On Narcissism and Healing from Narcissistic Abuse

I’ve dated a lot of narcissists and didn’t realize it until I learned that my father was a narcissist. I didn’t think of my father as a narcissist until a family friend referred to him as such after returning from a game of racquetball. I vividly recall the peculiar smirk my father displayed in response to this assertion, and from this point forward I began considering my father through a lens of narcissism. Doing so helped me better understand both him and my unhealthy relationships — I don’t feel loved by my father, and was seeking love from people who felt similar to him, but because this similarity was based in narcissism I instead kept being abused. It has taken me a long time to understand the impact narcissistic abuse has had on my life, and I am in the midst of confronting some of the deeper wounds this abuse has inflicted upon my psyche.

What is narcissism?

The term narcissism comes from the story of Narcissus, a beautiful male youth in Greek myth who fell in love with his reflection. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a primary source for this story, which I will briefly summarize with a few modifications.

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903)

How do narcissists behave?

There are a number of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral patterns that structure narcissistic personalities. It is important to note that everyone flirts with narcissism from time to time, and that what distinguishes disorder from flirtation is the shift from temporary states to stable traits that come to define the personality. Here are the criteria for diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) according to the American Psychiatric Association:

  • A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitive behavior
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  • A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash
Photo by Alex Mihai on Unsplash

What is it like to be in a relationship with a narcissist?

The narcissist needs continuous positive attention from others, but also cannot let anyone get too close to them because doing so would threaten their ego attachment and sense of independence from others. This is why narcissists strategically provide and withdraw attention from their suppliers in order to keep them in a perpetual state of reaching for attention. This hot-and-cold dance of deviation is what keeps people trapped in the world of the narcissist, and is how narcissists secure their precious supply of attention.

What are some harms associated with narcissistic abuse?

Narcissists use shame as a weapon to subjugate their suppliers into resignation and blind devotion. They are similar to sociopaths in this regard in that both kinds of personalities tend to pay close attention to the vulnerabilities of others so that these vulnerabilities can be used as a weapon to protect the narcissistic/sociopathic ego from attack. Shame is an emotion that regards a perception of inadequacy toward the self in general, which is why it is a useful emotion for narcissists to affect in others so that they can maintain full control over those upon whom they depend for attention.

How can I heal from narcissistic abuse?

I’m in the midst of this healing process and thus have less to say about it, but do want to share what has helped so far.

queer theorist and affect alien

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