant narcissism and the supernatural: a connection?

demon

WARNING: This is a dark and highly disturbing topic for many people. If discussions about evil entities, the demonic or the supernatural bothers you, I suggest not reading this blog post to avoid being triggered.

I’ve discussed the subject of evil and narcissism before, but today a commenter called Truthteller brought up this subject again in the comments section of another blog post (I can’t find his or her blog if they even have one).

A good question.
Truthteller was wondering if disorders like malignant narcissism and/or multiple personality disorder (MPD) have a possible supernatural explanation, such as an evil or alien entity taking up residence inside a person. This commenter suggested that severe abuse during childhood, which can cause both MPD (a splintering of the original personality into two or more subpersonalities) and NPD (dissociative as well because the true self is shut off or obscured by an elaborate system of false personalities or masks) can make the child vulnerable to an outside entity taking up residence within them.

Now before you write me off as a BSC, superstitious, tinfoil hat-wearing, Bible thumping nutcase, let me explain that while I do consider myself a Christian, I am not particularly religious (though I am spiritual) nor have I ever been that superstitious and I’m pretty skeptical about supernatural things. In fact, I think most “supernatural” events probably have a scientific explanation that hasn’t been discovered yet.

For example, imagine a serf living in the year 1100, during the Middle Ages. Now imagine a time traveler from 2014 appears and shows the medieval serf his Smartphone. (Okay, I know time travel isn’t possible right now, if it ever is, but just suspend your disbelief here for a minute).

smartphoneinspace

What would the serf think? Would they understand anything about the technology that went into making that Smartphone? Of course not. They would probably run away screaming that the thing was demonic, a supernatural device from Hell that contained evil spirits. Because that would be the only way they could explain the glowing moving images and words scrolling on a screen. If we see a ghost today, it could actually be a ghost, or it could be a hologram of some sort, a cross-section of a 4 or more-dimensional being, or simply an aggregation of energy concentrated in one place. We really don’t know.

That being said, I also don’t dispute the possibility that there may be evil spirits or even an entity called Satan. No one has proven these entities exist, but no one’s disproven them either. There is at least one respected psychiatrist in the field of NPD and psychopathy (Dr. M. Scott Peck) who believes that certain individuals without empathy or a conscience, who take pleasure in hurting others (today we call them malignant narcissists or psychopaths) are in fact evil.

I absolutely believe there are evil people in the world, but is their evil due to Satan or other malignant entities overtaking their minds at some point (possibly due to a choice they made which I’ll explain later in this post), or is their “evil” simply a manifestation of a badly wired brain dominated by the predatory, reptilian, lower brain instead of the mammalian human brain that has the capacity for love and empathy?

A snake doesn’t care about its fellow snakes or even its offspring. It feels no love. It attacks with no remorse and has no feelings of guilt if its prey dies from its bite. It abandons its young after they’re born to fend for themselves. This is normal behavior for a snake, but a snake isn’t evil because it’s just a reptile, a less evolved creature than we are. If a human acts like a snake though, then that person is evil because we’re supposed to have a brain that has the capacity to feel empathy and love.

snake

MPD vs. NPD.
In the case of the person with MPD, I don’t believe malignant entities have anything to do with their disorder, for several reasons. Although people with MPD appear to be “possessed” by more than one personality, they are really just facets of the same personality. A person with MPD was almost without exception severely abused during early childhood, and to protect the “waking self” from further pain, their original personality shattered into fragments, or subpersonalities of the original.

A good therapist who specializes in MPD can help the patient bring the “personalities” back together, usually by working primarily with the dominant personality, which is usually cooperative and the most mentally healthy of them all. It is also the only one of the personalities that is aware of all the others. One by one, the dominant personality (or sometimes using hypnosis) will “bring out” the other personalities for the therapist to work with. Eventually, through the cooperation of all the personalities, the person can become whole again. While there may be unpleasant or immature personalities, they are not necessarily evil. Another reason I don’t think MPD has anything to do with outside entities is because the person with the disorder wants to get well. They usually seek therapy on their own due to blackouts and other odd things such as doing something and not remembering doing it.

Malignant narcissism and psychopathy is a different story. Although also most likely caused by severe abuse combined with a genetic predisposition, the person is nearly always unaware of their original, true self which has been obscured so deeply by their elaborate layers of masks that it may as well not even exist. It’s very difficult if not impossible to access the true self in a malignant narcissist. It exists but the false self is a lie, and lies are inherently evil. This is why they are the “People of the Lie.”

The genesis of psychopathy.
Why are some people evil and what made them that way? No one really knows. I don’t think in real life there are any “bad seeds” and those we know of are usually fictional characters. Some people probably do possess a gene for the malignant form of narcissism or psychopathy, but even so, with loving parenting that teaches the child right from wrong at an early age, I think most children can still learn to be good people and those lessons will override the genetic predisposition. Perhaps they’ll still be narcissists but of the benign variety instead.

Severely abusing or neglecting a child who already possesses the gene will likely cause that child to become a psychopath or malignant narcissist. At this point in time, there is no known cure once the disorder has become ingrained in the personality. If any treatment is to work, it must be done in early childhood, when the personality is still forming.

Possession and Exorcism.
I don’t think people with these disorders are actually possessed by demons, but if demons or malignant entities exist, these people may be highly influenced by them or walk on the side of darkness. That would explain my MN ex’s fascination with the occult, Satanic symbolism, and his liking for dark music like death metal. Being open to darkness, malignant narcissists and psychopaths are vulnerable to malignant entities taking up residence inside them, and for someone who is already a psychopath, the possession would be total and even exorcism would not work and would probably kill them.

ouijaboard

Non-evil people could be possessed too, usually by dabbling in the occult or the like, but for them, the possession is “imperfect,” according to M. Scott Peck. Because the entity isn’t aligned perfectly with the person’s soul, there is still good in the person and when an exorcism is performed, the good can overcome the evil entity (with God’s help). An exorcism performed on an imperfectly possessed, non-evil individual is more likely to be successful than it would be on a psychopath whose possession, if it exists at all, would be total.

M. Scott Peck also believes that exorcism does not have to be done by a priest or minister. It can be successfully performed by a psychiatrist or psychologist who is well trained in the ritual, and at the same time has a strong faith in God.

How a good person can become evil.
I mentioned earlier the concept of choice. I think there are some people who are predisposed genetically to psychopathy and aren’t necessarily evil, but there comes a turning point during which they choose darkness over light. This is usually a decision they make, a “deal with the devil” so to speak. This is the point at which they can cross the line over into evil and once they do so, there is no turning back.

I’ve used this example before, but I’ll use it again because it’s such a good one. In “People of the Lie,” Peck talks about a man who was in all respects a good man, a family man who loved his wife and children. But the man had a terrible problem: he suffered from severe panic attacks when crossing a certain bridge on his way home from work every day. The panic attacks were so debilitating that the man, even though he didn’t believe in the devil, made a deal with the devil anyway. He told the devil that if he could get over the bridge without suffering a panic attack, then he would allow the devil to allow something to happen to his beloved son.

Nothing happened to the man’s son, but the man felt terribly guilty about making such a deal, even though he still didn’t believe the devil existed, so he confessed his sin to Dr. Peck. It was explained to the man that he did the right thing; if he hadn’t felt remorse over making such a deal, even though he didn’t believe in the devil, that he would have crossed the line over into evil.

fearofbridge

The same thing happens during war when soldiers are forced to kill innocent people and commit other acts of atrocity that go against their morals. Those who aren’t predisposed to psychopathy and are forced to undertake such evil actions, suffer from PTSD and can even experience a psychotic break. However, there are veterans who, already predisposed to psychopathy, became evil after committing such acts during wartime. They return from war seeming to have lost any empathy or ability to love they once had. Here too, a line was crossed, even if it was not really their own choice. Once that line is crossed the person can never return to goodness because they have, in effect, “sold their soul,” and possibly been possessed by malignant outside entities who make sure they keep walking on the side of darkness.

It’s in their eyes.
I have noticed something odd in the eyes of malignant narcissists. The first time I saw it was when I was about five or six, when my mother flew into a narcissistic rage over something or other, probably my acting “spooky” (withdrawn and lost in my Aspie world) which seemed to enrage her more than anything else. When I looked into her face, I noticed with horror that her eyes were solid black like the eyes of aliens or demons, and her sneer was so full of pure hate that I had nightmares for weeks. I remember having dreams about this demon-mother, and waking up screaming. She’d rush into the room and it was like waking up from one nightmare into another, an inescapable loop of nightmares I couldn’t awaken from, because all I could see even when awake were those solid black eyes and hateful sneer. Even when she was smiling or hugging me. This lasted for several months, but I knew then what she was, and I also knew that she knew I knew. And that made her hate me even more.

Evil black female zombie eyes.

I saw the same black eyes once when my MN ex was in one of his narcissistic drunken rages.
Also, I have seen actual people who have very opaque, cold and hard eyes without a hint of humanity or warmth in them. Here is a photo of a person I do not know but her face is one of the most frightening I’ve ever seen and it’s because of those eyes. I have no doubt this woman is as evil as she looks. I sure wouldn’t want to meet her in person!

unknownwoman

My father (a low spectrum but weak and benign narcissist who is not insane or deluded) told me about the time he spoke to Michael (who I was still married to at the time) on the phone and noticed his voice sounded different. The way he explained it, it was gutteral and inhuman like a demon’s voice. I never heard this voice myself, but on a visceral, gut level I believed my father was telling me the truth. I was spooked out of my mind.

After the divorce my father sent me a copy of “People of the Lie.” He told me he never believed in the devil or evil people until he read this book and realized it described my ex to a tee. Funny that he didn’t recognize my mother in that book, because she’s even more malignant than my ex. But he’s an enabler when it comes to MN women, and always seems to be in thrall to them. But that book changed my life because after reading it I finally recognized both my ex and my mother for what they actually were, and that was the catalyst that led to No Contact.

A person I know in the narcissistic abuse community says that the soul of a malignant narcissist or psychopath has been seared. I think that’s a very good description of what has happened to them. Can a seared soul be saved? I have no clue…

In conclusion, let me remind you that I’m not a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist or a Bible-thumping fundamentalist nutcase. I have no proof that any of this is valid (unless you count the opaque black eyes I’ve saw in both my mother and ex). But because a supernatural component hasn’t been disproven either, there’s a possibility that much more is involved in psychopathic behavior and malignant narcissism than mere mental illness or a brain dysfunction. Some of this even makes sense on a gut instinct level. In any case, Truthteller raised an interesting issue and I wanted to explore it further even if you think it’s nuttier than a Payday bar.

Please share your thoughts.

Could “reparenting” actually cure a narcissist?

depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

smashingmirror

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

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

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

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

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

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Book Review: People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, by M. Scott Peck, MD

peopleofthelie

When “People of the Lie” was first published in 1983, the word “evil” wasn’t in the popular lexicon. We were still a nation experimenting with various alternative lifestyles and there was still a lot of philosophical holdover from the “do your own thing” mindset of the 1960s. The religious right, primarily the Moral Majority had been influencing things for several years by this time (hence why Reagan was popular enough to get elected in 1980), but their power was still mainly under the radar and it just wasn’t PC to talk about things like “evil” with its medieval religious connotations. Even today, the word isn’t exactly politically correct, although it’s been bandied about a lot more in recent years, from the religious right to political pundits on both sides of the political spectrum. In addition, comments on social media such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter often turn into religious arguments and the word “evil” is tossed about like confetti at a parade. Hence the word has lost some of its original power and Dark Ages overtones, but has become more acceptable in public discourse.

At the time of its publication, “People of the Lie” was a groundbreaking work by a respected psychiatrist who was no newcomer to the world of self help books, and it was the first comprehensive book written about what is now recognized by most people as the malignant narcissist, or person with severe narcissistic personality disorder. (People with Antisocial Personality Disorder, while more often criminals than those with NPD, are actually less “evil” due to the fact they actually cannot tell the difference between right and wrong, while a MN can, but doesn’t give a rat’s ass how they hurt others). It’s still a popular book today, and has passed the test of time due to its readability and fascinating case histories of “evil people” (more on this in a minute) and somehow manages to convey a scholarly feel without becoming dry, unreadable, or overly religious.

The book isn’t perfect. The subtitle “the Hope for Healing Human Evil” is a bit misleading, as there’s very little about actually curing the character disorders associated with it, and Dr. Peck frequently mentions how “hopeless” a task it is, given that malignant narcissists really cannot ever change. In one of the central case histories, the story of “Charlene,” Peck continually talks about his frustration in treating her as his patient and his inability to change her, and finally regrets not having “nurtured her like a parent,” actually saying he should have “taken her on his lap and stroked her like an infant,” (wtf?!) This comes off as really creepy and unethical, not to mention possibly illegal. As for Charlene, whether she’s actually evil isn’t too clear, as she never does anything much worse than simply being incredibly annoying. She’s clearly infatuated with Dr. Peck and unable to handle it; she shows stalking behaviors and likes to “play” with him but never does anything worse than just be annoying (indeed, this is how some MN’s who are not criminals break down their “marks” so who knows?) Her reaction to him could be simple transference of a patient to a therapist with nothing really evil about it at all. Peck’s countertransference toward Charlene in some ways seems more pathological than Charlene’s irritating behavior.

Several other cases describe disturbed and unhealthily codependent people (like the weak and dependent Harley dominated by his mean wife Sarah–these two actually seem quite happy in their unholy symbiosis). Sarah may or may not be “evil,” but clearly has narcissistic and sadistic traits and loves to torment poor Harley, who whines to Dr. Peck but seems to do little else to stop it. Peck speculates that a weak or pathologically dependent person like Harley, who can be so easily dominated, may be a bit evil themselves, which is why they “collude” with their abuser in the first place. There may be some validity to this claim, but I certainly don’t believe all abused people are colluding with their abuser or “asking for it.” That’s just blaming the victim, something that’s become increasingly common today.

I think (and others seem to agree on this) the most evil people in the book are the parents who gave their depressed son his older brother’s suicide weapon (THE gun, not just a gun like it) for his birthday. WTF?!? Anyone who would do such a thing to their own child is seriously deranged.

The cases, while all riveting and drawing you in like mini novels (or bad soaps?), don’t really give the reader a clear view of what evil actually is, and certainly not how it should be addressed. Dr. Peck seems at a loss as to what to do, and his last chapter on exorcism is a little over the top although fascinating to read. Peck believes exorcism can be performed effectively by psychiatrists who are well couched in the techniques (basically a classic rite as was seen in the 1973 movie The Exorcist) who also have a strong relationship to God (not necessarily of the born again Christian variety) and a strong enough character to resist the actions and manipulations of evil spirits or demons as they begin to resist the exorcism.

One of the best chapters of the book was the chapter on group evil (describing in the Mai Lai massacres in Vietnam during the ’60s. Peck explains how a group of people, not necessarily at all evil themselves, can be drawn into performing heinous crimes as a group. This is a well known theory–crowds will often behave in ways individuals within that crowd never would, especially if coerced by narcissistic or evil leaders. This is exactly what happened in Germany and Europe under Hitler in WW2 and probably what happened with Mai Lai as well.

I’ve had my copy of POTL for many years, and have read it or parts of it many times over. I still find it useful and was able to identify my mother as an evil person based on what I read. For all its faults, POTL is a must read for anyone interested in malignant narcissism or involved with a person with this character disorder, even if just for its historical perspective on this disorder that has become increasingly prevalent in the pathologically narcissistic and compassion-deficient modern world we are living in today.

Peck is himself a born again Christian, and even though there are definite religious overtones in POTL, he doesn’t bash you over the head with his beliefs, or overwhelm the reader with biblical references. I respect Peck’s religious beliefs, as I respect all religious beliefs, and although I may not agree with all of them and the book comes off at times a bit judgmental, I appreciate the fact he retains primarily the psychiatric and scientific, rather than the religious, perspective in this book. It’s a fascinating way to look at the problem of evil, which I definitely believe exists and is a powerful force, even though I’m not sure it’s driven by an entity called “Satan,” evil spirits, or just a manifestation of the primitive reptilian brain of those who are missing the higher parts of the brain that allow them to develop a conscience and true feelings of love for their fellow humans.

“People of the Lie” is much better than Peck’s later work on the subject of human evil, “Glimpses of the Devil,” his 2005 expansion on the subject, which goes into greater detail on the two exorcisms Peck performed and described briefly in POTL, but has far more blatant Christian overtones and is frankly a creepy and disturbing read and not as comprehensive and scientific as POTL. Still worth a read if you’re into that sort of thing.

Click here to purchase “People of the Lie” from Amazon.