October 19, 2008

Trust Yourself. Don't Engage.

The Billow by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1889

When you’re up a creek without a paddle, don’t keep searching for an accurate diagnosis about the seriousness of someone’s narcissism before you start swimming for shore. If you’re waiting for an authority to definitively and qualitatively tell you that the person you suspect of being narcissistic is pathologically, permanently and forevermore NPD, you’re gonna sink to the bottom of the sea from sheer exhaustion. Either that or the narcissist will push you to the bottom of that sea if it looks like you’re swimming faster than s/he.

The fact is, there’s no specific point at which someone becomes malignant instead of benign. Malignant narcissism cannot be smeared on a Petrie dish and irrefutably diagnosed under a microscope. With a medical condition, you’ve either got diabetes or you don’t. You’ve got thyroid cancer or you don’t. You’ve got tuberculosis or you haven’t. That’s science. Even if narcissism has a genetic or biological component, it’s still not a medical condition to be excised with a scalpel or cured with a dose of penicillin. NPD is a psychological construct based on observable behaviors by a psychologist who is hopefully less crazy than the patient.

Psychologists measure pathological narcissism using nine criteria, but even interpretation of those nine criteria is subject to error. Clinical psychologists are collaborating to better define personality disorders but at this point, and likely for years to come, “Diagnosis remains more of an art form than a science.”

“The danger of the DSM---or any classification scheme---is that it is used in a system with so little monitoring of the decisions about when the line is crossed, and the DSM leaves enormous scope for subjectivity, opinion, judgment and bias in making those decisions.” ~Paula J. Caplan, "They Say You’re Crazy", page 80
Even if psychologists hone diagnostic criteria, it’s not gonna make much difference to the people in the boat. Psychologists can define, refine, combine and fine-toon criteria ‘til fish start flying, but it isn’t going to matter unless the pathological person submits to a diagnosis. So if you are waiting for absolute proof that the narcissist is as BAD as s/he appears to be, you may not get that proof until s/he does something that crosses the line of sanity.

I am beginning to believe the only way to determine pathological narcissism is by counting up the victims. So don’t be one. Don’t let your life be the determining factor as to whether or not someone with a narcissistic style would have been more accurately diagnosed as a malignant narcissist. Don’t worry about misdiagnosing someone who has maligned and treated you unfairly. You’re being too kind. I know you are. Most people who get along with narcissists are overly concerned about being fair. That’s why I love talking to targets, victims, and anyone who’s been a good enough person to get targeted in the first place.

Don’t sacrifice your life to see if the narcissist is so high on the narcissistic continuum that s/he merits dual membership in the Psychopathy Club. There is no glory in the gravestone epitaph, “Yup, I was right! S/he is as BAD as I thought s/he was.”

Stop looking for perfect answers because guess what? There aren’t any.

You must trust yourself to know when someone’s behavior has crossed the threshold of unintentional (benign) behavior into intentional (malignant) malice. You may doubt yourself or even fear you’re being paranoid when your intuition starts ringing for your attention. If those alarm bells are clanging like a light tower in the foggy sea, leave the situation. Don’t engage. Don’t react. Just walk away.

There’s a great book highly recommended by lay people and professionals alike. It’s called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

Read It.



  1. I need to cut ties with my older sister because of this. I kept thinking it was going to get better. It has gotten so bad you can not have a normal conversation with her. But around her children she does act or talk like she does with me. So sadly now her children will not speak to me. Of course she has told them lies about what i had said to her. This has been such a stressful time in our family, i do have to cut my ties.
    Thank you for having this sight so i can understand more of her problem. I thought it was just me.

  2. Hi CZ, ahhh, another post from 2010 I'm just discovering. How I love it when I get a chance to stroll your archive. I just finished de Becker's book. It's an excellent one, including the way he defuses worry and false fears at the end. Such a clear-eyed book. Makes no excuses for anyone, including victims who become co-conspirators by going back for more repeatedly. An excellent book. How long many of us remain emotionally ill because we keep talking ourselves out of what we feel and know about someone in our lives who is hurting us. It's just pathetic, isn't it, how the culture pounds us over the head to ignore our own instincts and intuitions. To ignore even our own cognitive skills when they try to connect with (rather than against) our intuition. xx CS

  3. Sigh....I will get that book, and like CS, have just found this very, very important caution.

    When do they cross over from garden variety (bad enough) narcissism to malignant narcissism? It's not one event or situation. I believe it brews deep (and not so deep) in the psyche, and when the conditions are 'ripe'...well, when a perceived narcissistic injury happens...it comes out fast and furious.

    NM always had this just under the surface. Since I was a child. I remember a number of events: where I went for glasses and this old Jewish couple in Princeton talked me into prescription sun glasses, and I came home with the bill....and the language of this supposively 'liberal' woman would curl paint. When I lost a bracelet of hers at a dance at Princeton, and I was forced to go back into the early hours of the morning looking through bathrooms and garbage cans for that damn bracelet. It scarred me so much that today I still don't wear a bracelet...50 years ago. (and for years as an adult I looked for a similiar bracelet to replace that one.)

    And CS is so right: how many years do we remain emotionally traumatized because we keep talking ourselves out of what we know is true and constant: that the person is constantly on a path of pathology and we are just victims in her path? As children we have no defenses...and the damn adults stand around and just don't engage the NM because they don't 'want to be made miserable' by the NM's behavior. (A dead sister of the NM). So, children grow up with no safety or defense against this behavior.

    I've had therapists tell me "love your mother, she's your mother" and not getting that she is also a person who would step over you if you died in her path.

    The only solution is to walk away and MEAN IT. No Contact with the NM and all around her who are the supply line and support her behavior. People end up in a life time of depression and also die because of this behavior. The MNM never dies of this. But they cause massive depression because we are trying to figure out 'what is wrong with mamma".

    Lady Nyo

  4. 1 person I'm sure is a narc, and need gone from my life, permenantly, 2 with narc tendacies, who need to grow up alottttttt...


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