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The Narcissist in Your Life
Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free
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Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) has a profoundly dehumanizing effect on those subject to its distortions, manipulations, and rage. The Narcissist in Your Life illuminates the emotionally annihilating experience of narcissistic abuse in families and relationships, acknowledges the complex emotional and physical trauma that results, and assists survivors with compassionate, practical advice on the path of recovery.
Whether you are just learning about NPD, managing a narcissistic parent or other family member, leaving a narcissistic relationship, or struggling with complex PTSD, you will find life-changing answers to these common questions:
- What are the different forms of NPD?
- Is my partner a narcissist?
- Why do I keep attracting narcissistic personalities?
- How can I help my kids?
- What happens in a narcissistic family?
- Why did my other parent go along with the abuse?
- Why am I alienated from my siblings?
- Why is it so hard to believe in myself and my future?
- What is complex PTSD and do I have it?
- What are the health problems associated with narcissistic abuse?
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A JOURNALIST, SURVIVOR, AND NARCISSISTIC ABUSE TRAUMA CONSULTANT, Julie L. Hall has firsthand experience with the effects of narcissistic abuse, and she has done her homework to understand the patterns that appear in narcissist-dominated families.
Hall’s The Narcissist in Your Life describes, in depth, the effects that the narcissistic behavior of a family member—parent, spouse, or child—can have on everyone else in the family. It describes different types of narcissistic behavior and how each can lead to abuse of boundaries, twisting of facts, distortions in perceptions, attacks on self-identity, confused understanding of reality, and even long-term physical health problems.
Hall clearly illustrates the techniques that narcissists use to get what they want from others without taking responsibility for their behaviors—including isolation, destabilizing reality, thought control, gaslighting, and even terror. In addition, she covers the typical reactions that family members have to the narcissist’s manipulations, and the long-term effects that these patterns can have on their health, emotional well-being, and even life choices. There is a wealth of information here. The lists and examples of narcissistic behaviors and their impact on family members, outlines of family rules and roles, and personal interviews are especially helpful in bringing a deeper understanding of the depth and breadth of narcissistic exploitation and manipulation. And the strategies for family members are practical and compassionate.
As the author of Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist and an upcoming book on creating resiliency in children with a borderline or narcissist parent, I know how valuable this information is. Hall offers a very realistic look at NPD and how survivors need to stay aware and prepared for future infringements and manipulations from the narcissist. She will give you hope and insight into how to help yourself and your kids heal.
If you’re someone who has grown up with a narcissistic or self-involved parent…
If you’re someone who has married a charismatic but domineering and demanding person…
If you’re someone who is struggling to figure out why your partner, who used to tell you that you were so special, now can find nothing about you that is pleasing or positive…
If you’re someone who wants desperately to understand how your loved one can be so mean, arrogant, berating, bullying, and selfish when you work so hard to be caring, thoughtful, and kind…
Then this book is for you.
Margalis Fjelstad, PhD, LMFT
Therapist, Educator, International Speaker
Author of Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist
Fort Collins, Colorado
WELCOME. AS SOMEONE WITH A NARCISSISTIC PARENT, PARTNER, OR other important person in your life, you followed a confusing and painful road to get here. It is not a club any of us wants to join, and yet there is hope and wisdom to be found. This book won’t erase your pain or solve your problems. But if you are ready, it will help you understand what you’ve been through, clarify your feelings, and help you move forward with healing.
Thanks to the Internet and social media, today’s rapid-fire sharing of our individual and collective experience is unprecedented. We talk a lot about a lot of things, but lately it seems the subject of narcissism pops up everywhere. Public discourse about narcissism seems to have reached an all-time high, crashing across our mass consciousness like a tsunami. With an estimated 6.2 percent of people1 impaired with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and an even greater number with pathological levels of narcissistic traits, most of us are touched in some way by this mental condition, whether in or outside our families. Yet, despite its notoriety, narcissism remains insidiously hidden and misunderstood while at once intensely traumatic to be around.
A defining characteristic of NPD is exploitative and abusive behavior, which is often shuttered from outside view. Narcissistic abuse rears its ugly head in our institutions, but its roots are domestic, making it a family scourge that traumatizes children, partners, and other relatives on an erosive daily basis and often persists across generations.
Those who haven’t experienced narcissistic abuse firsthand find it unimaginable and typically diminish or altogether dismiss it. This is because the narcissist operates outside normative moral boundaries, with dysfunctional empathy and grandiose self-importance masking underlying shame that s/he himself is often blind to. Even many mental health practitioners do not understand narcissism and its devastating impact.
Survivors of narcissistic trauma feel alone in their experience, but the reality is that it manifests in remarkably similar ways from one relationship to the next, one family to the next. This is because people with the disorder exhibit consistent patterns of thinking and behaving that create a commonality among those who are treated to their outsize demands and manipulations. If there is a saving grace for narcissistic abuse survivors, it is this common ground: Survivors in a sense are all part of one big unhappy family, and finding that commonality can offer vital validation and insight along the healing path.
As young people we all go through narcissistic developmental phases, and as adults we have narcissistic traits that help us survive and self-advocate in a vast, often battering world. The kind of narcissism I examine in this book is neither normal “healthy” narcissism nor run-of-the-mill self-centeredness. The focus of this book is narcissistic personality disorder, a pathologically crippling mental impairment, and its traumatic effect on those treated to its distortions and abuses.
This book is meant to provide a road map for survivors of narcissistic abuse looking for answers and strategies for coping. Here you will find detailed explanations of the disorder, including causes and traits. We’ll analyze narcissistic behaviors in relationships and examine the roles that play out in families dominated by one or more narcissists. We’ll identify patterns of narcissistic abuse and neglect and their traumatizing effects and look at numerous real-life examples from survivors and interviews with clinicians. Along the way, we’ll lay out strategies you can use to help yourself and those you love heal and overcome trauma.
The purpose of this book is not to demonize narcissists. They have a profound impairment that causes them suffering, and often they themselves have been victims of abuse. It is natural to sympathize with the pain that drives them to such lengths of grandiose pretense and violent defensiveness. But narcissists do terrible harm, with little to no remorse. They are disturbed, deluded, and exploitative, particularly of family members, regardless of the emotional, psychological, and physical damage they cause.
This book is for the people narcissists have hurt: the survivors, who come in all classes, colors, creeds, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Whether you have (or had) a narcissistic parent, partner, or relative, or you love someone who does, this book is for you. If you are wondering whether someone important in your life is a narcissist and how to deal with it, this book is for you. Whether you are a scapegoat, “golden child,” or unwitting enabler (we’ll get to those terms in a bit), this book is for you. May it be a light of insight, support, and validation in your life. You deserve all of those things and more.
Over the years as an educational writer, journalist, and poet, I never imagined choosing to write about narcissism. But when I found myself working on a memoir, there was no way around taking a hard look at my own experiences growing up in a narcissistic family, experiences that caused lasting emotional and physiological damage in my life. I started writing articles and founded a blog about narcissism, The Narcissist Family Files (narcissistfamilyfiles.com). I had already come to understand much about narcissism through my own personal pursuit of healing from my past—intensive reading, research, self-reflection, therapy, and talking with certain key people who understood. But as soon as I began exploring the subject in earnest as a journalist, I realized I had more to learn and process and a passionate drive to help others struggling with narcissism-related trauma.
This book is drawn from my personal experience, research, interviews with clinicians and survivors, consulting, and writings about narcissism—in particular the narcissistic family, where pathological narcissism is engendered and tragically perpetuated across generations. I know firsthand how deeply wounding, complex, and persistent narcissistic trauma is. I’ve felt trapped and sometimes broken, and I’ve walked down more than my fair share of blind alleys. In the process, I have also learned a lot about resiliency, empathy, and the power of hope and healing. The smallest ray of light pierces darkness and leads the way.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
This book is organized in six parts that can be read sequentially from start to finish or taken in pieces most immediately helpful to you. I’ve provided a detailed Contents so you can readily find topics you may want to read about right away, such as the narcissistic family roles, coparenting with a narcissist ex, or managing an aging narcissistic parent. You may find it useful to begin by reviewing the defined terms in the Glossary, particularly if you plan to skip around. Or you may want to start at the beginning of the book and take things chapter by chapter. Throughout you will find survivor stories, with names and identifying details changed for anonymity.
However you choose to use this book, I hope you will read its entirety. You are likely to find that topics that at first appear unrelated to you do in fact have relevance. For example, adult children of narcissists not in a relationship with a narcissistic partner will probably still benefit from reading Part 4, “Partners of Narcissists,” to gain insight into an enabling parent, codependent patterns, and childhood roles. Partners of narcissists, likewise, may find it helpful to read Part 5, “Children of Narcissists,” to understand past or current family dynamics and ways to help children. And even if you are familiar with the particulars of NPD, you will probably find insight in Part 2, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” which explicates the commonly cited list of nine criteria for NPD by the American Psychiatric Association and explores other aspects of the disorder.
The bottom line is that narcissistic relationships do not happen arbitrarily. There are nearly always larger patterns at work that link how we are raised with how we live our lives and choose partners, friends, bosses, and the like in adulthood. As a survivor and writer, I believe in the power and redemption of the examined life. My goal with this book is to provide the right combination of both scope and specificity for you as reader looking to understand your experience and move forward on the vital path of recovery.
Part 1, “Reclaiming Your Rights,” establishes a context for your experience with narcissistic abuse by defining human rights and how and why narcissists violate them. I hold out a hand for those stepping beyond the first defense of denial and self-blame to begin to confront the dehumanization of life with a narcissist. And I validate your need to identify the narcissist’s pathology even and especially when the narcissist her-/himself will not.
Part 2, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” looks at narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) head-on. It interprets accepted diagnostic criteria for NPD and provides multiple additional perspectives into the disorder. It identifies causes of narcissism and takes a close look at the narcissist’s impaired empathy and its effect on others. It describes types of narcissists, including the closet, exhibitionist, and malignant narcissist, and it explores how and why NPD is an abusive disorder as well as patterns of narcissistic abuse. Part 2 concludes with the profound and underexamined issue of health consequences for survivors of narcissistic abuse trauma, including interviews with clinicians and a look at complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
Part 3, “The Narcissistic Family,” dives into another fundamental but underexplored subject: the narcissistic family, including unspoken rules and roles for family members. It identifies patterns that define family life, including isolation, rage, projection, shaming, gaslighting, triangulating, smear campaigns, cognitive distortions, and tragedy. And it addresses narcissistic “love” and contempt, as well as the realities of generational narcissism and hope for overcoming it.
Partners of narcissists are the focus of Part 4, “Partners of Narcissists,” which begins by analyzing narcissistic relationship patterns, from romance to devaluation to breakup, as well as how to evaluate if your partner is a narcissist. It examines codependency and trauma bonding and ways to overcome them, as well as strategies for managing a narcissistic relationship and getting out of one. Part 4 also looks at the realities of parenting with a narcissistic partner and a narcissistic ex, including ways to support your children and help them cope with dysfunctional family roles. It concludes with a look at parental alienation.
Part 5, “Children of Narcissists,” takes a hard look at the experience of children in the narcissistic family, beginning with narcissistic styles of parenting, including idealizing and devaluing, parentification, neglect, engulfment, infantilization, overindulgence, and overpraising. It examines the realities of the child roles of hero, scapegoat, golden child, lost child, and mascot, as well as the impact of the roles in adulthood and ways to overcome their trappings. Part 5 also covers why and how narcissistic parents divide their kids, how to deal with a golden child sibling, and sibling relationships in adulthood.
Finally, Part 6, “Overcoming Narcissistic Abuse,” focuses on overcoming narcissistic abuse trauma. It begins with strategies for processing trauma, including understanding grief and its forms, reassessing childhood stories, ending the cycle with the next generation, and finding appropriate therapeutic help. It explores ways to manage someone who has a narcissistic personality, from interpreting the narcissist’s “nice” behavior, to asserting boundaries (including going no contact), to coping with the aging narcissistic parent. Part 6 presents numerous strategies for recovery and takes a close look at trusting your instincts, processing your foreshortened sense of the future, taking a self-inventory, embracing your vulnerability, and welcoming back your inner exiles. The book concludes with final lessons about societal narcissism, the role of forgiveness, and healing takeaways.
As you read, remember to be patient with yourself. Facing painful truths about your family, your relationships, and yourself is always difficult, and it takes time. You may need to reread parts or set some things aside. You are likely to find that understanding comes unevenly, with some things rushing to the surface and others remaining stubbornly out of reach. Keep at it. You are worth it.
RECLAIMING YOUR RIGHTS
Understanding Your Rights
AS SOMEONE WITH A NARCISSIST IN YOUR LIFE, WHETHER AS A PARENT or other family member, partner, friend, or other important person, one thing is certain: Your fundamental human rights have been violated. Your dignity, integrity, and basic freedoms have been crossed and curtailed in countless ways. This is why you feel beaten down, trapped, confused, angry, and sick in your soul and possibly your body. And making matters far worse is the fact that the person who violated your humanity is someone close to you—someone you have cared for and thought cared for you.
NARCISSISTS VIOLATE HUMAN RIGHTS
In 1948, the United Nations set forth a Universal Declaration of Human Rights,1 which countries around the world use to define what it means to be human and what we as a species agree deserves protection under the law. The document identifies thirty essential human rights for everyone. Let’s look at a few especially pertinent ones here in relation to the narcissistic personality.
1. Equal Entitlement to Rights and Freedoms
The idea that everyone is equally entitled to the same rights and freedoms runs fundamentally counter to the narcissist’s personal belief system. Contrary to the notion of equality and shared sovereignty, narcissists see themselves as superior and entitled to special privileges. For them, the world is a rigid and simplistic hierarchy of winners and losers, strong and weak, deserving and undeserving—and democracy suffers.2 If narcissists were to entertain the notion that life itself grants each of us equal value, their delusion of superiority would collapse and leave them with no defense against their underlying feelings of amorphousness and deficiency. They may claim to believe in equality and even decry injustice, but in their own lives they are tyrants.
2. Equal Legal Protection
Narcissists see themselves as above the law. As with equal rights and freedoms, the concept of equal protection under the law contradicts the narcissistic expectation of privileged treatment. From narcissists’ perspective, laws and social structures are useful only insofar as they protect their access to special social standing and freedoms. To the extent that they believe they can get away with it, they manipulate, exploit, and violate laws and legal systems for their own ends while readily using those same institutions to constrain and punish others. No better example of this is the narcissistic spouse/parent who lies and manipulates in court to punish her/his ex and control her/his children regardless of the harm it does to them.
3. Freedom from Cruel or Degrading Treatment
With infantile neediness, outsize entitlement, and dysfunctional empathy, narcissists are routinely cruel and degrading to others. They view life as a zero-sum game in which there is never enough power, self-esteem, respect, or love to go around, and others must fail for them to succeed. They do not hesitate to guilt, humiliate, or exploit others to “win,” and they behave abusively to assert their dominance.
4. Privacy and Freedom from Personal Attack on Honor or Reputation
Narcissists have little respect for the privacy and autonomy of other people. Seeing life through their own narrowly selfish lens and lacking compassion for others’ perspectives and feelings, they tend to objectify those around them rather than recognize their individual humanity. If it suits their needs, they violate boundaries and attack with distortions, innuendo, lies, and smear campaigns.
5. Free Thought
This fundamental right seems so intrinsic to being alive as to render it beyond question. But in relationship to a narcissist, thinking our own thoughts and holding our own beliefs are threats to be suppressed. Narcissists insist on agreement, and they use interrogation, bullying, guilt, and endless other tactics to get it. In their ideal universe, they would control the thoughts of everyone around them. This is because they have scripts or narratives about themselves and the people in their lives that they believe everyone should follow. The specifics of narcissists’ scripts vary, but they always support inflated self-beliefs of exceptionalism and entitlement, constructions meant to allay underlying shame and self-doubt. Their scripts portray them as special—smarter, stronger, better looking, more noble, more generous, funnier, sexier, more accomplished, and the list goes on. They expect others to follow the script, upholding their need to be recognized as someone worthy of admiration and privilege. Anyone who goes off script threatens the narcissist’s need to control the narrative. Such a person must be either brought to heel or defamed and potentially written out of the script.
6. Free Expression
Along with suppressing free thought, narcissists attempt to control what others express, particularly about them or things they believe relate back to them. Narcissists have trouble with the free expression of people around them for the same reason they are threatened by free thought. They feel compelled and entitled to exert their will over others to orchestrate a version of reality, no matter how distorted, that aligns with their needs.
COMING OUT OF DENIAL
As someone who has suffered violations at the hands of one or more narcissists, you have had your integrity and self-esteem targeted. The parts of you that come together to form and support you as an integrated, healthy person have been under attack. Particularly if the narcissist in your life has power over you in some way, you have been undermined, ambushed, and harmed emotionally and maybe physically. You may tell yourself it’s not that bad and that real abuse and neglect are things that happen in other relationships or families, not yours. You may believe the narcissist is so important, special, or needy that s/he deserves a free pass. You probably blame yourself or feel responsible somehow for the narcissist’s behavior, telling yourself what the narcissist always says or implies—that you are at fault and you need to change.
Denying reality can be a helpful short-term defense against overwhelming feelings.3 Pushing away painful truths can give us a chance to process our fears and prepare us to face challenges. Denial is natural and even to some degree necessary in children growing up in narcissistic homes. It can shield us from realities we can’t yet understand and help protect us from dangers we are not equipped to handle. But denial becomes a toxic form of lying when we allow it to paralyze us and use it to avoid taking appropriate action to protect ourselves and those we love. Long-term denial enables abusers and makes us and others vulnerable to further abuse. In time, denial becomes its own problem that keeps us stuck. Saying it isn’t raining when it is does not keep us dry. It keeps us from taking shelter and staying warm. Others may look at us and wonder why we are ignoring that we are wet and cold. They may encourage us to come in with them to a place of safety and comfort. But until we end our denial and acknowledge the weather, we get wetter, colder, and more alone.
RECLAIMING YOUR RIGHTS
Even when we are actively confronting our denial, we may find it difficult to sort out what has happened and may still be happening to us. Narcissistically disordered people by definition project their own shame onto others; routinely blame others for their problems; and violate emotional, psychological, and physical boundaries. As someone who has been chronically shamed and blamed and had your boundaries crisscrossed, you are likely to be confused and plagued with self-doubt. You may feel, consciously or unconsciously, that you are somehow less than: less important, less deserving, less worthy, less good. You need some reminders about your intrinsic human rights, rights we all share.4
1. You have the right to your own thoughts and beliefs.
2. You have the right to disagree with others.
3. You have the right not to share your thoughts.
4. You have the right to express yourself freely.
5. You have the right to love and not love whom you wish.
6. You have the right to your own feelings.
7. You have the right not to feel what others feel or want you to feel.
8. You have the right to equal treatment.
9. You have the right to respectful treatment.
10. You have the right to advocate for your needs.
11. You have the right to advocate for your loved ones’ needs.
12. You have the right to privacy and dignity.
13. You have the right to protect and defend yourself against attack.
14. You have the right to equal legal protection.
15. You have the right to personal safety and security.
If these rights sound like too much to expect, ask yourself why. Why don’t you deserve these rights? Why does the narcissist in your life deserve them and not you? Why does the narcissist get to violate your rights?
RECOGNIZING THE NARCISSIST’S HYPOCRISY
Bottom line: Narcissists will always place their needs before yours. They have a pathological disorder that makes them different from neurotypical people. For the nondisordered, it is extremely difficult to comprehend narcissists’ mind-set. They are riddled with hypocrisy and contradiction that make no intuitive sense to those who are emotionally stable.
1. Is profoundly selfish but lacks a core self
2. Dismisses others’ abilities and achievements and overestimates her/his own
3. Feels intense shame and readily shames and blames others
4. Is hypersensitive to slights and criticism while being hypercritical of others
5. Expects a free pass but is intolerant and unforgiving
6. Expects adoration but treats others with indifference or contempt
7. Demands loyalty and support but readily betrays and abandons
8. Demands control but accepts little to no responsibility
9. Is self-serving but expects generosity
10. Is disrespectful but demands special treatment
Narcissists’ overcompensations for underlying emptiness and shame appear outrageous because they are outrageous. Their double standards are unjust and irrational, but make sense in their disordered mind. Narcissists’ condition is pitiable but dangerous. Cognitively they are adults, but emotionally they are toddlers. Would you trust a toddler to understand your feelings, care about your needs, make decisions for you, or be a parent?
UNDERSTANDING YOUR ANGER
- "[A] resource that provides a desperately needed lifeline with clearly outlined steps for what to do next so you can reclaim your life. A nationally recognized expert on NPD, she writes with a rare combination of lived insight, sound research, keen psychological understanding, and lucid style. I recommend this book wholeheartedly."—Sharyn Wolf, psychotherapist and author
- "Brilliant, riveting, and amazingly thorough. I recommend this book to virtually everyone with an interest in narcissistic personality disorder, including psychotherapists." —Elinor Greenberg,Ph.D., clinical psychologist, author, and internationally renowned narcissisticpersonality disorder expert
- "[P]rovides insight and effective strategiesfor anyone working to deal with the negative effects of a close relationship with a narcissist. This book will resonate with adult children and partners struggling with the pain and confusion of life in a war zone that is often invisible to outsiders. It is an important addition to the understanding of narcissistic personality disorder, and destined to help many people."—SusanForward, PhD, author of Emotional Blackmail and Mothers Who Can'tLove
- "Written from the heart, Julie Hall's book is a treasure trove of knowledge and healing. Every page is filled with warmth and compassion, teaching the reader how to find solutions within."—Jackson MacKenzie, author of Whole Again and Psychopath Free
- "Living with a narcissist, writes Hall, violates our fundamental rights of dignity, integrity, and personal freedoms, made worse because the narcissist is usually someone close to the abused. All libraries, in particular university collections supporting mental health and psychiatry curriculum, will find this a worthy addition."—Library Journal, starred review
- "There is a wealth of information here. The lists and examples of narcissistic behaviors and their impact on family members, outlines of family rules and roles, and personal interviews are especially helpful in bringing a deeper understanding of the depth and breadth of narcissistic exploitation and manipulation. And the strategies for family members are practical and compassionate. Hall's The Narcissist in Your Life will give you hope and insight into how to help yourself and your kids heal."—from the foreword by Margalis Fjelstad, PhD, LMFT, author of Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist
- On Sale
- Dec 3, 2019
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Da Capo Lifelong Books