Narcissism – through the looking glass

My blog for World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day – June 1st. 2023 – a day dedicated to education and awareness of this complex and oft misunderstood experience within relationship.
So here’s my bit, a brief journey through the looking glass into narcissism, how it commonly presents; common experiences and supportive action when in relationship with a narcissist, and ideas for supporting a friend experiencing narcissistic abuse.
This is a fusion of research woven with others’ and my own personal experience. I hope this may be of support!
Narcissistic abuse is unfortunately much more common than most of us realise. I’m still learning a lot myself on my journey of healing and re-building…
‘Narcissist’ is a term which is now commonly slung out at someone who may be having an irritating yet one-off moment of self-centredness or arrogance.
Whoops…this kind of narcissistic ‘branding’ sadly masks the complex reality of anyone who has involvment with a real overt or covert narcissist. Such people are are often simply not believed, due to mis-use of the term.
Let’s face it….who wants to believe that a seemingly lovely person can also carry the flip-side of a dark manipulative and controlling shadow? Someone may spend years of relationship whilst experiencing confusion and cognitive dissonance, sensing something is ‘off”, being told they are wrong or wanting in some way, wishing to give benefit of the doubt, making more effort to relate well, facing uncomfortable truths and slowly losing energy, vitality, self-esteem, self-worth and trust.
Then maybe a therapist or a friend or a book or a curious magic, catalyses a process of revelations. It’s a big shock to realise you have been experiencing narcissistic abuse, yet also, a strange relief to make sense of the craziness.
NPD is defined in the DSM-5 as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (fantasy or behavior), a need for admiration, a lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood, as indicated by at least five of the following:
*Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without actually completing the achievements)
*Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love.
*Believes that they are “special” and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special people (or institutions).
*Requires excessive admiration.
*Has a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment or compliance with his or her expectations).
*Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
* Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others.
* Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them.
*Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes
An overt narcissist is quite obvious and often generally disliked, being showy, overtly attention-seeking, demanding attention, with little consideration for others.
If a narcissist is ‘covert’, they can be very well disguised!
In public, they are often well-liked, well-respected people who may be in a position of authority or visibility, often appearing to be quite humble.
Yet their private relating style is highly sophisticated in making themselves central, often charming, putting their needs first whilst cultivating superiority, with little consideration for the needs of others, unless it serves them.
Convinced of their own point of view and opinions with a need to be ‘right’, their response to questioning or disagreement is oft sophisticated shaming or belittling, unfavourable comparisons and veiled criticism. They may deny or diminish something which happened, to maintain a preferred self-image. And gaslighting is a common tactic.
Challenge to their fragile ego can illicit extreme and unpleasant responses. They may spin yarns of connections with ‘important’ people and situations in order to suggest their own importance; all these, in order to maintain the scaffolding of self-aggrandisement. Chillingly, I have read an analogy of cult leaders or guru figures sometimes being clear examples of covert narcissists….giving both love and persuasion in sophisticated measures.
A covert narcissist frequently may not have many enduring close friendships or family ties, frequently having more distant or virtual contacts, or a ‘following’ of people via social media.
They may identify as a victim of a cruel society, a tough upbringing or as suffering another more socially acceptable diagnosis or place on a spectrum. They may utilise this as a persona ‘card’, a self-justification for bad behaviour and to receive compassionate attention.
*NB. this is absolutely not to diminish genuine struggles!!
And of course someone who is narcissistic will themselves have a very real psychological struggle lying beneath their behaviour. Ideally they would take responsibility, be accountable and seek help. Yet unfortunately, taking this pathway to healing, is extremely rare.
EXPERIENCING RELATING with a Narcissistic person
Anyone involved with a narcissist will have experienced deeply confusing aspects of relationship, agonising self-questioning, and will eventually face a decision of continuing (with consequences), or leaving the relationship and moving towards self-support.
At this crux point, they may not yet realise that their lover, parent or friend is a covert narcissist, they simply know that their wellbeing is increasingly suffering, emotionally and maybe physically, knowing that something urgently needs to change, for their psychological survival or wellbeing.
Be aware, if leaving or distancing from a narcissist, that they commonly unleash deep rage when they feel rejected and are no longer being externally validated. With covert narcissism, this rage may come as a real shock, having been previously hidden beneath a veneer or mask of decency. Their experience of rejection may feel as if a power supply has been severed and they may feel quite desperate, maybe pursuing or stalking, or urgently seeking another ‘supply’.
* Creating and maintaining safety in whatever way is appropriate, is a very important issue when distancing or ending a relationship with a narcissist.
The sad truth is that a narcissist has a deep hollow inside them, an empty and diminished sense of Self, craving love and adoration…yet no amount of love from another will ever fill the hollowness within. This needs the healing of willing enquiry, exploration and committed therapeutic support.
Yet, it is typically the person who is, or has been in relationship with them, who will seek support.
The state of narcissistic suffering of sadness and hollowness, when perceived, oft touches an empathic heart. A dynamic begins of an open compassionate heart willingly giving love and support to an initially engaged and loving friend/lover/parent. There is something chillingly ‘workable’ about this dynamic…for a while.
A narcissist is typically drawn towards sensitive, kind, caring empathic people, who naturally give loving support to them. The two constants in anyone who becomes entangled with a narcissist, are ‘agreeableness and conscientiousness’….such a profound reminder to be aware of the challenge/shadow of these qualities, which need empowered boundaries to be healthy!
The realisation of the dynamics and deep energy drain due to being in relationship with a narcissist, often takes years to emerge and clarify and for healing to begin.
ACTION – If any of these things are happening, or have happened in any of your relationships, do take it seriously! Listening to your gut instincts and researching can support your ‘wonderings’.
You will need to look after your-self and your own needs, with ruthless compassion and gentleness.
It’s wise to open to the support of those around you whom you really trust, and who value and love you.
Therapeutic support with someone who has worked with narcissistic abuse may be really helpful, and/or working through a grounded and wisely created workbook (see recommendation below), may support you in engagement and exploration of your own process and healing.
Focussing upon what you need, your own values and integrity and life-direction are really important….you may have given a lot of focus and energy in your relating, and it now needs to turn towards yourself.
Self-caring boundary laying and cocooning are likely to feel like an instinctive need… wise and essential to follow.
Clarifying your experience and accepting the shocking realisations re.the dark underbelly and shadow of one you loved and or respected (ie. lover, parent, friend) and who you believed loved you, is huge.
Disentangling truths from lies, reality from illusion, making sense of the crazy swings of elevation/lovebombing to put-downs and diminishing behaviour, unpeeling attachments and habits takes great commitment, self honesty and trust for the journey of healing and re-building to begin.
The experience of narcissistic abuse commonly causes painful self-doubt in your own perceptive radar and sense of safety, self-worth and trust in both yourself and others. If you look closely, your instinct was beaming wise warnings which you did register, but maybe you simply didn’t heed or weren’t able to face at the time, or were told you were wrong or suspicious.
That wise radar of body-wisdom is intact within you, and can be re-strengthened to become a trusty navigational guidance, or bullshit detector!
Re-connecting with your gut instinct and body-wisdom and re-building self worth are core aspects of this healing journey.
Self-compassion and gentleness go a long way, especially in recognising and releasing the tough stuff…and the process needs commitment and patience.
Taking care to recognise and be responsible for your own choices in the past, alongside exploring how you may want to change them in the present and future is important and empowering, as well as fully realising all you have been through. There are patterns at work which are beneficial to discover and re-appraise.
* SUPPORTING a FRIEND – If you are close to anyone who may be experiencing narcissistic abuse, please be brave and voice your concerns with loving kindness and care. After the ending of a relationship with a narcissist, friends often confess concerns they themselves had, as they watched from the wings. It is surprisingly common that friends will have had a hunch that something was ‘off’ in the relationship, but didn’t know what to do or how to communicate their concerns. It takes courage to open such a conversation, yet this is an act of supportive friendship.
Go gently, offer a loving listening ear….and expect resistance, shock, relief, tears…maybe in cycles. Persevere in being a calm and loving support if you are able, and resource yourself for the journey, in whatever ways you yourself may need!
I highly recommend Debbie Mirza’s work on recovering from narcissistic abuse – ‘The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist’ and ‘Worthy of love’ (text and workbook), as well as her Youtube channel.
She is wise, knowing, has been there and come through and is deeply commited to supporting others.
May these writings be supportive and en-couraging to those who need. ❣️