6 thoughts on “What is Pathological Narcissism?: A Primer for the Layperson

  • February 24, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    I am the parent of an adult son married to a malignant, covert narcissist. Unfortunately, most people do not believe me when I have attempted to explain these unfortunate circumstances. The usual comments are “Get over it!,” You are an overprotective mother and need to let go…..It is his life, etc. My son’s narc wife is verbally abusive towards both of us but is blindsided and defends the behaviour. Just over a year ago, they visited me in Germany and we also traveled to Spain. She made inappropriate comments that could have incited an altercation. I called them both out on this and she also threw a toddler tantrum in public at an airport. I was blamed and she launched a smear campaign and turned my family against me. She used my son to do her dirty work. It was several months before my son and I had contact because of this. I am glad to take the blame for our safety when they visited me. We can’t really explain narcissistic abuse unless we fully understand it ourselves. My goal this year is to explain this insidious abuse to family friends and others–but not until I am fully prepared but aware that many will still not understand it and might continue to be shunned over this. Unfortunately, my mother has many narc traits and probably disordered herself and has sadistically enjoyed the drama. I have no contact with her or my daughter in law and better off. My son understands this boundary. I am hoping that he will eventually see the reality like the frog in boiling water that started out luke warm. He is going through the cycle–love bombed, devalued, thrown crumbs of kindness to keep him hooked with ongoing supply. I have observed that when he is away from the narc wife, he starts acting like his old self. Since he is not co-dependent, he will heal faster–if he jumps out of the boiling water…but will need help from a therapist knowledgeable in victims of NPD and trauma. This is a healing journey for me, too! Her abuse is toxic, as confusing as being in Alice in Wonderland, etc. We have to educate others in this insidious abuse even if we lose friends in the process.

    • February 25, 2018 at 10:35 am

      Thank you for sharing and for helping to educate people about this situation.

  • March 1, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    Narcissism is at the core of our identity formation. Without healthy narcissism we could not function or cope at all. It’s how we get our self-esteem (which is a questionable goal compared to congruent self-love, but that is for another comment). For example, consider a person with a good business idea, with above average marketing and networking skills–good enough to have a solid shot at a successful enterprise. But if he/she believes they are average, they might not take the scary risks and relentless effort required to succeed. If they believe they and their plan is slightly better than it is, this belief, thought somewhat incongruent, might propel them to do what it takes, to never give up, ever. This is why, for certain people with certain goals, I believe a little bit of narcissism is a good thing.

    Unfortunately, we live in a narcissistic culture that engenders, sustains and rewards pathological narcissistic traits. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but it is. It’s why people with pathological narcissism thrive in careers that are highly rewarded and respected, such as lawyers, CEO’s, surgeons, actors, conservatives, politicians and others. Sadly, there are plenty of narcissistic therapists. They are drawn to careers high in power, status, money and control, and the more power they have, the more everyone suffers, for as gatekeepers, their symptoms trickle down and affect everyone depending on them.

    I am in a bit of disagreement about the narcissistic spectrum in one regard, as I feel malignant narcissists are far more destructive than psychopaths. Most psychopaths don’t offend, and many just want to blend in and not be bothered. Many have prosocial careers, such a surgeons. Some of their traits can be strengths, such as no anxiety and fear, competitiveness and lack of defensiveness. That’s not to say they’re angels of course, and all too often the Bernie Madoff’s of the world turn to crime, as part of a psychopath’s personality makeup is be absent of a conscience. The majority though, do not want to get caught, and so do not offend. And if they don’t have children and don’t hurt themselves or anyone else, I do not feel I can judge them. Malignant narcissists, on the other hand, are evil human beings, if I can be allowed a religious term. They are beings of nothingness. M Scott Peck described one case in which parents lost one of their teenage sons to suicide. The following Christmas, they gave gave their remaining son the gun used as a present. When asked by Dr. Peck if they were at all concerned the son might interpret the gift as a message to do the same as his brother, they calmly stated, “we work paycheck to paycheck,” and, “what teenage boy wouldn’t want a gun?” Peck describes the malignant narcissist as a person who engages, subtly covert or aggressively covert, in the systematic and methodical destruction of the spirit and life-force of another, simply because they can. This kind of personality does not wind up in jail, they are our leaders, colleagues, family members and can be found just about anywhere. For further reading, I suggest, “People of the Lie,” by Peck, and also, “Narcissism” by Alexander Lowen (who characterizes all psychopathology on a continuum of narcissism).

    It’s scary, but once identified, it is easy to avoid and protect yourself from them, unless of course they have power over you. Even then though, there are strategies. The worst case scenario is if they are parents.

    • March 2, 2018 at 10:32 am

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Eric — I agree with some of what you are saying…however – this article is specifically about pathological narcissism (not “healthy” narcissism) as relates to narcissistic abuse in love, work and family. I believe there is a fine line between malignant narcissism and psychopathy — many studies and forensic researchers back this up. Not intending to get into a debate, but rather, to bring light to a very dark and pandemic situation: that of narcissistic abuse. It is hidden abuse for many, very insidious and very dangerous. Sometimes the hook is not necessarily overt in charm…it can be subtle..via vulnerability…I could go on and on,,,and I have — in several articles in many publications. Thanks again for your input.

  • April 16, 2018 at 10:30 pm

    But what about the adult child who is narcissistic and totally cuts off the parent? As the parent I needed to move across the country to deal with a health crisis in my elderly mother. My adult child subsequently totally cut contact and refuses to tell me what I did to warrant being cut off from her and my grandchildren. My son-in-law will not answer why. I can only guess it is because I chose to help my mother rather than be with my grandchildren. I am at a total loss to understand this and now am receiving the same treatment from my sister who lives near my mother because the crisis is over and I am planning on returning home. Really, what is it with these people? I have been so distraught and almost suicidal because of how they are treating me. I just don’t understand it. I have never felt so alone. I only wanted to help my mother. I could never imagine treating someone like I have been treated.

    • April 17, 2018 at 1:12 pm

      I am sorry to hear you are in a tough situation. If you are feeling suicidal please call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Hotline) and seek psychotherapy immediately. First step is to get support; then you can work on relational trauma.


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