Why empaths and narcissists seem to need each other.

narcissist-and-empath
Credit: Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed

The concept of narcissism and HSP (highly sensitive person) or empathic traits coexisting in the same person is a matter that has very little research behind it, but I definitely think there is a strong case to be made for it. Hear me out before you hit the backspace key. I actually think it’s at the core of why empaths and narcissists are so uncannily drawn to each other.

In my article A Match Made in Hell: Narcissists and HSPs, I wrote about the tendency for narcissists and HSPs to form trauma-bonds with each other–that’s really just a fancy way of saying these two seemingly opposite types of people are often attracted to each other and form codependent relationships.

The trauma bond.

The narcissist is both attracted to and envious of the empath’s vulnerability and high empathy. They are attracted to it for a very simple reason:  they need it badly. As children, narcissists failed to be mirrored or loved unconditionally by their parents, and are love-starved, even though they’d rather die than ever admit it.   The empath, in turn, is able to love the narcissist without condition, to the point of allowing themselves to be sucked dry.

Narcissists also envy the empath’s ability to love unconditionally because on some level, usually unconsciously but sometimes consciously, they know they jettisoned their own ability to love and feel empathy a long time ago in order to survive.  Most were highly sensitive children but shamed for it.  Many were bullied.   So they learned to bury their emotions behind an invulnerable facade because continuing to be so vulnerable hurt too much. Empathy may be a gift, and I think most narcissists were born with that gift, but were never shown how to use it and were punished for having it.  It became a curse instead of a blessing, so they sent the gift into exile and shored up a false self to make sure it never saw the light of day again.

Knowing they jettisoned their ability to access their own vulnerability, combined with a continued starvation for unconditional love and acceptance, is what draws narcissists to empaths. They abuse the empath, either consciously or unconsciously, because they hate the fact they need their love so badly, and the empath’s sensitivity also unconsciously reminds them of their own sensitivity that caused them so much pain. It’s a constant reminder of the shame they felt as children for being so sensitive, but they also can’t live without it. So they punish the empath for reminding them of their own “weakness” and making them feel so needy.

The narcissist, in their neediness and simultaneous resentment of being so needy, feeds off the empath like a vampire. If they are malignant, they don’t care that they’re destroying the very person who gives them a reason to live. They may even get some satisfaction in knowing they are punishing them. If the narcissist is not malignant, they may feel some guilt over what they do to  the person who gives them so much love, but be unable to stop doing it. Or more often, they aren’t even aware they are doing it. They just seem like a bottomless well that can’t get enough and keeps on demanding more.

Of course such a relationship is extremely unhealthy, even deadly, for the empath, who will eventually either leave the narcissist or be completely sucked dry or in the worst cases even destroyed. But the empath does gets something important out of the relationship too. They truly believe that through their unconditional love, they are saving the narcissist from him or herself.

Common roots.

Empaths and narcissists often both come from abusive or dysfunctional families. Both started life as highly sensitive children. But at some point they diverged. While the empath embraced their own vulnerability and learned how to use their gift to help others and find joy and authentic connection with others, the narcissist rejected it because it seemed more like a curse and made them feel too much pain. If they were never shown any empathy or were shamed for being too sensitive, it’s understandable why they might have rejected their own empathy and covered it over with a facade of toughness.

Why are empaths drawn to narcissists?

Empaths, like narcissists, often have narcissistic parents, and are unconsciously drawn to those who remind them of their parents or perhaps a sibling or other close family member.  They are naturally drawn to those who seem to need healing, and in embarking on a relationship with a narcissist, they are unconsciously attempting to heal their parent or other family member. This is why empaths so often become codependent to narcissists.

Empaths are able to see through the facade the narcissist presents to the world, to their hidden true self. They can see the hurt, abandoned child that lives inside every narcissist. They truly believe they can “fix” them and transform them into authentic, feeling humans capable of returning what they have been given. Of course, this belief is almost guaranteed to end in disappointment (if the empath is lucky), and possibly much worse. For a narcissist to change and stop the pattern of abuse, the desire to do so must come from inside of them. They must be willing to drop their mask of invulnerability and do the hard work of reclaiming the vulnerability they were born with and gave up a long time ago. The empath can’t make a narcissist want to change. Just because they can see through to the sensitive true self doesn’t mean they will be able to draw him or her out. They can die trying, but it probably won’t work. The unwilling, un-self-aware (or malignant) narcissist is likely to punish them for trying.

Failed empaths?

There may even be a genetic connection between narcissism and those who become empaths. I’ll go out on a limb and even speculate that they might even be the same thing–the narcissist being a “failed empath.  It’s ironic but I definitely think there’s a connection.

But how can that be? Narcissists are incapable of empathy, have problems feeling and expressing deep emotions, and are incapable of loving anyone but themselves. Isn’t that the opposite of being an empath?

Well, yes and no. The explanation is complicated, so I hope you stay with me here.

As I’ve explained before, I think most narcissists began life as highly sensitive people who at an early age suffered trauma due to abuse. This caused them to shut off their too-vulnerable true (authentic) selves from the world and in its place construct an elaborate defense mechanism–the false self–initially meant to protect the vulnerable true self from further harm, which has no defenses at all. Even empaths who are not narcissists have some protective psychological armor, so they did not need to construct a false self to take the place of the true one. Healthy empaths are truly authentic people who feel deeply and are emotionally honest with themselves and others. Narcissists were born with no emotional defenses at all; the false self replaces the true one and appears invulnerable. But this is only an illusion. When you face a narcissist, you will never know who that person really is because all they will show you is the protective mask they have created. They are so terrified of being hurt again that they will attack with vicious ferocity if they think you pose any threat to its flimsy underpinnings. It must be a terrifying way to live.

The high sensitivity of a narcissist is retained in the way they react to personal insults or slights. They overreact when they feel like they are being attacked, ignored, or they perceive their source of narcissistic supply may be in danger. They are paranoid, touchy, and often lack a sense of humor about themselves. They may try to appear as if they don’t care, but if you know narcissism, it’s usually not too hard to see the emotional fragility behind their defenses and acts of false bravado. When it comes to other people, they can seem incredibly insensitive.

Narcissists who aren’t high on the spectrum and become self aware may be able to reclaim emotional empathy toward others, because empathy is a skill that can be learned.  A forum member on the NPD board I read (who has NPD) described something that happened with her husband that warmed my heart.  She said he had hurt her feelings, and she caught herself about to attack him.  She felt her defenses go up, but instead of acting out, she decided to NOT act out and just allow herself to feel the hurt.  Instead of attacking him as she normally would have, she cried.   He put his arms around her and she allowed herself to be held and comforted, to feel vulnerable and cared for.   She said at first she felt awkward and uncomfortable, but the next time it happened, she felt less uncomfortable.  Now allowing herself to be loved is becoming second nature and she says she is starting to feel some tenderness toward him too, and even moments of a new feeling that she thinks is real love, a warm feeling not based on getting supply from him or bolstering her ego.   So I think empathy takes practice.  If you were born with it, you don’t lose it, but it may be hard to access and takes a conscious effort to learn to reclaim and use.

But before a narcissist can really get better and feel empathy toward others, they first need to develop self-compassion (this is NOT the same as self-pity, but is actually empathy for the rejected child-self). They must also be courageous enough to stay in treatment and confront and release the traumatic feelings that lie hidden beneath the mask.

This usually only happens when the narcissist hits rock bottom and suffers a massive loss of supply, sending them into a depression.  At that point they may enter therapy or realize the problems they have are because of themselves.   The problem with this is once things begin to improve or they begin to feel better again, they are likely to leave therapy because the work to get to their authentic self is too painful.    It takes an enormous amount of motivation, courage and positive thinking for a narcissist to stay in therapy long enough to begin to access their true self and embrace their own vulnerability.  It can be done, but it’s not easy.

For malignant narcissists though, things are very different.  Stay with me here because things are about to get complicated.

The connection between malignant narcissism and high sensitivity.

warm_cold_empathy
Warm and cold empathy.

In my research about NPD, there has been a lot of discussion about a concept called “cold” empathy.   Most of us associate narcissism with a lack of empathy, but this isn’t exactly the case. Most narcissists–especially malignant ones–do have empathy, but it’s not emotional or affective empathy; it’s cognitive or “cold” empathy. What this means is that a narcissist KNOWS what you are feeling, and may use what they know you are feeling against you. Cold empathy is “felt” on the cognitive (thinking) level, but not as an emotion, and that is why the narcissist can feel no compunctions about turning your feelings against you in order to punish or hurt you.

An extreme example of this would be the sadistic, psychopathic rapist. The rapist “smells” your fear and uses that against you to become even more sadistic. It *is* empathy, but it’s “cold”–the rapist understands exactly what you are feeling and your fear makes him feel powerful, so he increases the level of torment. He feeds off your fear like a vulture feeds on carrion. You don’t need to tell him you’re afraid; he KNOWS. He just doesn’t care and even derives pleasure from it.

Cold empathy is the twisted mirror image of warm empathy, which non-pathological people are capable of feeling on an emotional, not just a cognitive level. HSPs and empaths have an excess of warm empathy.  Here’s where things get complicated. If a narcissist is also a failed empath, their high sensitivity could morph into a quality that seems almost supernatural and is utterly chilling–a cold, sadistic form of “empathy” where they seem to be able to see into your mind. A non-sensitive person would not be able to detect your emotions without you telling them how you feel, and therefore not have that creepy, unsettling way of “seeing into your soul” that the malignant narcissist does. So, the higher the sensitivity a narcissist has (and the more the “warm” empathy has been shut out or turned “cold”), the more malignant they will be.

narcautism_spectrum
Malignant narcissism is high on the HSP spectrum.
Credit: http://dondepresso.rujic.net/post/116940034025/manic-chart-narcautism-spectrum

This idea was actually illustrated in the humorous-but-true graph (shown above), where initially I wondered why malignant narcissism was showing so high in empathic/HSP traits. But actually it makes perfect sense. An empath who adopts narcissism as a way to cope and whose warm empathy all turns cold will become malignant. A less sensitive person (or a highly sensitive person who still retains some warm empathy) may still become a narcissist, but they won’t become malignant. Of course, at their core, all narcissists are highly sensitive. They just don’t want you to know.

In summary, then, empaths and HSPs can be the most kind and caring people you can ever hope to meet–or the most dangerous. A narcissistic empath is definitely someone you’d want to avoid.

They are two sides of the same coin. The tragedy is that a malignant narcissist can destroy a previously healthy empath, but it doesn’t work the other way around: a non-narcissistic empath can’t change a malignant narcissist into a good person.

*****

Further reading:

Narcissists and Empaths: The Ego Dynamic

Test driving narcissism (how I almost became a narcissist).

test_drive

This is directly related to my last post, about HG Tudor’s theory of codependency and NPD.   My parents tried hard to turn me into a narcissist, and it almost worked.   But my innate empathy (which I’m finally learning to rediscover in myself) was what saved me from the curse of NPD.

This post was originally published on Lucky Otter’s Haven on January 21, 2015. But I think it’s actually better suited for this blog.

I remembered how I almost became a narcissist. I think I was finally ready to remember. It’s part of my journey to wellness.

I immediately began digging through boxes of old photos, because I was burning inside to write this post, to confess everything, and photos say a lot.

Narcissism runs in families, and although exacerbated by abuse or neglect, it can develop later in a susceptible person, and it happens because of a conscious choice the person makes. They may not actually be saying, “Okay, I’m going to be a narcissist now,” but they have been teetering on the brink of darkness and the would-be narcissist decides it’s easier to plunge right into narcissism than to keep being hurt as their true self.

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3 generations of women: my maternal grandmother Anna Marie, my mother in the center, and me at age 5. (ca 1964) Our family dinners were always this stiff and formal.

Narcissists start life as Highly Sensitive People.
For a number of reasons, I’ve come to believe most narcissists started out as HSPs (highly sensitive people). I will not go into my reasoning here, but I strongly believe these are people who once felt things too much, and if they were abused, it would have been too much to bear. To survive, they constructed a false self in an effort to protect the too-sensitive self (true self) from further hurt. The problem is, for narcissists, the false front works way too well, so well that once it solidifies, it’s there forever.

Tormenting my therapist.
I remembered the therapist I had during my early 20’s. I was terribly infatuated with him, obsessed beyond all logic. This is called transference in psychotherapy and my therapist kept trying to get me to “work through it” but my crush kept intensifying. It was killing me. One day I told him I couldn’t take it anymore and walked out the door in mid session. I never saw him again.

I realize now how narcissistic I acted during my sessions with him. I was attractive and knew it so I flirted openly, tried to get him to hug me (he actually did this until he realized it was a manipulative game on my part and there was a definite sexual aspect).

One day I stormed into his office having a hissy fit because I’d found a magazine in the waiting room with his and a woman’s name on the label. I stomped in, started waving the magazine in the air demanding he tell me why he never told me he had a girlfriend. His answer was quite reasonable (and it was of course none of my business), but I sulked the whole rest of the session and refused to say anything. I’d show him!

After I quit therapy, I hoped I had hurt him. I think I was angry at him for “making” me like him too much and leaving him was my method of punishing him. Of course, my leaving therapy didn’t hurt him. I was just his annoying, demanding, manipulative little bitch of a patient and he probably couldn’t stand me. I wanted to think I was hurting him, but I was really only hurting myself.

It shames me to remember all this, but I really manipulated that therapist, and annoyed him all the time ON PURPOSE. I was sadistic…I was crushing so hard, maybe my strong feelings for him were causing me to want to hurt and anger him. I remember getting a thrill if I could see a look of hurt on his face. It made me feel more powerful–that I could do the hurting instead of always being the one to get hurt.

lauren_bennett2
1977: Still a nice, sensitive, codependent girl at age 18…things were about to get ugly.

I was becoming partly dissociated from the me that is now and the me that was before. But it was all a defense against being hurt, and I knew it. I just couldn’t admit it.

I never saw my therapist’s diagnosis of me (I was there for anxiety and panic attacks) but it makes me wonder if “NPD” might have been one of the diagnoses. I’m pretty sure it was still called NPD in the early 1980s.

lauren_bennett1
I think I can see the beginning of the “narcissist stare” in this photo of me from 1984. I look colder and harder than in the 1977 photo. I see this same look sometimes on my daughter, who is close to the same age I was here. I think this look can also be seen in some Borderlines.

The Danger Zone.
Sometime in my late teens and early 20s I began to act “like I didn’t care.” It was feigned but at the time my high sensitivity was shameful to me. I didn’t want it. It was my albatross, my curse. I was tired of being teased about it. So I made a choice to just act like a different person. Act like a person who didn’t give a shit about anything. I began to drink heavily and smoked a lot of weed to numb the pain of being me. I began to be over-critical of others and gossipy, something I had never been, and spread lies about people I didn’t like to anyone who would listen.

My envy of others (something I still struggle with) was off the charts. I couldn’t stand people who had more than me, were prettier or thinner than me, were smarter than me, or had a better relationship or job than me. I would spread lies and rumors about these more fortunate people. Mostly, it backfired, for my Aspieness made it almost impossible for me to maintain my masks or hold up a lie. A good narcissist has to be good at reading social cues. I wasn’t, but I sure did try.

I found it hard to feel happy for anyone. If a friend got a promotion or fell in love, I felt bitter and jealous instead of glad for them. I’d rant that they didn’t deserve it. And I actually believed this, to a point.

I imagined myself not “needing” anyone. I dated a few guys and unceremoniously dumped them, and yet I was so lonely. I longed to be in a happy relationship, but couldn’t allow myself to be vulnerable enough. I treated men like objects.

I didn’t listen to people. I interrupted them, only thinking of what I would say next. I only wanted to talk about me. Other people were becoming objects too.

I lied to people about my accomplishments (which in actuality were few), my background, my social status. But no one really believed me. I wasn’t good at this game. In fact, I sucked at it.

I think I came very close to becoming an N. Over time, this hard outer shell I’d constructed out of the ashes of my own pain ossified and grew more stable. I was forgetting what it felt like to be vulnerable and human.

There was something else too. During the time I was test driving narcissism, I suffered from severe panic attacks (which is what led me into the therapy described above). I felt like I was out of my body a lot, and that made me panic. Some of these attacks were so bad people thought I was having epileptic seizures, because when I was “out of my body,” I had trouble controlling my movements and would stumble around as if drunk, or my eyes would sort of glaze over as if I wasn’t quite “there.” To rule out epilepsy, I had an EEG done. It came out normal. The only thing I can think of is that somehow the dissociated state I was in was causing me to feel detached from my own body, because I wasn’t “myself.”

Coming back from N hell
One day when I was about 26 (and the same year I got married to my MN ex), a friend of mine from high school told me she didn’t think she could be friends with me anymore, because I was too mean and she didn’t trust me. Other people were calling me out for spreading rumors and lying and my whole flimsy construct came tumbling down. I couldn’t escape from the web of lies I’d created, and now that web threatened to engulf me. It was terrifying but was the wake up call I needed.

I finally realized I was hurting people. Even then, I hated knowing I’d hurt someone else more than I hated being hurt by others. I was overcome with guilt and shame, and realized I couldn’t keep up the mean-girl front anymore. I didn’t become a narcissist, but I came close, so close.

This wake up call catapulted me back into my normal self and the horrific panic attacks soon subsided. (I still have panic attacks from time to time, but they are specific to certain situations and nowhere near as numerous as they were from 1979 – 1984 or so.)

Choosing codependency.
I’d been balancing at the precipice, and ultimately chose codependency (sometimes now referred to as “inverted narcissism”). Looking back, that was actually a very wise choice for if I hadn’t, if my guilt had not been strong enough to stop me in my tracks, I would have been a much different person today, and would not be doing what I’m doing right now. Sharing my journey with other survivors of narcissistic abuse. It’s a contagious thing, and any of us from narcissistic families could have gone in that direction. But we didn’t. That’s why we, not the narcs, are the lucky ones.

I think my Aspergers actually saved me [EDIT: what I thought was Aspergers when I wrote this was actually Avoidant PD + BPD + social anxiety]. I was always bad at reading social cues and therefore can’t lie well and are bad at maintaining a workable mask. To be a narcissist would require me to use skills I did not possess. So I chose codependency because I had not been trained by my MN family to think for myself or trust my own judgment. I was trained to be Narcissistic Supply. That was a role I was much more successful at and comfortable with than my Narcissist Test Drive period.

But I think there was an advantage to my visit to the dark side too, and maybe a reason. I feel like like I understand narcissists’ motives and thinking patterns and self-hatred more than the usual non-narc ACON. Because I almost became one myself and felt a little bit of what they feel. All the money in the world wouldn’t be enough to get me to turn into darkness again. It was like a trip to hell. But I do know, they are in excruciating pain. All the time.

lauren_bennett3
Refinishing a table as young wife (around 1989-1990). I didn’t know how malignant my husband was yet but he was showing signs.

Never feel guilty for feeling guilty.
If I had been able to ignore or deny my guilt or the pain of others that I’d caused myself, I think I would have crossed the line into becoming a fullblown narcissist (though maybe not a malignant one).

Most narcissists make a choice at some point, usually early in life because of abuse but sometimes later, like I almost did. But I think there is also an escape hatch: a window of time where a budding narcissist can still “get out” and redeem themselves before the door between the Ns and everyone else slams shut.

Unfortunately I still have a few narcissistic traits and think I still sometimes act a bit like one. But my ability to feel shame and guilt is very well developed, in fact too well developed (and always has been), so that overrides my N traits. Perhaps that makes me a Borderline (I was actually diagnosed with BPD comorbid with other disorders in 1996). But if I am a Borderline, I try to control those behaviors. I try to be aware of them. I think I’m doing pretty well.

Growing into me.
Now I’m changing, moving farther away from the N and B traits of my early-mid adulthood than I have ever been. I don’t envy people much anymore and am beginning to understand what it feels like to feel joy or sadness for someone else. To feel humbled by the simple but beautiful things that surround us. I’ve embraced my sensitivity and am finding rather than being a curse that brings torment and hurt, it’s a beautiful thing that allows the growth of empathy and true understanding. Instead of shame over it, now I’m proud.

The ironic thing about this is that, it’s because I like myself MORE now, that my N traits are disappearing. I used to think I was worse than a piece of dog poop stuck on the bottom of a shoe and had to go around proving I was more, much more than that. It’s not like that anymore, and I’m ever so grateful I saved myself at the 11th hour.

Am I an empath?

sad_angel

I wonder. Until recently, I always thought people who say they’re empaths sounded a bit grandiose or even a little narcissistic. I never thought I was an empath, but as some of the toxic thinking patterns I was so trapped in begin to fall away (this is a very slow process!), I find that I’m better able to “see” things I couldn’t see since I was a small child. The “things” I see are what lies behind the facade all of us have to some degree or another, a facade which narcissists have become so effective at building that their real selves are all but obliterated (but they’re not really).

I was very emotional as a child and felt everything around me intensely. My sensitivity made me not only prone to being a target for bullies, but also physically vulnerable: I spent a lot of time sick and I had many allergies.   I had terrible ear infections that left me nearly deaf in my left ear.  The doctors said I was healthy and couldn’t figure out why I was always so sick.

Abused by my narcissistic family and the bullies at school, I gradually learned that it was too dangerous to fully feel my emotions or to connect with people on an emotional, meaningful level. I was made fun of or punished in some way. So I shut myself off from feeling anything but the most banal or self defeating emotions, only those that concerned myself or ensured my survival: fear, anger, jealousy, frustration, boredom, sexual desire, and a pseudo-love known as limerence.  Rarely could I feel true sadness, joy, love, contentment, friendship, connection with God or nature, or caring deeply for another.  I felt like I couldn’t connect with other people meaningfully but was still always quick to take offense to insults. This manifested in unpleasant ways like “going off” on people or losing control.   I often scared people with the intensity of my rages and low frustration tolerance.   Fear–a survival emotion–remained dominant.   My programming told me I needed that fear to survive, but it sure hasn’t made for a pleasant time of things, and made me afraid to take any risks at all.

Worst of all, my heart became closed.  I stopped being able to laugh or cry with abandon or with another person.  I loved the idea of getting close to others and having meaningful relationships, but the reality was just too scary and the relationships I did have were either meaningless and shallow or unhealthy and toxic.   I learned to isolate myself from others and avoid other people because other people meant pain.  I isolated myself not only physically, but by making it difficult for people to be around me.   I couldn’t stick with anything.  I couldn’t finish anything.  I couldn’t achieve anything.     I was afraid to fail because failure meant certain rejection.  This is what my narcissistic family taught me.  This comprises the genesis of my BPD (which I think is finally beginning to fall away).

Five things have led to my ability to begin to let go and to reconnect with the self I lost as a child and young adult, listed in order of their importance to me.

1. My relationship with God
2. Therapy
3. Blogging and writing (self-reflection)
4. Music — it’s incredible how powerful it is!
5. Time spent in nature, including time with animals (they teach us so much)

I won’t describe the means by which these five things are working for me, since I have done that elsewhere and it would turn this post into a book. But what’s beginning to happen is I’m realizing I genuinely care about others. I never thought I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t care before, it was because I was so protective of myself I couldn’t let those feelings of caring be consciously felt. Now when I hear a fellow victim talk about a lifetime of abuse or scapegoating, I feel true empathy for them because I’m more able to allow myself to experience my own pain and process it and that makes it easier to relate to the pain of someone who went through similar trauma. So I can no longer say I’m really empathy challenged. I always had it in me.

Something even more amazing is starting to happen. I’m becoming somehow able to see the lost child in the people I talk to on both my blogs. I may have always had this ability. From the time I was a young child, I could pick up the emotions of others around me. When I picked up my mother’s emotions, she told me to stop “acting spooky.” I think my X-ray vision scared her.

But I couldn’t just throw up a false self and become a narc.  I lacked the right temperament.  It was always so hard for me to hide the way I felt. So I went into hiding instead–emotionally and sometimes physically–becoming a near hermit. I stopped being able to have any deep relationships, even real life friendships. I stopped being able to feel the higher emotions that bring us joy and deep connection with others.  These are symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder, which I had/have along with BPD and C-PTSD.

My life became drained of any joy or color. But now, I can see the hurt inner child in others, which is ironic since I still have so much trouble connecting with my own hurt child. This ability to see the real selves in the people who come to my blogs (or post on other blogs) even extends to people with narcissistic personality disorder. When I look at a narc now, I don’t see someone to hate or be terrified of, I see someone who didn’t get enough love and has no idea who they are.

I believe in No Contact. I don’t think any lay person can fix a narcissist and it’s always best to get away for your survival and sanity. But that doesn’t mean things are hopeless for a narcissist, should they sincerely want to connect with their real emotions.  More therapists are needed who have the courage to work with these difficult and often infuriating people. Therapists who can help them realize the potential to love and feel the real emotions they were born with, who can help them break down the strong fortress they have built around themselves to keep everyone out.   This must be done by professionals, and it can take a long time and it won’t be an easy road. I think there must also be a spiritual component, an acceptance that there is something–if not God, then some Intelligence or Presence–that is greater than all of us and is always healing and benevolent. I think the stigma is so bad that therapists either won’t treat them or give up when the going gets rough. Yes, some narcissists will leave. But some won’t, if the therapist is empathic and skilled enough and the narcissist wants change bad enough.

Both narcissism and C-PTSD and other problems caused by abuse all have their roots in childhood trauma. Why only focus on healing for the victims? Narcissistic abuse is a terrible thing. But it will continue as long as there are narcissists walking around allowed to get away with turning people into victims. If we can get to the root of the problem and help the narcissists themselves, then narcissistic abuse will end and there will be no more victims either. It’s analogous to alleviating crime in a city by addressing the problem of poverty that led to it. As long as you ignore poverty, crime will continue and there will always be crime victims.

I seem to have an uncanny ability to see the real, lost self behind a narcissist’s facade. This surprises me, because it seems like a quality an empath would have and I never thought I was one–just a run of the mill HSP.   But through therapy, prayer, being in the natural world, music, and writing, I feel like my heart has opened and with that, a kind of X-ray vision. I’ve actually had self aware and some diagnosed narcissists come to me (mostly on Down The Rabbit Hole) telling me the blog has helped them and they are learning from it, or admitting they want help.  A few have emailed me because they’re too ashamed of their narcissism to post on a public blog.  Right now, all I can do is try to offer encouragement and direct them to other resources. I feel empathy for them, just as I feel empathy for the abuse victims on Lucky Otter’s Haven and here too.   I wish I could help them more than I can right now.

I think I’m being called to something–working with people with NPD (as well as other trauma victims)–that’s going to take a lot of strength and courage and could even be emotionally and spiritually dangerous if I’m not very careful or don’t know exactly what I’m doing. It’s going to take a lot of training, and right now there are a lot of logistical problems (lack of money or time to go back to school; getting older; not liking confrontation and being socially awkward in general). But I feel like God has a plan and some doors will begin to open. I can work on my awkwardness and fear of confrontation in therapy (and these things are a result of low self esteem, not an “introverted” temperament). Working with people with NPD is something very few people dare venture into.  It’s also something a lot of narc-abuse survivors have trouble understanding.  A few even think it’s wrong.   I don’t believe it is.   I’m not ready to do it yet. But I feel like this is the shape my life is taking and the reason why everything happened the way it did.

Born an empath to narcissistic parents, they could not handle my ability to absorb the feelings of those around me and “see through” facades. They worked day and night to disable my gift because they were so afraid of it. But in spite of everything, I still have the gift and I want to use it to help people like my parents, even if my parents rejected the illumination of truth that gift had the power to reveal.

How to cure a narcissist.

cropped-Heart-in-hands2

For a change, I want to write about something that has deeply interested me for a long time. It’s related to the content of this blog, even though it isn’t about my own therapeutic journey. It’s not something everyone agrees with me about either, but I think it’s an issue worthy of more attention than it gets.

DISCLAIMER: Do not EVER attempt to “fix” a narcissist yourself. Leave that to the professionals. Please! You will not only be disappointed if you think you can cure one, you will get badly burned too.

The Highly Sensitive Child and the connection with NPD.

Most mental health experts and writers about NPD agree that narcissists started life as very, very sensitive children. Not all highly sensitive children become narcissists, of course. Some grow up to be empaths or just highly sensitive adults who are nevertheless emotionally healthy people who truly love themselves. Because they love themselves, emotionally healthy HSPs and empaths can return that love to others.

Highly sensitive or even empathic children who were abused or neglected early in life, emotionally abused by their caregivers also don’t always develop NPD. Some become Borderlines instead, or acquire some other personality disorder or C-PTSD. These other disorders still allow a person some small contact with their True Self and their emotions. They don’t become COMPLETELY dissociated from them. Children who go on to develop NPD become completely dissociated from emotions and their real selves and in extreme cases have lost the ability to feel anything at all, except rage (when threatened) and puffed up with pride and ego (when narcissistic supply is abundant).

No other defense mechanism except NPD allows people such thorough protection from having to feel. People with NPD have no natural emotional defenses at all, which is why such a complete defense mechanism and the replacement of the real self for a false one is necessary. Becoming a narcissist isn’t a conscious choice; it usually happens too early for it to be that. It happens because for these ultra-sensitive children, life just hurts so much and the pain is so unbearable that it’s the only way that life can be rendered bearable. Being exposed or having to confront their hurt and pain is so terrifying to a narcissist because they don’t have the natural mechanisms to be able to process it except by denying it exists at all (which means their false self is merely a stand-in for the real self–and is why it will die without constant feeding off of others).

sad-child-portrait

I do think it’s possible for a narcissist to be healed (not merely treated). Just because they weren’t born with natural emotional coping mechanisms and had to acquire a False Self to survive, doesn’t mean these skills can’t be learned. Learning healthy emotional coping skills is basically what Mindfulness is (and is what I have been working on in healing from my BPD/C-PTSD). I was taught (and use) DBT skills; but CBT is similar and often used for narcissists and people with other disorders. Part of the problem is that narcissists were never given these tools by their emotionally abusive parents so were never able to internalize them. Being highly sensitive meant that things got to them more than most children–-life hurt more. That isn’t to say life wasn’t incredibly painful for those of us with BPD or C-PTSD instead–but our ability to get through life without turning to narcissism was possible because we did have at least some rudimentary natural coping skills. Although we may be highly sensitive, we were actually born a bit less so.

My NPD mother as a child.

My mother comes to mind. I wrote before about a photo I saw of her at the age of two, years before she became a narcissist. I remember the deep sadness in her big blue eyes, and I remember relatives telling me how sensitive and even empathic she was as a child. She was always feeding kittens and bringing home small animals and birds who had been injured, nursing them back to health. She gave away her things to neighbor children who had less than she did (this was during the Depression and her family was struggling too). She cried easily. She was able to pick up on the feelings of other family members without being told, and learned to keep herself quiet and out of the way. Her mother, suffering from clinical depression, was unable to take care of the house or family, and resented my mother’s physical beauty. She became her father’s golden child, not only because of her beauty but also because she took care of him, the house, and his other children. Her mother, now bedridden, grew to despise her own daughter because she was unable to give her husband and family the things my mother was able to give when she was only about 10 or 11 years old. I think (though I was never told) that she was sexually abused. She left home and married when she was fifteen, but by now, she had already transformed into the somatic narcissist she remains today. Even so, my father often commented on how easily hurt and sensitive my mother always was. The tragic thing is that all that high sensitivity–which was used in an empathic, giving manner when she was a small child and might have been used in beautiful ways as an adult–was eventually directed to no one else but herself. Being a loving, giving, empathic person proved to be too painful for my mother so she stopped being able to love or care about anyone’s feelings but her own.

Combining mindfulness skills and deep therapy is the key to healing.

mindfulness_cloud

If a narcissist can get to the point of allowing themselves to feel their pain–-through skillful psychodynamic therapy with a very empathic therapist (of course this requires both insight into their disorder AND willingness to change) and also learn mindfulness skills through some kind of behavioral therapy like CBT (even DBT has been said to work for some NPD’s) they can learn to process the painful feelings that arise in therapy and eventually release them. Only a highly empathic and patient therapist would be able to get a narcissist to dare risk exposing their real feelings. Once they can do this–and then learn to work through these feelings in conjunction with CBT or some other behavioral therapy–I think it’s possible a narcissist can become a non-narcissist.

Of course, most narcissists are so “comfortable” with their narcissism they have no desire to change (or even any insight into their disorder). The False Self they present to the world has gotten them all kinds of creature comforts and the admiration of others so it’s understandable they may not think they have a problem. But I remember reading an NPD forum where there were several diagnosed narcissists who did NOT want to be narcissists anymore. They felt that their lives were empty and hollow, and they wanted to be able to feel and give real love. They were also consumed with guilt over the ways they had treated others. (Most narcissists who are not malignant do have a conscience–they just lack empathy). You can’t regret the things you’ve missed out on if if you’re walking around wearing a mask all the time and feeding off others to keep it propped up.

Getting to that point is very, very difficult but I think if it can be done, the rewards of being able to feel real love and empathy for the first time, the freedom of not being dependent on others to provide narcissistic supply, and to be able to truly love yourself (not just the mask you want others to see) for the first time — I think these things far surpass only knowing the pleasures of admiration, material success, and worldly achievements.

A word about God and prayer.

Because I have atheist readers and readers of many faiths, I hesitate to talk to much here about religion, but I think narcissism is a spiritual illness as much as a psychological one. Personally, I think prayer is important in healing (though not absolutely necessary if the therapist is especially empathetic or spiritual). I’m not talking here about organized religion (which is all too often toxic and abusive–though it doesn’t have to be), but the recognition there is a greater consciousness than yourself, a God or Higher Power who you can turn to and take comfort in when your emotions become too painful to bear. Allowing oneself to be able to trust enough to be able to emotionally surrender to an intangible God may be the hardest thing a narcissist ever does. An empathetic therapist who regards the patient as a spiritual being first can help a narcissist begin to trust enough to let go of some of their defenses.

I think this is probably a turning point for me.

THIS IS GOING TO BE LONG. I AM SORRY.

I have so much to say right now but I can’t because I’m in shock (a good kind). I had a sudden breakthrough that explains everything or a lot anyway. I know I have a lot of things to work on and probably a lot more traumatic incidents from childhood but I remembered this and it is a biggie, maybe a core memory that got occluded (though not entirely blocked, just not FELT until tonight). Since I can’t write normally I’m just going to do it as a list of events right now. I can’t even see straight because the tears keep rolling.

A few things to keep in mind…
1. It did happen when I was around 6 (an age which I have referred to over and over again in this blog, based on a “feeling”)
2. It was because of my mother — now I can see exactly what she was trying (maybe unconsciously because of her own issues) to do to me because of the kind of child I was.
3. It’s interesting that I mentioned I feel more emotionally vulnerable when I’m sick — you will understand why if you read all this. (I do not believe it was Munchhausen’s by Proxy however)
4. My true self / inner child that I pictured a few weeks ago as one of those big eyed children paintings from the 1960’s could not be more perfect as a visual of the child I used to be.
5. I have always been an HSP and that may explain the abuse and the chain of events that led to my shutting off almost ALL my feelings. That’s a complete lie because that sensitive child was always INCREDIBLY strong– or had the potential to be… but it was squelched.

Timeline of what happened to me.

Here is the chain of events as they unfolded. I may be missing some; I’m overwhelmed in every good way so my brain isn’t working quite right but I also feel incredibly blessed because I think God stepped in and made this happen because I was ready. I think it’s a kind of miracle, an Easter gift because I reached out to God in my moment of terror and pain (which only lasted about one hour) and also asked for forgiveness of my serious and rather frequent doubts. I think I’ll question my faith less now, though I can’t promise I won’t still have doubts and fall short of perfect faith. (

1. I was in a very good mood today though still feeling poorly from the flu bug I got a week ago (from my therapist — oh, the irony!) I came home and made a few posts. I felt excited for my friend Mary whose band is doing so well and they have a new song that’s getting lots of Youtube views. I talked to my son who will be visiting for 4 days the first week of next month. The weather was perfect in every way and I took some photos.

2. Around 8 PM I started to feel very achy and feverish. At first I thought it was just the virus giving me a last minute “finger” before it finally exited my body. I took some Tylenol and drank a large glass of orange juice with about 1000mg of vitamin C and made some tea.

3. An hour later, I felt much worse. I had bad chills, shaking and could hardly stand. I felt dizzy and a little delirious. Even though the evening is warm, even turning the heat up to full blast wasn’t helping at all and I felt my fever continue to climb. I tried to take it but kept dropping the thermometer, but I know it had to be very high. I tried to get warm but could not. I took some deep breaths but all that did was make my hands go numb and make me start coughing up residue from the bug. I started to feel nauseous. I tried to stand up and couldn’t keep my balance; and fell back into bed. I tried to get comfortable but could not. Thoughts of pneumonia played through my head. Maybe I was going to die. I’m terrified of dying. Maybe it was finally going to happen. I was going to die before I ever lived.

4. I panicked and dissociated badly. I felt like I was out of my body. I bit my hands and whimpered to hold back the panic. What the hell was happening to me?

5. I thought about going to the hospital but decided to turn to God instead. I shut my eyes tight and prayed and prayed and prayed. I begged forgiveness for having such weak faith. I begged him not to let me die. I wasn’t ready yet.

I didn’t know it yet, but I was experiencing a somatic reliving of past events.  Freud called this phenomenon “conversion.”

Transported into the abyss

6. I had a sudden image of myself as a 6 year old little girl, weak and frail and pale like the picture of the child in the painting. I lay in my parent’s bed, watching cartoons on TV, all my Little Golden books and various puzzles and games and toys spread around me. She fed me soup and crackers and cookies and fussed over me and stroked my hot forehead tenderly. She looked genuinely concerned. I remember how I craved this type of attention.
These were truly the only times I felt loved by her.

7. This was not an isolated incident, this happened many times over. I was a sickly child, who suffered from frequent colds, high fevers, many allergies, all the childhood illnesses, excruciating ear-aches that left me partially deaf in my left ear to this day. I was taken to doctors who gave me allergy shots but could find nothing else seriously wrong with me.

8. In other areas too, I was encouraged to be weak or fragile. Until I was around ten, I was bullied at school and given sympathy at home. My parents used to call the bullies’ parents and tell them to leave me alone, which only made the bullying worse (kids hate other kids whose parents snitch to other parents). I wonder if this was somehow known to them. If so, it was a very covert form of gaslighting. I was chided as being “ungenteel” and “acting low class” anytime I acted too “tough” or talked back or stood up for myself, or came back with a good snarky comeback.

9. Gradually I stopped being able to be anything but a docile codependent (until my teens when I pathetically rebelled and began to act out against my parents and built a tough (and quite scary at times both to me and others) rage and an overlying emotional shell but that’s a whole different topic even though the roots of that were from the same source).

10. Gradually I got sick less, but my emotional “weakness” became more painful and dysfunctional to me as I approached my teen years. After a while of being given “sympathy” for being over-emotional, “hysterical” (my mother’s word for me) and fragile, it was gradually ripped away and I was told to “sink or swim” with no emotional tools to navigate waters that were now way too dark and deep.

11. I was discouraged in subtle ways for doing things on my own that showed strength or independence. Drawing pictures and writing little books and playing with dolls and even being a good student was “okay” because a weak child could still be good at these things. At age 11 or 12 I wanted to join the swim team and while I wasn’t outright forbidden, I was told I wouldn’t like it because “it’s too competitive for you,” or worse, putting words in my mouth (“you KNOW you don’t like competition!”) I joined anyway but had self doubts all that summer. It was still a positive experience, but not nearly enough to rebuild my sense of self and ability to be an achiever. There were many other things I was also discouraged or even forbidden from doing, because of the tough image I wasn’t allowed to display. I won’t list them all here but trust me, this was a constant in my late childhood.

This is getting too long, so let me wrap this up.

12. I remembered all this and realized God had given me the gift of clarity and further insight into my mental illness (whatever it really is). I asked and it was given. I began to cry. Then an amazing thing happened. The fever broke and the physical pain disappeared! I suddenly felt a lot better!

13. Emotions are energy moving through or out of the body, and I realized what happened. My body RE-LIVED (truly FELT, not just thought about) the somatic experience of being a helpless, sick, feverish child. I suddenly had a memory of myself feeling that sick as a young child, like I was going to die, and being reassured and fussed over by my mother. Sickness and weakness was the only thing I was ever truly mirrored or emotionally rewarded for. All my life I’ve been craving that kind of care but I’ve run away from it too, because it proved to be dangerous. I had nothing to replace it with.

14. Approaching adolescence, I was no longer “rewarded” either at home or at school for being sickly/weak. The tables were cruelly turned on me and I was told to sink or swim. But inside, I was in excruciating pain.

15. I became codependent, searching for the “perfect parent” who I never really had.

16. Over the years, my pain got more deeply buried and I further added to this massive defense. At a certain point I became unable to feel much of anything. The stakes were too high.

17. When I was abandoned by family of origin, it was for the very same things I was doted on for as a young child (being a “weak loser”) How crazymaking and evil is that?  Inside, I always felt that way (and my life circumstances reflected that).  But on the outside, I had to hide my “weakness” to survive.   It never worked out too well for me though.

17. Everything I’ve been talking about and feeling in therapy lately was leading to this discovery. I have a long way to go. It’s incredibly confusing. But this is a beginning. I feel like now some real heavy duty work can be done.

18. I feel physically wonderful right now. My goal is clearer– to regain my HSP-ness but with mindfulness and wisdom and control (not a false self!)

ETA: I still feel unwell today, but nowhere near as bad as last night for that hour I thought I was dying.   This stupid bug does not want to go away!

Empathy practice.

empathy

I’ve always been empathy challenged, but I always blamed my “Aspergers” and later, my Avoidant PD for that. Oh, I can empathize in a sort of distracted, distant way (I always feel terrible when I see or read a news story about abuse of animals or children, for example). But when it comes to having empathy for real, live people, I have a problem, because true empathy requires a level of closeness I’m not comfortable with. My first instinct is to run like hell.

But something strange has been happening. I post on a forum for self aware people with NPD which is populated mostly by covert narcissists (the type most likely to be unhappy with themselves and want to change). I’ve noticed I’m much able to empathize on a deep level with these people (not so much for those who are grandiose or don’t want to change). By that I mean real emotional empathy, not just cognitive empathy. I first noticed this trend in myself about a year ago, when I started to become obsessed with trying to understand (rather than hate) people with NPD. I seemed to have this driving need to understand, and noticed an emotion I can only describe as empathy for self aware narcissists who were struggling with their disorder and wanting to change. But I still didn’t recognize myself as having the disorder, and it was a mystery to me why I felt the way I did, why understanding them was so important to me. Of course, when I became self aware a few months ago, it all became clear–I’d been trying to understand myself.

I can feel a kind of cognitive empathy for other people too, especially if they’ve been victimized (because I was too) but there’s definitely an emotional disconnect. On these forums, I actually find myself empathizing in an emotional, “heart” sort of way and feel a strong connection with people like myself. It’s strange and unfamiliar but it feels good in a way too, like something cold and hard inside me is melting.

Maybe it’s nothing more than looking into a mirror, but I think this empathy I feel toward people like me is giving me practice in empathizing with people in general. I also think it’s a skill that can be learned. Maybe later I’ll be able to expand this onto people who are less like me. In feeling this warm kind of empathy, I’m still not sure how to respond to it, how to act “empathically.”

I think most (non-malignant) narcissists have the capacity for true (emotional) empathy, but it’s been stuffed way into the back of our mental closet and had a bunch of heavy things thrown on top of it. It’s time to dig it out and dust off the cat hair and dust bunnies.

empathy_4elements

I also have a theory that might sound a little crazy. It’s pretty much the consensus that narcissists are hypersensitive and easily offended. I think most started life so sensitive they had no natural defenses that normal people learn, so narcissism was adopted as a coping strategy. But I think it goes a step further than that. I think many of us are potential empaths (HSPs), or at least started out that way. I think we are hypersensitive and empathic, but all that sensitivity and empathy got turned inward, toward ourselves, leaving no room for us to extend these emotions toward others. I remember as a tiny child, crying when a bug died. I felt the emotions of everyone around me and used to get literally physically ill when there was discord or unhappiness around me (which was most of the time, and I was a delicate, sickly baby and toddler as a result). I cried a lot and suffered from many allergies, that went away later in childhood.

It’s ironic that the most potentially empathic people of all could be the ones who have shut themselves off from being able to feel it. I think the key is to somehow find a way to turn all that self-empathy and sensitivity away from ourselves and toward others. The hard part is figuring out how to do that, or more specifically, getting past the fear. I think it was Tony Brown who said the key to healing this disorder is to replace thoughts of fear with thoughts of love. Probably easier said than done, but I think he was right.

“Fragile Heart”

A friend sent me this video. Have the tissues ready. 😥

Lyrics:

There’s no place for a sensitive soul
In a space where your ego freely roams
And you’re a little bit narcissistic
And I’m a little too understanding, sadly
So you held me like your rose
Only to watch me whither slowly

But there’s no hope for the weaker minds
This, I know

You can’t take me down
For my fragile heart
I’ll start over now
With my fragile heart

Are BPD and complex PTSD the same disorder?

Originally posted on Lucky Otter’s Haven on June 29, 2015

age_3_1961_2
Me at age 3 in the zone. Was the template for my BPD already laid down?

Ruji, a new commenter on this blog (and the maker of the personality disorder buttons I have featured on my other blog), made an interesting observation–that BPD should be divided into at least two subtypes: Empathy Challenged/Character Disordered (closer to NPD/ASPD) and Highly Sensitive Person with Emotional Dysregulation (closer to the type I have, although at different times in my life or when extremely stressed I have displayed the more character-disordered subtype). I agree with her. Ruji’s idea is remarkably similar to The World Health Organization’s two subtypes of BPD:

1. F60.30 Impulsive type
At least three of the following must be present, one of which must be (2):

–marked tendency to act unexpectedly and without consideration of the consequences;
–marked tendency to engage in quarrelsome behavior and to have conflicts with others, especially when impulsive acts are thwarted or criticized;
–liability to outbursts of anger or violence, with inability to control the resulting behavioral explosions;
–difficulty in maintaining any course of action that offers no immediate reward;
–unstable and capricious (impulsive, whimsical) mood.

2. F60.31 Borderline type
At least three of the symptoms mentioned in F60.30 Impulsive type must be present [see above], with at least two of the following in addition:

–disturbances in and uncertainty about self-image, aims, and internal preferences;
–liability to become involved in intense and unstable relationships, often leading to emotional crisis;
–excessive efforts to avoid abandonment;
–recurrent threats or acts of self-harm;
–chronic feelings of emptiness.
–demonstrates impulsive behavior, e.g., speeding, substance abuse

Psychologist Theodore Millon has gone even further, proposing that BPD should be divided into four subtypes:

1. Discouraged (including avoidant features): Pliant, submissive, loyal, humble; feels vulnerable and in constant jeopardy; feels hopeless, depressed, helpless, and powerless.

2. Petulant (including negativistic features) Negativistic, impatient, restless, as well as stubborn, defiant, sullen, pessimistic, and resentful; easily slighted and quickly disillusioned.

3. Impulsive (including histrionic or antisocial features) Capricious, superficial, flighty, distractible, frenetic, and seductive; fearing loss, becomes agitated, and gloomy and irritable; potentially suicidal.

4. Self-destructive (including depressive or masochistic features) Inward-turning, intropunitively angry; conforming, deferential, and ingratiating behaviors have deteriorated; increasingly high-strung and moody; possible suicide.

Millon’s Types 1 and 4 would correspond to the Highly Sensitive Person/Emotional Dysregulation type mentioned above (and therefore closer to the Avoidant/Dependent PDs); Type 2 sounds very much like NPD; and Type 3 seems closer to ASPD or Histrionic PD.

complex_ptsd
BPD symptoms are almost identical to those of Complex PTSD.

There are so many diverse–almost opposite–symptoms that can appear with this disorder that one person with BPD can be very different from the next. In fact, you can take 10 borderlines and they will all seem very different from each other, with barely any similarities in their behavior at all. One will be shy, fearful and retiring, never making waves, acting almost like an Aspie or an Avoidant; while another may break the law, lie constantly, and act obnoxious and rage whenever things don’t go their way. A borderline could be your raging boss who drinks too much and ends every annual Christmas party with one of his infamous rages, or it could be the sweet and pretty schoolteacher who goes home every night and cuts herself. She could be the come-hither seductress or the nerdy computer programmer. He may have few or no friends or a great many.

This diversity is not the case with the other personality disorders, which have more cohesiveness in the symptoms their sufferers display. So I wonder–is BPD really a personality disorder at all? Does it even exist, or is it really just a group of trauma-caused symptoms the experts in their ivory towers stuck in a single box called “BPD” because they didn’t know how else to classify them?

In fact, all these diverse subtypes have one thing in common–they are all very similar or identical to the symptoms of someone with complex PTSD (C-PTSD). People with C-PTSD are often misdiagnosed as Borderlines because their behaviors can be just as baffling and manipulative, and both disorders also include dissociative, almost psychotic episodes. Extrapolating from that, I wonder if ALL borderlines actually have C-PTSD.

Earlier today I posted an article outlining 20 signs of unresolved trauma, and I was struck by how similar these were to the symptoms of BPD. And there is also this article that Ruji just brought to my attention that also describes how remarkably similar the two disorders are, but that the idea of fear of abandonment (which is recognized as the root cause of BPD) is not recognized as a factor in causing PTSD and that may be part of why they have been kept separate.

The BPD label, like any Cluster B label, is very damaging to its victims because of the “evil and character-disordered” stigma it carries. One psychologist has even included us, along with narcissists, among the “People of the Lie”!

Yes, it’s true some borderlines do act a lot like people with NPD or even Malignant Narcissism or ASPD, but most probably do not, and are really much more similar to people with Avoidant or even Dependent personality disorders, which hurt the sufferer more than anyone else. But if you have a BPD label, people start backing away from you slowly due to the stigma. Therapists are reluctant to treat you because they assume you will be either difficult and hateful in therapy sessions, or will never get better. Insurance companies won’t pay claims where there is a BPD diagnosis, because it’s assumed there is no hope for you. I’ve had this problem when I’ve tried to get therapy. I remember one therapist who I had seen for the intake session, who told me he needed to obtain my psychiatric records before we could proceed. The session had gone smoothly and I felt comfortable with him. A few days later I received a phone call and was told he did not treat “borderline patients” and wished me luck. So that’s the kind of thing we’re up against if we’ve had the BPD label slapped on us.

Also, as an ACON blogger who works with a lot of victims of narcissistic abuse, my BPD label sometimes makes people wary of me and they begin to doubt that my motives here are honest. At first I was reluctant to talk about my “Cluster B disorder” here, because I knew it might be a problem for some ACONs, who think borderlines are no better than narcissists. But I eventually decided that to hide it away like an embarrassing family secret would be misleading so I “came out” about having BPD (I never actually lied about it, but played it down in the beginning and rarely mentioned it). I’m glad I fessed up, but there have been a few people who left this blog after I came out about it or began to doubt my motives. So there’s that stigma and it’s very damaging.

Both C-PTSD and Borderline PD are caused by trauma. Both are complex defensive reactions against future abuse and both involve things like splitting, dissociation, psychotic episodes, self-destructiveness, wild mood swings, and behavior that appears to be narcissistic and manipulative.

The way I see it, the only real difference between C-PTSD and BPD is that the traumatic event or abuse happened at an earlier age for someone with BPD, perhaps during toddlerhood or infancy, while all forms of PTSD can happen at a later age, even adulthood. But the symptoms and defense mechanisms used to avoid further trauma are the same for both.

“Yikes! Does This Mean I’m a Narcissist?”

Almost a year ago, I wrote this slightly jocular post after I read an article describing covert narcissism. It was the first time I’d actually read anything about it. Even back then, I recognized the symptoms as fitting me like a glove, but was far away from awareness. This slightly humorous, false self-deprecating attitude was typical of a lot of my posts at the time. I think somewhere deep inside though, I knew.

I can’t believe how different everything seems now.

Yikes! Does This Mean I’m a Narcissist?
Originally posted on Lucky Otter’s Haven on October 12, 2014

yikes
I just finished reading a Scientific American article that delineates narcissists into two categories: Overt Narcissists and Covert Narcissists:

When most people think of narcissism, they think of the public face of narcissism: extraversion, aggression, self-assuredness, grandiosity, vanity, and the need to be admired by others (see “How to Spot a Narcissist“). But as far back as 1938, Harvard psychologist Henry Murray noticed another breed of narcissist among his undergraduates: the covert narcissist. While the “overt” narcissists tended to be aggressive, self-aggrandizing, exploitative, and have extreme delusions of grandeur and a need for attention, “covert” narcissists were more prone to feelings of neglect or belittlement, hypersensitivity, anxiety, and delusions of persecution [I’ve also seen this referred to as “inverted narcissism,” whatever that means].

Um, I’m prone to feelings of neglect or belittlement, am known to be hypersensitive and anxious, and there are times I believe I’m being persecuted…

But it gets even worse…

In the 90s, psychologist Paul Wink analyzed a variety of narcissism scales and confirmed that there are indeed two distinct faces of narcissism, which they labeled “Grandiosity-Exhibitonism” and “Vulnerability-Sensitivity”. He found that both shades of narcissism shared a common core of conceit, arrogance, and the tendency to give in to one’s own needs and disregard others. But that’s where the similarities ended.

Okaaaaayyy, I admit I can be selfish, but I don’t think I’m arrogant or conceited. But read on…

While Grandiosity-Exhibitionism was associated with extraversion, aggressiveness, self-assuredness, and the need to be admired by others, Vulnerability-Sensitivity was associated with introversion, hypersensitivity, defensiveness, anxiety, and vulnerability. Further research by Jonathan Cheek and Jennifer Odessa Grimes at Wellesley College found a moderate correlation between covert narcissism and the Highly Sensitive Person Scale developed by Elaine Aron.

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Uh…I’ve frequently mentioned being an HSP and I’m definitely introverted….

In other words, while introversion, sensitivity, and narcissism are all partially separate traits, hypersensitive covert narcissists are more likely to report that they are introverted and sensitive.

hiding

I’m so busted. I’m almost afraid to take the test at the end.

But if I am narcissistic, I think I’m a pretty benign narcissist, as the disorder runs on a continuum from somewhat narcissistic to murderous evil psychopath. I would guess the same is true of all HSPs (who I noticed tend to blog about narcissism a lot)–that we aren’t malignantly narcissistic. I think a lot of HSPs and people who tend toward introversion also tend to feel guilty about everything too and feel bad when we hurt others, so that doesn’t seem to indicate malignant narcissism or psychopathy anyway. I think they missed the mark here, because narcissists don’t feel guilt or care if they hurt others.

Free associating about narcissism.

I wrote this post just days before I became self aware. Some of these questions have answers now, but of course having answers always leads to new questions. I had no idea the first leg of my journey, which I’d been on for 11 months, was almost at an end, and I was about to enter the next level.

I think this perspective, seen from the edge of emerging self awareness, is rather interesting to read now. It seems like years ago. I was clearly confused about a lot of things. I’m still confused, but the confusion’s directed at myself now.

Free Associating about Narcissism
Originally posted on Lucky Otter’s Haven on July 26, 2015

narcstare

In reading and writing so much about narcissism, sometimes it seems like more questions are raised than are answered. Here are some of the random questions and thoughts I’ve had that I can’t really explain. Some of these random thoughts may seem crazy, but they are still questions and I’m still looking for answers.

Why is it that so many of us narcissistic abuse survivors don’t realize what happened to us or even have a name for it until so late in life? Most of the people I’ve met who have realized they were raised by narcissistic parents, married to narcissistic spouses or have gone No Contact are in their 40s, 50s and older. It seems so unfair to discover this at such a late age and realize how many years have been wasted or lost.

Related to this, I wonder why there seem to be so few male victims? Is it because men are more likely to have NPD and thus be the perpetrators, or is it because in our culture, men are more reluctant to express their feelings and write about them on public blogs or message boards?

Why is it the more I read about narcissism the more narcissistic traits I see in myself and the more I want to be rid of them? Sometimes it’s like looking into a mirror. Overall though, I’ve learned even more about myself than I have about the narcissists in my life, and I think that’s a good thing, even if I’m too hard on myself and am seeing narcissism that isn’t really there.

Why is it that one of the warmest, emotionally open, and seemingly most compassionate people I’ve met in the narcissistic abuse community is a woman who believes herself to be a psychopathic (malignant) narcissist? Is her warmth and openness faked and I’m a fool for falling for it, or is her “narcissism” a delusion? I’ve looked for red flags and I simply haven’t seen any, but it’s easy to misrepresent yourself online. I have pretty good sixth sense and I don’t get any “evil” vibes or feelings of discomfort from socializing with this person, and I normally do when dealing with even the “nicest” narcs IRL.

What exactly is borderline personality disorder? Is it a form of complex PTSD not recognized by the psychiatric and medical community, is it a dissociative disorder, or is it a form of narcissism where the person never constructed a viable False Self? Should it even be in the Cluster B category of disorders or is it something else altogether?

narcissist_continuum

For that matter, is NPD a form of complex PTSD so deeply ingrained in the personality so early in life it’s almost impossible to eradicate? After all, almost all narcissists were abused and that’s why they became narcissists. Should “personality disorder” labels just be scrapped completely the way BPD Transformation suggests?

Is malignant narcissism what happens when an HSP (highly sensitive person) “goes bad”? I wrote about that in this article, but I still wonder.

Can a psychopath (or a narcissist) ever do good things intentionally (and not just for supply)? I wrote about this too, and understandably, the ire of a few ACONs was raised from that particular article. I agree it seems like a stupid question because a psychopath or narcissist has no empathy. But they still have “cold empathy” which means they can know exactly how you feel but only in a cold, intellectual way. Are there any narcs or psychopaths who simply choose not to do wrong? I haven’t ever met any, but I still think it’s something worth asking. On the other hand, wouldn’t “not doing wrong” negate their “psychopathy,” even if they lack that quality called empathy? Maybe some of them just want to be seen as good, and it’s really just a way to get supply.
Here’s a fascinating interview with Dr. James Fallon, a diagnosed psychopath who chooses prosocial behaviors over antisocial ones (although his attitude in the interview does seems quite narcissistic). I think he comes off much like a cult leader so I’m very skeptical.

I’ve seen the “black eyes” many people talk about in malignant narcissists, especially when they rage. It’s very scary to see and it’s very real. Does this indicate a spiritual deficit in which part or all of their soul is corrupted (or even missing) or is there some medical reason for this? I do remember reading something describing this phenomenon in medical terms; unfortunately I’ve lost the link to that article. Personally I think there is a spiritual element involved and a malignant narcissist has chosen evil over good, even if there is a medical or scientific reason for the strangeness of their eyes. Most abuse survivors have seen this and find it as terrifying as I do.

Why would anyone in their right mind choose to be a narcissist, even if done unconsciously as a young child? Why would anyone want to shut themselves off from the ability to feel love, empathy and joy, even if the payoff means they can protect themselves from being hurt anymore? It makes no sense because most narcissists are still incredibly sensitive (about themselves) and are constantly fending off or reacting to insults. It seems like a horrible way to live.

Are all narcissists “evil”? Or is that a blanket judgment? I’m kind of torn on this. I think the higher you go on the spectrum (and I do believe narcissism is a spectrum disorder), the more evil the narcissist will be. I’ve met some low spectrum narcs who are merely full of themselves and difficult to deal with, but I wouldn’t call them evil. Maybe those people don’t really qualify as narcissists though. I think the point at which a person becomes “evil” coincides with their willingness to change. The higher you go on the spectrum, the less likely it is the narcissist will ever become self aware or willing enough to get better. There are some high spectrum narcissists who are aware of their disorder, but don’t think of it as a disorder and are unwilling to change, so self-awareness by itself is meaningless. Willingness must also be present.

Do narcissists ever have moments of being non-narcissistic or even feeling empathy? I’ve known many narcissists who care nothing about the feelings of those around them, but cry like babies when they watch a sad or touching movie, listen to music, or when their pet dies or becomes ill. Have they simply shoved all their original empathy into one or two “safe” outlets, such as the ability to feel the emotions of a fictional character who doesn’t actually exist?

Why are some of the most religious people I know also the most narcissistic? Is their faith real?

How can you really tell if a victim of abuse may actually be the real narcissist and the “narcissist” the real victim? I know this can and does happen.

These are just a few of the things I wonder about. I’m sure I’ll think of others.