The Intelligent Divorce

And further unorthodox advice on relationships, marriage and parenting

The Narcissist

Narcissism...Is it true? Is it a disorder or an excuse? And how the hell do you deal with them? Read More

Narcissist or A-Hole, does it matter?

I'm not a trained psychiatrist, but I have a few people in my life that are probably narcissists. I'm not sure it matters if narcissism appears in the DSM-5 or not. In fact, it doesn't matter whether anything appears in some book I have never seen or care to see.

As a member of the 7 billion people here on earth, what I need is a way to spot a problem and some coping skills to deal with the problem.

One of my dearest friends is a narcissist. He has a big opinion of himself and some really big ideas. Occasionally, he pulls off one of his big ideas. The world would be a lesser place without this man taking the huge risks that he does to complete his grand schemes. However, I can only take his company in limited doses, and since I know what motivates him I can cope with his behavior. I have a sister who also exhibits narcissistic traits, and since her actions have negative consequences I know to stay far far away from her. I also have another relative who has some pretty funky psychological behavior and I can recognize that for what it is too, although not narcissism I know the source of that problem too.

My life is what is and I can't do much to change it. In a perfect world I'd be living somewhere else and communicating with my family members by phone, but that is not my lot in life right now.

Perhaps the psychological industry should think about coming up with its own book outside of this scary DSM-5. The rest of us desperately need help dealing with the psychologically challenged, not an argument whether they exist or not.

PS: I got together with some friends yesterday, and we were comparing notes on the family behavior that occurred during the holidays. We were amazed at how we all experienced almost the identical bad behavior from our psychologically challenged relatives.

Authentic Summary

This is an honest post.
When you deal with a Narcissistic person, it is draining.
They so want attention and take it....

It is true that great things can come from the grandiosity and sheer will of these people.
But, you can see achievement in Bipolar people as well.
It is the upside to this unhappy disorder.

As far as family members.
I hope to write a piece or two on Narcissistic parents.

MB

yes

And when the narcissist is your parent? Well, that sucks big time. :-(

I would like to hear more..........

Narcissistic parents are often tough to differentiate from.
You want their love and attention, but rarely get it.
They are too preoccupied with themselves to notice you.

The child often adapts by trying harder or giving up.
Both options have some long term consequences.

If you are having trouble finding a partner who really cares about you, it might be good assess whether or not it's a pattern that you carry since childhood; a pattern that needs to stop.

MB

Parent who was a Narcissistic

I relate as I too suffered from a parent who was the perfect parent as my friends and neighbors would say. But they never lived with having to fill their needs at the cost of your own.

More public education about Cluster B disorders needed

A parent with npd (or any of the Cluster B disorders) can do a hell of a lot of psychological damage to their child.

My own theory: those with Cluster B pds never grew out of the normal narcissistic phase of emotional development that very small children go through; they never achieve cognitive and affective empathy: the ability to care about the feelings and needs of others. They're like toddlers wearing the body of an adult like a costume, using their adult-level intelligence to rationalize and justify their egocentric, infantile perceptions and behaviors.

My mother had borderline pd (formally diagnosed) and narcissistic pd. She treated my Sister and me like inanimate objects. She developed fixed delusions about us and about our father and projected her own negative thoughts, beliefs and motivations onto us. I wasn't supposed to have any thought or feeling that she herself didn't have. (If she wasn't thirsty, then I could not possibly be thirsty, etc.) I wasn't supposed to cry when she raged at me and physically battered me; my crying would enrage her further. She firmly believed that I had hated her and rejected her as a mother when I was an infant; she felt resentment about having to care for me, particularly if I was ill or injured. I was subjected to nearly constant criticism and high expectations of achievement.

Mother wasn't able to take responsibility for making me physically afraid of her, and instead accused me of being cold and unloving toward her, believing that was true for the rest of her life.

She had awareness of these unhealthy, distorted ways of thinking and behaving yet persisted in them; Mother wrote in her therapy journal, "There must be something wrong with me, aren't mothers supposed to at least like their own children?" and "I wish I didn't have this need to get revenge on people." My dad, my Sister and I were subjected to mother's revenge behaviors; her need to "get back" at people scared me. Its an impossible situation for a child to be in: to attempt to bond with a parent who is too egocentric, too delusional, too emotionally disregulated and too cognitively distorted to have normal empathy, normal altruism, and normal maternal feelings for her own children.

It would help if the general public had more understanding about the traits and behaviors of the various mental illnesses so that those exhibiting such traits could be helped, and their children could be rescued from further emotional abuse and damage.

-Annie

Truth Be Told

Annie,
Thank you for your contribution.
Your mom apparently could not help herself.
At least that is how she saw it. Ouch.

It must have been rough living with such deprivation and hurt.
We all want the loving succor from our mothers.
When she has NPD or something like it, the milk is poisoned.

A psychiatric diagnosis has value for the therapist and the patient.
It helps organize thinking and observe maladaptive patterns.

For people under the thumb of a person with a Personality Disorder, it helps to objectify it.
You then have some way to put your terrible experience into perspective.

Just make sure that you are not using the diagnostic category to belittle or demean another.

Then you are adding to the problem.

We are all human; some with small warts and some with huge ones.

MB

speaking the truth about child abuse by those with pds

How is speaking the truth about my personal experiences of pretty severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of my borderline pd/narcissistic pd mother being "belittling and demeaning? " Mental illness has a profoundly negative impact on the families of those who are mentally ill, not just on the person with the mental illness.

By sharing my experiences, I'm hoping that the psychiatric community will consider treating the Cluster B personality disorders as a *family issue*, if they realize that the children of moderately to severely disordered Cluster B individuals are experiencing very similar maltreatment that the children of drug and alcohol abusers are experiencing.

My experience is unfortunately not rare. If you check out the various Internet sites for the support of the adult survivors of personality disordered parents (particularly Cluster B parents) you will see many thousands of posts by thousands of members who endured very similar levels of abuse or neglect that I did.

Some kind of positive change, some revision of policy is needed RE protecting the children of Cluster B parents; its not just the person with the pd who suffers is my key point.

Well Said

Annie,
There is a growing literature on children of narcissist parents.
I agree that the trauma of these childhood experiences are damaging.
And, we can do better in talking about this subject.
Too many kids suffer - and grow up with those memories.

Please know that I in no way mean to correct you.
Since I don't know your case, I can't really comment on it directly.
And since many read these comments, I wanted to put out the issue of how people sometimes misuse labels.
I certainly don't mean to imply that this applies to you.
Very sorry if I stumbled in my communication.

Anyway, I am very interested in the need to protect kids from abusive parents.
This is one reason that I started The Intelligent Divorce Project in the first place.

MB

Thanks- excellent blog!

Thanks for your great blog, Dr. Banschick. As someone who has felt the burn of slander and manipulation from a narcissistic friend and colleague to whom I'd devoted a lot, hearing your views brings me comfort and understanding.

Comfort

I am gratified to know that I helped you.
That is the goal of my Intelligent Divorce Project.
It now appears to be morphing into other areas as well.

It really stings to be criticized unjustly.
Narcissists do it all the time.

MB

Other NPF traits?

I'm wondering, are other typical traits of a NPD playing a victim when someone criticizes him or her, and blaming everyone for things that go wrong?

i know several people who exhibit narcissistic traits, and along with saying (and thinking) they're always right, they also blame others for their bad choices and play the victim constantly, especially if you give them the slightest criticism.

Just curious.

Hi Avid Reader, In my

Hi Avid Reader,

In my experience, the further down the narcissistic spectrum, the better they are at bypassing all responsibility and playing the dramatic, completely contrived victim. I have read this is a way to avoid the repressed shame that they feel...although sometimes it often doesn't look like shame. It looks like arrogance and entitlement.

Part of this is a process of projection. They place their unwanted self-criticisms onto others...so they will blame the victim for their own hurtful behaviors, in effect playing the victim for the very act in which they are the perpetrator. I am sure their lack of empathy strongly affects this process.

Great Insight

Yes, people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are injured easily and attack just as easily.

Some can take on the victim role.
This can justify selfish behaviors.

MB

The Diagnosis Is Important

I was shocked to hear they almost took it out of the DSM V...I think its also a shame they've removed Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder.
I think by having a set of traits/symptoms with a cohesive name to identify with is the best way to begin to heal. Just like our physical bodies...otherwise there's too much guessing and not enough targeting. The problem I stuggle with is how mental illness is presented or described or perceived by the general public. The concept of Narcissist is so villified...it reinforces our intial urge to hate them and shut them out instead of teaching us why they've chosen to think and behave as they do and how to better manage our relationships with them (especially in the case of parental narcissism. I experienced parental narcissism and could not have safe relationships with my parents until I was out of their home/s and had created a safe and enjoyable life for myself...and once I understood that their inability to love me had nothing to actually do with me
I think maybe 're-branding' mental health diagnosis would help people to seek answers and heal hurts...especialy for those afflicted with narcissism since they are so deeply buried in denial and shame. My mother's entire life is one secret and lie after another...I cannot imagine how alone she must feel and despite attempts to reach her over the years she continues to choose what is familliar and 'safe'.

I have always found them

I have always found them repulsive and have been stunned and dismayed at how so many seemingly decent people will enable NPDs. But then, I grew up alongside one and suffered major internal damage as a result.

This society is becomming increasingly accepting and encouraging of NPD style behavior. Glad I won't be here much longer. You folks will be getting what you asked for... enjoy? lol

You Should Expand On This - Very Interesting

I would like to hear more about our culture of narcissism.
It sounds right. But, I would like to know more.

MB

Protect

Other than keeping them at an emotional distance and finding others to fill those roles, how should we protect ourselves and help them especially if they're family? It's good to hear the support and experience of others, it can feel like nobody else deals with this.

I was looking foward to this ... but.

I was looking foward to this ... but it appears you are still resting upon your cliches and prejudices, Mark

Take this bit;

"Here is an abbreviated view of narcissism:

• Exaggerated sense of one’s talents and importance
• Fantasies of great romance, great insight or great achievement
• Excessive need for admiration and attention
• Powerful sense of entitlement – can rationalize selfish acts as perfectly normal
• Tendency to use people as objects
• Lacks true empathy; but often can feign empathy quite well
• Easily hurt – and easily injures others (sometimes badly)
• Obsessed with oneself
• Lacks capacity to be self critical

We all have elements of these traits"
How can "Narcissists" be "them" (as in seperate from us) if "we" all have elements of these traits? The maintaining of this label also maintains the view of "narcissists" as a seperate species, "them", as in; not "us". This division keeps us in conflict with ourselves and stops us trying to mend the fractures in society that are caused by these conflicts. The whole "us and them" dichotomy promoted by the DSM and its disciples contributes to dysfunction and division. You need to ask yourself whether your role is one devoted to healing these divisions and dysfunction and if so, then you need to stop dividing "us" because it is inherently dysfunctional in itself.

Please, please stop with these convenient stereotypical cliches.

Conventional Stereotypes

Simon,
I enjoy your steadfastness. Look, there is no easy answer.
I will try an analogy, but I'm quite sure it will not satisfy you.

Light is both a particle and a wave.
It depends on your perspective.

Narcissism is a global human experience.
We all have elements, with infinite variations.
Yet, some people are locked into an enduring narcissistic style of action.
And, some of these people make others miserable and may suffer themselves.

It is worth having the NPD diagnosis to help them and others in their path.
It is worth critiquing the diagnosis, because humans are more complex than a label.

I kind of like this tension.
Its honest - and pragmatic at the same time.

Now, please disagree. :)

MB

A disagreement :-)

Mark,

I agree with the first bit. Just not with the last bit. I know I have tried to explain why before, but I’ll give it another go, from another angle;

If you’ve taken the time to have a wonder round my blog, you will have noticed that one of my main interests and motives for writing is to investigate the sources of conflict, whether relational or otherwise. The defence and protection of divisions has been extremely well demonstrated in the comments on your earlier entry on “Narcissists”. The divisions had important survival value for our distant ancestors. I have come to the conclusion that one of the greatest sources of conflict we have in the modern world is the phylogenetic tendency to divide and defend those divisions. Based upon a very primitive survival mechanism we instinctively divide others in to two groups; safe and danger. While this may have worked fine for our distant ancestors, I believe it is highly dysfunctional towards the social goals of modern humans; a peaceful, integrated society. We all want peace, happiness and contentment in our lives, yet, so often, we seem to manifest the complete opposite, why is this? Well the divisions that we are phylogenetically drawn towards create conflicts, whether they are divisions of self, divisions of groups, be they religion based, nationalistic, football teams, gangs or political bias. Our primitive phylogeny always ends up with the instinct to form an “us and them” dichotomy.

Nowhere is this more evident than watching the behaviour of primates, especially chimpanzees, when a rival group enters another groups territory; there is war. We like to see ourselves as far removed, superior and evolved from our cousins, but the reality can be seen in our religious or nationalistic wars, in the football terraces, gang wars AND in relationships. The veneer we wear over our phylogenetic heritage is thin indeed.

Division in relationships is major cause of relational disharmony and it is nearly always rooted in one or both partners being internally divided. By this I mean interrupted or incomplete neural integration so that the mind itself has conflicting needs that it cannot communicate to itself and find a solution to; an ongoing state of dissonance. These conflicts inevitably end up being projected on to the dynamics of any external relationship. The greatest source of our unhappiness occurs because of the paradox of loving; love itself can be a great source of fear. Love and fear are like opposite sides of a magnet, yet too often these two opposing drives are competing inside of us. The label “Narcissist” provides nourishment for the drive that causes us most misery in life; fear. And is a weapon that stabs love in the heart.

The Kraepelinian dynamic of the DSM is based on division. Not only does it artificially divide the diverse symptoms of our internal conflicts in to manageable taxonomies; artificial because almost everywhere these symptoms overlap or otherwise contradict the divisions yet people seem to turn a blind eye to these inconsistencies, but it also serves (for those less knowledgeable than ourselves?) to define a dichotomy between the “mad and the sane”, or the “ill and the healthy”. I’d almost go as far as to suggest that the very nature of the DSM is one based in narcissism, or at the very least, but perhaps unintentionally, one that promotes narcissistic values and gives the opportunity for some individuals to adopt a narcissistic podium with which to pontificate from. The myth of “The Narcissist”, especially in the relationship dynamic, panders to our very narcissism and provides a context from which to project out our internal divisions and conflicts on to the victims of our own narcissistic needs. No “label” contributes more to relational disharmony and conflict and division in relationships than that of “The Narcissist”. It’s just so blatantly convenient a label to use and is the most overused, misused and inherently dysfunctional of all labels in relationship dynamics.

I would sum it up by suggesting that the use of the term “Narcissist” as a branding label itself is in fact sourced in our own phylogenetic narcissistic roots.

If labels such as “The Narcissist” have any value at all, it is only as an emotional crutch for the emotional invalid and we would be better served convincing people they don’t need a crutch, especially one that keeps us divided and maintains opposition and conflict. Division is self defeating and defeating of the goal we all wish for in life; the peace, happiness and fulfilment of togetherness.

The job of anyone in the “mental health” field should be one that leads us all towards a contentment and fulfilment of life, for all “mental health” issues are essentially caused by discontentment and a stalling of life. The discontentment and stalling of life is both caused by and leads to divisions and oppositions.

I hope my disagreement was to your liking ;-)

There's nothing wrong with "shorthand" ways of conveying an idea

For example, everyone carries fat on their bodies. Its normal and healthy to have a certain percent of fat as part of the total body weight. However, most people are not the "perfect" weight for their age, height, and sex, because they carry some excess fat. So technically, a great percentage of the population could be accurately referred to as "fat."

However the specific diagnostic term "morbidly obese" is useful to apply to someone when their body fat exceeds a certain percentage of their total weight, and its useful to apply the term because it then lets the person know that they need to LOSE the excess fat in order to be more HEALTHY and reduce their chances of acquiring the diseases and conditions associated with excess fat.

In the same way, narcissistic pd is a "shorthand" way of conveying the concept of an EXCESS of the normal and healthy trait of self-esteem (plus other traits and behaviors taken to an unhealthy extreme.)

Healthy self-esteem allows us to feel that we are just as good and deserving as other people; it helps us do proactive, healthy things for ourselves and for others.

Excess self-esteem however makes a person feel superior to others, entitled to special, preferred treatment, and feel justified in treating other people with disdain or contempt because they are "inferior." And coupled with a lack of affective empathy, excessive self-esteem results in a person who can do great damage to other people.

The worst-case scenario of excessive self-esteem combined with a lack of empathy, plus lack of remorse, plus lack of a conscience, is psychopathy.

So I see creating labels (such as adolescent, middle-class, morbidly obese) as just a shorthand way of referring to a specific set of conditions, factors or behaviors, instead of laboriously listing and describing each and every trait/factor/condition separately.

But high levels of

But high levels of destructive narcissism is actually caused by an extremely low self esteem and a defensive strategy to protect what is left of it.

two different sub-categories of narcissistic pd

I have read of two separate basic forms of narcissistic pd; Randi Kreger wrote an article about that here at Psychology Today.

One form is the "invulnerable narcissist": someone who truly does have extremely high self-esteem due to being treated like a little god by adoring parents. Nothing is too good for their Golden Child, and the child is rarely if ever punished for any wrongdoing. Such Golden individuals come to regard preferential treatment as deserved and natural, due to their superior status, and come to regard other people as mere objects or slaves: inferiors who exist only to service their needs. In Asian cultures its called "The Little Emperor" syndrome.

The other form is the "vulnerable narcissist": such individuals actually have extremely low self-esteem, but create a false persona of bravado and superiority, or even highly controlling, domineering behavior (even cruelty) toward others, to mask their true feelings of inferiority.

And I still say that there's nothing wrong with referring to a collection of traits or behaviors with a shorthand "label." Its silly to say, "My heart is light, my eyes are crinkling at the corners and my mouth is turned up and I feel like laughing" instead of just using the "label" or short-hand version: "I'm so happy!"

I have a lot of respect for

I have a lot of respect for Randi. An acquaintance of mine (I like to think of him as a friend as we have had a lot of communication over the years) co-authored with Randi; "The Stop Walking on Eggshells; workbook".

I'd have to disagree with her dichotomy as presented above, though ...

Response to Simon

Simon have you grown up with NPD parents?? If you didn't experience this, don't bother to go there, Simon. If you're trying to heal, it damn well needs to be us and them! How helpful to have the criteria for such people. True narcs will never heal, again, if you think they truly can, you don't know what you're dealing with, but they're fantastic at harming everyone else in the course of trying to heal their false selves. Of course there's a continuum, but if they're high end, no contact only way. To do other is waste of time/possibly masochistic/naive/plain hopeful against the odds...

Question

Dr. Banschick,
The question that I have a difficult time reconciling: Do narcissists ever appear deeply noble, such as being an advocate and leader for a very good cause, but then can also have a capacity for these traits, too? The person who I know fits every criteria and description in this post, but then has the most noble public personna that it baffles me.

Greatness and Narcissism

Too often leaders have strong narcissistic traits.
It propels them to the top in the first place.

Pretending to be empathetic while really being manipulative can useful to a politician.
Less than authentic charisma can also be found in a corporate giant or a member of the clergy.

Yet, such people can do great things despite and because of themselves.

Just know that leaders are just people.
And they often disappoint us.

A noble public persona may indeed be noble.
But, he or she may have a secret life as well.

Welcome to our strange world.

MB

How does one know if your bf is a narcissist?

Hi,

My bf has joked with me a few times that he might be a narcissist. I think he jokes about it because he might have some genuine concerns about it. I have noticed that he does not initiate texting or emailing me, I am usually the one doing it and he rarely askes about MY day. However, in person, things seem to be different and he is more caring. He is also very concerned about his appearance, lifting weights, etc., maybe a bit too much. I sometimes don't feel cared about enough and I wonder if he might be a narcissist to some degree. How will I know?

The "N" word.

I recently read an article on Schizophrenia that stated that referring to a person with symptoms of schizophrenia as "A Schizophrenic" was morally akin to referring to a black person by using the "N" word. I think this also really sums up my position on the use of the term "A Narcissist". I guess it's all about the motive and intent of the person. In its prolific modern use it becomes a derogatory and slandatory term. We are all guilty of narcissism and destructiveness to a certain degree and we can all be “A Holes” sometimes, it would do us all well to remember that.

We like to present ourselves as "spotlessly white" and that prejudicial perception is often assisted by painting others as blacker than they actually are.

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Mark Banschick, M.D., is a psychiatrist and author of The Intelligent Divorce book series.

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