It is quite a shock for most people when they discover that they were in a relationship with a narcissist, but it is even more devastating and unfathomable when the offender is a family member.
As part of the recovery process, it is entirely normal and natural for the victim to spend a period of time researching as much as one can on the subject of narcissistic personality disorder. So, if you are a victim who is Googling everything you can find on “narcissism” and are wondering if you are losing your mind, let me assure you that this is totally normal. In effect, doing one’s research is a way of reclaiming one’s mind back after the narcissist’s systematic attempt to drive you out of your mind with their gaslighting techniques of abuse.
Why do victims have a need to do research? The answer is quite simple really. They start researching because they are desperate to try to understand what happened to them while in the relationship with a pathological narcissist. Of course, most victims have little or no knowledge that they were dealing with a someone with a personality disorder, so when they discover that fact they are shocked, and many will go into denial while they adjust to such a discovery.
As a psychotherapist, I believe that “psychoeducation” is a big and vital part of the recovery work with each client. So, I encourage each client to carry out their own research, and then we can discuss what they have discovered, and see how that applies to their story as it unfolds.
Often the research helps the survivor come out of denial, as it validates that they were indeed involved with a narcissist. For example, often it provide them with information in relation to identifying the important criteria (the signs and symptoms) for diagnosing a narcissistic personality and their level of pathology.
The signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder are: –
1. Have a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes.
Information of this type allow the survivor and the clinician to probe even deeper, using Robert Hares Psychopathy checklist, which includes the following 20 behaviours (see below). This gives both the victim and the clinician a better indicator as to what level of narcissist (and the type of abuse) the victim may have been dealing with (i.e. a classical narcissist, a malignant narcissist, or a psychopath). The more boxes that are ticked, the more pathological the narcissist is likely to be, and the more severe the abuse (physically and psychologically).
Hare Psychopathy Checklist: –
· Glib and superficial charm
· Grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
· Need for stimulation
· Pathological lying
· Cunning and manipulativeness
· Lack of remorse or guilt
· Shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
· Callousness and lack of empathy
· Parasitic lifestyle
· Poor behavioural controls
· Sexual promiscuity
· Early behaviour problems
· Lack of realistic long-term goals
· Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
· Many short-term marital relationships
· Juvenile delinquency
· Revocation of conditional release
· Criminal versatility
The Devastating Effects of Gaslighting – the narcissist’s covert aggression: –
It is also important for the victim to get a basic insight into “Gaslighting”, the narcissist’s covert aggression, which amounts to psychological warfare on the victim. Gaslighting is an insidious manipulative behaviour that all narcissists use, and it includes four devastating stages, each has their own set of effects.
The Idealisation Stage: This is the phase when the narcissist is in a highly activated state and looking for reward in the psychopathic bond with their current target. This is the time when the victim is treated like the most precious and newest shiniest toy where they can do nothing wrong. At this point, the narcissist is euphoric and enjoying the psychopathic bond.
Unfortunately, this phase does not usually last very long, and very soon the narcissist begins to feel the threat of losing the relationship and they experience a ‘manipulative shift’ where they feel the need to control the victim, moving them into the next phase; The Devaluing Stage.
The Devaluing Stage: This is the time when the narcissist, fearing that the relationship is changing, returns to their baseline behaviour. The victim has fallen from grace and can now do nothing right in the narcissist’s eyes and is treated with disdain.
The Discarding Phase: The narcissist’s prominent attitude is disdain, it arises from their sense of superiority that allows them to exploit others for self-gain, and then discard them. The discard comes when the victim is perceived as being no longer useful to them, because as narcissistic supply they are not forthcoming enough, so the narcissist looks for a new source of narcissistic supply. Then the whole exciting cycle begins all over again during the Hoovering Phase.
The Hoovering Phase: This is when the narcissist feels the need to suck the victim back into the relationship with them again and again (whenever they feel like it). However, doing one’s research is only one part of the journey, and it is important that the victim does not get stuck at this stage of the recovery work.
One of the tragedies of this form of abuse (narcissistic abuse) is that the victims never get the validation from the narcissist that they so desperately need, or indeed deserve. Therefore, to move on from that “stalemate” position, the victim must find their voice, a voice that was silenced for too long.
This part of the recovery work requires immense inner strength because the victim must rebuild what has been systematically stripped away from them. For many victims, not only did they lose their voice, but they lost their identity (their sense of Self).
It is also important for the victim to understand the defence mechanisms they built up (especially if they were a child trying to survive in their dysfunctional environment), because these same defences could be holding them to ransom in their daily lives as adults. Furthermore, these defences can leave them in the dangerous position of being re-victimised by other narcissists, who will be attracted to them like the moth is to the flame.