October 16, 2009

The Lone Narcissist

“The basic self-state in NPD is typically that of a sense of emptiness of being alone. These patients are usually incapable of learning from others, have an intense stimulus hunger, and feel that life is meaninglessness. They characteristically feel bored when their need for admiration and success is not being gratified.” ~Otto F. Kernberg

This quote by Kernberg caught my attention while reading his essay in the book, Disorders of Narcissism, edited by Elsa Ronningstam. It caught my attention because being rejected or abandoned is something most humans defend against; and yet, we are willing to accept the fact that we are social creatures who need one another to survive. It may be distressing to admit our dependence, but we don’t resort to elaborate lies about self-reliance in order to cope with this uncomfortable truth.

Though fear of abandonment is touted as a powerful albeit unconscious fear, our ‘fear’ motivates development of pro-social skills modifying adaptable personalities to develop moral characters by empathizing with our impact on other people. We find a way to ‘fit in’ to society because isolation is a threat to our survival. (I am not referring to unhealthy pretenses or denying who we are in order avoid abandonment or rejection.) What Kernberg is referring to in his quote is likely not the fear of abandonment. I interpret his words as a reference to narcissists’ perception of aloneness.

Narcissists sense they are separate from others but the reality is that they are separated (disconnected) from their true selves. The True Self being defined as the sustaining core self that was unconditionally loved during infancy and supported during normal maturation. Without healthy attachment to those who valued the developing child, narcissists constructed a False Self, cutting them off from their essential core self. Depending on the degree of pathology, the narcissist may or may not be able to cope with archaic feelings of aloneness that have nothing to do with the present and everything to do with an unresolved past.

Because narcissists have shallow emotions and are incapable of grieving the painful loss of contact with their essential self, their inner sense of aloneness is not a conscious state of being; rather, it is a nagging emptiness leading to distorted perceptions that they are isolated from others, separate, misunderstood, rejected, perhaps even 'defective'. Some psychologists suggest narcissists defend against this inner sense of ‘defectiveness’ with compensatory defenses. Other psychologists suggest narcissists never matured beyond the King Baby grandiose stage and continue to believe they are superior, perfect, a far cry above the howling masses yearning to be free. Free from human nature, like themselves, bien sur.

Being cut off from other people evokes powerful emotions, which narcissists cannot resolve because they cannot endure the containment of these emotions. Therefore, the terrifying perception that one is separate & disconnected, leads to what psychologists call ‘compensation.’ Narcissists compensate for their aloneness/disconnection with ego defenses, such as: omnipotence, grandiosity, idealized fantasies, a perception of self-reliance masking feelings that are intolerable and therefore, irresolvable.

Narcissists create a self-protective illusion that they need no one; that they are superior to inferior others; that they have everything they need to succeed and are excluded from relying on unreliable objects to either contribute to their welfare, or to help them if a narcissist dare stoop so low as to ask for help, that is.

Narcissists believe they are superior and self-reliant: a self-aggrandizing explanation for their sense of aloneness and exclusion. The crazy-making truth is that other people do not exclude narcissists, at least not without doing their best to encourage the narcissist to drop their pretenses and get over their defenses. Narcissists exclude themselves because of the grandiose lies they tell themselves; i.e.: that they do not need anyone but themselves. They certainly don't need those emotional codependents who keep telling them to get off their high-horses and walk on the ground with the rest of us two-legged creatures.

The narcissist’s fantasy of self-reliance compensates for painful feelings of rejection and abandonment, both feelings of which narcissists are unaware. While all human beings suffer loneliness from time-to-time, narcissists compensate for their emotional intolerance of loneliness by viewing themselves as superior beings, thus devaluing the contributions and relevance of interdependence. If other people are less-than and if other people are superfluous and if other people are merely ordinary, then narcissists, in a martyr-like fashion, will steel themselves to bear the burden of their superiority. Because as everyone knows, it hurts to be extraordinary and special. People won’t like ya for being so excellent!

Ah, the cross that must be suffered by those extraordinary and excellent people!

Narcissists lie---to themselves first and foremost. They tell themselves they need no one. This is the grandiose lie silencing inner despair from rising into conscious awareness.

Narcissists need no one. Narcissists can do everything themselves. I am not referring to material needs only.

According to N. Cohen, in On Loneliness and the Ageing Process, “The narcissistic personality appears to believe that he possesses within himself all the necessary sources of goodness, wisdom, understanding, etc. and that what his objects can offer him is of little value.”

Narcissists conclude they are above ‘the fray’ and need never rely on others to sustain them. Narcissists effectively promote themselves above the ordinary state of mortal weaklings who freely admit their need for other people. To me, the preposterous notion that human beings are completely self-reliant, is hopefully categorized somewhere in the DSM-IV. Perhaps in the Axis II, Cluster B category; perhaps as a God Complex.

But wait a minute! Isn’t self-reliance a good thing?

Certainly. As with other values in a society, the narcissist perverts social values because of their pathological self-absorption, lack of remorse and gratitude, inability to tolerate dependence, or value other people’s contributions. Just remind narcissists that they did not create their empires by themselves and you will suffer the wrath of narcissistic rage for having threatened their illusions of self-reliance.

Narcissists’ grandiose pretenses of self-reliance precipitate a devaluation process that diminishes other people’s contributions. Contributions that narcissists do not take notice of, so preoccupied are they with defending against ‘dependence’. Narcissists deny their dependence, even with the smallest of needs. Like devaluing their connection to whoever it was that grew coffee beans on a South American hillside, hired a crew to pick them one-by-one, carried those beans to the market and sold them to a company that roasted, packaged and shipped them to stores where nice people brewed them in exactly the way customers wanted their coffee to be served.

“A triple non-fat grandee with two equal latte and extra room for cream please. And do it exactly the way I want it, or you’ll hear from my lawyers this afternoon! Snap to it! My time is valuable!”

Who made the cups? Who fabricated the holders? Who keeps track of receipts so we can slurp that fine cup of Joe in the morning? Who is setting up the store at three in the morning so Madame Narcissist can purchase her cup of low-fat extra cream latte?

REALITY CHECK: People are dependent on one another, which requires an element of trust (something narcissists are short of) that store managers will stock their backroom with extra beans and jugs of cream and pretty plastic stir sticks. Pretending we are alone and self-sufficient is one of the most grandiose ideas the American culture has ever heralded as an achievable and desirable goal. The only way to pretend we are self-reliant is to ignore, devalue, and deny our true state of inter-dependence. Congratulating ourselves for having done everything on our own is a narcissistic illusion.

Narcissists’ grandiosity means they honestly believe they are superior beings---entitled to be served by the grubbing minions. Because narcissists cannot tolerate conscious awareness of their inner disconnect, they maintain an aloof perception of themselves as unique, thus abrogating themselves from social responsibility. What a childish perception to protect one’s self-esteem and pride by avoiding feelings of dependency and vulnerability! This defensive maneuver reminds me of two-year olds who in their narcissistic oblivion are ignorant to how little they do for themselves. “I don’t need anybody! I can do everything myself!”

Thus, narcissists go about pathologically validating themselves with pompous lies about self-sufficiency, continually reaffirming to themselves that they don’t need anybody. Just themselves. In narcissists' eyes, their self-sufficiency and competence evokes other people's envy and this is why, in the narcissist's distorted perceptions, they feel alone.

Occasionally, narcissists sense the nagging emptiness of their aloneness, an emptiness frequently arising at midlife when becoming 'older and more dependent' haunts most of us. Rather than tolerating their 'original disconnect' long enough to gain insight and heal this narcissistic injury, narcissists reinforce their superior status with self-aggrandizing lies. They sooth themselves with the belief that envious people cannot possibly understand the isolation of the self-reliant. It is their burden to bear.

Narcissists epicize the self-made man of a romanticized yesteryear.

Drawn to loner-type cowboys, freedom fighters, sexy jet airplane pilots on missions to save the planet from certain doom, I was attracted to the self-made man. Which is funny when you think about the kind of girl I am: homebound, feminine, connected to every person, place, and thing I touch, see, taste, hear, and smell. I often joke that even a coffee pot ‘means’ something to me, so grateful am I for the contribution of percolating aromas in the morning. In fact, I am so ‘connected’ to others, that the ability to extricate one's self from familial relationships (and responsibilities, yikes!), appeared to be a Strength.

A loner, a maverick, a self-made man embodied an independence that was impossible for me to fathom. So I admit my admiration for the self-made man's symbolic independence because I didn’t know how to think of myself as separate. I didn't know how to escape living UP to my good family's reputation, nor separate myself from relatives watching like hawks if I veered outside painted lines of a crosswalk, or ignore my children's pleas for homemade cookies when I what I really wanted to do was seclude myself in a room of my own. I was and am connected within an elaborate relational web and grateful for those who loved me enough that I could trust my dependence on others AND bear the responsibility of their dependence on me.

As I thought about Kernberg’s quote at the top of this essay, I recognized my privilege to live a life without deeply entrenched narcissistic defenses. I empathize with narcissists’ inner state of being. It would be insufferable to be disconnected from my true self, the one that was loved into being by a good-enough family. While narcissists deny themselves the joy of being cared for by trustworthy others who recognize vulnerability and compassionately respond, I could not understand the despair of a loneliness so profound as to evoke compensatory lies of self-reliance.

That does not mean this desktop cowgirl will keep the home fires burning while mountain men settle the wild frontier. I need the kind of people in my life who can tolerate the angst of knowing they need me back.



Otto F. Kernberg, ‘Pathological Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder’ in the book Disorders of Narcissism edited by Elsa Ronningstam, page 37.

N.A. Cohen, On Loneliness and The Ageing Process. 1982. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis http://www.pep-web.org/document.php?id=IJP.063.0149A


  1. Thank you for posting this. I am in the painful process of unraveling myself from a narcissist and this article is very timely... helps me to understand what has been going on so that I can separate myself from his beliefs. I am Reconnecting with people, it's like they are crawling out of the woodwork!

  2. Thank you for this website, I am a psychology student and have found so much helpful knowledge from here. I have two people in my life both friends or "friends" who I cared for deeply and yet became the victim of mind games. I say victim but at the time I didn't realise it was happening and wouldn't have used that term to describe me, I used to listen to their put downs despite being smart they would somehow make me out to be beneath them. One had to have everything her way, the guy had to believe he was smarter than everyone else and has even said he doesn't need anyone. When I was grieving the loss of my family the guy friend actually said I was weak for reaching out to other people in order to get help for my greif. He said he wouldn't need anyone. My female friend recently let me down, I discovered she was talking crap about me behind my back, utter lies, I caught her but having never dealt with this kind of person before I responded with anger it only made matters worse, she appologised but her appology was not sincere as she spoke about me again but twisted it all around to make me look like the bad guy. She doesn't know I know what else she has been saying as this time around I just wanted peace so I haven't spoke to her for a bout 5 weeks or so now. She was my bestfriend aswell. As was the guy friend he was my partners bestmate at one point aswell as someone I thought of as being like a brother that I never had. I feel so much better when I don't speak to these people as much. I haven't actually said to them that I don't want to see them as I am finding it hard to loose a friendship that seemed so close but on the other hand were they ever really friends atall? Your website is helping me see through "blamers" and helping me to deal with other issues, thank you!! I hope I will grow enough in confidence to finally be free of their put downs. The guy friend recently tried to sway me from doing something I love which is Psychology. Not in an obvious way either he was just putting me down with the litle remark here and there, like age is an issue, you're a bit old for being a student. I am 26!!!! plus I would have loved to have done this at 18 but at 18 I was caring for my family through cancer........more important thatn studying. what an idiot he is. Still sometimes I hear their comments and start to put myself down, so as I say I hope I will keep growing and learning to deflect this type of person in future.

  3. You may be the same person I replied to on a post today? If so, perhaps you will gain more insight into the narcissistic personality by reading this post:


    Best Wishes and PLEASE, we need good-hearted people like yourself in the psychological community. Don't listen to their insults and whatever you do, Be YourSelf!


  4. If I may respectfully disagree with a portion of your essay-

    It seems somewhat odd to criticize someone for holding a rejecting attitude when society rejects individuals all the time. Why is it ok for the masses to practice exclusion and ostracism, but not an individual?
    There are a lot of people whom society has decided it doesn't "need". Aren't we simply practicing reverse narcissism? And yet these rejectef people are taught to "grow up" and stop feeling sorry for themselves.
    Thank you again for writing.

  5. I received a comment via email last night, but it appears the author has since deleted it. I would like to address this comment and hope the author is still reading my blog.


    "If I may respectfully disagree with a portion of your essay-It seems somewhat odd to criticize someone for holding a rejecting attitude when society rejects individuals all the time. Why is it ok for the masses to practice exclusion and ostracism, but not an individual? There are a lot of people whom society has decided it doesn't "need". Aren't we simply practicing reverse narcissism? And yet these rejected people are taught to "grow up" and stop feeling sorry for themselves. Thank you again for writing."

    My response:

    I don't think its right for society to select specific individuals as being worthy of exclusion and ostracism---unless that individual it a "threat" to other people's safety and psychological health. I am not a one-size-fits-all advocate of No Contact, except in severe circumstances. But this willingness to extend good will to one another and 'forgive' each other's weaknesses HAS to be reciprocal.

    I appreciate your gentle query AND I appreciate you taking time to even read my post! It's a long post, written in 2009 so thank heavens there's been some growth on MY part. People who are rejected, replaced, and hurt the way I was, have a really ANGRY phase to work through. I would imagine all humans are that way, whether they are narcissistic or not.

    I do not adhere to a blanket rejection of people with personality disorders either. Education can foster healthy-enough interactions between people to maintain relationship. But just as people with narcissistic disorders are unique from one another, so are people without narcissistic disorders. Some of us have greater resiliency, more patience, more willingness to change our behavior and avoid triggering someone else's narcissistic defenses. Sometimes people are like gasoline and matches when they're together.

    Thanks for commenting and never be concerned offering feedback, even criticism. I love hearing from my readers.


  6. Hi, speaking as someone who suffers from covert narcissism here. I don't really have much of the grandiosity you write of - may have had that while a teenager, but real life and undeniable facts has certainly cut back on my ego. Now I have an inferiority complex instead. I think the central feature that unites narcissists is an extreme self-centeredness, and one that relies on other people centered on myself. And from that feeling stems an array of problems like hypersensitivity, inferiority complex, being envied, being looked at, being the center of attention, etc. The worst part is that it happens like a physiological response. I'm not aware of it really until I'm alone in my room, away from other people, that I can actually reflect.

    I first gained this inferiority complex after being rejected by my two best friends in 5th grade. so I can identity with this statement:
    "painful feelings of rejection and abandonment" I think narcissism may be a mix of genetics and environment, since certain events could propel one deeper into narcissism. Your articles are helping me become more self-aware. I think that's the key to getting out. You ever heard of people's experiences contributing to narcissism? it can't be all genetic right..

    1. Hi again! I just replied to your comment on Malignant Narcissism.

      Grandiosity isn't well-understood. I'm just barely getting a handle on it myself. Most of us assume grandiosity is a type of braggadocio, an overt arrogant blustering know-it-all bragging. Grandiosity in clinical terms, is way to protect one's good feelings about oneself by rejecting (projecting) disconfirming evidence of one's goodness, greatness, perfection. This process leads to a black-and-white perspective such as "all good" or "all bad", having eliminated "bad behaviors" to preserve the grandiose (all good) self. Those defective traits, behaviors are then projected onto others which protects the grandiose self.

      Does that make sense or did I just confuse the both of us?

      I agree with you that narcissism has a biological component, usually personality traits such as being Less Agreeable. It appears that easy-going personalities are less likely to develop narcissistic disorders. I'm always curious about the biological component because it seems to me that narcissism runs in families (not just from a learning environment or parenting). The narcissism is there---how it is expressed might depend on social factors.

      It's actually a very exciting time to be interested in narcissism since new studies are being done everyday, allowing psychologists to find effective therapies to help people with narcissistic disorders.

      Extreme self-centeredness, as you've written, is a real problem if you want to create intimate relationships! Breaking out of that extreme self-focus is essential because if the only person you're aware of is yourself, life will be pretty lonely. Not just for you, but for the people who care about you too.

      Do people's life experiences contribute to narcissism? Yes, of course...narcissism is dynamic and we all move up and down the continuum depending on our experiences/situation. If you really wanna grow your narcissism, become a reality tv star. ha!

      Good luck...keep learning...never give up.


  7. What do I do if I am the lonely narcissist? I just fell into narcissism whilst growing up.. Moving to a new school, not making any friends, trying to tell my mother about my deeply painful sadness over being so lonely, my feelings being pushed aside and ignored by her, and immediately regretting telling her in the first place. It just seems like while I was growing up, I lost trust in confiding my feelings to my mother, and then I lost trust in confiding feelings to anyone.. I couldn't and still can't make true friends because i distance myself from others. In a way, i make excuses for distancing myself, pointing out the flaws in people that I could develop friendships with if I knew how.. In my mind, putting myself above everyone else. But I see how it is a defense.. To avoid putting myself and heart on the line.. To protect myself from rejection. Because my own mother ignored and rejected me when I needed support. Why would I trust anyone after that? And the saddest part is she doesn't even know she ever inflicted such emotional wounds on me... I just felt alone, forced to soothe myself, when I didn't even know how to do that. And now at 21, I'm just a mess. A narcissist without any friends. Where do I go from here?

    1. If you can see how you defend yourself from rejection/hurt by pushing people away, then you can work through this 'learned behavior.' Insight is a gift offering people the chance to resolve relationship problems and improve the quality of everyone's lives. I see you have children so being able to recognize your self-defeating behaviors will make your children's lives better, too! My children motivated me to work through "my" childhood stuff so I could stop the transgenerational transmission of narcissistic parenting.

      Parents say they are willing to through fire for their kids. Going to therapy, good high-quality therapy is "the fire" we need to walk through with our bare feet. I am just not sure that people can work through their personal problems on their own if they grew up in a narcissistic family. They may be able to do that over a lifetime of self-help work and life experiences but to shortcut that process (or speed it up perhaps), therapy is incredibly useful. I recommend it to all my friends. ;-)

      Some people have no insight into how they affect other people. They can't seem to make connections between childhood and adulthood. You have insight. You have desire. You aren't nearly the mess you feel you are. Promise.

      Narcissistic parents may never be able to take responsibility for the harm they inflicted on their children. some do. Many don't. For those children whose parents lack the insight to recognize the harm they've caused, healing will be more difficult. Healing does not hinge on parents admitting their mistakes. It's better, easier for the children if they do, but our healing is not dependent on them taking responsibility for their behavior.

      Feeling rejection is hard for everyone because we are social creatures and we need one another to survive. Everyone defends themselves against this painful experience no matter who they are...it's part of human nature. Isolating ourselves from others might be a temporary solution but it's not a healthy permanent solution. Therapy can help you learn healthy boundaries that protect your innermost self without blocking people out or pushing them away. I think as we feel better and better about ourselves, our self-worth grows and even if we experience rejection at some point, we're able to tolerate the experience without closing off again.

      I wish you the very best and hope you find therapy to be as helpful and valuable as i did.


  8. Dear CZBZ,
    You are truly a godsend. I have to thank you for all the articles I have thus far read about Narcissism. For many years I could not explain why I was so lonely and disconnected from my husband. He seemed to be the only person I couldn't reach being the empathic soul I am, I felt it was my mission to reach that deep vulnerable side of him that I saw once or twice when we dated. Somehow I believed that was who he really was and my job was to expose and extricate his vulnerability... how wrong I was and now I realized how codependent of me to think it was my job to help someone who in fact had and has no desire to be helped. I find myself now at cross-roads that is I need to cross the road of letting this Narcissist go - the one I have shared (for lack of a better word) almost 18 years of my life. It is hard for me to believe that it took me this long to realize what was going on. I still feel like I am in a dream like state and that at some point I will wake up as if nothing ever happened. However, in this last year I have learned more about him and even more important about myself, than I ever thought possible in a short amount of time. It is almost as if all my experiences in the last decade and a half culminated in this inner realization of sorts. I can see clearer than ever now what situation I am in with my Narcissist but it is still feels cloudy to put into words. Yes.. he has torn me down... I use to be so strong... probably one of the reasons I stayed so long and was clueless to what was happening. A lot of denial was also part of this lack of understanding. Now with the research I have done, which includes your very insightful articles, I am able to understand what I am going through and see it in words and explained by another who has also gone through this and survived to tell the story. I am forever grateful for your insight and the time you have taken to put all your articles together. It is reassuring to know that there is an explanation for all of it and that there is a way out. Thank you again. Love & light.

    1. Hi Anonymous! Well, your comment is a godsend! My time has been so limited lately that I can't get around to posting a new article and when you aren't consistently posting articles, people forget about you. Being able to talk with people is a huge reason why I've tried to keep my blog active even though my posts are few and far between. So knowing you found something useful in this article and that you are understanding yourself AND the narcissist, is profoundly reassuring for me. Thank you for reading and commenting!

      You wrote: "my job was to expose and extricate his vulnerability... how wrong I was and now I realized how codependent of me to think it was my job to help someone who in fact had and has no desire to be helped."

      Each person's story is unique, yet the beautiful thing about ourselves is that we were willing to Work Hard to help our partners. We believed our efforts would lead to a strong, life-long bond and we also believed that what WE were willing to give, would be returned at some point. I don't think anyone I've ever talked to, believed themselves to be invulnerable---everyone had similar core values to my own and once of those values was "helping people."

      Is it codependent to do our very best to support someone who is in pain? To do whatever we can to alleviate their suffering? I have often said to people that IF my husband had not been 'narcissistic", I would be in a deeply bonded and loving relationship with him today. Our family would not have broken up because I'd have worked doubly hard to protect the sanctity of family. In that case, no one would accuse me of being codependent. I have a love-hate sort of relationship to the concept of codependency which I think is applied to liberally to anyone partnered with a narcissist.

      When we are "soon" out of the relationship, still reeling from the cognitive dissonance and confusion, it's easy to blame ourselves. Just be cautious that you aren't criticizing yourself too much and too soon in the break-up. The reason my marriage and yours and many other people's relationships failed is because:

      1) We did not know about pathology

      Another reason our relationships failed is because:

      2) We did not know about pathology

      You are spending time on yourself now, educating yourself about pathology. You will find your way out of the pain and you'll be stronger for having been willing to do this work. There is an explanation for the 'crazy' things that happen in every pathological relationship and bravo to you for caring enough to find those answers!


  9. Thank you for your article CZ. I'm a 20 year old male, and I relate immensely to your article. I've never read something that made me think "this is so me" more than this. However I'm not as outright self-absorbed, but then again I'm usually not very good at evaluating myself

    I have always felt this sense of superiority because of my independance. And I have developed my self-esteem due to being beaten down emotionally; whether it be by relationship or reject. I'm very quiet by nature, and society typically overlooks people like me -- with valid reasoning, no talk = no attention.
    I hate painting myself as a victim because growing up I could have had it a lot worse. But my life events have made me today what I am: a loner with a high self-esteem.

    Is it really a bad thing though? I think your criticism isn't very just. I think it's very fortunate to be completely self-dependant, I'd say it's a very powerful trait -- few men can possess it. It means you can do as you please, knowing you'll emotionally always have the upper hand. You see it as a problem, whereas in reality it's not. However, I don't think it's something you'd want to teach, but just let happen on it's own. Some people just don't walk the path they want us to.

    I feel like it's harder for you to understand it because you have children, which is the antithesis of your whole article. Also you're a woman, and generally from a young age they are bombarded with dependance; continuous offers of "companionship", eagerness to get married, are socially acceptable to show emotions, etc. A lonely girl is a lot more rare than a lonely man.

    So while your article is very informative, and it is well written and eye opening, I have to disagree where you imply there is a problem. I think this very attitude is a strength, developed through unlikely means.

  10. Thank you for your insights into Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Growing up with a mother who has this disorder, I didn't understand for a long time what happened to me. I realized after going into extensive therapy that it wasn't me that was defective or empty inside but it was my mother projecting everything she felt about herself on to me and I believed it. I love my mother, I know how abused she was as a child and how those trauma had caused her to develop NPD. I had to be in therapy for a long time and do two decades of inner work to forgive her, to heal myself and made myself whole again. It took so much compassion and tolerance and time to make my mother change. She now regrets her actions and how she raised all of her children without awareness or love but the relentless pursuit of hollow success. Few people understand what a profound emptiness or pain a person with NPD feels. How traumatized or broken their upbringing was. I had BPD in my teenage years and early twenties. It took many years of therapy to heal the damage done to an abusive childhood and an incredible amount of awareness and personal honesty.

    Thank you for the article.
    It said a lot about your compassion for the sufferings of people who suffers NPD and those who they unknowingly hurt.

    1. Thank you for commenting, LV. It's a lonely trail we take when we offer a sympathetic view of narcissistic people. I fully understand this however because my anger required soft shoulders and understanding hearts before I could even think about the person who hurt me. What's strange about narcissistic relationships is that we frequently feel more sorry for the person inflicting the pain than we do for ourselves. Perhaps that is a learned behavior, too? Where does a child go with enormously big and scary anger? You learn to turn it towards yourself, at least some of us do.

      I think marrying a narcissistic man allowed me to open teh floodgates to repressed anger in childhood. That led to therapy and that led to freedom, but as you wrote---it took years. Luckily for me, I had a few years in recovery before my marriage ended.

      I am so sorry about the childhood miseries you endured. It is especially difficult to claim our righteous anger when a parent was abused as a child or has a mental illness. How can we be angry with someone who couldn't be the parent we needed? It's a complex thing feeling both compassion and anger at the same time!

      The profound emptiness many narcissists experience is almost unfathomable to emotionally healthy people. I struggled to understand how my ex-husband felt when he described his extreme loneliness because to me, this state-of-being didn't exist. How could we know a guy who was loved by his family could possibly feel as if he were alone? I can see it now, in hindsight. He was always such a curiosity to me.

      Learning about narcissism has answered so many questions about my relationship---I am grateful to every person offering their experiences on this blog; and grateful to the many professionals willing to share their collective knowledge about NPD.

      Thanks for reading and for commenting, LV!

  11. Dear CZ,

    Thanks for posting this, and for being both stern and compassionate towards narcissists. I think your article is spot on. I am not diagnosed as a narcissist, but I identify with covert narcissism. I hope you don't mind me sharing my experiences.

    I can relate to the emptiness inside. When I think about how I interact with people around me, it often seems to me that I'm not really there. That fits with the absence of a true self. Sincerity is difficult, because I can't truly relate to people. When they tell me about things that happen to them, I can't muster any emotions. When something good happens, I can't be enthusiastic and when something bad happens I can't really think of anything to comfort them.

    Especially conspicious is my tendency to analyse rather than empathise. This week a coworker lost his debit card. He could not immediately put it back in his wallet. I suggested that he lost his card because what would be an automatic process was interrupted. I said this because I've lost my own debit card once in a similar way. But my reaction had nothing to do with his emotional reality. It also felt like I was subtly chastising him for his loss. This is one of my narcissistic defenses.

    I also sense the absence of a true self when people reach out to me. Not only criticism and advice (no surprise here) are difficult, but so are praise, love and help. Sometimes it feels like distrust, but it also feels like it's misdirected. The positive feelings are directed towards my true self, but since there is no true self I can't internalise it or regard it as sincere. I am not fulfilled. Metaphorically, the package is sent to the wrong address, the false self. When people praise me, I feel phoney and actually feelings of worthlessness are activated (quite the opposite of what is intended). I feel like I don't deserve it, as it is meant for a different me (the true self). In case of help the false self creates a delusion that "I" don't need help, whereas the true self would be in dire need of it.

    I've read that narcissists hate people empathising with them. Hate would be too strong a word, and indeed I would like to accept empathy from others. But the feelings of worthlessness and defectiveness seem to preclude such a thing. I feel like a wounded animal who lashes out as his caretakers try to bandage the wound. Alternatively I think of narcissists as rabid dogs, and I liken being in a relationship with a narcissist with loving a rabid dog. If your dog contracts rabies, it is still your dog and you'd love that dog. At the same time rabies makes the dog dangerous and the dog must be put down. In a similar vein, love is lost on a narcissist and the narcissist must be let go off.

    I'd like to think of my parents as good people or at least people with good intentions, but I feel they had some issues of their own. I don't want to pathologise them, but my mother seems to have some Cluster B traits and my father fits the profile of a codependent enabler. My mother is quite domineering and always thinks she knows what is best. She was always afraid something bad would happen to me as a child, and would try to stop me from exploring. She can also be scathingly critical. My father would simultaneously try to stay on her good side and to overcompensate for her criticism by bolstering my self-esteem with (excessive) praise. Both compensated for their shortcomings by overindulging me and 'buying my love' with stuff. Material generosity to compensate for emotional scarcity.

    To me it seems that parenting like this stifles the true self, because it is not truly seen and nurtured. A child's wants are indulged at the expense of a child's needs. When the needs of the true self are not met, they will be disowned. In the case of narcissism, the child not only disowns his needs but also his true self (in fact he murders it).

    Just my experience and my two cents.


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