Dodging Bullets Fired by Narcissists
Big thank you to Sherri Heller for another amazing article!
How to Spot Them and How to Deflect Them
Primary narcissism is an essential part in normal development. A child’s normal narcissistic entitlement is the foundation for a healthy emerging authentic mature character that has a compassionate awareness of self and others.
When narcissism falls within the malignant range, there is an absence of empathy and an intense need for aggrandizing, attention, and admiration. The narcissist harbors extreme expectations, reinforced by a deluded sense of entitlement and ‘specialness’. These traits result in dangerously exploitive, abusive behavior that is carried out with cunning and acumen.
To assess if you are involved with a narcissist, affirming three or more of the following questions will confirm your suspicions.
~ Does this person lack genuine remorse?
~ Does this person mock and diminish others gifts and talents?
~ When confronted does this person feign innocence?
~ Does this person tout their great deeds of altruism and goodness?
~ Does this person make threats to ruin others?
~ Does this person strategically pit people against one another?
~ Does this person deliberately manufacture and manipulate false information to create doubt and confusion?
~ Does this person compulsively lie?
~ Has this person physically assaulted anyone?
~ Has this person sexually violated anyone?
~ Does this person play the victim to garner pity?
~Does this person single people out as ‘bad’ or ‘mentally ill’?
~Does this person take pleasure in harming others?
~Does this person shut down and refuse to communicate?
~Does this person disappear for prolonged periods of time?
~ Does this person convey excessive adoration followed by brutal criticism or indifference?
~ Does this person spread rumors to damage a person’s character and reputation?
~ Does this person use flowery language that creates confusion?
~ Does this person compulsively seek out hedonistic gratification?
~ Does this person seem charming and affable in the public eye, but rages in private?
~ Is this person unrepentantly unfaithful?
~ Has this person stalked anyone?
~ Does this person describe all past romantic partners as ‘crazy’?
~ Does this person enlist others to advance vicious agendas?
~ Does this person have a criminal record?
By naming and analyzing the narcissist’s traits you can identify what sort of responses can disarm and curtail the progression of greater abuse.
In mythology, the mortal Cassandra is pursued by the God Apollo. Apollo promises to bestow upon her the gift of prophecy if she agrees to take him as her lover. However, once the mentorship is finished, Cassandra refuses to give her body to him.
Furious at being rejected Apollo rapes her and then levels a terrible curse upon her head. While Cassandra can still foresee the future, the curse ensures that not only will no one believe her they’ll think she’s purposely telling lies.
Many victims of narcissistic abuse have Cassandra Syndrome; a state of madness when one’s truth is not believed and chalked up as lies. Indeed I’ve encountered folks whose accounts of narcissistic abuse were not only discounted by friends and family members, but even discredited by therapists.
Given the surreal nature of narcissistic abuse and the narcissist’s ability to dupe others with a façade of normalcy and charisma, you likely struggled to even believe yourself. In fact, you likely minimized the horror of your traumatic reality and took on the narcissist’s perspective, in an attempt to dissociate from your pain. Your healing hinges on your recognizing your pain as real and accurate. It is only from this place that you can recover.
Ultimately it’s up to you to fully understand how narcissists operate so that you can determine how to best protect yourself. The narcissist in your life may be an employer, a spouse or a parent. You may be in a position where you need to somehow accommodate the dynamics with a narcissist. Or perhaps you are committed to remaining in the relationship. Alternatively you may be at the end of your rope and are seeking to strategize your way out of the relationship.
With insight and knowledge you can weigh all the options and wisely discern what is right for you.
THE VARIED SHADES OF NARCISSISM
Human beings possess characteristics that span a continuum. Take introversion-extroversion for example. Here we see a range of opposite ways of being, with traits of engagement and disengagement peppered in-between. Narcissism is similar, however unlike the introversion- spectrum, the narcissism spectrum draws distinctions of adaptive to malignant states.
One end of the scale connotes healthy narcissism and the opposite end connotes pathological narcissism. How benign or destructive a narcissist is depends on where they land on the spectrum.
Heinz Kohut and Otto Kernberg were psychoanalysts intrigued by the nature of narcissism. In 1968 psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut coined the term Narcissistic Personality Disorder, inspired by Otto Kernberg’s theory of narcissistic personality structure.
Otto Kernberg described healthy narcissism as a cohesive integrated Self. When we move into the unhealthy destructive realm we begin to see rigid personality traits and exploitive entitled ways of operating.
The further along on the narcissistic continuum the more the capacity for love diminishes and the greater the proclivity for domination.
A disorder is determined by persistent and chronic symptoms. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the form of narcissism that is deep-rooted and intractable. Many adults with NPD evidenced signs of oppositional behavior as children, foreshadowing a sociopathic disposition.
It wasn’t until 1980 that narcissistic personality disorder was officially recognized in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder and criteria were established for its diagnosis.
Although empirical data is sparse, NPD was said to effect only 1 percent of the population until the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study of personality disorders with 35,000 random subjects. Based on their findings, in 2008 they concluded that approximately 10% of the U.S. population has borderline and narcissistic disorders. If you factor in narcissistic traits, as opposed to just the full on disorder a much greater percentage of unhealthy narcissism is implied.
The personality disordered narcissist shows a persistent lack of compassion and insight, yet has the ability to impersonate feelings so as to manipulate others and achieve desired outcomes. Their need to be admired and in control infiltrates their relational maneuvering. In the most extreme form malignant narcissists are psychopaths, driven towards criminality and the urge to sadistically destroy others.
Those with noxious narcissistic traits and the full-blown disorder walk amongst us undetected. Often they are charming and highly successful. It is easy to be ruthlessly ambitious when you lack a conscience.
Regardless of where the narcissist falls on the spectrum the abuser in your life may present with traits that predispose him or her to play mind games, be avoidant, judgmental, self aggrandizing and rejecting.
Perhaps you have been subjected to more stealth insidious tactics just as gaslighting, virtue signaling and character assassination under the guise of being ‘helpful’. What matters most is waking up to the truth in order to heal from the torment of surreal relational trauma and calculated psychological abuse.
BEHIND THE MASK
Emily and Jake, a young professional couple, sought counseling for marital difficulties. At our initial meeting Jake appeared composed and cordial while Emily presented as agitated and profusely apologetic. Within a few weeks of sessions the farce was exposed.
The seemingly poised levelheaded Jake was in fact a covert Jekyll and Hyde narcissist. His Jekyll persona seemed caring and contrite, but behind closed doors his malevolence surfaced. It didn’t take long to discover that Emily’s blatant distress was a direct result of years of concealed marital abuse.
When Jake and I met individually he conveyed his hardship with graciously tolerating his ostensibly ‘mentally ill’ unsupportive wife. When he failed to convince me of his victimization, and evidenced an obvious disinterest in doing any genuine therapeutic work, it became pointless to proceed. Above all, his trivializing of episodic physical violence, arbitrary disappearances and sadistic exploitation of Emily’s dependency needs revealed who he was behind the mask.
When Jake realized he was unable to control the conditions of the relationship and the therapy, he ended their marriage through email. He retracted that threat when Emily filed for divorce, characterizing her decision to leave their marriage as just another example of her impulsive and irrational nature.
Emily’s fixation on Jake’s internal suffering kept her locked into an insidious trap. Believing only she could understand what lay beneath his arrogant passive-aggressive posturing fueled an unrealistic wish that somehow her devotion and love would reach him and change him for the better.
Emily understood that Jake, like all narcissists carry a narcissistic wound. The narcissistic wound is a term describing a profound humiliation that has left such a deep scar, that only constant adulation and admiration can assuage the pain. Without this continual supply of idolization, the narcissist is at risk of experiencing annihilating emptiness and crippling hate of self and others.
Jakes self-hatred and impotence were concealed behind self-aggrandizement and perfectionistic expectations of Emily. His conciliatory, but contemptuous posturing protected him from deep-seated feelings of inferiority and humiliation. His envy of his wife’s success and shame over his personal failures, especially with actualizing his business was framed as the romanticized plight of the starving artist. When Emily stopped admiring him and supporting him financially he was livid and had no use for her. She was no longer a positive source of ‘supply’.
Supply is that which feeds a narcissist’s pathological limitless need to feel powerful and worshipped.
In the end Jake took the typical route narcissists take when they perceive their supply betraying them. He maneuvered to ‘degrade and discard’.
FREE YOURSELF FROM BEING SUPPLY
While your compassion for the narcissist’s plight is a testimony to your humanity don’t let it dupe you into believing you have the power to love the narcissist into health. Once is too little and a thousand is never enough. It’s imperative to see through the charade and the narcissist’s disguise. That is the only way to overcome imminent objectification and exploitation.
If a person evidencing narcissistic traits lacks the capacity for insight and humility, it is highly doubtful that the deep psychological wounds inciting narcissism can be healed. Always operating as if under siege, the malignant narcissist is not able to access a true vulnerable self.
When the narcissist seems beguiling and ostensibly unassuming and humble they may seem genuine. In actuality they are putting on an act to glean supply and elicit compassion in order to leverage control.
As painful and surreal as it is to face the truth, you need to accept that you are entangled in an insidious web of lies, distortions, and mind games with a person who is impervious to reason and denies any wrongdoing.
Yet even when the fog of cognitive dissonance lifts and you recognize who the narcissist is, every fiber of your being may still resist the notion that love and reason cannot result in a positive outcome. After all our basic humanity tells us to believe in the good in others. To not give up on others.
We aggrandize the fantasy of loving another into health, tenaciously holding on to the dictum, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’
The paradox with a narcissist is that these basic moral tenets and directives don’t apply. It is an illusory narrative that offers a false sense of control.
Once you relinquish these basic moral tenets, it’s imperative to examine how you are enabling the dynamic with the narcissist in your life. Like many of the folks I see in therapy, I imagine you are not pleased with the suggestion that you may be feeding into the abuse.
While it is true that you have been unjustly victimized, the only way to free yourself from a power submission dynamic with a narcissist is to humbly examine the patterns within yourself that keep you locked into this destructive dance. This will result in an enhanced sense of agency and the ability to make healthier choices.
It’s crucial to always keep in mind that narcissists seek out supply. Understanding why you are targeted as a source of supply is instrumental in freeing yourself from narcissistic abuse.
Narcissists seek out supply that fulfills their insatiable need for immediate gratification and control. If you were raised to defer your needs and abdicate your instincts, your unmet needs for love and admiration can set you up to quickly attach and conform to the narcissist’s agenda. Your urgency to quickly attach interferes with being intelligently guarded. Naively trusting makes you a malleable target for objectification. Moreover, it points to difficulties with heeding your instincts and prioritizing self-protection.
Growing up in a chaotic household can also contribute to romanticizing the highs and lows of abuse and cause you to mistake intensity for intimacy. If you gravitate towards ‘amorous’ narcissists it’s also probable you confuse sex with love and perceive romantic mythology as mature love.
What’s more, if you have an empathic and selfless nature your instinctual aggression may be overshadowed by your need to always be fair and compassionate. Asserting limits, erecting boundaries and accessing your authority may feel unfamiliar or even wrong. Latching onto fantasies of goodness and rescue exposes you to the danger of narcissistic exploitation.
Being an endless well of generosity makes your threshold for pain dangerously high, as the fixation on being ‘virtuous’ outweighs defending yourself from harm.
Inner soul searching prepares you for creating an unassailable life raft that will keep you safe from further harm. Building this life raft requires you to;
~ Establish clear boundaries and limits
~Reclaim aggression as a source of power
~ Stop romanticizing suffering
~ Work through childhood trauma
~ Get therapy to undo Stockholm syndrome, a form of traumatic bonding in which victims are pathologically attached to their perpetrator
~Let go of illusions of unconditional love. Adult relationships have conditions and bottom lines
~ Define relational conditions and standards
~ Establish soothing self care rituals and sources of daily nourishment
Dismantling core beliefs and healing core wounds that set you up as narcissistic supply will necessitate having positive supports that mirror back to you your worth and your truth.
Keep the faith. With an arsenal of support, knowledge, self respect and authority you will be well armed to dodge the barrage of bullets detonated by narcissists.