as a psychological definition is typically seen as self-involved
attitudes and behavior where there is little or no empathy
for others. Narcissistic wounding starts early in life
to children whose parents are insecure, abusive, addictive
or have narcissistic patterns themselves.
injury happens to the child when his or her emotional
needs are not met. The narcissistic parent has unresolved
needs for attention and caretaking because his or her
needs were not met in their early life. Neglect, physical,
mental and sexual abuse, being spoiled and not given structure
and limits create the wounding. Narcissism can be an inflated
ego sub part or the trait can take over the personality.
Narcissistic attitudes and behavior come from the ego
defenses that function as smoke screens to hide the deep
shame and fractures that came from being hurt emotionally
or physically as a child.
The child who was not allowed to have boundaries becomes
energetically and developmentally arrested at this level
with beliefs of not being safe in the world and being
unworthy and unlovable. Thus the Shadow is born with the
defenses and negative core beliefs becoming set in the
child's repertoire. The child carries this primitive,
self-defense core of fear even into adulthood. This is
called the "Core Script" or Core Identity, which is like
a big lens of perception by which the world is viewed.
The defenses remain lurking in the unconscious mind ready
to be called into action at any resemblance of threat.
The False Self --Narcissism
We can be a little bit hurt or a lot hurt by neglect,
abuse or trauma. The depth of the wound to the psyche
determines the severity of the insult to the child's personality
and a loss of the true self for the child. A false self
develops along with a fragile self esteem of defining
identity as feeling good when being given to or giving
to others. The child is stuck in early primitive defenses
and cannot go through the stage of normal separation from
the parents that is necessary for growth.
Children of a difficult, more stubborn temperament defend
against being supportive of others in the house. They
observe how the selfish parents get his needs met by others.
They learn how manipulation and using guilt gets the parent
what he or she wants. They develop a false self and use
aggression and intimidation to get their way.
The sensitive, guilt-ridden children in the family learn
to meet the parent's needs for gratification and try to
get love by accommodating the whims and wishes of the
parent. The child's normal feelings are ignored, denied
and eventually repressed in attempts to gain the parent's
"love." Guilt and shame keep the child locked into this
developmental arrest. Their aggressive impulses become
split off and are not integrated with normal development.
These children grow up learning to give too much and develop
a false self of becoming co-dependent in their relationships.
Living on Fantasy Island
People with narcissistic thinking and behavior strive
to defend their fragile self esteem through fantasy and
have blind spots in their thinking. Living in a fantasy
world where all their needs are met and unrealistic expectations
take the place of life. They become involved in material
things, vanity, and are shallow developing excessive life
long interest in things that are not real such as movies,
rock stars, soap operas and video games. They fear their
feelings, gaining deep friendships and intimacy and cannot
develop mature love relationships.
Fantasy can become an attempt to not see what is really
there in order to build up a fragile self-esteem. People
with narcissistic traits process information, emotions
and unresolved pain to make up for what they did not have
in childhood. They often place unrealistic demands on
others to make them feel better. They cannot tolerate
negative emotional distress and turn it on others and
blame them instead of looking within to see their own
part of the problem. This is the defense of projection
-- what the person does not like in him or her self, they
get angry at others who may have some of that same trait.
Projecting one's anger onto others instead of using it
to learn and grow is always limiting.
Self image is distorted with the narcissistic point of
view and the person believes that he is superior to others.
An inflated self-esteem is a defense to cover up their
sense of shame deep within. Grandiosity is an insidious
error in thinking that prevents them from blaming themselves
and becoming depressed or disintegrated. Creeping narcissism
in a person is their succumbing to the gradual demands
of selfishness and entitlement by giving in to "I am special"
Narcissistic Defenses --the
Need to Feel Good at all Costs
Selfish people usually insist on having things their own
way at the expense of others. The need to impose getting
one's way over others is an unreal attitude and expectation
that sets other people off against them. When the person
with narcissistic tendencies doesn't get what he or she
wanted, he feels devalued. Since they cannot tolerate
the feelings of fear, hurt, anxiety, helplessness and
despair, they defend against them. They deny and rationalize
their own contribution to the problems to preserve their
own internal fantasy of being all good and right.
People with narcissistic tendencies have errors in thinking
which prevents them from seeing things how they are from
both sides of the picture. Not wanting to feel bad inside,
they build defenses such as denial, repression and a strong
need to be right. When the person has severe traits, they
can feel an increase in self-esteem when they get what
they want and feel no remorse or justify their using others.
John Masterson called this rigid type of thinking a "Swiss
Cheese Brain" with holes in the brain and mind where good
common sense and conscience should be.
Some even get a sense of feeling superior when they get
their way or make others feel bad. This is the dynamic
underlying bullying. (See my video, It's not Okay to Feel
Good by Making Others Feel Bad at http://www.angriesout.com/
to understand this dynamic.) When hurting others becomes
a hook into feelings self-satisfaction, the narcissism
takes an ugly turn. There is a cost to this false sense
of self-esteem. People who abuse and bully others end
up being lonely because others do not want to be around
People with narcissistic behavior cannot handle criticism
in any way and feel that they are being made wrong. .
They are supersensitive to criticism and either attack
the other person or they leave the scene. This blaming
the person who gives criticism helps the person with narcissistic
defenses avoid feeling guilt, shame and depression but
it also keeps them from taking responsibility for learning
from their mistakes and ultimately from growing up.
They can pout and give the silent treatment or hold grudges.
This combination of these defenses that distort reality
often set them up for failure in partnerships.
When the narcissistic traits are too severe and causes
havoc in the lives of others, there is a disorder. Narcissistic
Personality Disorder happens when a person's outlook is
so distorted to the extent that they do not see reality
as it is and cannot see the needs of other people. These
people are the takers of the world leaving pain and destruction
in their wake. If their behavior is left unchecked, they
become con artists, manipulators, sociopaths and dictators.
Without empathy for others, people with narcissistic personality
disorders can irrationally justify and rationalize their
hurtful and unlawful behaviors and may become sexual predators.
Family members who have sex with children always have
some element of narcissism seeing others as objects that
are available for their own sexual satisfaction. High
intelligence coupled with a lack of empathy and remorse
for hurting others is a dangerous combination for family
members. With extreme narcissistic behaviors, the diagnosis
may be a sociopath personality disorder.
The Narcissistic Person in Relationship
The two greatest fears we humans have in relationships
are fears of engulfment (smothering, being controlled
by someone else) and fears of rejection and abandonment.
And to spice up the human drama, our greatest longings
are the needs for connection and the opposite need for
space and individuality. This is the great Cosmic joke!
What a set up for problems! And so the couple dance is
set playing out these great, universal themes. People
with narcissistic traits have more of this quality than
other people. They play both these fears out in the relationships
with their significant others, yearning for closeness
and fearing it the same time.
When the narcissistic person grows up, they harbor the
irrational belief that the person they choose for a partner
will give them perfect love and make up for all the hurts
and slights of their life. People with severe narcissistic
traits long for an ideal love to soothe their fragile
sense of self. This yearning for getting unconditional
love is an unresolved need left over from childhood. Most
adults realize unconditional love would be nice, but understand
that it rarely happens as people we love usually hold
us accountable for our actions in some way. As we should
be --no one should be allowed to impose their neediness
and bad behavior on others.
In the narcissistic mind, there is a gap between the idealized
love and the actual day-to-day dealings with their partner.
They long for symbiosis with the idealized love to stabilize
the self, but they fear being traumatized by the partner.
They seek refuge in being seen as the good guy and try
to gain approval and recognition. When this does not come
forth readily, they feel wounded, hurt and attacked. Family
members learn to back off from confronting them about
their behavior and not "hurt their feelings." Without
someone to put the brakes on their unhealthy and abusive
behavior, they can become tyrants.
Constantly seeking attention and approval puts them in
the precarious position of always needing something from
somebody else. As they believe that they are right and
others are wrong, they rarely admit to faults in themselves.
They can verbally abuse and punish their spouses and children
without seeing the pain that they cause as they believe
that the person deserves they abuse they dish out. They
may try to enlist a child to side with them and turn against
the other parent.
People with narcissistic behavior have a sense of entitlement
that allows them to break the rules of society. They believe
that the laws do not apply to them and they do not feel
remorse when they get caught. However they are upset over
any inconveniences they suffer as a result of being busted.
They believe they have the right to do what ever it takes
to get short term gratification without suffering any
Lying and distortions of reality are considered fair game
to shut the other person down. They feel free to cheat
on their income tax, take what is not theirs or cheat
on their partners. Criticism of their behavior or trying
to get them to see what they are doing only causes them
to entrench further into defensiveness. When found out
in a wrong doing, they get evasive, lie or get angry.
They have little or no remorse for the pain they caused
the other person, only anger that they did not get away
with their behavior.
Intimacy Skill Defects
Narcissists have a lack of insight about understanding
and processing of feelings. Instead, they deny their uncomfortable
feelings and run from them with the exception of anger.
The huge core of shame inside must be protected by avoiding
the vulnerable feelings. They avoid taking risks to love
and never learn to develop true intimacy. They would rather
threaten their relationship than face humiliation, embarrassment
or injury to their self-esteem. They are slow to learn
the all important skills of commitment such as sympathy,
understanding the intentions and motives of their partner,
compassion and empathy. They may even choose someone to
love who is even more narcissistic and selfish than themselves
thus mirroring their own problems.
True intimacy and a lasting partnership require the skills
of dealing with conflict. After the euphoria of a new
relationship wears off, each partner's values and belief
systems begin to rub against each other. At this point
negotiating conflict is necessary for the relationship
to continue effectively. Narcissistic people often discount
the issues in the relationship and pull away from their
partner. The narcissistic defenses of becoming angry,
shutting down, minimizing and distancing keep them feeling
safe in the moment.
Intimacy is always affected. When problems are never resolved,
the partner becomes highly threatened and angry themselves
thus weakening the relationship. Typically children and
partners who suffer verbal, physical or sexual abuse become
so overwhelmed and threatened that they do not want to
continue in relationship.
Changing the Pattern
The antidote to narcissistic behavior is to understand
how the defenses work, identify and correct the errors
in thinking and learn to tolerate frustration, anxiety,
sadness and shame. By learning to be straight first with
the self, and then with others, these unhealthy defenses
can be lessened. Then the person can learn to live in
the world of reality even though it hurts at times instead
of turning to a fantasy that can never be gained.
People with severe narcissistic traits do not change because
they do no believe that they have a problem and what they
are doing works for them. The narcissistic defense occurs
to keep them from feeling bad so they can't know their
People with strong narcissistic traits are not interested
in reading self help books or learning about their feelings.
What they do works for them--they get what they want and
CANNOT see the damage that they inflict on others. They
do not want to come to therapy and often have the myth
of "I can do it all by myself. I can change if I want
to." while it is apparent to others that they cannot.
They are UNABLE to see the depth of their pathology as
to know their shortcomings would send them down into great
shame which would trigger depression.
Some people with milder versions of narcissistic behavior
may change somewhat across their lifetime if they become
more aware of their actions because they stand to lose
something or someone they love. Some start to admit their
selfishness, short comings, defensiveness, inability to
take responsibility for their actions. As they grow older,
some start to identify their insensitivity when dealing
with those around them. With hard work, people with narcissistic
defenses can learn conflict negotiation and appropriate,
safe anger expression. They can learn to be less self-centered
and more empathetic with others.
Some come to couples therapy after years of being abusive
asking that their spouse be closer and more intimate with
them. What they do not realize is that when there has
been great pain and threat, basic trust has been broken
in the relationship and it is unlikely that it can be
Education, self-searching and therapy are needed to resolve
these defense mechanisms that interfere with the ability
to be happy. They can learn to become more real with their
feelings; they will gain self-esteem by stretching and
growing, even if it means being vulnerable to uncomfortable
emotional states. As these new skills are learned, they
can achieve more satisfying and balanced relationships
Mature Healthy Narcissism
Everyone has narcissistic behaviors; it is normal to think
of ones self and try to get out needs met. We view the
world through our own narrow outlook based on our past
history and our conditioning. We all need to care enough
about our self (narcissism) to pay our bills and function
effectively in life. It is only when selfish behavior
gets out of hand does it cause problems for the person
and those around him.
of us functions with a core of narcissistic, self focused
view of the world," said Marion Soloman, psychodynamic
psychologist. Now we all have a bit of narcissism and
indeed need some of it to survive. We all have a bit of
selfishness in us and that is okay. Otherwise we would
end up giving away everything. We need to learn to receive
as well as give to be healthy.
Getting a good balance between taking from others and
giving to them is called "Healthy Narcissism" by the psychoanalytic
community. Healthy Narcissism is the ability to have reciprocal
relationships where the need of each of the partners is
balanced with the needs of the other.
Mature Healthy Narcissism is the middle ground between
caring for self and the caring for other. It includes
those centered, conscious choices that fall within the
center of the continuum. It is the equilibrium between
taking too much and giving too much in regards to the
other person. Moving towards the middle of the Narcissistic-Co-dependency
continuum where there is not too much and not too little
of either giving too much to others or expecting too much
brings balance into a life. By learning the balance between
giving too much and taking too much and learning the skills
of communication that create intimacy (See books by Harville
Hendrix and John Gottman); you can have loving, fulfilling
Chip Off The Old Block
Lynne Namka, Ed. D. ©
out your family's dysfunctional behavior helps you take
charge of your own life. Parents are a mix of both positive
and negative attributes. We examine family patterns not
to blame our parents, but to understand how our own neurotic
behaviors were formed so they can be changed. Write down
the negative facts and realities of your dad's actions,
behaviors, beliefs, personality quirks, illness, job loss,
family myths and unrealistic expectations. Include facts
such as worked two jobs, not there for me, alcoholism,
abuse, favored my sister, stubbornness and messages like
"don't talk feelings." What did Dad expect you to do to
take care of him? Then write his positive qualities.
are not your parents but you certainly learned from them.
You can't change your history, but you can change your
unhealthy behaviors now as an adult to placate, manipulate,
hide from, seek approval etc. What survival behaviors
did you adapt when you were young? Sort out your box from
your dad's. What did you learn to try to stay safe as
a child in your family?
Box--How I Survived/Learned from my Dad
described myself as a child by saying ___________________________
I was afraid of _______________________________________________
I always hoped for (but never got) ______________________________
I took care of my dad by ______________________________________
Dad's addictions were ________________________________________
I took care of myself by ______________________________________
The traumas that changed me were _____________________________
I coped with family dysfunction by ______________________________
I survived in this family by _____________________________________
I told myself that if I did ________________________better,
then dad would ______________________________________________
The unhealthiest thing I learned from dad was
The best part of my dad I've taken on is _________________________
do what we do as little children in order to get along
in our family. With our limited resources of not having
power in the family and a lack of life experiences, we
resort to survival tactics that we happen on to. Virginia
Satir said, "Everyone does the best they can with the
resources that they have available at that moment. If
they could do better, they would have." This applies to
our parents as well as ourselves. As adults, we can let
go of the little child survival mechanisms, forgive ourselves
for engaging in them and learn better ways of communicating
and getting along with others.
Apple Doesn't Fall Far from the Tree
write about your mother's patterns--both negative and
positive. What personality characteristics and behaviors
of your mother affected you deeply? What specific events
involving her helped form your personality to the detriment?
How did Mom expect you to take care of her? Again, this
exercise is for self learning, not to blame your parent.
After all, your parents learned dysfunctional behavior
from their parents and traumatic life experiences. We
are all victims of victims of victims going back the generations.
offers you a process of sorting out who you truly are
after your rid yourself of your negative defenses, beliefs
and behaviors. You can choose to stop being a victim of
your upbringing. Sort out the similarities and differences
between you and your mother. What unhealthy coping mechanism
and defenses did you pick up in order to keep the peace,
fight for survival or protect others or yourself? Sort
out your box from your mothers. By letting go of the negative,
you can enhance more of the positives of each of your
Box--How I Survived/Learned from my Mom
mom thought I was _______________________________________
I always wanted mom to ______________________________________
I desperately needed ________________________________________
I always hoped for (but never got) ______________________________
I took care of my mom by ______________________________________
Mom took care of me by ______________________________________
Mom's addictions were ________________________________________
I made mom proud by ______________________________________
I told myself that if I did ________________________better,
then mom would ______________________________________________
The unhealthiest thing I learned from mom was
The best part of my mom I've taken on is _________________________
Narcissism--Leaving Family Dysfunctional Patterns Behind
narcissism is having just the right amount of self centeredness
to get some of your own needs met and as well as some
of the needs of others. It's a balance between giving
and taking. Healthy narcissism means using appropriate
adult communication, having appropriate boundaries and
setting limits for your own self protection. It means
giving up old survival patterns that no longer work and
using adult behaviors that give you more of what you want.
The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment. Stephanie
Donaldson-Pressman and Robert Pressman
of the Parenting Styles in a Narcissistic Family
Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment. Stephanie
Donaldson-Pressman and Robert Pressman
I was not allowed to have feeling that might upset my
_____ As a child, I had to meet the emotional needs of
I learned early on that my needs weren't valued so stopped
trying to get them met.
I felt that I had to act in ways that pleased my parent(s)
to avoid being abandoned.
Our family had to look good to outsiders, so I was required
to keep the family secrets.
At times my parent's need to look good to others did help
me get some positive attention.
_____ I was expected to read my parent(s) mind and give
what they wanted without their asking.
If I tried to set limits and boundaries, they were overrun
by my parent(s.)
I was not allowed to make mistakes or change my mind.
less emotional support I got from my parent(s), the more
fearful I was that I'd lose it.
I learned to be super responsible to please my parent(s.)
_____ The rule in my family was that parent(s) got to
do selfish things because it was their right.
I have had life-long problems making and keeping intimate
In relationships, I worry about the other person finding
out how defective I am.
have an overwhelming need for external (outside of myself)
I learned to achieve early on to bring glory to my family
OR Even though I did well in school, my parent(s) ignored
I became fragmented trying to figure out what my parent(s)
wanted from me.
It was dangerous for me to recognize and express my own
power as a child.
_____ I had no inherent value other that what I could
do for my parent(s.)
My parent(s) became hurt or angry when criticized so I
learned not to rock the boat.
I had to give up my own sense of self to survive in my
of Narcissistic Parents
Children of the Self Absorbed: A Grownup's Guide to Getting
over Narcissistic Parents by Nina Brown