November 04, 2012

Part One: Resources for People with a Narcissistic Personality (who want to change)

If you're being treated for a narcissistic disorder, trust your therapist's recommendations more than mine. Please. If you would like to comment about your therapeutic work or offer self-help resources, you're welcome to do so. Disrespectful comments, especially from people who do not identify as narcissists, will be deleted at my discretion.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel 1563
"Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm---but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves." ~T.S. Eliot
The Search for the Real Self
 When the grass is greener on the other side of the fence

People with narcissistic disorders try on lifestyles, build new identities, mirror personalities, tear imperfect identities down, add on, take off, build up, create, destroy, strive for the ideal, for perfection. If they get what they want and it isn't perfect (which of course it never will be), they throw away that person, that lifestyle, that job, and search for greener grass elsewhere. People with narcissistic personalities are perpetually chasing dreams that never fill the hollow of the lost self. They're restless. Their restlessness may inspire great achievements and rewards because narcissists can be indefatigably ambitious; but the search for the real self ultimately fails because the foundation to their quest is faulty.

This painting by Pieter Bruegel struck me as meaningful. I've interpreted it as the narcissistic desire to create an ideal self since good enough isn't. The ideal self is never in the present moment, in reality. The ideal self is a dream. A fantasy. An impossibility. In other words, the self isn't real because nothing short of ideal will suffice. Being ordinary isn't good enough. Good enough is devalued as inferior, which raises the bar another floor level and the building rises higher than all the others. "When the roof-line touches the clouds, will I be real then?" And being so self-absorbed, the narcissist is oblivious to the dangers his toppling structure poses to surrounding communities. The foundation on one side is solid; and the side that's closest to community is weak and crumbling.

Narcissism is a relational disorder of the self. That's the working definition for this essay. Giancarlo Dimaggio describes narcissism as,"a disturbed internalized representation of self and others,"  which is gobbledygook to most people's ears. James Masterson's description works well. He titled his book, The Search for the Real Self. His description fits my experiences with narcissistic people who are never sure who they are, but it's better than you and it's still not good enough.

I get emails. Could I help people with narcissistic personalities and do I think so-and-so has a narcissistic disorder? Without a clinical diagnosis it's impossible to know. Even with a clinical diagnosis, mistakes are made but happily not by me.  I believe that the people with narcissistic personalities who are reading my blog and asking questions, are capable of healing. Malignant narcissists aren't inclined to change their scallawag-ish ways and besides, they'd be writing to Dr. Kernberg or Dr. Ronningstam, they wouldn't be writing to me. And besides too, malignant narcissists wouldn't make it through one of my articles. Let's call my long-windedness the malignancy filter. If you've made it this far, you aren't. Keep reading.
"Narcissism springs from an opposite relationship with the self: not self-involvement, but a disconnection with oneself...A diagnosis of narcissism is not a black-and-white matter; rather, it's a matter of degree." ~The Mirror Effect (Pinsky and Young)
I like Drew Pinsky's depiction of narcissism as a disconnection from the self meaning it is a relational disorder with one's self (intra-personal). This internal disconnect leads to relational problems outside one's self (inter-personal) resulting in stormy, even mutually destructive relationships. Only when other people complain about the narcissist's one-sided self-preoccupied focus, do most narcissists question whether something might be amiss. Depending on the value narcissists place on those complaining relationships, they may want to change. Even when narcissists want to change their self-preoccupation, they must preoccupy themselves with themselves in order to do it. Some people have said to me, "I'm so sick of thinking about myself! When can I stop thinking about me?!" and it makes you feel bad because you don't have that problem because whole days pass by with other people and you've never thought ten seconds about yourself. The lack of genuine interest in, and empathy for others, is isolating. Narcissism disconnects us from our real self when perfection is the criteria for self-acceptance; and narcissism disconnects from imperfect others. People with narcissistic personalities profess a desire for love and intimacy but fear rejection and thus devalue intimacy and vulnerability as weaknesses. They tear love down.

Building Up. Tearing Down. Starting over. Building up. Tearing down. Starting over. If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, put your neighbor down to build yourself back up again.

Suggestion #1: Recognize patterns of idealization and devaluation

The perception of a perceived criticism leads to devaluation (tearing down) even if that someone had been idealized (building up). Devaluation and Idealization happen on the outside, with jobs, with possessions, with people. Once someone or something has been thoroughly devalued, discarding is likely to follow. And it hurts so much when narcissists discard people that caretakers organize message boards to help people cope with the trauma. By the time a narcissist Devalues and Discards someone (called the 'D&D' for short), the best thing is to get people back on their feet while narcissists continue their search for the ideal.

The emotional and psychological costs to other people when they are discarded by narcissists is enormous and should never be justified. Human beings are not stepping stones to another person's search for authenticity.

It's ugly when narcissists discard people who have loved them, but its also worth noting that what's happening on the outside of every narcissist, is happening on the inside of every narcissist. Narcissists construct a hyper-valuation of self that is sharply contrasted with a harsh self-derogation. (Dimaggio, 2012) The Inner Critic, the bully relationship everyone can relate to to some degree, is similar to the self-derogation narcissists experience only not as severe because we have a real self to buoy us. Creating a stable self that's good enough without aspiring for perfection, diminishes the tyranny of the hyper-valued ideal self.

Awareness of this destructive narcissistic pattern (Brown, 1998) idealizing-and-devaluing other people and the self, might be enough to stop the 'devalue and discard.' If you have a history of devaluing others and yourself, make a serious effort to break this unconscious pattern because it will destroy your relationships with perfectly good enough people who care about your perfectly good enough self.

Suggestion #2: Know the warning signs and stumbling blocks to healthy recovery

Pay attention when you're idealizing (I'm so special) and devaluing yourself (I'm a piece of dog poop!). When you see yourself going down, down, down, ask for help help help. New literature about narcissism suggests that the emptiness people with narcissistic personalities experience may lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The rumor most of us believed (it's written over and over in online advice) is that narcissists would never commit suicide because they loved themselves too much. That has not been my personal experience. New research substantiates my opinion, "With regard to NPD, there is clinical agreement that narcissistic patients are prone to suicidal behavior...as many as 23.3% of young males who committed suicide had a diagnosis of NPD." (Ronningstam, pg. 159)

Men are more frequently diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder and women with a borderline disorder. The overlap is high. If you combine statistics for both, suicide is a serious threat and should not be dismissed as an improbability. We've drawn some erroneous conclusions that aren't bearing up to research, including the intractability of narcissistic disorders.

Get to know your warning signs which will likely include some of the following behaviors, thoughts and feelings: apathy, alienation, hostility, depression, blame, devaluation of others, substance abuse, job problems, relationship problems, suicidal thoughts, breaking affective bonds, emotional numbing, devitalization, over-reacting when rules and limits are set. (Dimaggio 2010)

Admitting you need help may be excruciating. Accepting help may be even more painful because people who place high value on autonomy, resist dependency. Let's just say reliance on other people is not a core strength for people with narcissistic personalities. They need to work on that. ;-) The fact is, human beings need each other so there's no point denying our attachment needs.

Suggestion #3: Shift towards Communal Traits and Values
"Normal narcissism is vital for satisfaction and survival. All the capacities of the real self come under the heading of normal narcissism, which in effect is the capacity to identify what you want and need, get yourself together, and go after it, while also taking into account the welfare of others. This is the healthy way to feel good about yourself. This important distinction between healthy and pathological narcissism has been blurred by the tendency to see all narcissism as pathological." ~James F. Masterson 
We live in a narcissistic society idealizing individualistic (agentic) values and devaluing communal domains. Traditional social structures (communal) are breaking down as people become increasingly individualistic. Individualism isn't necessarily a bad thing; focusing on the self encourages personal growth towards self-actualization which will, as the theory goes, deepen our relationships with others. So is identifying what we want and going after it a bad thing? Not if we're also taking other people's welfare into consideration. Unfortunately, "narcissists focus on what benefits them personally, with less regard for how their actions may benefit (or harm) others." (Campbell and Foster)

Recent studies by social psychologists reinforce Masterson's advice about "taking into account the welfare of others". Balancing other people's needs and wants along with individual needs and wants, is vital to harmonious and fulfilling relationships. If your needs are primary, even over your children's, you might wanna take stock of your narcissism. If getting what you want hurts or exploits people, you might wanna take stock of your narcissism. No measure of success in the external world can compensate for deficits in the internal world. Warm and supportive relationships fill deficits, giving meaning and joy to our lives. Unfortunately, "the narcissistic self is not particularly oriented toward warm interpersonal relationships." (Campbell and Foster) People with narcissistic disorders tend to seek fulfillment in ephemeral agentic rewards without long-lasting sustenance and meaning of communal connections.

The search for the real self is dependent on healthy relationships with people, embracing and living by communal ideals, increasing empathy for others. Self-focus, the agentic orientation without equal balance in others, is not a fulfilling experience. The problem people with narcissistic personalities face, as Jeanne Twenge explains, is that "self-focus is ultimately an empty experience. Just as a life lived without others is but a shadow of a deep, meaningful existence, a society without empathy is a shallow and troubled one."

Twenge's statement sums up why I've written so much about the importance of relationships and how people with narcissistic personalities might avoid ruining relationships with the D&D. The first step is always awareness---becoming conscious of one's strategies and behaviors such as: the overvaluation of agency and undervaluation of communion. Now that you are aware, you can do something about the imbalance. I jotted a quick list of traits while reading literature on social dominance versus social connection because I wasn't sure what social psychologists meant by agentic and communal orientations.

Agentic and Communal 

Agentic traits and values (egoistic bias): dominance, power, admiration, Machiavellianism, competitiveness, low need for intimacy, disagreeableness, self-serving, self-sufficiency, risk-taking, intellectual skills, openness, extroversion, superiority

Communal traits and values (moralistic bias): empathy, morality, caring, acceptance, agreeableness, conscientiousness, intimacy, openness, inter-dependency, mutual reciprocity, trust, altruism, friendliness, helpfulness, niceness, kindness, considerate, forgiving, prosocial

People tend to have more traits in either communal or agentic orientations. That doesn't mean someone like myself (high value on trust and caring) lacks agentic traits. If I didn't have agentic traits and values, I wouldn't risk writing this article. We are a mix of both. The key to being mentally and psychologically healthy is a matter of balance, a solid foundation with both feet planted in "me" and "thee".

People with narcissistic personalities pride themselves in being independent, competitive, self-reliant; they don't see themselves as caring folks or kind people, and it doesn't bother them that they aren't. Other people see narcissists the same way too, and that's why we have reality television. Narcissistic people are endlessly entertaining to viewers who would never be so self-absorbed and ruthless. (Not so entertaining if you're the one voted off the island.)

Research by social psychologists makes clear the low value narcissists have for communal concerns. What would be ego-dystonic for me, is ego-syntonic for people with  narcissistic personalities. In other words, people with a communal orientation feel terrible when someone says we're selfish or stuck up. When you tell narcissists they're selfish and stuck up, or even call 'em rat bazturds, they don't mind so much. It might even make an overt narcissist proud of his distinction. That's because “Narcissists limit their overly positive self-views to agentic domains; individuals with high self-esteem have positive self-views in both the agentic and the communal domains.”  (Campbell, Brunell, and Finkel)

Mental and psychological health requires a balancing of  agency and communion. Once again, Masterson's words are worth repeating: "All the capacities of the real self come under the heading of normal narcissism, which in effect is the capacity to identify what you want and need, get yourself together, and go after it, while also taking into account the welfare of others. This is the healthy way to feel good about yourself. 

In narcissistic societies, people are attracted to agentic traits. Even narcissists are attracted to people with high agentic traits---in the beginning, that is. In the long term, communal traits like trust, forgiveness and caring, stabilize relationships, "improving the relational functioning of narcissists". (Campbell, Brunell, and Finkel) Relationships give meaning and purpose to our lives. Intimate relationships sustain us. It's fair to say that it's not where we end up that matters; it's who's with us when our ends are up that counts. *grin*

Suggestion #4: Practice, Practice, Practice
"Narcissists can learn to be more caring about others, and narcissism can be reduced when these individuals are included in social groups. Psychotherapy may be useful in getting the individual with narcissistic personality disorder to relate to others in a less maladaptive manner." ~Psychology Today
Excessive admiration for agentic traits is ruinous to individuals, families, and society. Dominating the household, defending one's turf, refusing to compromise, having the most, viewing one's self as superior---these individualistic behaviors are admired in narcissistic societies. People high in agentic traits are promoted as winners. But they lose. They lose because their search for the real self, the self that lives in connection with others, has been circumvented by society's admiration for outlaws, rebels, iconoclastic personalities. This disconnect from the true self inhibits the development of communal traits and the seduction of admiration prolongs the search.

Admiration never satisfies, never fills the hollow of the lost self searching for love.

We are inter-reliant creatures, we humans. We need loving connections for our mental health and well-being. Disconnection and alienation resulting from the grandiose perception of one's self as superior to others and therefore entitled to exploit others to meet one's needs; or, disconnection and alienation resulting from one's inferiority to others, and therefore unworthiness of inclusion and love, are two sides of the same coin: narcissism.
"Narcissism is part and parcel of our life-denying culture which places accomplishment over pleasure, status over love, appearance over reality. It is the endemic result of our culture's material perfectionism. It bridles a very significant proportion of our people and cripples some of  our most gifted and giving individuals. Yet while the culture reinforces it, its breeding ground is the family." ~Steven M. Johnson, Humanizing the Narcissistic Style
How do we reduce the narcissism disconnecting us from other people and ourselves? We shift from agentic values towards the communal. It won't be easy to do for any of us because we live in an individualistic society where Machiavellianism is promoted as strength and communal values demeaned as weakness.  You get voted off the island if you're honest and kind, so  don't trust anyone, and put yourself first 'cuz that's how to win the game. This attitude is quickly becoming a belief, thus normalized. It's a problem because whether we can bear this truth or not, the real self is a loving self.

The search for real self requires self-control, deliberate and persistent efforts changing patterns and habits that have been reinforced, sometimes for decades, resulting in a narcissistic disorder. But the very good and uplifting news is that "constant repetition of deliberate habits of self-control can correct "mischances of character." (Cukrowics  and Joiner).

Healthy behaviors consistently practiced, change unhealthy behaviors
"An empathic nature does not suddenly evolve. Rather, empathy develops over time, reinforced constantly by positive experiences of emotional attunement with others."~The Mirror Effect
Robert Firestone writes in Fear of Intimacy, "Learning to give and receive love is central to an individual's sense of well-being; it is a fundamental aspect of being human." We each learn to give and receive love and if we didn't learn this as children, we can learn it as adults. A useful way to change narcissistic (unloving) behavior when you don't like what you're doing and the other person really doesn't like what you're doing either, is to say to yourself: "Self, if you don't wanna be that, don't do that". If you don't want to devalue people and harm them, stop. Think about what you're doing. Know why. Then change course. The more integrated your communal traits become, the more stable and balanced you'll be. The little things we do each day add up to big things overtime.

We can change our destination at any point and at any moment by simply shifting course one or two degrees. Consciously and intentionally adding communal values to existing agentic traits will improve the lives of everyone in your life. Which means your life will be better, too. It may seem small and it may appear to be pointless, but tiny changes make a difference even when behavior is forced.  Kinda like when your mom says "Smile anyway!" and you do and you feel better and pretty soon smiling is your default setting. It can happen.





Our Narcissistic Society


RESOURCES 

Brown, Nina. (1998) Destructive Narcissistic Patterns. Praeger Press.

Campbell, W. Keith, Amy B. Brunell, and Eli J. Finkel. Narcissism, Interpersonal self-regulation, and Romantic relationships: An Agency Model Approach

Campbell, W. Keith and Joshua D. Foster. The Narcissistic Self: Background, an Extended Agency Model, and Ongoing Controversies

Campbell, W. Keith, Adam S. Goodie and Joshua D. Foster. Narcissism, Confidence, and Risk Attitude. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making (2004)

Campbell, W. Keith, Eric A. Rudich, Constantine Sedikides. Narcissism, Self-Esteem, and the Positivity of Self-views: Two Portraits of Self-Love. The Society for Personality and social Psychology, Inc. (2002)

Cukrowicz , Kelly C. and Thomas E. Joiner Jr. Treating the "Mischances of Character," Simply and Effectively. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, Vol. 35, No. 2, Summer 2005.

Dimaggio, Giancarlo. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Rethinking What We Know

Firestone, Robert and Joyce Catlett. (1999) Fear of Intimacy. American Psychological Association.

Pinsky, Drew and Mark S. Young. (2009) The Mirror Effect. Harper Collins Press

Ronningstam, Elsa F. (2005) Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality. Oxford University Press.

Walsh, Christopher. The Practical Application of Mindfulness in Individual Cognitive Therapy. Presented at the 28th National conference for the Australian Association for Cognitive and Behavior Therapy. (2005)

Wink, Paul, Michele Dillon, and Kristen Fay. Spiritual Seeking, Narcissism, and Psychotherapy: How Are They Related? Journal for the Scientific Study of religion. (2005)






41 comments:

  1. Incredible post! I finally know what "D&D" means (always wondered if ACoNs were into fantasy card games, i.e. Dungeons and Dragons, ha ha ha!). ;-)

    This is a fantastic article that I think all ACoNs should read - I really learned so much about how my NM must think and feel, and her motivations behind "tearing love down". Never understood that, and now I feel like I've got a bit of a handle on it!

    Would it be alright to link to this post in a subsequent post of mine? I'd love to encourage as many people as possible to read it. It's a good one!

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  2. Hi Quercus! Gosh, you're fast!

    Please link my article, thank you!

    I hope everyone gains a better understanding of the problems people are up against when they have a narcissistic personality. Sure, there are rat bazturds who don't want to change and enjoy being the king of the jerk parade; but I think (call me a hopeless romantic), that most people DO want to change.

    If something I've written is not clear, let me know. Writing really isn't my forte. I'm much better expressing myself with clay. ha!

    I appreciate you reading this long long post and commenting, too!


    Hugs,
    CZ

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  3. CZ, this is a very useful and well-written post. Writing IS your forte! Just accept that already. What's especially interesting to me is the idea that narcissism is a disordered relationship to the self, one that exists along a spectrum staked between two poles--the agentic and the communal. We negotiate where we are on this axis all the time; but the culture, as you have pointed out, definitely rewards the agentic. I think that certain politics fetishize the agentic position in ways that are and have been bad for democracy.
    This paragraph is my favorite, I think:

    "How do we reduce the narcissism disconnecting us from other people and ourselves? We shift from agentic values towards the communal. It won't be easy to do for any of us because we live in an individualistic society where Machiavellianism is promoted as strength and communal values demeaned as weakness. You get voted off the island if you're honest and kind, so don't trust anyone, and put yourself first 'cuz that's how to win the game. This attitude is quickly becoming a belief, thus normalized. It's a problem because whether we can bear this truth or not, the real self is a loving self."

    For me, degrees of narcissism are bound up with ideas about punishing those who have hurt us. History is full of "revenge" stories; I'm not sure I agree that the "real self is a loving self." It may be; I'd like to believe it is (when things go right). But it seems too easy to shift people off of that self, and so easy to damage it with terrible parenting. I agree with you that we are all responsible for making decisions about how we manage our narcissisms (and anyone raised by narc parents has narcissistic wounds aplenty). What I admire most about this essay is its presentation of many different approaches or points of entry into changing narc behavior, depending on where people are on the road to change, or their spiritual or intellectual orientations. Of the books you list in resources above, I'd only read Nina Brown's. So I'm ordering several of the others from Amazon. Thanks for this thorough, well-researched, balanced and caring post. As always, you are an amazing resource for all of us.

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    1. And then there's what's egosyntonic for some and egodystonic for others. Excessive harshness for instance. I know this is a trigger for ACoNs, me included, because with Narc parents, speaking ANY criticism of them you're called being "harsh." But some people find it egosyntonic to dump their rage on someone who triggers them. They keep going and cannot stop. This type of narcissism excuses its brutality because the victim "had it coming." Again, a "revenge" issue, I think. Agentic thinking excuses this. However, sometimes this kind of brutality is exercised in the interests of maintaining certain kinds of communities. Bonding over expressions of disdain are egosyntonic; whereas with healthy narcissism there's a sense of balance and at a certain point, haters-be-hatin is felt to be egodystonic.

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    2. I didn't expect anyone other than people requesting this information, to plow through my long articles. Thank you for your support and your willingness to offer feedback, CS. It wasn't easy wading through all of that, I know. I almost gave up--- no wonder it sat on my ToDo list so long.

      Narcissism is a complex topic and I'm offering a BRIDGE between social psychology (narcissism as a personality trait) and narcissism as a pathology (clinical psychology) while also adding personal experience with the topic.

      It was Keith Campbell (my write-in candidate for POTUS) who inspired me to look at how overvaluation of agentic traits had caused social problems. Women (as well as other groups of people) have benefited from increased agency, becoming more autonomous. The problem isn't agency and individuation---it's the lack of communion that causes trouble. The disdain for communal values and even kindness causes trouble. To me, for whatever its worth, DISDAIN for community and communal values is indicative of self-hatred on some level, perhaps pathology.

      I also noted while writing this bear-of-an-article, that traditionally male values (patriarchal) are clustered in egoistic, agentic domains. The moralistic, communal domain is comprised of typically female characteristics and values. That's something to think about since it's probably fair to say that malignant narcissists are misogynists whether they're male or female--they disdain women. They might like women and profess to love them but the truth is that they see themselves as superior to women. The truth is in their DISDAIN for traditionally female behaviors.

      You wrote: "degrees of narcissism are bound up with ideas about punishing those who have hurt us."

      Yes. That's another important aspect of egoism: how to deal with a narcissistic injury. How to settle the score. Death by hanging or public beheading? Empathy and forgiveness hold societies together but those aren't agentic traits.

      Agentic traits would focus on "justice" and communal traits on "mercy." Once again, the same dichotomy of typically male and female traits/behaviors. Not sure where that observation is going...maybe some googling on Gender and Narcissism? It seems to me though that the more narcissistic someone might be, the fewer communal traits they'll have and the more punishing and revengeful they'll become. Fixated on satiating a wounded ego.

      As far as the real self being a loving self---that's my belief. I had countless arguments with my rat bazturd of a husbaNd about whether the Universe was friendly or not. As you can guess, he viewed life as Predator-Prey and I said it was full of rainbows and good people.

      When my children were born and I looked in their little faces and they looked in mine, I knew that the one thing human beings wanted was to love and be loved. That experience profoundly influenced my life thereafter. It started my healing journey, too---knowing I had looked in my mother's eyes the same way. "Do you love me? Can you love me into be-ing?"


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    3. I think that agentic/justice and communal/mercy can be often be reversed. Especially in some cultures that exercise Sharia law. That's a whole other can of poisonous worms. Justice is understood in so many different ways. But the Old Testament version--talionic law--insists that the punishment must fit the crime. With narc agents, often the punishment so outweighs the perceived 'crime' that "justice" is lost in the fury for vengeance. All legitimate governments struggle with these efforts to match degrees of punishments with degrees of socially defined crimes. Often the guys who end up shooting co-workers believe they are exercising justice. But it clearly isn't. So there's a super complex mix, I think. I do believe that most children have the potential to be good but I also know that children can be terrible bullies (you know as well), and bullies of any age are often in arrested development. Often communal values become reasons for savaging perceived "others." I wish I knew some formula for figuring this stuff out. It's an age old problem.

      Big election today! I voted early. Hope my guy wins.

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    4. You are right, CS. Malignant narcissists are capable of loyalty to their group (a communal value) which in their eyes is special/superior to other groups; perhaps ordained by powers greater than themselves who approve of brutal methods for justice. This is a perversion of morality. It's in the realm of psychopathy which was aptly called ‘moral insanity’. My X believed he was doing the right thing standing for justice, truth and liberty. Self-deception, as I mentioned in my article, might be the narcissist’s Achilles heel.

      Maybe there’s also a case for Follies a deux. The group creates their own version of reality (reversing villains and victims) to justify vengeful behavior. No amount of reasoning modifies their aggression. Reality spins backwards and whatever had been “wrong” appears to be “right.” Yes, this can get very convoluted and then my brain feels like a big ball of tangled string.

      Your point about the punishment outweighing the crime is a good one and I have a few things to add but my comment is too long to post so I'll continue this discussion in my next comment!

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    5. People with narcissistic personalities overreact to perceived criticism. They view personal slights as direct hostility and aggression which justifies aggressive and hostile reactions.

      An intense reaction to perceived criticism is one of the traits psychologists have used in determining pathology. Elsa Ronningstam writes in her book (my well-worn bible) "Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality":

      "The reputation of NPD as being an unchangeable disorder and difficult to treat has been challenged both by new understanding of long-term changes in the personality and by new treatment modalities that have proven beneficial for patients with pathological narcissism. Nevertheless, the presence of two narcissistic characteristics---lack of commitment to others, and intense reactions to defeat and criticism from others---are associated with lack of improvement over time. In other words, the presence of these narcissistic problems is significantly associated with poor prognoses and absence of change and hence indicates a more enduring form of NPD." (pg. 111)

      Without giving other people the benefit of the doubt and lacking the capacity for forgiveness, every slight or perceived criticism is viewed as a hostile threat. The reaction is ALWAYS out of proportion to the supposed crime.

      When people have criticized me INTENTIONALLY, I go directly to a place of understanding for our human condition. I may get upset, hell...lemme be honest. I do get VERY upset and mad as hell at times, but there's an inherent reluctance to exact punishment. Is that empathy? Is it wisdom? I don’t know. I'm just glad it was there while raising children.

      Besides, so what if I get "butthurt"? Growth is in getting over butthurtness and making darn sure that if we’re gonna spend our precious life beating someone down, that they deserve to be beaten down for something more than a perceived insult. Getting revenge for being butthurt isn't productive or helpful. It is not growth. It isn't healing.

      Thank god most people I've butthurt would rather 'get over themselves' and forgive me than track me down and hang me high. THAT is a narcissistic reaction to a perceived injury that is Out Of Proportion to the crime. The real crime was committed years ago by parental "invalidation.”

      People with narcissistic personalities can learn to spot the automatic reaction to “devalue and discard/destroy” Perceived Critics. We all have them. Not everyone is gonna like us. By containing reactions and working through them without “wronging the scales of justice,” they’ll be better able to thwart the Devalue and Discard.

      This will be tricky. Even people without narcissistic personalities devalue people to whom they feel inferior. We compare ourselves to others and come up short. That’s life. It’s not fair. The narcissistic way to restore our wounded self-esteem is to Put That Person Down. The more pathological our narcissism, the more ruthless our behavior.

      I've got my ballot ready and I'm headed for the polls. Hope my guy wins, too. W. Keith Campbell for POTUS!

      ha!
      CZ

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    6. "lack of commitment to others, and intense reactions to defeat and criticism from others---are associated with lack of improvement over time. In other words, the presence of these narcissistic problems is significantly associated with poor prognoses and absence of change and hence indicates a more enduring form of NPD"

      This is not good. Of course, being an N, you know what comes next...brace yourself for the first person pronouns! :D

      I'm 22 years old and I've never been able to have a committed or fulfilling relationship with others (mostly gave up on that in high-school), I also have an insecure and defeatist streak in me, but my overprotective mother helps push me along as does my own discontentment...my distant middle aged father is finally supporting both me and my sister, and I suspect it's because of selfish/shallow reasons (wants to give advice/get respect). I can tell. He's sort of generally well-meaning, but empty and aloof...like me. It's like talking to someone who is barely there...I know how people must feel talking to me.

      Therapy has been a 10 year long constant battle, and it's often felt hopeless. Wanting to get better, to feel, to love, to CONNECT - that was my goal. I know now that goal is not all too realistic.

      I can't help but see myself like my Dad in 20+ years...alone and unemployed at 56. Watching movies, eating junk food, unemployed, alienated from everyone including family (which I have been already. My fault of course...but any other way would only cause more hurt), he has a few shallow friendships...you get the picture.

      Unlike him, I won't get married and have the inevitable emotional neglect (abuse) happen or bring that upon children. I know that capacity to do that is in me. 5 or so years ago when I idealized (I actually thought I was in love and cared for her)/devalued (I projected all my own terrible faults onto her) to a woman I met on the internet. We only (luckily) kept in touch for 2 months, but she WAS hurt. No more of that. No good can come of that. Maybe I say that in a selfish way (as in I am not guilty, but ashamed), but does that matter? Less suffering is less suffering. The outcome is the same, and it's what matters. Right?

      I don't think I feel anything for others, but I have learned some healthy/ethical behaviors and beliefs. I realize that staying away from others reduces suffering, so I do. I do enough money to help pay rent/expenses, but I still live with my mother. That whole relationship isn't too healthy, but that's typical. I usually help around the house when I'm feeling good (N's are of course not Mr./Ms. Dependable), when I'm feeling depressed I might be asked a few times...but it does get done.

      You've heard the "poor me" thing before, many times, I don't expect or need sympathy. This is what it is. I dropped out of high-school because of depression/anxiety/problems with socialization...I don't know how well I can function in the real world without getting myself hurt/taken advantage of with my lack of emotional intelligence (it has happened), or hurting others.

      Therapy, as you know, only can do so much for a case like this. It's given more of a desire and tools to do/think good things (of course I don't sometimes), but I think a plateau is or is close to being reached.

      In my core I am a selfish thing, so of course, if it's a win-lose...I hope my loss is not so great and there is some kind of something for me. I've been in psych hospitals (always to protect myself from myself), and those places are filled with suffering and abuse. Going into a live in place will cost my mother money and she works hard to live week by week as it is. Any thoughts on the right thing I could do to spare the most suffering?

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    7. Hi Anonymous,

      First of all, using lots and lots of "I's" when writing about yourself, your thoughts, and your behavior, is healthy and normal. We should each do more of it. ;-)Self-disclosure reveals our true self to ourselves (and to others) and that requires using the capital "I". Never apologize on MY blog for too many I's, Me's, or My's. I appreciate everything you've written and wish the very best for you.

      So let's do some math. If you are 22, then you started therapy when you were 12. Do you have a diagnosis of NPD or are you self-diagnosing? You mentioned suffering anxiety, depression, and socialization problems which would account for feelings of emptiness because you can't CONNECT but you want to. Have you been tested for autism? I only ask because people with Aspergers want to connect with other people; they lack the social skills to do that.

      You wrote about idealizing a woman you met on the Internet when you were 17 (five years ago), eventually projecting your faults onto her. Well, that is normal. In fact, cyber-relationships are especially prone towards idealization and projection. If people have 'narcissistic tendencies', cyber-relationships can be especially tricky so you might want to cool it on the Internet Dating Thing. At least for awhile, until you figure out who you are and what you want out of life.

      Most generally, pathological narcissists are not concerned about hurting others. They view the relationships in their lives as having cheated (or hurt) them. You, on the other hand, are concerned about hurting others---including your mother. I see nobility in your hesitancy to use your mother's hard work to pay for a group home situation for yourself. Evidently, even if you feel empty inside, you have forged a bond with your mother---you are concerned for her welfare rather than feeling entitled to whatever she's willing/able to give.

      You also mentioned your depressed father who is alone after alienating his family. It appears he's satisfied with shallow relationships, not the mutually rich intimate relationships giving meaning to people's lives. This makes me think you would benefit from reading literature about dysfunctional families since it sounds like your father was NOT an emotionally safe father. John Bradshaw is a good place to start learning about dysfunctional families and the impact this has on us as adults (and young adults such as yourself).

      Your insight concerning 'your' issues, coupled with your concern for other people, etc. are all good signs that you aren't irremediably narcissistic. So I would encourage you to ask for a clinical diagnosis if you haven't done that already because a proper diagnosis makes all the difference in treatment outcomes.

      Hugs,
      CZ

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    8. Hi. It literally takes me hours to write a detailed response in this state of mind...so please don't mistake my writing style as impersonally rude - I just want to get this all out there!

      1. I was self-diagnosing (more about that later). I recently saw my psychiatrist again and brought all these things to her attention and she basically said we all have some N traits but she was more concerned about my anxiety/depression and perhaps that exacerbated those traits.

      2. I socialized fairly normally as a child (though a bit shy) and was in an out of special ed classrooms. I think autistic tendencies would have been noticed. I've also been going to psychiatrists and therapists since I was 12 and it hasn't really been brought up. I don't think it's the case myself. Problems started in middle school when anxiety/depression crept up on me. I'm still recovering from that.

      3. I lied. My only lie in that paragraph was that it wasn't 5 years ago, it was about a week ago. I didn't want you to think I was an emotionally abusive person seeking sympathy. It's....a complicated situation and a confusing one, I'm still puzzling over it. Ineptness maybe...but she thought it was malice...we're both prone to doom-and-gloom anxious thinking, obsessiveness, mistrust, self-diagnosis, and nervous break downs....anyway, I don't know much else to say about that. It confuses me and I just want to recover right now. We've reconciled, but I don't know what to do. I'm no good at friendships when these problems overrun my mind.

      My most major issues are with obsession and anxiety. The accusation that I was "playing mind games" with her drove me down a path of delusional panic (not to be mistaken as schizophrenia).

      I thought I was a psychopath completely devoid of empathy. I thought I was an emotional vampire (which was "proven" in my mind by my CONSTANT calls to my parents telling them I was dangerous and would be going to jail soon) that could only take and never give.

      I thought I was a pathological liar only out to manipulate and receive "supply" and couldn't even trust what came out of my own mouth. I even convinced myself it was possible I blocked out memories of sexually abusing or killing people and the police were onto me...disturbing things like that. I contemplated suicide constantly because I didn't want to go to jail and be killed...but I was too scared and also I read that people with NPD don't usually kill themselves.

      Anyway, in this state of mind (I was just prescribed some lorazepam) it's easy to digress. I can be SO empathetic...but the anxiety saps it all away leaving me empty, self-absorbed, and cold. When I am so burnt out inside I just don't have the capacity at the moment to genuinely care about others or even want to interact with them. It does bring out the narcissist within me - but I despise it.

      When I'm not like this I feel so HUMAN and loving and everything I ever want to be, everything I truly feel that I am....just a simple thing like smiling at the cashier and saying a "good night" to make her dreary day a little better...little things like that (since bigger emotionally close relationships are harder for me), it brings me fulfillment that nothing else really does - I WANT MORE OF THAT! - but it seems to last so short...so hard to keep a grasp on. Then I always go back to being a self-absorbed shut-in who sometimes does the "silent treatment" abuse in a misguided attempt to "just be left alone".

      Anyway, I'll look up some of Mr.Bradshaw's stuff on youtube and such...reading is difficult in this mind-state. Thank you for that.

      When I first read your reply I felt empty and apathetic. Now, when things are starting to settle...I had tears in my eyes (and now, typing this - down my cheek) and warmth in me. You're a very kind person and I wish to be like you some day. Thank you for your time and compassion. It means a lot.

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    9. Oh, I forgot to say - the friendship/relationship/w/e with that girl (actually, I was mistaken - it's been about 4 months or so now...time flies). it was what triggered these anxious delusions. When she said I was "playing mind games" and we stopped talking for like the 4th time, I went to my therapist and he told me that she was being passive-aggressive and that the relationship was dysfunctional and that I should simply stop talking to her and not to explain any of it to her because it wouldn't matter.
      I tried explaining it to her because she was the only real friend I've ever had, but that didn't work out well. I feel a lot of conflicting emotions (I want to move on from this, but I don't)...and when I was really anxiously deluded I mistook that for pathological lying.

      I still don't have enough distance to know exactly the extent of what I did wrong or what she did wrong...she seems to take an almost completely innocent stance...I don't know. I don't want to confront her on anything.

      I know I went about things wrong and I know for sure some things I did and said were wrong. There are other variables involved like she is married and things were bordering on inappropriate, but that takes two, but she blamed it all on me....I know I'm rambling like a lunatic, but there's a lot of context missing - I didn't want to leave too much out. Maybe it's not important. Sorry. I need some rest. Thank you

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    10. Sorry for the triple post!...I won't make a habit of it. I just want to clarify that the timelines for things, my coherence/ability to articulate, and my skills of cognition/discernment are all very much way below how I am when healthy. I am still recovering from that breakdown and my mind is "burnt out", but I felt compelled to get these things out to you and out of me! Sorry.

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    11. "I went to my therapist and he told me that she was being passive-aggressive and that the relationship was dysfunctional and that I should simply stop talking to her and not to explain any of it to her because it wouldn't matter. "

      Well, dear anonymous---listen to your therapist's advice. If she's accusing you of playing mind games and you can't convince her otherwise, AND she's married to someone else---then the relationship is headed nowhere but downhill. Since your therapist knows you well, it's a pretty safe bet he's offering reliable advice.

      It's hard to give up a friendship but its better to do that in the beginning than later, when we are even more attached to that person. Just some advice from an old softie who hates letting people go, too.

      Writing can be very useful in connecting our thoughts and making sense of our experiences. I appreciate the effort you've put into writing your three posts. I hope you also write in a journal. That can be extraordinarily healing.

      To put your mind at ease, you are not a psychopath. ;-P I'd bet my last bar of chocolate on that.

      If you read one of Bradshaw's books, I'd be interested in your thoughts if you're inclined to reply.

      Hugs,
      CZ

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  4. Your blog inspired me to search for professional help a year ago more or less.
    Now and then I stop by to read one your posts and think about the messages you share with us.
    Your post titled 'help-im-narcissist' is a recurring theme in my mind, especially when I feel I've been sort of 'forgetting' about narcissism.
    And that reminds of your post about 'Sisyphus', the second most recurring post.
    Thank you :)

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    1. I am so pleased to read your comment, Anon. If there's one thing that remains consistent whether I'm in a crisis or a fairy tale: I like helping people.

      Narcissism has been part of my entire life experience even as a child. Some of the narcissistic people in my family have changed and others haven't. The differences between us continues to intrigue me---and inform my writing.

      Wishing you well, Anon. And thanking you for reading my articles with an open heart.

      Hugs
      CZ

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  5. Hi CZ,
    I have so many thoughts about this post and about your conversation w/CS. First of all, congrats on getting this off your to-do list. I know how good that feels. It's heartening to know that there are people writing to you for help w/their narcissism. I have always sort of thought as NPD folks as unwilling to change. This article has really opened my eyes.

    I am familiar with the concepts of agency (primarily masculine) and communion (primarily feminine) through my reading of Ken Wilber. I had not before thought of narcissism as a primarily agentic trait. Rather, I had thought of it as a pathologically "reflected sense of self" (to different degrees) and therefore, a sort of communal trait gone awry. This is because narcissists' sense of self is very dependent on other people's opinions of them, even if they don't respect those people or have an interest in (or capacity for) intimacy with them. This is not Wilber's definition but my own extrapolation. Wilber considers narcissism to be the state of the undeveloped self. I don't know how he differentiates this from pathological narcissism. And since he has been my primary focus for psychological reading the past several years, I haven't done so, either. I am looking forward to reading more about narcissism, and BPD, and understanding it better.

    Anyway, lots more to say but I'll stop there.

    Kitty

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    1. Kitty, CZ, I think Kitty's comment, and this conversation, shows how multifaceted Narcissism is. Not just in degree (the "Continuum") but in structure. Mirroring seems key in many models of narcissism--that's where the idea of "supply" comes from I guess. But it also suggests that narcs NEED others, but as self-objects. Others become tools for a closed circuit of reflecting (or failing to) the desired self. I think this kind of narcissism can be transformed pretty easily into abusive, even evil, reactions. People become tools, only "there" for their use-value. The other 'agentic' view of narcs, that they don't need others, has a different trajectory. I guess I subscribe to the "mirroring" view, simply because that's what I grew up with. If I failed to provide narc supply and mirroring (as a partial self-object), my father would fly into a verbal rage--I'll never forget the cold hate on his face when I contradicted him as a teenager and young adult. Even into my twenties. As recently as five years ago, I contradicted him as he falsified his "support" of my colleage years (he didn't support me), the "beast" came back out. This time I told him "you're being irrational." That stopped him cold.

      My mother used me as a "negative" mirror insofar as once she couldn't look at me and feel superior--in looks, intellect, achievement--I became the "bad object," the bad reflector, showing her what she WASN'T. She hated me for that. So until I was a teenager she mostly ignored or dismissed me. Maybe one way to think about this is, as Kitty mentions, communalism gone awry. The "Clan" is a pathological form of community. So we'd want to take the role of boundaries into account in any model of healthy communal agency. Gender roles alone don't account for agentic/communal structures. Women often espouse communal values for the wrong reasons--enmeshment, fear of standing out. Without healthy boundaries, I don't think there can be healthy communities. anyway, my morning 4 cents, pre-coffee.

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    2. Hello Kitty!

      I read your comment and my first thought was how far in over my head I’d gotten myself. Ha! This article is a mix of social and clinical research, along with personal experiences---kind of like a patchwork quilt stitching together “One-eyed Teddy bears” with “Six-foot Grizzlies.” Narcissism is an enormous topic and the more you read, the less you know, and pretty soon you daren’t say anything.

      "I have always sort of thought as NPD folks as unwilling to change."~Kitty

      There are a couple of reasons for that: 1) change is hard for everybody. Which is why we usually don't change very much, even when we want to; 2) narcissism feels good. As long as people 'feel good', why change?

      "Hey, honey (or therapist)! How about you burst my bubble and make me feel like crap today?"

      I think there's a window of opportunity when narcissists are willing to ask for help. That window needs to stay open before they do something so foolish that narcissistic defenses are the only way to live with themselves.

      The other issue with my article is that I didn't address Malignant Narcissism (psychopathic narcissism) in which case 'change' will be measured in the eye of a gnat. In other words, you'll have to look really hard to see anything remotely resembling change and even then, it'll be white-knuckled. And, without the capacity for intimacy and commitment, years of support and understanding can be discarded on a whim! That is why many people freak out at the suggestion narcissism can be treated. We don’t have clear enough distinctions between malignant/psychopathic narcissism and normal (even unhealthy) narcissism.

      "I had not before thought of narcissism as a primarily agentic trait." ~Kitty

      Narcissists may not embody that trait---but they VALUE that trait. Their narcissism might be in the 'gap' between reality and their construction of reality.

      Because narcissists struggle with intimate relationships and don't work well with other people, they might overvalue “agency" to maintain their (vulnerable) self-esteem. When the community rejects them, they'll devalue the community to maintain their self-esteem. When they fail to create a trustworthy marriage, they'll devalue marriage to maintain their self-esteem. If the "communal value" was worthless, their self-esteem is not threatened. There are lots of questions we could ask ourselves about what communal versus agentic means...

      "Wilber considers narcissism to be the state of the undeveloped self. I don't know how he differentiates this from pathological narcissism." ~Kitty

      I know so little about Wilber’s work that my comment might be way off base; however, Kohut’s theories would likely support Wilber's self-development theories and Kernberg's theories would describe "pathology". This is an overview of the differences between Kohut, Kernberg, and Cooper:

      http://www.webofnarcissism.com/forums/index.php?topic=6493.msg16897#msg16897

      Thanks, Kitty! You are a deep thinker and I really appreciate your curiosity, your knowledge, and your kindness! I have to throw in the "kind" bit because it's such a lovely communal trait to have. ;-P

      Hugs,
      CZ

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    3. Wow, this is heady stuff. I love it! Maybe narcissism can be BOTH agentic and communal, with a shifting center of gravity depending on which of those (very normal) impulses aren't fully or properly developed in a person. CS is right about the multi-faceted (or just plain ol' complex) nature of narcissism: the more I know, the more I know I don't know. Gotta get to those books.

      A few thoughts occur to me, though. As we see our culture grow ever more narcissistic, with values migrating to the external trappings of success rather than self-directed, internally defined success (e.g., celebrity for its own sake, owning lots of stuff), isn't this about a "reflected sense of self"? That is, people who have become more narcissistic also have a sense of self-worth derived from how other people see them? I read about this in a book called The Lonely Crowd many years ago. They claim capitalism has fostered materialism, which in turn has encouraged narcissism (my words, not theirs).

      This makes sense to me. After all, it's just easier to buy your self-worth than to develop it internally. Once advertisers figured that out, the genie was out of the bottle. Give people what they want: an easy path to status. Never mind if it severs their connection to Self, or at least greatly diminishes it. In fact, that is exactly what they want: the less people are inner-directed, the more susceptible they are to buying shit. I see this as an agentic pathology, but not in too much but rather, too little. Or the wrong focus. Community suffers too, but primarily because people misunderstand their own agency.

      Just some more meandering thoughts...

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    4. And again, none of this takes into account normal vs pathological narcissism. I think that must be a different horse altogether...

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    5. And here I thought y'all would let me get away with a little essay about healing our narcissisms......

      It took me a second to catch up with the "reflected sense of self" because I'm still musing about the self-sufficient (agentic) narcissist---who isn't. Maybe the key to understanding the contradiction is the word "INFLATED". We all self-enhance to some degree, but narcissist's have inflated self-views.

      Ever watch American Idol and wonder if the people who believe they're great singers are "set-ups", or extreme narcissists? The contradiction between their self-awareness and reality is enormous. This is where my heart goes out to people with narcissistic disorders because it isn't funny; but I don't laugh when people fall on their faces either.

      So there's three things that might be pertinent to this discussion if I'm understanding your comments and CS's, too: inflated self-views; contradiction to reality; self-deception.

      As far as the 'reflected self', now I'm on the same page. You're referring to mirroring and we all do it which is why a celebrity culture is a serious problem, especially for our children.

      Anyway, when the overt narcissist is not mirrored the way he/she needs to see him/herself, the narcissism is in their aggressive, the hostile reactions like you described CS. Your father needs to be seen as powerful, in control, intelligent and his children are supposed to mirror his image back to him. That would be overt narcissism---being mirrored by others to see the self. Is that what you mean?

      Everybody gets butthurt when someone doesn't see us the way we want them too, but it's not life-threatening. In a way, imperfect mirroring IS life-threatening if the only self you know is the one people mirror back to you.

      Covert narcissists project their exhibitionist desires and grandiosity onto 'the mirror'. Is that what you're describing with the 'negative' mirror? Your mother needs you to carry aspects of herself that don't concord with her self-views as the loving matriarch. She needs YOU to carry those aspects for her. I was thinking about her rude comment accusing you of StickUpNess when she's the one who's high and mighty.

      You wrote: "this conversation, shows how multifaceted Narcissism is. Not just in degree (the "Continuum") but in structure." ~CS

      Well, I don't know about readers but it's hard for me to stay on point and I wrote the essay. ha! I read your comments and Kitty's and then I just stared at my monitor for about an hour. The topic of narcissism is so big that sometimes I can't find a place to start!

      It WAS much easier when narcissism was pathological, end of question, point finale. Study the red flags and yer ready to start dating again!

      Hugs,
      CZ

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  6. Hi CZ,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to reply here. In truth I'm going to have to read your responses through a few times before I get it, I think. And even then I think I'll have to read at least few books. I really understand how little I know about narcissism now. And it is an endlessly fascinating topic. So thanks for that.

    Differentiating plain ol' narcissism from pathological narcissism was helpful. So, is it accurate to say that pathological narcissists rarely seek change? And the narcissism you're primarily talking about here is plain ol' narcissism? (Yes, you stated that.) That makes sense to me. Yes, change is hard. Few people want to do it. And that is true whether we're talking about narcissism or losing weight...right? I get it. Or at least I think I do. And BTW, offering help to people who specifically ask about their narcissism is a huge, wonderful thing to offer people. You're doing really good work here.

    And your explanation of how narcissists value agency also makes sense. I get that, too. Or at least I think I do. There is a distinction between valuing agency and having (healthy) agency. Right? Just because narcissists value it doesn't preclude the possibility that they could be anywhere along the agency/communion spectrum--is this right? I would think it must be, since people can be both highly dependent (unhealthy communion) and highly independent (unhealthy agency) and still be narcissistic. And for that matter, anywhere in between. Although highly dependent might look more like BPD, from what I know thru my meager studies in this area...

    Am I getting it?

    Thanks for the link, also. I will try to get to it later today. Right now, I must work. MUST work! MUST MUST MUST! Even though I could talk about this topic all day.

    Thanks again. YOU are kind, knowledgeable...and infinitely patient, too!

    Kitty

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  7. Hi guys, I think CZ has forgotten more about narcissism than I'll ever learn in my lifetime! I think it's an insidious and multifaceted issue that manifests in so many ways. One thing is absolutely true: out American culture promotes and nurtures narcissism. It rewards it.

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    1. You're too kind, CS. I study something about narcissism every single day but that doesn't mean it "sticks" in my head. Your validation would be more accurate if you wrote, "CZ has forgotten more about narcissism than anyone would ever believe." hahaha

      I sincerely appreciate the validation though, CS. I feel an ethical responsibility to forum members and blog readers who kindly plow through my longish entries. <3

      It's a mutual admiration society. ha! I LOVE it when someone reads a psyche article and offers their thoughts, opinions and experiences. We're still talking about narcissism, what it means, how it manifests, where it comes from. This is the perfect time for people to add to online conversations with their thoughts and experiences, too.

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  8. I had hoped my father would recover from surgery faster than he has. I'm still sitting in the hospital room with him and may be doing that for several more days before he's released. Just wanted everyone to know why I haven't responded to comments...

    In rereading my reply to Brave New Kitty, it doesn't sound at all the way it was intended. When I was staring at my computer, it was to ponder how best to talk about narcissism without confusing the topic. There's at least three approaches I can think of: social psychology's dimensional trait measurement; clinical psychology's pathological diagnosis (NPD); spiritual development which tends to interpret narcissism as a 'block' to spiritual awakening, ego as enemy perhaps. And that makes it very very hard to write anything without contradicting yourself somewhere in your writing. Thus the stare and my laugh-out-loud reaction and YET, never fear! I am undaunted by complexity and imperfect theory and I am thrilled to work this out with a little help from my friends.

    And now I must leave for the hospital again. Dad gets antsy when he's alone. He wants someone to be with him in the room which is lovely to experience since he's the epitome of self-sufficiency and independence. He has learned to ask for help (even if he doesn't like it) and to say "thank you" when help arrives. It only took him 86 years...

    Hugs to all,
    CZ

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  9. It is good to be out of the net - NC is a freeing decision, a decision for me, a decision to take time for me and those I love, to think through how I'm going to live my life from now on, to stop being met with shame, guilt and scorn at every turn, to close my ears to the constant gossip and slander, to be free to be who I am in the world. It's easier for me than for most people - I live on another continent than WWW and her Flying Monkeys - but there are family events coming up that I don't wish to miss and I won't stay away just because the 3 Weird Sisters are there. So I get to test myself - to continue NC while in their presence! Thankfully, I no longer get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about seeing them -THAT should have been a large red flag when I was still in contact with them! Even the anger is dying down - in their own words, that's "just how they are!" No change possible from this end! Thanks for this post - I don't think I'll weaken and go back to contact with my tormenters, but it's good to hear from people with experience that NC must be a permanent position. Sometimes my head is still more in touch with narcissism than my heart...

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  10. This comment above seems to be copied from No More Flying Monkeys, and pasted here. Same jerk probably who's been raiding my comments and posting them anonymously, out of context.

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  11. Hi CZ,

    I love your blog and really admire the work you are doing.

    I am setting up a blog to offer relationship advice to both caregivers and narcissists.

    Like you, I too believe it is possible for narcissists to change if they really want to, but I strongly believe this can only happen once their victims maintain NC and it becomes impossible for them to gain supply from those they have already abused.

    They need help, but they will never accept it from their partners, they are too proud, which is why these types of blogs are imperative.

    I have been on both sides of the coin and have an exceptional awareness of the disorder.

    It is in its early stages but please check out my blog:
    http://silverboundary.wordpress.com

    Ariel

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  12. Hi CZ,
    My heart is with you and your father. Hope all is going well.

    I liked your response to me about narcissism. I know it's a complex topic. Maybe it's possible to approach it from all three of the angles you mentioned--and maybe even more. That's the way complex topics are. It's good to remember that knowledge is simply a map, a way we seek to understand territory, and that it is not the territory itself. The more maps we have, the greater the chance that our understanding will be accurate. The quest for more maps can be a daunting task, but it is only one undertaken by seekers of truth. So count yourself among that elite group. :)

    FWIW, I have run up against similar issues in my writing about addiction. 5 years ago, I thought I had the makings of a book on the subject--but the more I learn, the more I learn I don't know. And the more I learn, the harder it is to get my arms around it. This is frustrating, but I know it's just part of the process. I may never uncover the "real truth" I'm looking for, but the joy is really in the effort, isn't it?

    And CS is right: you've forgotten more about narcissism than most people will ever know.

    Anyway, sorry for the tardiness of this. As you probably know, I took a couple of weeks off over T-giving. I hope this finds both you and your father doing well.

    Hugz,

    Kitty

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    1. Hi Kitty,

      This topic has overwhelmed me at times. Like you mentioned with 'addiction', the more you learn, the more you learn. You find out things you didn't even know you didn't know until eventually, you're tongue-tied. That's when I sit in front of my monitor and stare AND to be honest, swear under my breath because it's terrible that we don't have clear language to describe distinctions between clinical and normal narcissism.

      I need professional guidance but even professionals are in a 'mess'and can't figure it out plainly enough for consensus in the DSM-5. That 'we', the layfolk writing about narcissism, get criticized by professionals for not having refined understandings of psychological processes...well, that makes my eyes roll.

      When the criteria for the NPD is finally complete (if they haven't eliminated NPD from the new 'DSM bible'), then I will use their criteria as my guideline and instead of writing about NPD Rat Bazturds, I'll write about people with a high trait score on the rat bazturd inventory.

      What matters for clinicians is to accurately diagnose someone's mental health problems for a more useful treatment plan. For the rest of us, we wanna know if 'our' narcissism is causing relational problems and limiting our lives. We wanna know if someone else's narcissism is causing relational problems for them AND for us. We wanna know when to call it quits; when to back away, when to help. We wanna know how to participate in society without exacerbating/feeding narcissistic traits or emulating them as evolutionary attributes for a high-tech (and impoverished imo) world.

      It is a travesty that people with narcissistic disorders (and many of us go to therapy because of our narcissistic vulnerabilities without ever being 'tagged' as narcissists), are grouped in with sociopaths, psychopaths, and anti-social personalities.

      Once the DSM-IV was unleashed, people spotted NPD in potted plants with shiny leaves, never spotting the unhealthy narcissism in themselves. They used a ridiculously simplistic Red Flag checklist counting too many "I's" in a written paragraph, justifying mobbing anyone with more self-confidence than an earthworm. Well jeez...how narcissistic is that? To be so CERTAIN of your perceptions that you tar and feather people and get all pissy if anyone objects? Even IF that person is A Bona Fide Narcissist in the flesh (or wool as it may be), you can't act like a narcissist and decline the label.

      It's just been a pure shitty mess and I can say that having been in the trenches for years---wanting to make a difference and help people make healthier decisions in their lives. But there's a world of difference between narcissistic personalities and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

      I await professional clarification and will yield to their expertise but please---show us some of that expertise out here in the trenches!

      A rant.

      CZ

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    2. CZ,
      For reasons I touched on over on CSs post today, I'm not sure the professionals will ever get their act together as far as diagnosing mental disorders. It's a moving target, and one that most of them are actively seeking to reduce to neurological impulses so as to ignore all those messy, inconvenient aspects of the human psyche that are impossible to fit into a neat, scientific category. Why is there so much debate and dissension over psychological diagnoses? The simplest reason is that they are not scientifically verifiable conditions in the same way that diabetes or influenza are. They encompass far more than the biological sphere of being. All the doctors who are trying to reduce psychology to biology are, IMO, barking up the wrong reductionistic tree.

      This might sound discouraging, but I say it to be the opposite. Maybe the dissension among the so-called experts is there because they don't know what the hell they're talking about, or at least, trying to fit human behavior into a scientific model that it outgrew a few millennia ago.

      I think you know more than you think, and I think you can trust your knowledge. While the doctors try to sort it all out, you might find some answers in sociology, philosophy, and theology/spirituality, just to name a few other sources of insight and wisdom that, IMO, have much to say about the human condition.

      I'm not sure you need to yield to anyone else's expertise so much as you need to see it as one avenue of information. Actually, I think you've got more worthwhile things to say about narcissism than most of the shrinks I've talked to or read.

      Keep up the good work.

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  13. man Google really needs to update its search algorithm......
    i have searching for something like for past 2 months.
    Thanks a bunch.
    i have been diagnosed with NPD 6 months ago.
    since then what i have observed about myself is frightening.
    Hope this helps.

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    1. I have another resource to add to this page, so check back (if you're so inclined) later this week.

      I'll continue adding resources as I find out about them, Anon! Good luck...may the force be with you. *wink*

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  14. Being a sociopath doesn't mean you have to be evil. We struggle to feel the difference between right and wrong, but we do know the difference since we have had it drilled into our heads since we were children, right? Fact is, us sociopaths have more choice in this world than the rest. That is because we can choose to be heroes or we can choose to be villains. No one else can do that, they have to be what they are, they are born a certain way, they will always be that way. Us sociopaths can change to our surroundings. We can do anything we choose to do.

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    1. "we can choose to be heroes or we can choose to be villains. No one else can do that, they have to be what they are, they are born a certain way, they will always be that way. Us sociopaths can change to our surroundings. We can do anything we choose to do."

      It usually warms my heart when someone unconditionally and completely accepts themselves, but in your case...oy vey!

      You are of course, entitled to view sociopathy however best sustains your self-beliefs. Far be it for me to argue with someone who sees a neurological deficit, the lack of an enriching conscience, the vacuity of feelings and meaning in one's life, and an incessant vulnerability to addictions and addictive behavior, Free Choice.

      ;-P
      CZ

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  15. I have two narcissistic parents. My mom is more so than my dad. It was so painful. It is still painful. To be treated the way they were capable of treating other human beings is astonishing to me now. They looked so nice and portray themselves as victims to outsiders, but in the house there was so much pride, fear and loneliness.
    I just feel so guilty about everything and freeze up completely when I try dealing with them. If I ask for any rights or demand any respect at all, for some reason I feel guilty and like a bad person and that I hurt them, and caused their fragile self-esteem to be damaged. They treat me like I purposely stabbed them.
    As I child I did everything in my power to please them to and to try to get them to love me. One day they up and decided they were done with me and kicked me out of the house. I was very young I wandered aimlessly, just wanting to die. At some point I decided never to give up, but I couldn’t seem to find a reason to live. I continued without a reason to live for 15 years now. I’ve just been going through the motions every day, doing what the world and others expected of me. I was so desensitized to bad behavior and cruelty that I barely noticed when others mistreated me. I walked a very dark lonely path for a very very long time. It would have been a mercy to have died.
    After 27 years just this year I realized I had lost myself. I had lost my inner voice and I hadn’t even realized it. It was just gone for so long. I even forgot my personality and what I liked and preferred. I became an empty vessel with a made up personality that seemed acceptable to the world. I was walking down the path to becoming a narcissist myself. How could I tell or see how I was affecting others or even try to worry about other people in my life when I couldn’t even find myself. When I tried looking into find myself all I could see was pain. I was so lost. Somewhere in me I really didn’t want to hurt everyone around me so I tried to stay as far away from everyone as possible. It started changing when I had a son. I tried to keep away from him but I realized I was hurting him with my coldness. I didn’t know how to fix it though and tried to “fake it”, but I know he can sense what is going on.

    I’m working so hard to find myself, fix things, and heal my pain. I have a lot of hope now for the future.

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    1. I carry hope in my heart for you, too. Drop by and let me know how things are going in recovery. (and therapy if you're open to professional help).

      I'm sorry about the suffering you've experienced because of your parents and hope you can break-the-chain by being a better parent to your son. Our children inspire us to do things we don't even believe we're capable of doing. I wish this for you, too.

      Hugs,
      CZ

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  16. There can be a big problem though, when people acknowledge their own neediness. Trying to meet your relational needs while in this space will inevitably lead to disaster. Neediness is a huge social turn off. My best success has come from pretending I don't need people. One thing I learned in Co-Dependents Anonymous is that people do not exist to meet your needs. As an adult, you have to meet as many needs as possible on your own. Relationships are fragile living things, but we cannot base our sense of self on relationships any more than on our appearance or youth or profession.
    Sorry for the long rant.

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    1. Private therapy is a way to Meet Your Needs without excessive reliance on family members, partners, friends, etc. Meeting Our Needs can mean joining groups or activities we enjoy without expecting family members/partners to participate, too.

      It is true that demanding someone Meet Our Needs hinders the relationship, turning the other person into an authority figure, like a parent (or a vending machine, ha).

      As long as "meeting our needs" does not hurt other people such as having an affair (y'all knew I'd "go there", right?) we should take responsibility for ourselves, our wants and desires. I agree with you anonymous AND please! Never apologize for a long rant. You can come back and leave a message anytime.

      Hugs,
      CZ

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  17. Two matters on the agentic-communal dichotomy.

    Agentic traits and values (egoistic bias): dominance, power, admiration, Machiavellianism, competitiveness, low need for intimacy, disagreeableness, self-serving, self-sufficiency, risk-taking, intellectual skills, openness, extroversion, superiority

    Communal traits and values (moralistic bias): empathy, morality, caring, acceptance, agreeableness, conscientiousness, intimacy, openness, inter-dependency, mutual reciprocity, trust, altruism, friendliness, helpfulness, niceness, kindness, considerate, forgiving, prosocial

    1. Are they necessarily opposed? In other words, can dominance be empathic, or extroversion be agreeable, or so on?
    2. Where are the more conservative communal values? Specifically, where are lawfulness, honesty, providence, chastity, duty, honor, valor, loyalty, community, protectiveness, and piety?

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