My friend, Christine Hammond, recently wrote a freakin’ brilliant article entitled How Narcissism Changes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She put her finger unerringly on a slippery topic I’ve long wanted to explore: paranoiac narcissists with OCD. But each time I tried to write about that subject, I’d get up to it, behind it, round the sides of it but I could never quite put my finger right on it without sounding like a weirdo bearing a grudge against her very, ahem, “unique” family! Christine nailed the topic from a clinical perspective.
But I lived it.
Paranoiac Narcissists with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Oh my!)
In her article, Christine describes what it’s like to live in a narcissistic family where paranoia abounds and OCD doesn’t just run…it romps. She summarizes it thusly:
There was a sense of superiority that this family did things such as proper cleaning and sterilized laundry better than others. The excessive rituals before and after people would leave the house were designed to impress a magazine decorating editor. Unable to keep up with the expectations of the parent, the teenager felt defeated.
But after meeting the parent, it became apparent that in addition to the OCD they had Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)…A person who has NPD and OCD is not likely to change their behavior but it can be guided so as not to impose destructively it onto others. By contrast, a person with OCD frequently wants their behavior to change and is embarrassed when they impose it onto others.
I believe passionately that a narcissist who suffers from OCD seeks validation and confirmation for their paranoias. For example, if they are paranoiac about germs, they seek out stories about food poisoning. By “collecting dangers,” they validate themselves in their OCD, buffering their narcissism against feeling imperfect. It’s their way of proving that there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re correct in their excessive rituals.
If they suffer from agoraphobia, they seek out stories about stalking, attacks and rape to confirm that they are correct in staying indoors. They seek to shore up their narcissism against feeling ashamed of being agoraphobic by “collecting dangers.”
And they force it on their families, teaching it to their children. “We’re not like ‘those people’,” they say pridefully, “those round-cornered people who live sloppy lives. Tighten up! Do things right!”
Let me share with you a real-life example of exactly how this dynamic played out in real life. As my regular readers know, I didn’t attain freedom from the narcissists until I was thirty-one. So, for this example, let’s say that I’m thirty years old and trying to cook a roast pork meal for myself in my family’s kitchen. Because I was thirty and I was trying to cook a roast pork meal for myself and this is the conversation that ensued.
“Did you get raw pork germs anywhere, Lenora?”
“No, I didn’t get raw pork germs anywhere,” I replied.
“Did you hang up a clean kitchen towel after you handled the raw pork?”
“Yes, I hung up a clean towel,” I replied.
“Did you disinfect the faucet handles after you washed your hands?”
“Yes, I disinfected the faucet handles,” I replied, trying not to sound exasperated.
“Did you wash the utensils you used?”
“I will…I will,” I replied, exhaustedly.
And it was like this every, single, freakin’ time I handled raw meat. Their paranoia about “raw meat germs” was boundless. Their precautions perfectionistic. Their rituals exhausting. (Then they ate my roast pork meal. But I digress.)
Unfortunately, their paranoia rubbed off on me. It’s taken me years of studied, careful disregard for the “Raw Meat Handling Rules” to get over it. You might say that daring to flout the rituals was my own homemade version of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Nonetheless, it’s taken years for the gut-wrenching, paralyzing fear of raw meat to go away. Years of watching how others handle raw meat with wild abandon. Years of “holding up the leg” as my friends expertly disembowel pigs and deer without even knicking the peritoneum. Years of eating sushi and steak tartare, flirting with “danger” to prove to myself that the risk is low. Now, I can rip open a package of hamburger without a worry. Previously, just the thought nearly paralyzed me.
The narcissistic kookiness wasn’t just limited to the kitchen. It extended to every corner of the house, especially the laundry room.
In 2011, the bedbug scare began. At least, that’s when my narcissists got wind of it. Instantly, it became their favorite obsession. No, they don’t have bedbugs. No, they never did. No, they don’t stay in seedy hotels. Heck! They haven’t stayed in a hotel since 1997…as far as I know. Nonetheless, bedbugs became their Paranoia De Jour and with it came a whole new ritual.
If one sat down in a public place, ones clothing were considered to be “infected.” Naturally, this meant that going to the office, or worse yet, going out for lunch “infected” my clothes each and every day. Upon arriving home from work, I was instantly ushered into the frigid basement. Standing on freezing concrete, I had to change, placing my good work clothes dryer on hot for 20 minutes to “kill” the (non-existent) bugs and their eggs. Thus “de-bugged,” I was allowed to join the rest of the family.
It felt like a punishment for going to the office to earn the rent I paid for the great, great privilege of being forced to live there.
Later, when family visited my condo, they would change into “dirty” outfits they stored at my house. Before leaving, they’d change out of their “dirty” outfits and back into their clean outfits for returning to their sterile, white, cold home. I’m not jokin’ nor jestin’. That’s what they did…but I’m not supposed to be offended by it!?!
Oh…it gets better…
Not only was clothing highly suspect of harboring bedbugs, but so were the library books.
They tried putting them in the dryer for 20 minutes on hot, but the heat melted the binding and the books fell apart. (I’m not kidding!) So, instead they turned to freezing. All library books were placed in the freezer for two weeks before reading. Two weeks of the three weeks allowed to check-out books…wasted in the freezer.
Living Normally…At Last
Marriage was my reality check. My husband lived like a normal person, without paranoia, without germaphobia, without rituals. Our marriage was in itself a kind of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that began on our honeymoon. I mean, we stayed in hotels and never saw a bug. We ate without washing our hands. We lived like freakin’ normal people…and it was wonderful! I embraced it with abandon, immersing myself in normalcy. Flinging narcissistic paranoia a la OCD to the wind. Fencing en guarde with “danger.”
And guess what?
Nothing bad happened. NOTHING!
Please share your narcissists’ paranoias and rituals in the comments section below. Narcissism and paranoia definitely go hand-in-hand!
Did they take away your cell phone and put in the drawer because “Big Brother is listening”? (Mine did! But frankly, every new appliance is listening these days.) Did they make it a rule to always kick the front door before opening it so “the mice on the doorstep don’t run into the house.” (Mine did! They saw one mouse several years ago.) Did they forbid you from eating homemade food at school party potlucks? (Mine did!) Did they make you wear jangling jmilitary-style dog-tags as a kid so your body could be identified when you were kidnapped? (Mine did…as if that wouldn’t be the first thing the kidnapper removed!) Did they make you call or text so they knew exactly where you were at every single moment of every single day? (Mine did!) Did they check court records on all your dates before you dated them? (Mine did!) Do they pressure you to get rid of your possessions because they get a “high” (OCD spartanism) from getting rid of stuff and have already given away most of their stuff, so now they’re starting in on your possessions? (Mine did!) Did they try to make you fold your lap blanket every time you left the couch because they can’t stand “visual clutter”?……
As an OCD-sufferer myself, I empathize with those who also suffer from it, including narcissists. But I don’t force my OCD on anyone else. I don’t seek to excuse my OCD by normalizing it and foisting it on others.
And I find that unforgivable.