Recently I read about a counseling center on the east coast that specializes in working with individuals who have borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. What I found so telling is that 30% of the staff, all professionals, all specialists, will not work with narcissists because they find them so triggering. My thought was if educated adults who fully understand this pathology can’t deal with them how is a small child supposed to cope with growing up in such a horrific environment? There is no support and no way out. Little children don’t have the power to refuse bad treatment or escape. They are trapped and have to cope as best as they can. Although narcissism is a complex disorder that is only beginning to be researched in depth here is a short synopsis of how narcissists behave in relationships:
1. They need to discharge their rage on people, often innocent parties (like children) because they don’t know how to self-soothe or bring themselves emotionally out of a bad place inside themselves.
2. They have a deep seated need for revenge. Since they cannot aim their revenge at the people who perpetrated the abuse, usually their own parents or other intimate caretakers, they will use any available target. Children, particularly their own, make a good target since they are right there in the house with them. It is the exploitation of vulnerability; the abuse of power.
3. Raging not only releases tension but makes them feel powerful. It fuses their broken personality, their shaky identity. The fury is frightening. One writer stated that when his wife went into one of her narcissistic rages their dogs would crawl into a corner and tremble uncontrollably. They also get something similar to a high when they dominate another person. If they feel insecure around a person who they perceive as “better” in some way; more gifted, more intelligent, more successful, they are compelled to demean or dominate them to quell their feelings of insecurity.
4. They will also fly into a rage if they need someone to give them a “hit” of well-being (praise, attention, gifts, etc.), and it is not immediately forthcoming. The pain is rising and they need to be “medicated”. Often the need is unconscious, or they cannot articulate what they want. This behavior is sometimes called infantile rage because it mimics perfectly a baby in a crib screaming violently, wheeling his little fists, kicking his chubby legs. He can’t share his need so you have to figure out what is wrong. Does he need a bottle, a diaper change, comforting? You better be sure the screaming is not going to stop until you get it right. Now imagine this behavior coming out of what appears to be an 8-foot tall giant to a son or daughter who is a tiny tot.
5. They love attention and drama. They lie convincingly. They play the martyr. They distort facts. They do this without any sense of conscience because narcissists don’t have empathy. The only things that are important to them are shoring up their low self-esteem and medicating their emotional pain. They will get an even bigger “hit” if they can get others to agree to hate or abuse the targeted individual. This is called “deluding and recruiting.” As the old gum commercial stated, “It doubles their pleasure and doubles their fun.”
6. They have to win, and they have to be right. Anything less than believing they are perfect will trigger their sense of worthlessness and shame. It is very rare that a narcissist will present for counseling because it would mean they are flawed in some way. That is impossible. Everyone else has the problem.
The pain and hopelessness narcissistic parents instill in their offspring is so profound, so all encompassing, that I have read where adult children suffering from the effects of their upbringing have said repeatedly, “People who have personality disorders should never be permitted to raise children”. PTSD is a common result of being brought up in, what for all intents and purposes, is a war zone. Here is a Web site of therapists in the Dayton area who specialize in PTSD: http://groups.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_results.php?city=Dayton&spec=19. I will continue next month with an article on the affects of personality disorders on children and how we can heal.