I am working hard (in partnership with what I now call my “heal the dream” team, therapist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, etc.) to figure myself out. However, the wounds I have are deep, and there are times that I am tired of digging around in there. It hurts too much.
When I am not digging around in my wounds, I am always thinking about the origins of those wounds. When I am angrier, it manifests as a question, “what in the name of all the spirits was wrong with my parents?” Because clearly, a lot was going on with those two people. And whatever was going on, it wasn’t good.
The pieces come together on the picture of my parents. Slowly I am beginning to see them as they were. One of my therapists provided me a piece years ago, and I have been pondering it ever since.
What are narcissistic traits (characteristics)?
Healthcare providers diagnose NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) when you have at least five of the following characteristics:1
- Overinflated sense of self-importance.
- Constant thoughts about being more successful, powerful, smart, loved or attractive than others.
- Feelings of superiority and desire to only associate with high-status people.
- Need for excessive admiration.
- Sense of entitlement.
- Willingness to take advantage of others to achieve goals.
- Lack of understanding and consideration for other people’s feelings and needs.
- Arrogant or snobby behaviors and attitudes.
It was during a therapy session years ago that my therapist said, “oh, so your mom’s narcissistic.” It was not a question but a statement. I stopped mid-sob. My brain grabbed onto that word and was instantly confused.
What? That can’t be right. I mean, my mother always referred to my father as a narcissist. From the earliest memories of looking up exactly what a narcissist is, I would say that was an accurate description. Heck, it was precise, so they might as well have a picture of my father in the dictionary.
Pathological narcissism involves maladaptive efforts to regulate the self. It is generally agreed that pathological narcissism is dimensional and that its manifestations can be divided into two core themes—narcissistic grandiosity and narcissistic vulnerability. Narcissistic grandiosity is characterized as an exaggerated sense of uniqueness, immodesty, and a desire for high praise by others. The narcissistic vulnerability involves experiences of deep shame regarding needs, expectations, and threats to self-esteem.2
Even as I decided to write about both of my parents as a narcissistic personality disorder, I still couldn’t wrap my head around my mother as a pathological narcissist. My understanding of narcissism is the traits outlined above. Not any of those could I connect with my mother.
Until I came across a scholarly article about pathological narcissism, there are TWO CORE TYPES of pathological narcissism, grandiosity and vulnerability. Ah-ha, this could be what I have been trying to figure out. The missing link!
And there it is. I read through that list, and I thought, ah-ha, there she is, there is my mom.
While grandiose narcissists would never admit to being dependent on anyone and are oblivious to deep feelings, in contrast, vulnerable thin-skinned narcissists:
- They are hypersensitive and easily hurt.
- Are more introverted than grandiose narcissists.
- Find it difficult to deal with any failure or trauma.
- Are more neurotic and will worry and fret over how they are perceived.
- Can turn on themselves when hurt or disappointed (whereas thick-skinned narcissists are more likely to turn on others).
- Feel shame when rejected – and will try to agree with the person who has rejected them as a way to reduce these feelings of shame.
- Can feel depressed, empty and useless.
- May withdraw from social situations if they feel they don’t match up to others.
- Feel afraid of being let down and ashamed of needing others.
- May have rage-filled outbursts (followed by feelings of further shame) when their demands for recognition are not met.
- Have a tendency to blame others.
- May feel envy for what they believe should be theirs.
It doesn’t’ matter how often I tell myself that I am not crazy, that these things happened to me. There is always that seed of doubt. Was it that bad?
And then I read an article or have a conversation with my therapist, and I know, yes, it was that bad. Yes, it was abusive. But, regardless of my parent’s health issues, growing up with two narcissistic parents almost destroyed me. And not in the suicidal aspect, although that was a possibility too; no, it was they whittled me down into something unrecognizable to my inner self.
I remember staring in the mirror, trying to reconcile what they were telling me with what I knew was my truth. After years of being pushed down, I lost sight of that truth; I lost sight of myself. And I have been trying to find her ever since.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder. ClevelandClinic.org. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9742-narcissistic-personality-disorder#:~:text=How%20common%20is%20narcissistic%20personality,that%20hurt%20themselves%20or%20others.
- Dashineau SC, Edershile EA, Simms LJ, Wright AGC. Pathological narcissism and psychosocial functioning. Personal Disord. 2019;10(5):473-478. doi:10.1037/per0000347. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6710132/#:~:text=Pathological%20narcissism%20involves%20maladaptive%20efforts,long%20term%2C%20especially%20interpersonal%20functioning
- Dempsey, Karen. How to Spot a Vulnerable Narcissist.com. https://theawarenesscentre.com/vulnerable-narcissist/