Reading time: 10 mins
Understanding and Treating Narcissists: The Importance of Studying Victims of Narcissistic Abuse
It is interesting how mental health professionals that treat narcissists with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), seem only to study the narcissist. I would wonder how clinicians (psychiatrists and clinical psychologists) can treat the narcissist if they don’t fully understand the extent of the victim’s abuse too. I think they would learn so much more about the narcissist if they were to study the narcissist’s victims too. In criminology, when you want to understand the murderer, you study the victim and the scene of the crime. It is by studying both that you get a true picture of the extent of the crime.
Most of my knowledge has come direct from studying my clients (the victims of narcissistic abuse) and my post-grad diploma studies in Psychopathy (i.e., both criminal psychology and forensic psychology). By asking my clients to describe their abuser’s behaviours and explain how they interacted with them, I get a 360% feedback system. By analysing the victim’s verbatim responses, I get to see the patterns of behaviour emerging (both the narcissist’s behaviours and the victim’s behaviours). It is amazing to see how consistent these patterns of behaviour are all around the world. I have worked internationally for about 15 years with victims of narcissistic abuse, and the patterns for both parties (both the narcissist’s profile and the victim’s profiles) are consistent regardless of where they live in the world.
WHAT HAVE THE PATTERNS OF NARCISSISTIC BEHAVIOURS TOLD ME?
From the pattern, it is apparent that two main types of narcissists keep surfacing, the ‘Grandiose Narcissist’ (or Overt Narcissist) and the ‘Vulnerable Narcissist’ (or Covert Narcissist). The former is characterised by qualities such as requiring admiration, arrogance, lack of empathy, and entitlement, while the latter is characterized by insecurity, hypersensitivity, affective instability, and emptiness. I have found that when it comes to pathological narcissism, very often both grandiose and vulnerable aspects are commonly reported together. Other features that participants described included perfectionism, vengefulness, and suspiciousness. Additionally, children who were victims of a narcissistic parent or other relatives, often report there was excessive religiosity, and/or substance abuse involved. Their homes were run similarly to the way most cults are run.
Several behaviours are often present in both the cult settings and the narcissist’s setting, these include:
- Insistence on absolute obedience:Within the Cult, there is a hierarchy (i.e., superior and inferior) Cult leaders often have emotional outbursts in which they demand complete obedience from their followers, and may punish or ostracize those who do not comply.
- Control of information:Cult leaders may limit their followers’ access to information, or only allow them to receive certain types of information. This can include controlling what they read, watch, or listen to.
- Isolation:Cult leaders may try to isolate their followers from friends, family, intimate relationships and the outside world, to control their behaviour and thoughts.
- Use of fear:Cult leaders may use fear (ambient abuse) as a means of control, either by threatening punishment or by instilling fear of the outside world or other groups.
- Mind control techniques:Cult leaders may use various tactics, such as hypnosis, sleep and food deprivation, sensory deprivation, and sexual abuse to manipulate their followers’ thoughts and behaviours.
- Enforced secrecy:Cult members may be required to keep their involvement in the group secret or may be told not to discuss certain aspects of the group with outsiders.
- Forced separation from loved ones:Cult leaders may encourage their followers to cut ties with friends and family members who do not support their involvement in the group.
- Exploitation:Cult leaders may exploit their followers for financial gain, labour, or other purposes.
- Pressure to conform:Cult members may feel pressure to conform to the group’s beliefs and behaviours, even if they disagree with them.
- Brainwashing:Cult leaders may use various tactics, such as repetitive slogans or hypnotic techniques, to brainwash their followers into accepting certain beliefs or behaviours.
Both the Narcissist’s Home Setting and the Cult Setting Show the Same Toxic Family Dynamic:
When contrasting and comparing the comparisons between a narcissist’s home and a Cult setting, this is what I have found. That both have all the hallmarks of living within dysfunctional families (they are mirror images of each other). Both have controlling figureheads (the narcissist and the Guru), and each causes trauma or complex PTDS in the members of each family. Before members of either family can begin to heal, they must experience and express their emotions. This involves the painful experience of moving out of denial and moving into feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt, anger, social stigma, etc It is like peeling an onion, to finally reach our true selves at the core of our being. This can be a difficult time, but ultimately it is necessary to achieve the healing that eventually leads to freedom. This is the only way to be released from the grip of the bondage of these abusive Masters and their malignant narcissism or psychopathy.
- Control & Power: Both a cult and a narcissistic home can be characterised by a high level of control, with the leader (be it a cult leader or a narcissistic parent or partner) exerting a significant amount of control and power over the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of the group or family members. This can include limiting access to information and outside resources, manipulating or coercing group or family members to comply with the leader’s wishes, and punishing those who do not conform to the leader’s expectations.
- Isolation: Both a cult and a narcissistic home can be isolating environments, with members being discouraged or prevented from interacting with people outside the group or family. This can create a sense of dependency on the group or family and make it difficult for members to seek help or escape the situation.
- Brainwashing: Cults and narcissistic homes can use various tactics to manipulate and control the thoughts and beliefs of a group or family members. This can include using propaganda, repetition, and fear-mongering to shape their worldview and make them more compliant with the leader’s wishes.
- Lack of accountability: Both cults and narcissistic homes can be characterised by a lack of accountability, with the leader rarely being held accountable for their actions or decisions. This can create an atmosphere of impunity and enable abusive behaviour to continue unchecked.
- Trauma bonding: Cults and narcissistic homes can lead to trauma bonding, where individuals become emotionally attached to their abuser and have difficulty leaving the situation even if it is damaging to their well-being. This can be due to the manipulation and control tactics used by the leader and the cycle of abuse (including love bombing and intermittent reinforcement).
THE GRANDIOSE NARCISSIST (THE OVERT NARCISSIST):
The grandiose narcissist, also known as the overt narcissist, is characterised by grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, and a need for admiration. They often have an inflated sense of their importance and may be preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, and attractiveness. They may also exhibit arrogance, a lack of empathy, and a need for constant attention and validation.
An example of a grandiose narcissist might be a celebrity who is constantly seeking attention and admiration from fans and the media. They may have an entitlement mentality and feel that they are entitled to special treatment and privileges. Or a CEO who constantly brags about their accomplishments and feels entitled to special treatment from their employees.
Some common characteristics of the grandiose narcissistic parent may include the following:
- Putting their own needs and desires above those of their children:A grandiose narcissist may prioritize their own needs and desires above those of their children. They may expect their children to conform to their expectations and may not consider their children’s individual needs or preferences.
- Using their children to enhance their image:A grandiose narcissist may use their children to enhance their image or to boost their self-esteem. They may pressure their children to excel in certain areas, such as academics or sports, to reflect positively on themselves. They may also expect their children to conform to their ideals and may criticize or punish them if they do not meet these expectations.
- Lack of empathy and emotional support:A grandiose narcissist may have difficulty showing empathy or providing emotional support to their children. They may be more focused on their own needs and may not recognize or validate their children’s emotions. This can make it difficult for children to feel understood or supported by their parents.
- Controlling or manipulative behaviour:A grandiose narcissist may try to control or manipulate their children to get what they want. They may use tactics such as guilt, shame, or blame to manipulate their children’s behaviour or decisions. This can cause feelings of powerlessness and anxiety in children and can damage their self-esteem.
THE VULNERABLE NARCISSIST (THE COVERT NARCISSIST):
The vulnerable narcissist, also known as the covert narcissist, is characterized by feelings of insecurity, hypersensitivity, depressed mood, shame, identification with victimhood and a need for constant reassurance. They may struggle with low self-esteem and may be preoccupied with fears of rejection and failure. They may also exhibit affective instability, mood swings, and difficulty maintaining relationships. They may be overly sensitive to criticism and may have difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships due to their fear of rejection, abandonment and failure. For example, a covert narcissistic father might be characterised by feelings of insecurity and a need for constant validation and admiration. They may have an inflated sense of their importance and may expect their children to constantly praise and admire them. They may also struggle with low self-esteem and may be overly sensitive to criticism or push-backs from the children, which triggers their rage.
In terms of their parenting style, a covert narcissistic father might be overly controlling and demanding. They may have unrealistic expectations for their children and may punish severely for failing to meet those expectations. They may also struggle with empathy and may be unable to understand or respond to their children’s emotional needs. Because they see the child as an extension of themselves, they will resist any attempt the child will make towards their independence.
Overall, a covert narcissistic father may have difficulty forming and maintaining a healthy, loving relationship with their children. Often researchers state that it is important for children of narcissistic parents to seek support from trusted adults, such as teachers, counsellors, or other family members, to cope with the challenges of growing up with a narcissistic parent. Unfortunately, many of these children are isolated from outside influences, and they are groomed to not speak about family matters to anybody outside their homes. So these children never really know that what they are going through is not normal family life. That their homes are not a place of nurturing and safety, but rather a prison where the narcissistic parent rules with coercive control.
THE PARENT WHO PRESENTS WITH BOTH COVERT AND OVERT NARCISSISM (A CHILD’S NIGHTMARE):
Having a parent who presents with both covert and overt narcissism can be difficult for children. Some common challenges that children may face in this situation include the following:
- Conflicting messages and expectations:A parent with both covert and overt narcissism may send conflicting messages and have conflicting expectations for their children. They may be passive and withdrawn one moment and demanding and controlling the next. This can make it difficult for children to know what to expect from their parents and can create a sense of uncertainty and anxiety.
- Lack of emotional support:A parent with both covert and overt narcissism may have difficulty providing emotional support to their children. They may be preoccupied with their own needs and may not recognize or validate their children’s emotions. This can make it difficult for children to feel understood or supported by their parents.
- Manipulative or controlling behaviour: A parent with both covert and overt narcissism may use manipulative or controlling tactics to get what they want from their children. They may use guilt, shame, or blame to manipulate their children’s behaviour or decisions. This can cause feelings of powerlessness and anxiety in children and can damage their self-esteem.
IT SEEMS TO ME, THAT MOST NARCISSISTS OSCILLATE BETWEEN BEING OVERT AND COVERT:
Personally, the more I work with the victims, the more I can see that narcissism oscillates between both camps. The narcissist’s grandiose level of interpersonal charm and likability occurs mainly in the initial stages of a relationship, whether they are overt or covert narcissists. This is what allows them to be more exploitative. This is because they can initially win people over and then take advantage of them. Overt and covert narcissism is looking more like ‘two sides of the same coin’, so to speak.
Of course, we must also consider that every person is unique and may not exhibit all of the characteristics associated with narcissism. However, there are many similarities to the narcissist’s behaviour. For example, all narcissists use others to maintain their self-esteem, and they may sometimes avoid people because they are afraid of being disappointed, rejected or abandoned. They may also have difficulty showing personal faults and needs. Remember, the narcissist’s ego and self-esteem are fragile, therefore, it is hard for a narcissist to feel good about themselves, especially if they feel they are not respected and liked by everybody.
This is the dark vulnerable ‘underbelly’ of why narcissists use others to maintain self-esteem. Viewing their children as extensions of themselves allows them to feel a sense of achievement when their child achieves anything. In effect, when the child achieves, they also achieve, and their self-esteem increases. But sadly, when the child fails, they feel the shame of that failure too. Their self-esteem plummets and it sends them into a spiralling rage. The poor child not only has to cope with their disappointment and shame responses to their failure. But they also have to suffer the projected shame and emotional dysregulation of their narcissistic parent through their pain-rage-hatred cycle. Rather than being supported and encouraged to learn from their failure, the child suffers the indignity of the parent’s disgusting, devaluing, antagonistic and hostile behaviour. The narcissistic parent puts the “final nail in the coffin” when they withdraw and disconnect from the child in disgust. This is nothing short of total annihilation of the child’s self-esteem and sense of self. Is it any wonder that these traumatised children display complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) in adulthood?
- Surviving the Storm: How to Survive Living with a Crazy Narcissistic Parent - April 12, 2023
- Narcissistic Female Intimate Partner Violence Against Men Is No Joke - February 28, 2023
- Narcissists and Positions of Power and Influence - February 6, 2023
Hi Christine, Thank you for this e-mail. I love reading about what makes these types of people tick. One thing that is not mentioned is the use a violence against a child of a Narcissist as a means of control. My first memory is of coming to in a hospital room at night with a fractured skull. I was two years old. I can’t say how it happened, but I believe my mother received a lot of narcissistic supply from that situation and liked it. I also believe because of that, she would deliberately injure me. My father (the enabler) a retired NYPD cop, tells the story of a reports coming over the police radio of an injured child being taken to the hospital, and he would say “I bet that’s my kid” – he was often correct. How is that for Munchhausen shenanigans? I believe a doctor, or a nurse finally figured out what she was doing and scared the daylights out of her. She resorted to beating me with a belt which caused bruising and I had to be kept in the house. I remember looking down at my legs one time and they looked like a piano keyboard from bruising with the belt. My father would yell out from the kitchen “don’t go out Kathy”. She finally wised up and just started dragging me around by my hair. That didn’t leave any marks. She died this past February, and I didn’t feel a thing. My father is still alive, and I doubt I will feel anything when he goes. Regards, Kathy
Thank you for this incredibly interesting and informative article, Christine. I have been wondering about the brain-washing and considering if they don’t perhaps use NLP techniques such as “anchors” as part of the brain-washing. My ex had this incredibly slow wink that he’d use if he realized that something had upset me. It was his way of reminding me that the intimate part of our relationship was good. He also used repetitive phrases such as “You are absolutely incapable of making decisions” which was very clever as every time I decided I just couldn’t take anymore and needed to leave (get divorced), the immediate thought that followed was “But I can’t make good decisions so maybe I’ll regret this for the rest of my life”. And I’d stay… I have been out for over 7 years now and am just so grateful to God for giving me the courage to leave and making a way for me. I had no finances as I wasn’t allowed to have a career – only work half-day jobs – and no idea of where I was going to live. My narcissistic daughter who ruled our family and especially my narc ex told him that he HAD TO buy me a house as he was the one having the affair, and he did! The settlement I got was probably 20% of what he’s worth, but it’s still substantially more than most women get so it all worked out for good. I have learned so much from you Christine. Thank you for all you do!