Why this book?
My father died and I instantly had a sense of freedom. I felt free to breathe just for me, free to only watch out for myself and my family, free to write about the biggest challenge in my life: my mother.
Even though I had chosen to not have her in my life, there was sometimes contact as I still felt a sense of responsibility to look out for my dad. But with him gone, that responsibility went, leaving me truly cut off from her.
Why am I writing about my mother, you might ask?
My mother has NPD and through this, she made her whole family suffer. Narcissists are cruel, manipulative and clever. They are also very skilful at controlling others in such a subtle manner that it is difficult to clearly point it out. Moving away from a narcissist is almost impossible without support. They won’t want to let you go.
My journey was painful and enriching, frustrating and liberating, and always involved a lot of emotional effort.
I wrote this book with two aims:
The first aim is to support people who are living with a narcissist or have a narcissist in their life and want to understand more of what is happening in their situation and to them.
The second aim is to educate people who have no direct experiences with a narcissist but are interested in learning more.
It was a bonus that writing about the subject and my experiences was quite cathartic and I felt much lighter as a result.
This book is divided into six parts:
· Part I is ‘all about me’ and my experiences in the dysfunctional family I grew up in. I hope it gives a feel for how my family operated. It is not my life story but a series of impressions and situations.
· Part II is about narcissistic romantic relationships.
· Part III will take you through the checklist of narcissistic traits. This will help you to recognise narcissistic behaviour and how you are affected.
· Part IV Frequently Asked Questions and answers.
· Part V Tips, tools and techniques.
· Part VI Summary.
I have tried to keep it light and accessible and most of the content is based on my experience.
All through the book, you will find tips on how to deal with people and situations in order to keep yourself safe and sane. These tips are not only helpful when facing a narcissist, but also when you are dealing with narcissistic behaviour.
How to use this book?
It is up to you to choose how to make the most of this book. It will depend on what you want to get out of it.
If you want to understand clearly what narcissism is and how this condition manifests in people, read the book and find your answers.
If you want to check out if people in your life are narcissists and how they affect you, you will benefit from working through the checklist. You can use the space allocated in this book, buy a separate notebook or order the workbook, designed to guide you through the exercises.
If you want to learn how to respond and deal with narcissists in your life in a way that keeps yourself and your loved ones safe, read about the different tools and techniques and start applying them. One at the time. And you can return to the book time and again. Make notes about situations and your narcissist, so you have an ongoing record of what worked and what didn’t.
In 2000, I became a psychotherapist and in 2011 a life coach. It was a way of using my personal growth and development in a profession where I could help others going through challenging processes. In my private practice, I have had more and more clients who are living with a narcissist and it is painful to recognise my old struggle in their current one. However, it is also wonderful to be able to support them from a full understanding. I am convinced that has helped many to recover quicker.
I wish that this book is a support, a motivator and provides guidance for anyone who needs it. I know there are many of us around.
What is a narcissist?
Many labels are used and misused for the sake of clarity. However, they are often confusing as the character and content of each label knows endless variations.
When it comes to narcissism, from time to time every single one of us will show some of the 50 narcissistic traits, as defined in my checklist. Just showing one single trait doesn’t qualify someone as a narcissist. However, as these traits are aiming to control others, it is helpful to recognise them and find a response that will keep yourself protected from the resulting manipulation.
Not a lot is known about the specific source of NPD. But it seems that there is a link with childhood experiences and what are called unhealthy attachments. [MOU1]
Emotionally healthy children have grown up with a sense of security. They felt loved, safe through the loving attitude and actions of parents and carers. They were able to build a sense of self and confidence, which made them ready to venture out into the world.
When a child lacks that security, a distorted picture of their self is created. They might believe they are not worthy of love and not capable of attracting it. To deny this unpleasant state, their actions focus on proving themselves wrong. They create situations which will confirm that they are lovable and worthy. However, deep down inside, they don’t believe it, regardless of how much confirmation they receive.
Most narcissists have grown up with this insecurity and confusion. There might have been a cold parent who pushed them away and another one who would spoil them rotten. They might not have been seen and/or heard. They might have been ignored and/or neglected.
Another idea is that there is a genetic element to the disorder[MOU2] . If parents or grandparents are NPD, the condition might have been inherited.
Dr Ramani, an American psychologist who specialises in narcissism, claims that 10 to 15% of the population is narcissistic, of which 80% are male.[MOU3]
Her claim is not based on scientific research as the measurement tools for narcissism are not scientific and factual.
One of the things that sets a narcissist apart from ‘normal’ people is that they don’t experience emotions, other than anger, fear, envy and hate. [MOU4] These negative emotions help them to feel detached from others and safe.
What causes narcissism?
There is limited research on the causes of narcissism. But there are indications that the following elements might have an impact on how people ‘develop’ their narcissism:
1. Brain wiring
A group of German researchers have proven that we can see narcissism in the brain. Brain scans of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) showed that they have less brain matter in areas associated with emotional empathy (bilateral anterior insula, anterior and median parts of the cingulate cortex, and the supplementary motor area). There might be a genetic element to this.
2. Insecure attachments
Children who grow up with parents or carers who don’t give them emotional security will often develop an insecure attachment. Cold, dismissive and critical parents will encourage insecure attachments. This will lead in later life to dysfunctional emotional relationships, low confidence and a low sense of self.
3. Upbringing and modelling
We don’t know what we have never seen. Growing up in a dysfunctional family makes dysfunction the norm and copying the known behaviour is very common.
4. Positive parenting
Bringing up children with positive guidance, nurturing and protection, aims to create balanced adults. However, children who are protected from criticism and challenges might develop grandiose ideas about themselves as, they have always received the feedback that ‘the sun shines out of their bottom’.
Safe through their mask
The narcissistic self is very fragile. It has never been developed, but from an early age onwards, it has been masked by certain types of behaviour. Their biggest fear is to be seen for who they are (unlovable), and they will do anything to prevent that from happening. They are continually on the look-out for danger and when they spot it, their fear kicks in. A natural response to fear is anger. Imagine you are in a car and another car nearly hits you. Your initial feeling is fear, next you will get angry with the other driver who put you in danger.
When a narcissist perceives danger and they react aggressively through [MOU5] disagreeing, contradicting or challenging others around them. They feel the threat might reveal their fragile ego, and use anger as a way of protection. Following, they hate people who put them in that scary position and set out to control and punish them.
Feeding their ego
As their ego is tiny, they strive to make it bigger and more important through Narcissistic Supply: receiving attention and admiration. One narcissist said during an interview that this was his biggest addiction: the need for confirmation. It was more important than money or anything else. And he would do anything to get it. Narcissistic Supply is their life force, their addiction, to be provided by other people.
The five main characteristics of a narcissist
1. A grandiose view of themselves. They are convinced that they are fabulous, interesting, top-dog and the centre of not just their universe but also everybody else’s. They make this clear whenever they feel necessary. Centre stage is where they belong.
2. A sense of entitlement. They consider themselves to be so interesting and special, they believe they are entitled to special treatment. They feel there is no need for them to appreciate what others do or to say thank you. Others are there to serve them.
3. They control and manipulate. They apply a range of clever and effective techniques seeking attention, admiration and confirmation.
4. They can’t handle criticism. Any form of negative feedback infuriates a narcissist and sparks nasty behaviour. This makes it impossible to discuss situations and events in an honest and open manner. They are convinced it is always the fault of others and never theirs. It is also the reason that there is limited scientific research on NPD, as a narcissist is convinced that if someone is wrong, it is never them.
5. Lack of empathy and emotional awareness. They have no idea what other people might feel, what they struggle with or what they need support with. Narcissists are cold and able to be incredibly cruel.
If someone shows all five of the above characteristics, they are most likely suffering from NPD. They will cause harm and pain to others in order to get their Narcissistic Supply. Some powerful people are thought to be narcissists, such as Steve Jobs, Donald Trump and Madonna.
Narcissistic behaviour can vary from being selfish and self-obsessed to being cocky, arrogant or manipulative.
Being driven and focussed might spark narcissistic behaviour, without making the person with that behaviour a narcissist.
Think of an athlete who trains to get to the Olympics. They focus their physical, mental and emotional energy on their athletic performance. There is no time or energy to spend on others. Does that make them a narcissist or just a driven athlete?
Think of a businessman, who runs a multi-national corporation. His job is all about processes and systems and he spends most of his time trying to solve serious problems. When he comes home, he doesn’t want to spend time on other people’s problems. Not even his wife’s ones. He just wants to switch off and relax. Does that make him a narcissist or just a bad husband?
I have created a checklist of 50 personality traits and discussed these with hundreds of people who have experienced the influence of a narcissist in their lives. Every single narcissist ticked at least 40 of those traits, which is a strong indication you are dealing with one.
People who do not have NPD can still be unpleasant or toxic and tick a few checkpoints on the list. Being able to recognise controlling or manipulating behaviour is always helpful if you want to be in control of yourself and your situation.
How do you know you are dealing with a narcissist?
When you are in contact with a narcissist, you might feel uneasy around them. Something isn’t quite right. But in the first instance, you won’t be able to put your finger on it. They might confuse you, being unkind or unpleasant in a subtle way. You might think about them trying to figure it out. They might be upset because you don’t agree with them.
These are all pointers.
[MOU1]This needs a reference.
[MOU2]This needs a reference.
[MOU3]This needs a reference.
[MOU4]This needs a reference.
[MOU5]I suggest re-wording this so the meaning is clearer. Consider replacing this with “when they perceive danger and they react by”.