Narcissism: A Therapist’s Perspective
by Debbie Wren Hill
Carol and Scott fell in love at first sight, and over the course of their 25 year marriage, Scott had 18 (known) other sexual partners / affairs outside of the marriage. Believing her beloved had a sexual addiction which could be successfully treated, Carol stayed true to her conviction that Scott was her soul-mate. Theirs was a marriage of betrayal, remorse, and stupendous make-ups– champagne, roses, great sex and vows of love for one another. In year 26 of the marriage, Carol finally left the love of her life. Six weeks after the divorce was final, Carol denied Scott’s invitation to go for dinner and give it another try. She also nudged him on his late (first) alimony payment. The next day, she was brutally murdered in her home. Scott is currently serving a life sentence without parole.
Owen is a 16 year old boy who complains about his non-custodial father. “It’s always on his terms – when I visit, how I (need to) bond with his new family, and whether or not he approves of my having counseling!” Owen speculates aloud one day, “I think he is a narcissist.” He wants help in figuring out how to have this conversation with his dad but realizes that it could have very negative consequences.
Narcissism, while more common in men, is not limited to them. Eighteen-year- old Bella shares her own tragic story. She was never hugged by her mother while growing up. Her mother, a survivor or sexual abuse by her own mom, lived in fear of repeating this with her own daughter.
Rather than getting proper help and putting her daughter’s need for physical affection first, she solved the problem by removing any possible temptation – thus depriving her daughter of essential nurturance. Self before others, no matter the cost to them. This is the key trait of a narcissist. Because narcissism may develop in response to deep-seated trauma, including being parented by a narcissist, it is not easily treated.
We all know narcissists who do not have a mental illness. They are self-centered, entitled, admiration-seeking, and usually keep the conversation leaning toward themselves. They may be the obnoxious individuals at the dinner table…it’s all about them! While less than 1% of the general population have a full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (considered a form of mental illness), 2-16 % of people seeking therapy meet the criteria for NPD. Often, loved ones have insisted on treatment for the sake of the relationship. These individuals do not function well in their relationships. While the narcissist may have an abundance of self-esteem and confidence, the individual with NPD does not. Beneath the attitude of superiority, grandiosity and exploiting others for their own gain, this individual is usually miserable and filled with shame. They are often depressed and begin to isolate friends and family. Criticism is nearly intolerable. The effort to keep their fragile ego and sense of superiority intact might lead to dangerous measure. Scott, by the way, had formerly killed a neighbor’s cat with a canoe paddle when it persisted in getting into his garage. My needs over yours. Every time. Period.
If you suspect you have a partner with narcissism, seek help. Talk it out with a professional. Strive to involve your partner. If there is suspicion that your partner has NPD, run (don’t walk) away from the relationship. If you have a narcissist for a parent, learn about this phenomena and help yourself to heal, realizing that your needs DO matter. You are more than your achievements, which may have been your means for getting praise and recognition.
As I warn many young adults, look at your primary relationship and ask yourself, does this person seem to genuinely care about me? My story, my needs, my feelings? Or is it about their image and self-gain? Will he sacrifice his own needs for me, will she compromise? I further advise that it is far easier to be alone than to be with a narcissist. They can make you feel crazy – manipulated, abandoned, and insufficient. The more we learn to love and respect ourselves, the less likely we will fall prey to the narcissist.
Written by: Debbie Wren Hill, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
*Debbie Wren Hill maintains a private practice in Asheville, NC. She also teaches half-day workshops introducing adults to The Enneagram, an ancient and enlightening tool for personality assessment. She will offer a Nashville workshop on Saturday, May 20th from 1-5 pm. Come find out which personality style is most likely to display narcissistic tendencies!
To find out more or to register for the workshop, contact Debbie @ firstname.lastname@example.org 0r (828)230-8466.