The Narcissist’s and the Victim’s Survival Strategies are Both Born Out of Narcissistic Vulnerability

The Narcissist’s and the Victim’s Survival Strategies are Both Born Out of Narcissistic Vulnerability

The child’s adaptations and automatic responses (that lead to the individual becoming either an aggressive narcissist or a passive co-narcissist victim), are born out of their unconscious defence mechanisms each employed for protecting themselves while growing up in such a chaotic environment.  Therefore, both the narcissist’s and the victim’s pathological behaviours (although quite different) are survival strategies born out of their experience of narcissistic vulnerability experienced during a troubled abusive childhood.

Although the abuse these two individuals have experienced in childhood is quite similar, the personality of the pathological narcissist and the victim become forged in very different ways.

As a result, the narcissist (as perpetrator), according to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association), develops a grandiose sense of self-importance (they exaggerate their accomplishments and demand to be considered superior without real evidence of achievement).

They live in a fantasy world of exceptional success, power, beauty, genius or “perfect” love.  They think of themselves as “special” or privileged, and that they can only be understood by other special or high-status people.

They demand excessive amounts of praise or admiration. They feel entitled to automatic deference, compliance or favourable treatment from others.  They are highly exploitative, always looking to take advantage.

They lack empathy and do not recognise or identify with other people’s feelings.  They are frequently envious of others and think others are envious of them.  Full of grandiosity, they act in haughty or arrogant ways. They don’t take responsibility for their actions and blame others for anything that goes wrong.  Although they appear highly confident and superior individuals, underneath their ego is extremely fragile, very delicate, leaving them easily offended and rage prone. They oscillate between their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personas of idealisation and hatred.

The victim’s characteristics, on the other hand, is in stark contrast to the pathological narcissist.  Very often the victim is a modest, gentle, and humble self that does not need to be the centre of attention.  They respond to the needs and wishes of others; this is an unconscious defence they use to stay safe.

By the time, they become teenagers they have become highly empathic (often Empaths), and therefore hyper-vigilant to other people’s needs, especially those with a narcissistic personality.  Because of working hard to please others, they become out of touch with their own needs and feelings.

They prefer to fade into the background in their relationships, allowing others to have the limelight.   They tend to be over responsible, therefore likely to take the blame for any interpersonal problems in their dealings with others.  They don’t look for attention or help for themselves, on the contrary, they are compulsively self-reliant.

In fact, they have a cognitive proclivity to go it alone, of course, that is based on a fear that has come from their childhood experience, and their propensity to be overly responsible.  However, they give their soul to others without a second thought, and become compulsive “rescuers and fixers” at every opportunity.  Therefore, they are like a magnetic force for pathological narcissists, who all want to be taken care of and minded.  It is easy to see why the empathic victim is valued so highly by the pathological narcissist, at least for as long as they satisfy their needs.

Regarding my own compulsive self-reliance, I do not know how many times I have isolated myself by not asking for help.  So many of my friends and family have come to me when they need help, but I would rarely ask for their help in return, even when I badly needed it.  I have done that to myself for years, and now I understand why I have done that, because  having to rely on others is more frightening than having to rely on myself.  Having to constantly protect myself from my psychopathic brother’s unpredictable mood swings, and having to prepare myself for the worst possible scenario that followed.  Both these factors went a long way towards fostering my compulsive self-reliance.  I can see how this protective strategy worked for me around my brother Gerard, but it has also hurt me/  It also explains why I always seemed to attract procrastinators as well as narcissists. They have an uncanny sense of knowing that I will nurture them, and request little or nothing in return.  But even that can backfire too, because without realising, I was fostering a sense of helplessness in these relationships, and of course, that always ends in shame and resentment for the other.  Then, when these narcissistic personality types lashed out at me, I would truly not have any idea why they did that.

Victims of narcissistic abuse like to be well prepared for anything, and for that reason, they don’t really like surprises flung at them.  My need to be prepared allows me to feel in control, being in control made me feel safe.  Of course, I know this leaves me open to being seen as a control freak, but it is something quite different really.  Something deep inside me leads me to expect that it is only a matter of time before other people are going to be disappointed in me, so I tend to work around their needs, asking very little in return.  This was my way of surviving my brother Gerard’s disappointment and violent responsive rages that had a terrifying effect on me, and obviously still resonates with me. I never knew what symptoms would drive his desire to be violent towards me; i.e. his heightened sense of entitlement, hostility, dominance, controlling, suspiciousness, intolerance, recklessness, and aggressiveness.

I did not understand back then that it was easy for Gerard to engage in violence as he invested very little cost in his relationships, this was because some of his symptoms of psychopathy disinhibited him (i.e. he was unempathic, unattached, lacking anxiety and remorse, etc.).  Anything could destabilise his mood, that was why there was no logic to his outbursts.  I hope it is becoming clear how “compulsive self-reliance” is the hallmark of a child who has survived being a victim of painful narcissistic abuse, and a way of trying to overcome the unwarranted guilt of not being able to “fix” what was wrong in the family.  Is it any wonder that I was acting like an adult before I was even an adolescent, my caretaking started from the time I made my first steps towards playing with my pathological brother Gerard?

Follow me
Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
Follow me