When I first started writing about narcissism, shortly after I went No Contact with my own narcissists, like many other Adult Children of Narcissists(ACON) bloggers, I was a hater. I thought all narcs were evil and should be lined up and shot. I didn’t think there was a cure, and drank the Kool-Aid that they were soulless demons who would never change.
Rage and even hatred is a normal reaction when you’re going No Contact, and is probably necessarily in order to free yourself and avoid any further damage. After all, anger is necessary to override the fear and depression of being trapped in a relationship with a narcissist, and it’s true that the things they do can be very damaging and bad for your mental health. But holding onto hatred once the danger has passed is nearly as bad for you as narcissistic abuse itself. In fact, it can turn you into a narcissist.
At some point, I began to grow tired of the endless narc-bashing I saw on almost every blog and website written for victims. In fact, it became pretty clear that a number of the narc-abuse victim bloggers were in fact acting pretty narcissistic themselves, especially after I was cruelly mobbed by a group of such bloggers after I dared to suggest that maybe not all narcissists were evil and maybe some could even be cured of their disorder. To them, this was blasphemy. How dare I put NPD and C-PTSD in the same box, suggesting that they might in fact be closely related and that NPD was itself a result of trauma? It didn’t help when I admitted I had a BPD diagnosis. To some of the haters, being a borderline is almost as bad as being a narcissist. After all, people with BPD, having a Cluster B disorder, are also known to manipulate others and be selfish and abusive (though not every borderline acts out against others — some only hurt themselves).
I began to want to understand NPD instead of hating them. I joined a forum where both narcissists and non-narcissists who have had to deal with them post, and realized that the narcissists suffer too. Many of them even want to heal. I was surprised by how little drama there was on the forum. It just seemed like both groups wanted to understand what made the other one tick. I learned a lot there about the way narcissists think and realized they do have feelings. It was a good experience.
Something else happened too. When I realized not all narcissists are evil and some are even self-aware and really don’t want to hurt others, I was finally able to look at myself with more clarity. It came as a bit of a shock at first that I fit on that spectrum myself. I actually fit the profile for covert narcissism pretty well. This was sobering, in fact devastating, but I dealt with that by starting this blog. I don’t know if I have NPD (my therapist doesn’t think so) but I am definitely on the spectrum and have several N traits. And yes, I have at times even been abusive to others, without realizing I was being abusive. Realizing I had inflicted pain on others was upsetting to me, but ultimately enlightening.
People develop NPD due to childhood trauma or at least a lack of mirroring or unconditional love from their parents, especially the mother. They lack empathy because they were never taught empathy, which is a learned behavior. I won’t get into the mechanics of how NPD develops (I’ve discussed that at length elsewhere and any psychology book about narcissism can explain how that works).
“Research shows nearly 70% of children with an NPD parent have NPD themselves.”
There’s a concept called “fleas” which is well-known in the ACON community. That means that you have picked up narcissistic traits yourself from the narcissists in your life, like a dog picks up a case of fleas. But what if those of us with fleas were honest and admitted we are actually on the spectrum ourselves? That we picked up those traits so we could survive? That we might even be narcissists? All narcissists also had “fleas,” since it is in part a learned behavior. They picked up those traits from their own abusers in order to survive. It was hardly ever a a conscious decision though, as many of the haters believe.
I didn’t write this to make excuses for narcissistic behavior or the abuse they often inflict. Those who aren’t self aware, or those who are high on the spectrum (malignant narcissists) usually have no desire to change, and probably can’t change. They are too far gone. I also believe in No Contact. It’s really the only viable way to “handle” a narcissist who has no desire to change the way they act. You can’t make a narcissist want to change, either. They either do or they don’t. Don’t try to coax a narcissist to change, because it won’t work and you will only frustrate yourself. The desire to do so must come from within.
It’s also a myth that if you’re asking yourself the question, “am I a narcissist?” that automatically means you are not one. It’s a myth that narcissists can’t be self-aware. If you are asking yourself if you’re a narcissist, there is a chance you could be one. There are online tests you can take to find out, or you can get an official diagnosis to rule it out. I read a shocking statistic too: The Everything Guide to Narcissistic Personality Disorder states that two thirds of children who have parents with NPD go on to develop NPD themselves! I think many (if not most) cases of “fleas” are actually cases of low-level narcissism. Even Pete Walker, in his book, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, believes that narcissism is the “Fight” response to narcissistic abuse (explained in the concept of the “4 F’s”) . In other words, all people with NPD also have C-PTSD that underlies it. This isn’t a popular view with abuse victims (which is understandable), but it makes perfect sense. Yet many ACONs, even those who have read Walker’s book, deny that narcissists can also be victims (and vice versa). That there’s any overlap or gray areas. They just assume people with NPD are all evil, soulless monsters incapable of self-awareness or any good intentions and that as victims, they are blameless and have never hurt a fly.
For awhile now, I have believed that narcissists are just another type of victim of narcissistic abuse. This has earned me some side-eye (and worse) from some of the narc-abuse bloggers, but I don’t care. It’s what I have come to believe. The disorder is unnecessarily stigmatized, but not many people with NPD (unlike those with BPD) are fighting back against the stigma. Maybe some don’t care (or in the case of malignant narcissists, even like the stigma). But there are those who hate it and wish there was a more nuanced view of this disorder. It bothers them that even therapists won’t take them on because of the stigma (maybe this is part of the reason they are rarely in therapy).
A few months ago a diagnosed NPD started commenting on this blog. She was in therapy and trying to change the way she acted. I’m not sure what happened to this person (she hasn’t commented here in awhile), but I simply could not think of her as evil in any way. She opened up to me about the trauma she endured and we became Facebook friends. She just seemed like someone who hurt a lot all the time, and had become a near-recluse due to the shame in having the disorder and being afraid she was going to hurt someone. I didn’t see much, if any, difference between her and any other victim of narcissistic abuse, despite her NPD diagnosis.
Yesterday I got a new follower on Twitter. This person just started a blog about what it feels like to have NPD and is in therapy for it and actively trying to change: please click on this link:
Main (updated) site on WordPress.com:
Old site (with forum): http://www.healingfromnpd.com/
The woman who runs the site practices mindfulness, something many people with BPD and those who blog about having it are familiar with. I took a look at her website and liked what I saw. She doesn’t glorify narcissism or act like she’s proud of it. In fact, her site debunks many of the myths that so many of the narc-abuse bloggers have come to believe about narcissism. There aren’t too many blogs like hers, in fact hardly any. There was a time when BPD was almost as stigmatized as NPD (and still is by many people), but now it’s lost much of that stigma due to anti-stigma activism by borderlines who blog about what it’s like to have it and have proved they CAN change. I think the same thing needs to happen with NPD and this is one blogger who is doing just that. I highly recommend her site, not only to self-aware low level narcissists who don’t want to be that way anymore, but also to narcissistic abuse victims who think they have “fleas.” I think sites like hers can help reduce the stigma and give a more nuanced and fair view of narcissism and how it feels “from the other side.”