My son didn’t escape unscathed.

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This is not a photo of my son, but it looks a little like him.

My 23 year old son was scapegoated and bullied by his father when he was a child and teen (which I’ve written about before). As the most sensitive and nervous child in the family who was able to see through his father’s malignant narcissism, his father began to target him for abuse when it became clear to him my son had a good built-in bullshit detector.

When he was 17 he moved out of our home to stay with a female police officer who worked at his school. She was very supportive but after awhile he decided to move back in with us briefly. When he turned 18, he moved to another state and has not been back, although he does talk to me on a regular basis. Due to lack of funds, I’ve only seen him 3 times since he moved out in 2010. He is doing well though–working two jobs, one as a management trainee for a chain of convenience stores in the Tampa, Florida area, the other as a Carraba’s server where he sometimes pulls in as much as $700 in a single weekend.

He has many interests and talents, including dancing, animation, and filmmaking (which is what he really would love to do). He came out as gay when he was 17. After that happened, he transformed from being a nerdy, nervous teenager with few friends to a very popular young man with a geeky, eccentric sort of cool and many friends. He doesn’t do drugs or smoke. He drinks, but doesn’t appear to have an alcohol problem.

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Photo of my kids in Texas in 2001.

I thought he somehow emerged unscathed from the family dysfunction. He shows no signs of having any personality disorder, although he has reported having panic attacks and he tends to be obsessive in his thinking. He’s also prone to depressions.

Tonight we talked to each other on the phone for awhile and he described his obsessive thinking. He worries about locking the door, for example, and has to keep going back to check to make sure he locked it. He hates having anything dripped on him, and that can set off a rage attack. They are like panic attacks, but instead of panic, he feels rage. He doesn’t act on the rage, but he feels it. Then he feels guilty for feeling that way. He doesn’t like people approaching him from behind and is jumpy and wants to attack when that happens. He worries incessantly about the impression he makes on others and suffers from occasional paranoia, and thinks others are out to hurt him, even when there is no rational reason for him to think this.

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Sporting kelp “hair extensions.”

It sounds to me like he suffers from a severe anxiety disorder, and probably has OCD. He can afford health insurance now, so I told him to please see a therapist who can find out if what he has is OCD or something else, and possibly give him some medication and therapy. He’s willing to do this. I still think he’s the most mentally healthy person in the immediate family, and the only one who is doing well financially and doesn’t appear to have a personality disorder, but he’s far from unscathed from the abuse inflicted on him, and his hypervigilance and anxiety is no doubt due to that (though there could be a biological component too).

Maybe we throw around the N label too freely.

Hand with pointing fingerletter_N

I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s something important we ACONs need to remember that can save us and others untold heartache.

We need to be careful about labeling someone a narcissist until we have gotten to know them well enough to be sure. I think ACONs and other victims of abuse are sometimes very quick to label people narcissists who may actually have some other, less malignant disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD (some people with OCD can seem very cold), Histrionic Personality Disorder, or even Aspergers (Aspies are often accused of being unempathic just because they don’t express their emotions very well). Some conditions are easily confused with NPD because the behaviors shown may be similar.

Narcissists are actually a small minority of the population, but when you’re a codependent, high empathy type of person, they can seem to be everywhere because we attract them like flies to honey. That being said, the times we live in and a society that rewards narcissistic behavior have probably made NPD more common than it used to be.

Whenever we do pin the N label on someone, it’s our own subjective opinion. In most cases, the person in question probably does have NPD (we are all adults here and it isn’t that hard to see the red flags), but remember it’s an informal diagnosis, not a bona fide diagnosis made by a mental health professional.

On narcissists who want to be cured.

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We shouldn’t just dismiss them as hopeless until we know more.

The above quote is a common sentiment among survivors of narcissistic abuse, and healthy when we are trying to go No Contact with a narcissist who has tried to ruin us, or cope with a narcissist we can’t practically disconnect from. To give a narc any benefit of the doubt during these times is what has kept us trapped in a sick and destructive relationship. Many of us are also empaths and that’s the very quality that has kept us trapped in the hellish merry-go-round of the cycle of abuse. When we’re leaving our narc (or trying to cope with one), it’s healthiest for us to give them no benefit of the doubt at all. It serves us best to think of them as inhuman machines, devils, or monsters with no ability at all to love or to feel real emotions.

But is it fair or realistic to think of them this way? I don’t think it is, because narcissists aren’t machines, demons or monsters. They are human beings with a terrible mental disorder that causes them to attack and manipulate others for their own gain. I’ve come to a point in my healing where my narcs are safely out of my life, and I can finally afford to think of them as fellow humans and even have a degree of empathy for them. It’s nice to not hate, but am I deluded?

Do narcissists really suffer?

Obviously, I read a lot of blogs and forums about NPD and narcissistic abuse. There seem to be very few websites for people suffering from NPD, which you would expect, since narcissists are more likely to cause suffering in others than suffer themselves.

NPD

It has been argued that narcissists do suffer, but they suffer alone. They don’t want you to know. They aren’t likely to seek help for their disorder unless they’ve lost a major source of narcissistic supply, and the defensive structure they have built for themselves is seen by the narcissist as the flimsy house of cards it really is. I believe this is all true, but some narcissists are so out of touch with reality and their true self that they project their misery and emptiness onto others and keep lying even to themselves.

But occasionally, even on victims’ boards and blogs (the following is from a Christian-oriented blog with a strong focus on victims of narcissistic abuse whose pastor owner is unusually compassionate toward people with NPD), I see a post like this:

Wow! Reading this is very sobering. I an not a victim of this, but the oppressor! I admit that I have been this way. I am saved but I am discovering that my while life I have really been a selfish narcissist. My question is this- is hope for an unempathetic narcissist like me? I am honestly sick and tired of my selfish ways and the way I’ve hurt others and have lacked any empathy or emotional feelings for others. I trust that Christ can help me out of this, but does anyone have some advice or testimony for a narcissist who WANTS to change? I always see alot of literature for the victims of narcissistic abuse and I give my utmost respect to the victims, but what about us perpetrators who want to give this up? Any feedback put advice will help.

The narcissist, who calls himself “Michael,” followed up his post with this:

It bothers me a lot that i lack love and empathy for others. I can’t feel life the way I want to. I think my narcissism problems are largely fear-based, over rejections that happened to me at a young age. Also, I admit I’m just addicted to pleasing my self and I don’t know how to truly love someone else. It is no fun being a narcissist, it is miserable. It really bites when it seems everyone else around you knows how to love and feel deep empathy and passion, while you’re feeling “stuck in an emotional bubble”.

Posts like these ones by Michael give me hope that somewhere inside their blighted souls, narcissists still possess a seed of goodness and with enough water and sunlight, that seed can grow into something beautiful, healthy and good.

I remember several months ago a self-proclaimed narcissist came to this blog and wrote a seemingly heartfelt post that he or she wanted to change. It floored (and moved) me enough to write an entire article about it.

Malignant optimism.
I still can’t get over my childlike excitement whenever it appears a narcissist wants to get well. I’m just like a 4 year old with an ice cream cone. Sam Vaknin calls this malignant optimism. Is he being overly pessimistic about the possibility of a cure, or is he right?

I don’t know the answer to that.

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Malignant optimism.

As a Christian (and a codependent), I tend to want to give people the benefit of the doubt. After all, we’re all God’s children. He made us in His own image. I always try to look for the good even when all I can see is the bad. I do believe in evil, however, and that there are truly evil people in this world. I like to think they’re not that common though. So when a narcissist says they want to change, how can I sit there and pass judgment and assume they’re just lying? To do that would make a narcissist of me. Maybe there are moments of clarity or windows that occasionally open in their dirty souls to let in the light. How can I say they’re not telling the truth? Maybe they are. They are still human beings with souls, after all.

Maybe they aren’t really narcissists.

Then there’s the possibility that a narcissist who goes on a blog or forum and writes a post about wanting to be cured, isn’t actually a narcissist at all. Very few narcissists have the insight or desire to change. Maybe “narcissists” who write posts like this really suffer from some other disorder that causes them to hurt others and lack empathy, like Borderline Personality Disorder or even certain anxiety disorders like OCD (whose sufferers may also seem to lack empathy) or psychotic disorders like schizophrenia (although the pleas for help I have seen by narcissists certainly don’t sound like they’re written by schizophrenics).

“Michael” (the above quoted poster who claims to be a narcissist), wrote about how the Holy Spirit was trying to change him but he kept fighting against it. He doesn’t sound much like a narcissist at all in this followup, but there’s no way to tell for certain without an official diagnosis. Maybe he has another disorder besides narcissism. It’s an interesting post though, because he speaks about the bullying and abuse he endured that may have caused him to develop NPD. If he does have NPD, he seems to have both insight and the desire, and that’s a good omen.

Wow thank you for that insight. I will also add i have a great deal of apathy in my life. It’s like i don’t care about others, God, life, or even my own well-being at times. But having Christ in my heart, it’s like the Holy Spirit wants it but my flesh does not.

I never handled shame or rejection well as a kid. At a young age, I was bullied in school until the end of my middle school years. I wanted acceptance from my peers- from women I wanted attention, from men I wanted respect. I didn’t receive either, so I put on a facade of myself to fit in so I would be “accepted”. My whole life I’ve been emotionally numb, and I hate it how it’s like I don’t even cry when i should, like when a loved one passes away, or when someone shows a deep display of love, just as Jesus did. Even in my Christian life, I feel like the Gospel hasn’t really penetrated me on that deep heart level yet because I cannot really love or feel love. I guess only God is the answer to this, because i sure can’t do this in my own strength.

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The cost-benefit analysis of healing.

If it’s possible for a narcissist to be cured of their disorder (not merely treated), it’s not going to be an easy or a short process for them or their therapists. (I’ll explore this more in a later post, but I’ve already written about it in other posts about NPD healing regimes such as Attitudinal Healing and Reparenting). It’s a topic that’s fascinating to me, and I also have a vested interest in it because it gives me hope for the narcissists in my own life that I have cared about and even loved. This could include my beloved daughter, who may have a mild form of NPD (but is more likely Borderline–the jury’s still out on that).

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Obviously, some narcissists would be more curable (or at least more treatable) than others. They must have both the insight into their disorder and the desire to change. They must be willing to undergo enormous psychic pain and terror as they confront their true self and shed their false self. Desire without insight isn’t possible, but insight without desire is. If narcissism has been beneficial to its sufferer, they may not want to be rid of their disorder, even though they still may be in immense psychic pain. Whether they are willing to be cured requires a cost-benefit analysis of whether undergoing intense and painful emotional catharsis is worth giving up whatever benefits narcissism has afforded them. For the vast majority, it probably isn’t. Even if they willingly enter therapy, once the painful process of healing is underway, they are likely to run away in terror and put their masks back on.

I have to be realistic too, and not dismiss the tragic possibility that a narcissist can want to change, but have no hope at all of it actually happening. All I can do is pray that God will step in and help them find their way to the light. I pray for them every day, as well as the more numerous people they have victimized.