by Shirley A Ward
“If you have ever been drained dry and then blamed for failing, or have been criticised, then altered your behaviour, only to be found at fault for doing what you were told to do, you have had an encounter with a narcissist. Narcissists can make you feel crazy, exhausted and guilty.”
It has taken some years for me personally, to come to terms with the destructive narcissistic people in my own life, and the devastation caused to my own vulnerability and self-esteem. It was a major shock to realise how naively I had allowed this to happen, and to accept my lack of knowledge and understanding of narcissistic behaviour. To look at it in another way is the lamb being led to the slaughter, in a silent and absorbing way by the perpetrator. This ignorance I have found not only in myself, but others, who in discussion, have completely overlooked the element of destructive narcissism and its devastating effect on victims, namely our clients and ourselves. It is a very powerful, silent way of destroying all of the good things around and creating energy of such negativity and destruction, that if not recognised and dealt with it does become a secret, unrecognised weapon of mass destruction in relationships, families, groups, companies, governments and countries.
Destructive narcissists have the ability to make everyone around them feel like needless idiots. A picture jumps to mind of Patricia Routledge playing the part of Mrs Bucket, or as she prefers to be called Mrs Bouquet, in the classic television programme ‘Keeping Up Appearances’. Her narcissistic approaches, sometimes overemphasised, dramatize her comically as the Queen Bee, with all life revolving around her. Her poor demented husband puts up with it all, is sucked dry by his wife, her demands, needs and attention seeking behaviour. Although dramatized in a comedy, she is always right, but however hard he tries, he always gets it wrong. The writers have used comedy to illustrate narcissistic society, whether conscious or unconsciously – but speaking to husbands married to narcissistic wives their lives are far from easy and they may be living their lives in torment, unbeknown to colleagues and friends.
This article has evolved over time, as destructive narcissism has presented itself to me. Working as a psychotherapist, I have encountered clients whose lives have been devastated by narcissistic mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses, partners, bosses and contacts who have completely disempowered the people around them. Those under their authority have to suffer living or working with a control freak whose demands often elicit protests and resistance. This, in turn, irritates the narcissist, who then becomes more stubborn and inflexible and the frustration and irritation in the relationship deepens. The disdain, rage and defiance towards the recipient is unbelievable, totally unexplainable and completely unacceptable, abusive behaviour. It may only be a disagreement on who the best tennis player is in the world; if you don’t agree with their choice the dramatics and hysteria may well be let loose! You must agree with them because they are never wrong!
The problem has to be acknowledged before it can be addressed and because of this many narcissists remain undiagnosed. Unfortunately, destructive narcissism has seriously overshadowed the characteristics of healthy narcissism so we do need to look at what both ends of the scale of narcissism exhibit. My understanding of healthy narcissism has clarified in the past years and encouraged me to help others to have a more positive attitude toward life and living.
What is Narcissism?
Narcissism of varying degrees is in all of us. It is a term with a wide range of meanings. In healthy narcissism it is seen as high outward self confidence in line with reality. The healthy narcissist enjoys power, uses it wisely; as the last two Presidents of Ireland have shown. Healthy narcissists have real concern for others and their ideas, and do not exploit or devalue others. They can have great leadership skills and are able to have vision and follow through with ideas. They are often skilful orators which make them charismatic: displaying personal magnetism and stirring enthusiasm amongst listeners. Healthy narcissism is a required element within the normal development of an individual. It is the investment of energy in a real genuineness of understanding the Self. The accepted individual blooms into an emotionally rich, creative, productive adult. They are able to feel a full range of emotions, share in the emotional life of others, and pursue their abilities with real self-esteem and no self-doubt. This is all founded on a healthy childhood with support for self-esteem, responsible behaviour and respect towards others.
Healthy narcissistic world leaders, when military, religious and political arenas dominated society, were people like Napoleon Bonaparte, Mahatma Ghandi and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Social change brought individuals like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and John D Rockefeller. There are many narcissists at the helm of schools, businesses, organisations and governments who are highly effective people. The challenge to their colleagues is that they ensure their leaders do not self-destruct or lead the organisations into disaster.
It was George Bernard Shaw who said that some people see things as they are and ask why; narcissists see things that never were and ask why not? Into my mind jumps some of the greatest thinkers and great minds whose ideas have shaped modern civilisations. Philosophers, scientists, artists like Aristotle, Plato, Galileo, Archimedes, Leo Tolstoy, William Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci, Sigmund Freud, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, who in 1999 was named by Time Magazine as “Person of the Century”. It was Einstein who reminded us we cannot solve problems from the same level of consciousness that created them. As psychotherapists we know that the consciousness’s that can find solutions to such problems in clients need models with matured possibilities. We need visions of what the possible human can be, using our healthy narcissism to go beyond academic excellence and use our skills as humanistic and integrative psychotherapists. Our work, though difficult at times, can be extremely exciting and rewarding in what Jean Houston (2006) calls the regenesis of society. Jean herself is one of the foremost visionary thinkers and doers of our time, and one of the principal founders of the Human Potential Movement to which we all belong in our work as psychotherapists.
Destructive narcissism is displayed with an unrealistic sense of superiority. Power is pursued at all costs, with no thought or feeling for others, and never any remorse or shame for wrongdoing or exploitation. There is a lack of values; the individual is easily bored and restless. The foundations for this are seen as no true sense of self and no consideration for other people, with boundaries being non-existent. The most obvious observation of narcissism is of the perpetrator of sexual abuse but recognition of narcissism in other forms of abusive, yet subtle behaviour, is required by the therapist.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (1994) the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is diagnosed by individuals showing five or more of the following symptoms:-
- Self-importance – exaggerating achievements and talents.
- Pre-occupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance and ideal love
- Believes they are special and unique; can only associate with special status people
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has strong sense of entitlement towards favourable treatment
- Is exploitive of others, takes advantage to meet own ends
- Lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognise needs of others
- Is often envious of others
- Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes
Behaviour of the Destructive Narcissist
As the narcissist continues to make demands, the recipient of such behaviour may walk away, realising that the effort is too much to deal with. It takes a lot of energy to live with such demands. There may be such loyalty that the recipient stays in the relationship, but is clearly lacking in knowledge of what is really going on, and even if they do know, having no idea how to deal with it. Questioning the behaviour, wondering what is wrong with the person, or what is going on in the situation may well remain unsolved unless the different stages of narcissism are brought into consciousness and understood. The narcissist seems quite unaffected and continues to wear down anyone who would even dare to think or feel differently from themselves. People are their property and they truly believe they own the people closest to them. They may seduce someone with low esteem by pretending to love or by offering money. Any inclination to decline or to behave differently is interpreted by the narcissist as betrayal.
The attitudes and behaviour exhibited by narcissists can stir up many different kinds of feelings in the people whose lives they are intertwined with. They seem to find your weakest point – or you respond from your weakest point, maybe feeling personal rejection, lack of confidence or lack of self-esteem, or just being too ‘nice’. This may lead you into a situation that is sometimes intolerable. When you interact or try to relate with narcissists, their distortions of reality can push you into questioning your own truth, and doubting your own perceptions – and so narcissism is not recognised. When you walk into a room where they are, they may be absolutely silent, waiting for the visitor to ask how they are. They are not interested in anyone else, just for you to know their opinions and thoughts. If you leave the room, they may follow you to make sure you do not speak to anyone else and they have your full attention. Are you, the reader, beginning to recognise this cycle in your life, relationships, and situations or with clients who need help?
The recipient of this type of behaviour can be stressed to breaking point. If the narcissistic behaviour continues it may lead to abusive relationships, bullying, cruelty, suicide and God forbid, murder. Narcissism must be faced and dealt with – either by the victims or the perpetrator. It is more likely to be the victims as the narcissist is always right and would rarely last in a therapy room as they would regard the therapist as below them, completely on the wrong track and they would, in fact, think they know better than the therapist. Psychotherapists have a responsibility to understand the nature of narcissism and to recognise the effects of it on their clients who come into the therapy room broken, devastated and often lost.
How does a healthy narcissist become a destructive one?
I am not sure that many healthy narcissists do become destructive ones. With my research in the pre and perinatal area I understand that we are born with positive or negative tendencies according to our experiences in utero; research is on-going in this area. Lake (1981/2005) states that adults carry mother’s negativity from utero for life unless the key to unlocking it in the pre and perinatal period is found. Negative umbilical affect or the maternal foetal distress syndrome that clients relive in regression work is evidence that the pain carried was never ours in the first place. We were marinated in it in our very first environment in the womb.
It is also important to recognise that healthy narcissists are sensitive to criticism because they are extraordinarily sensitive. They are not thick skinned and bruise easily. Criticism threatens their self-image and confidence of vision. This is a major consequence of the difficulty of not listening to criticism particularly when they feel threatened or attacked. I can see how healthy narcissists can become destructive when people in life have misunderstood their intentions of wanting to do well, be inventive and energise ideas. They need the support of understanding people around them to, to give them the affirmation they need. Otherwise under extreme distress they can deteriorate into paranoia, and this is when the healthy narcissists can fall into destructive narcissism.
It is important for the therapist to note that the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is usually diagnosed by a trained mental health professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist as many therapists are not trained or well equipped to make psychological diagnoses
Origins of Narcissism
Psychoanalysts and psychologists believe that the foundation for full blown narcissism is established right after birth continuing through the formative years up to the age of 5 or 6. They see the ‘terrible twos’ as the time when youngsters go through the self-centred stage and are excruciatingly demanding, as part of the developing narcissistic spectrum firstly known as primary narcissism. Adult narcissists tend to display these immature, childish tendencies, of lack of empathy for others, sadistic streaks, a cruel immature sense of humour, and destructive tendencies to unwitting people.
A two year old’s world revolves around him. He is the most important person in the world. Parents and everyone else tend to his needs. If this happens and the child does not learn that people will not always satisfy his needs – and parents continue to satisfy his every whim – then the narcissism develops. The adult faced with the pressures of life, family, career and social intervention implodes psychologically and regresses back to the early negative childhood patterns of behaviour. The healthy human being learns to live with life’s disappointments, accepting the downside and traumas as part of life, but this is not so with narcissists who may also continually complain about everything not going their way.
Alexander Lowen (1985) p 148 says:-
‘Deprivation seems to affect the emotional development of a child in much the same way as horror does. Both conflict with the individual’s inborn sense of the natural order of things. Both deprivation and horror have an element of unreality making them incomprehensible to the individual.’
So what is seen here is that when the child’s sense of reality is upset, the child struggles to re-establish the expected environment. If this is not achieved the individual detaches emotionally, lives in an unreal inner world, develops a false self with no idea who they really are, and becomes on the way to developing secondary narcissism, and with no help, eventually the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
b) Pre and Perinatal Origins of Narcissism
My own personal research in pre and perinatal psychotherapy and foetal consciousness has led me to believe the origins lie much further back than childhood. Of course they may feed into the childhood trauma as I have mentioned in the last section, where the fractal wave, or imprinting of these early fractals or patterns, keeps repeating and becomes part of the evolving development of the individual. I believe the onset of pathological narcissism lies in abuse in infancy and before birth to the unborn baby. This may be inflicted unwittingly by parents, medical professionals and other authority figures in the life of the foetus in the womb.
The development of the true identity of each unique individual begins at conception. Here begins the sensations and dynamics of physical, emotional and environmental experiences which influence the real identity of the new personality. Any unloving situation in that first blast of conception energy may be experienced, from forced sexual activity, rape, anger or drunkenness and they all become part of the deprivation pattern of need.
In utero, the foetus may experience alcohol, smoking, forced sex during pregnancy, amniocentesis, external harm from domestic violence and parental arguments – anything that shatters or cuts the nurturing from mother and the foetus has the horrific experience of being isolated and having no nurturing from the very beginning. Deprivation within the womb can be life threatening – and the unborn baby may fight and struggle for survival. The sense of aloneness and loss of contact with mother terrifies the baby. After continuous struggles for the baby to contact the mother without success; the reality of the desire for intimacy and closeness; needs not being met; no-one being there for the vulnerable, fragile foetus – this tiny being accepts it lot. The intra-uterine trauma that was so devastating kills the tiny person emotionally. The pain never leaves and the individual creates a protective barrier that is an insulation against the external world of people. The reality becomes a false self with no understanding of the real self. The foundations for narcissism and the borderline personality have been laid. This has happened, even before birth.
Pathological narcissism is a defence mechanism intended to deflect hurt and trauma from the victims ‘true self’, their entelechy, and the person they are meant to become, into a ‘false self’ which is omnipotent, invulnerable and omniscient. The adult finding themselves in this terrible conflicting and opposing state of mind becomes the type of person that others fear and avoid. The victim may become completely seduced by the omnipotent bully.
c) Loss of a twin in the womb
In a conversation recently with Althea Hayton (2008) a private researcher exploring the psychological effects on the surviving twin of the death of a co-twin before birth, she put forward the hypothesis that narcissists may be the result of a surviving identical twin. Research carried out in the USA (Boklage, C.E.,1990), has shown that one in eight people is a wombtwin survivor, they lost a twin before birth – and many mothers are unaware in many instances that they were carrying twins as this happens at the zygote stage. Medically, one zygote splits and sucks the life out of the other zygote to survive. This is the twin-twin transfusion, where when one twin dies the blood of the dead twin may pass into the body of the survivor, via the shared placenta. Metaphorically speaking, Althea explained that the blood of the twin who didn’t make it, had it sucked out by the survivor, and so is set up the imprint of living like a leech on other people, feeding off their weaknesses in order to survive themselves.
The Stages of Narcissism
Almost everyone is narcissistic to some degree, ranging from one end of the scale to another, and it may be difficult recognising the degree of narcissism to be dealt with. The term narcissism was chosen by Sigmund Freud, from the Greek Myth of Narcissus, whose fate was to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unfortunately the negative side of narcissism is generally seen, and this is a very narrow minded view often seen as self-love, without recognising the devastating effects it can cause in relationships.
The narcissist we recognise as unhealthy is someone who, no matter what age, has not yet developed emotionally or morally owing to the negative childhood or infancy experiences mentioned in the origins of narcissism. When it becomes a psychological condition it may be defined as a total obsession of self, to the exclusion of almost all other interactions with people. These behaviours and attitudes become defence mechanisms to protect an underdeveloped self at the expense of the feelings of other people and they may develop into the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
There is a duality in narcissism. In one aspect of the duality, a mask is worn and the character traits are self-admiration, self-centeredness and self-regard. These traits manifest as severe selfishness and disregard for the needs and feelings of others. The excessive need for admiration and affirmation may be present to such an extent that it severely damages an individual’s ability to live a happy and productive life. In contrast, in the other aspect of the duality, the narcissist may appear very defensive. The individual may become extremely introverted in social situations, tending to avoid deep commitments to family or work. They live off all who surround them but this all covers a deep fragility they hardly dare face. An effective or other way of understanding narcissism is ‘in pain’.
To work with any stage of unhealthy narcissism the therapist needs an empathic and compassionate way of understanding it. To work with survivors of narcissistic mothering, fathering, siblings, partners, the therapist needs a patient and delicate way of explaining to the client the real effects of the narcissistic person in their lives, who has been cruel, spiteful, heartless, sadistic and grievously unloving to them. It is a painful, agonising affliction to be told that you had a narcissistic mother or person in your life, when you have loved them unconditionally without realising the damage that has been done to you. It takes a long time for this to be absorbed by the client and this is where the real patience of the therapist is tested.
Recognising narcissistic traits in the therapy room
Recognising and unravelling confusion and conflict in personal relationships, with underlying negative, narcissistic trends, is the job of the therapist! There are three major themes that arise in the therapy room, firstly the recognising and owning of personal narcissism by the therapist, whether healthy or negative; secondly the narcissistic client; thirdly, the client who is in need of healing, having been influenced by narcissists in their lives and the devastation it has caused them.
Narcissism in the therapist
Therapists need to recognise and own the personal experience of healthy or negative narcissism in their personalities and its effect upon all aspects of their own lives and clients’ lives.
The therapist does have power in the therapy room and integrity is needed to acknowledge the reactions and responses of the client projecting the authority figure onto them, and the reactions and responses of the therapist themselves. Therapists know that a narcissist’s striving for power stems from a deep sense of humiliation suffered as a child. If a power struggle emerges between a therapist and client then it is imperative for the therapist to reflect on their own degree of narcissism, as any supervisor would recommend. In fact, wherever power struggles emerge in life in relationships, families, groups, committees, organisations and businesses it seems this is a useful reflection for healing.
There are narcissistic snares within a psychotherapist’s career which show themselves as personal, unrealistic expectations and aspirations for caregiving. One is falling under the narcissistic snare of omnipotence, heal all, know all and love all. It is an unrealistic, but understandable aspiration, in which the less experienced therapist may land up in trouble by taking on clients whose problems are well beyond their experience. Intuition and empathy are in a therapist’s point of reference but need to be used wisely with where the reality is, and not where the therapist thinks the client is.
The Narcissistic Client
The therapist has to be very strong and have the strength of personality to survive narcissistic clients. As these clients operate from a dominating place they cause emotional temperatures to rise, promote people into angry responses and have an underlying need to destroy everything. Although they desperately need help, the resistance to change or belief in anyone else’s ideas but their own is a hard nut to crack. Remember that no ‘ordinary’ person will accept the narcissist with their delusions but will recoil immediately from the scene.
Narcissistic client’s comments may be related to the fact that therapy won’t work. If they last a few sessions, some having done the rounds of the therapies, each session may be referred to as a waste of time, nothing is happening, nothing has changed. The expectation is for the therapist to heal the client’s negativity (which I personally believe comes from the negative umbilical affect in utero from mother). The expectation is also for the therapist to tell them where this negativity comes from, to guess what is wrong with them and if they don’t do this, the client projects a strong sense of failure onto the therapist. Don’t take it personally!
A major theme from the narcissistic client is their accusation, directly or indirectly, of the therapist lacking empathy and understanding of what is going on for them. With their belief that psychotherapy isn’t working for them, they may try to sabotage the therapist. This empathetic failure, as perceived by the client with their distorted vision, can permanently destroy the empathy from the therapist even though it is a vital component or therapeutic tool for the therapist in helping the client resolve their deeper feelings of inadequacy. This destructive force may leave the truly empathetic therapist totally drained of energy.
The Way Forward
The client may choose to leave the therapeutic relationship or stay in it to transform their lives. Whatever the decision, the therapist needs to see the weak, vulnerable little person inside and learn a strategy to deal with it. There are amazing life lessons to learn together, as long as the therapist remains strong for the client and also realises they are in a much stronger position than the client. The client’s behaviour may be destructive and terrifying but the vulnerable child is lost somewhere inside, in insurmountable pain. Clients presenting as typical borderline narcissists look normal on the surface but inside have very little feeling. They may acknowledge from an early age not being present to anyone or anything. Something traumatic has happened to them very early on to turn a human being into being non-feeling, emotionally dead and resistant.
A way forward is the therapist pointing out the aspects of reality which is being denied, devalued or avoided. The client’s vulnerability needs to be acknowledged at all times and no confrontation, about behaviour that is destructive, ever attempted. This would re-stimulate the trauma, resulting in the client not working out the answer to the problem and getting insight themselves – but in resistance and transference acting out. Complex interactions have taken place in the client’s life depriving them of finding their real self. Therapists have their own limitations in unravelling the mysteries of negative, destructive narcissism, either in the narcissistic client or those damaged by narcissists.
The therapist may help, as in so many other client problems, in differentiating between the True Self and the False Self. Giving clients time to draw comparisons and understand what they are working with may begin the healing. The true self is the core of our being, the original ‘you’, unshaped or unconditioned by environment, upbringing or society. This is the state we were in at our conception and still exists. The true self is strongly guarded or hidden by the false self and patience is needed to reach it.
The false self is that which has hidden and changed our real being. Our original personality and behaviour, there from our beginnings, has been altered. Feelings become repressed, behaviour adapted to fit in with other’s needs, particularly mothers, all done unconsciously.
We now know that babies are conscious in the womb (Chamberlain,1998), that babies sense their mother’s needs and their own behaviour is adapted to respond to what mother needs. It creates the beginnings of the false self from a very early age.
Further work will need a well-organised way of working with the narcissism and need to be tightly supervised.
Clients whose lives have been devastated by narcissists.
This third issue is the one mainly having to be dealt with by therapists and it can be a subtle issue to recognise amongst all the complications of a client’s life. It could well be the dominating feature if picked up by a discerning therapist. It is the therapist’s job to discover how verbal and non-verbal messages to the client from narcissists have translated into overachievement, feelings of self-criticism and self-sabotage. Feelings of lack of success may be due to no affirmations whatsoever from the people they most wanted it from during their self-development. The main people who come into therapy are, unsurprisingly, daughters of narcissistic mothers, husbands of narcissistic wives, sons of narcissistic parents – whose expectations of their sons are intolerable whether conscious or unconscious. Partners are often freer to leave the relationship if narcissism occurs in the relationship whether it is recognised or not, but often it is interpreted as bullying.
I am not sure that humanity really understands what the long-term consequences are on children who have been moulded by narcissistic parents. Usually this moulding happens when it is in the best interest of the parents, and not their offspring. This type of parental love is certainly not unconditional. It is important to recognise that a natural defence against the narcissistic place is ‘double orientation’ which is a form of dissociation which attempts to conceal a situation and go on acting as though it never happened. A good pointer for therapists working with these client difficulties.
Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers
Due to the vastness of this subject I am limiting case studies by looking at a few comments from the therapy room made by daughters of narcissistic mothers, although similar themes are present in other narcissistic relationships. The pain caused to the offspring of a narcissistic mother may be excruciating as such a mother always puts herself first. The birth of the baby takes the attention away from her. Mother continues to put herself first and there will be no mother and baby bonding – ever. Relating to Dr Frank Lake’s Dynamic Life Cycle (1981/2005) where acceptance is needed to achieve, the child or adult tries throughout life to ‘please’ mother, with no success. The fractal or repeating pattern cripples the personality of the child or adult who can never understand the lack of recognition by mother, with no affirmations, no good comments. Looking after mother and her constant needs; listening to her constantly talking about herself and doing only what she wants to do and nothing else is an exhausting life style for adult survivors.
Amy, a 53 year old single survivor said:-
“Growing up I knew something was very wrong. There was no connection between mam and myself. I tried to ‘fit in’ with what she wanted but it was never right for her. For example if we were getting ready to go to town to shop (and I would be in my 30’s at this time) if the phone rang and I spoke to a friend for a few minutes, when I was ready mam decided she wasn’t going after all. It took me years to realise she always wanted to be the centre of attention. Any distractions and she played up blaming me for not considering her needs. She would never go anywhere that my poor father wanted to go, he couldn’t do anything right.’
Nuala aged 47, another survivor:-
‘It didn’t matter what age I was, when I was around, her need of me was paramount I had to do everything she wanted me to do. I fell completely into the trap, thinking I was a caring daughter and did what she wanted. I had no mind of my own. When she wanted something from da or me, and neither of us responded, sometimes from exhaustion, her cruelty was displayed by being silent and moody for days on end’.
Bernie, at 45 wrote:
‘I came to resent her words, “If I were you….” They were completely and utterly controlling. If I stood up for myself telling her she was not me – back would come some demeaning remark insinuating that I was not capable of doing anything right. I was constantly bullied and battered emotionally.’
Siobhan, at 29 years of age, made a statement in the USA:-
‘I became rebellious in my teens- not coping with ma’s expectations of me becoming who I wasn’t. Curls, frills, dresses, even at six, seven and eight adorned me. I’d come back with torn skirts, ripped tops, and shredded blouses from climbing trees. I’d get really walloped and screamed at and my brothers laughed. I wanted shorts and tops not frills and lace to play in. I know that my ma lived her life through me. I couldn’t fulfil her goals so I left the country at 19. She never forgave me, or wanted to speak to me again as it wasn’t what she wanted.’
Susie, in her 40’s said:-
I have had so many failed relationships and I am not married. I see now that it is because none of my partners have given me what I lacked as a child. It feels like the love I didn’t get from my narcissistic mother will never be healed. I go overboard caring for everyone. I have to recognise too the narcissistic traits acquired from mam, and now check why I do so much caring. It doesn’t help me feel good.’
Jackie, in her 50’s wrote:-
‘After I had done some serious therapy sessions on my own low self esteem and lack of confidence I received a letter from a long term friend. I had never seen such a vicious, accusing letter and it hurt me deeply. In it she accused me of not knowing the first thing about being a Christian, of always being right, of spending money like water and to think before I opened my mouth as I was an awful person. I realised that over the months I had stood up for myself to heavy criticism from her and she didn’t like it. She could not control me anymore and the therapy helped me stand up for myself. It was with shock that I realised I had been seduced for many years by a narcissistic personality who only put her own needs and emotions to the fore. I realised she had done this to many people around her but because of my own needs and the influence of a narcissistic mother I had been completely duped by her. She was an emotional vampire who sneered at my suggestions and good works; she was out to nurture her own needs, lick her own wounds and undermine me the whole of our relationship. I severed the relationship as I was better being out this dangerous and damaging situation. I could have sued her for what she was saying to other people about me but I left it wisely, I believe. I did not want to be drawn into anger with her or rescind my appropriate assertions. I never saw her again.’
The pain experienced by these clients is obvious. Mothers who are narcissistic are basically emotionally cold and exploitive. Ignoring their child’s separation needs usually because they are totally ignorant of them. They mould their children into objects that fit their own emotional need of perfection. Winnicott (1965) states, as separation occurs:-
The mother who is not good enough is not able to implement the infant’s omnipotence and so repeatedly fails to meet the infant gesture, substituting her own, which is to be given sense by the compliance on the part of the infant, is the earliest stage of the false self and belongs to the mother’s inability to sense her infant’s needs’.
It is not rare for the children of narcissistic mothers to be the good child, they stay quiet, do not argue, do what they are told to do, are no trouble, toe the line and do not complain. Work on the false self and finding the true self can be worked side by side with healing the wounded child and infant.
Although this article is mainly about trying to heal negative narcissism, what we are trying to do is teach people to understand healthy narcissism. I do believe that to heal one person is to help to heal the world; it is our responsibility to transform negativity from many levels into positive, healthy narcissism for the future, and for our children’s children. If no recognition is given as to the power of devastation in destructive narcissism, it really is humanity’s secret weapon of mass destruction. It can be transformed to become the most positive talent we have in the world to transform lives positively. I would really appreciate your feedback on experiences with narcissism and hope this article will stimulate your thought processes! I believe narcissism may be the cause of some of the difficulties for the therapist in the therapy room and could lead the way for a stimulating discussion between therapists and anyone interested.
Shirley Ward lives and works in Killaloe, County Clare. She has worked in the field of psychotherapy and researching foetal consciousness for over thirty years. She may be contacted through her website www.shirleyward.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
References and Future Reading
American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC. American Psychiatric Association
Boklage, C.E. (1990) Survival probability of Human Conceptions from Fertilisation to Term. Int. Journal Fertility 35(2):75,79-80,81-94
Carter, Dr.Les. (2005) Enough About You, Let’s talk About Me’ How to recognise and manage the Narcissists in your life. Jossey Bass. San Francisco.
Chamberlain, D. PhD. (1998) The Mind of your Newborn Baby North Atlantic Books. CA
Hotchkiss, Sandy. (2002) Why is it always about you? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism
Free Press. Simon and Schuster. New York. USA
Hayton, Althea. (2008) A Silent Cry. Wombtwin survivors tell their story. Wren Publications. St Albans, UK.
Houston. Dr Jean. (2006) Social Artistry. Discovering the Creative Dimensions of Leadership. Jean Houston. Ashland. Oregon. 97520.
Lake, Dr Frank. (1966) Clinical Theology DLT, London, UK.
Lake, Dr Frank. (1981 reprinted 2005) Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling. Bridge Pastoral Foundation. Birmingham. UK.
Lowen, Dr Alexander. (1985) Narcissism. Denial of the True Self. Touchstone, Simon and Schuster. New York, USA.
Masterson, Dr. James.F (2000) The Personality Disorders. A new look at the Developmental Self and Object Relations Approach. Zeig Tucker and Co. Phoenix, Arizona. USA
Masterson, DR.James.F. The Narcissistic and Borderline Disorders. An Integrated Developmental Approach. Routledge. New York. USA.
McBride, Karyl. PhD. (2008) Will I Ever be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. Free Press. New York. USA.
Winnicott, D. (1965) Ego Distortion in Terms of True and False Self in the Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. Int. and Universal Press. UK pages 140 – 152.