When someone who’s hurt us behaves as though nothing is wrong, they deny what we feel. When confronted and reacting as though we’ve hurt them, they deny us once again and put a fiction in our place.
And in their place, we move through the subsequent Kubler-Ross stages of grief for them as externalized ego-functions of them. We’re infuriated, confused. We try desperately to reason with them, to save both ourselves and the relationship. And when it becomes dreadfully apparent that it is we, not they, who must choose one or the other then we feel sadness. It is at this critical juncture, this decision at this point that separates the narcissist and their enablers from we who survive and succeed them.
The first strategy Sam mentions is the child isolating themselves from the narcissistic parent, reaching away for and adopting other, more suitable parental figures. This has become my strategy by consequence as much as by choice.
I’ve always said that my siblings and I essentially raised ourselves, Mother being more like an absent roommate than a parent and us, mere meal tickets used to wine and dine her boyfriends on the child support garnished from our father she unceremoniously discarded. Brother went to school wearing shorts and rubber boots, whatever he could find. I, myself, duct taped my shoes and tried to modify old clothes. Sister was excellent at scrounging for edible things not deemed off limits to create inventive food items from. All while we were berated as ungrateful, spoiled brats that didn’t do enough for Mother if we were paid any attention to.
Few things appear more perplexing than a someone aware of and seeking recovery from narcissistic abuse in full-throated support of “unpresidented” Donald J. Trump, a man that a significant number of psychologists have been compelled beyond usual ethical constraints to point out the pattern of malignant narcissistic behavior of (behavior that could also be explained by drug use, dementia or syphilis). After all, wounded healers that we are have sought answers that we’ve sacrificed for to move beyond the suffering we happened to find ourselves in and many of us share what we’ve learned so that others might do the same. That any of us could or would become enamored with a prime textbook example of the very thing we struggle to liberate ourselves from seems beyond the pale. And yet it happens.
When I was first introduced to Mother’s boy-husband, Motherfucker, in my early teens, he was a chill dude. Pulled up in a Volkswagon van, followed The Grateful Dead. Earlier same day her and a co-worker of theirs – I think his name was Bernie or something, had a lazy eye – were tonguing their goodbyes as she had apparently settled on this one of many suitors. That’s how chill Motherfucker was. And, when he was stoned, he returned to that chill, half-decent state of human-beingness. It was almost nice.
But as the years with Mother progressed, he became an increasingly neurotic, insecure, extremely passive-aggressive rageaholic. Even when Mother visited with female friends, this guy would take a day off work to monitor her behavior. Her friends hated him. My friends hated him. In the mornings, he would just silently glare at me with this angry eye I could see through the crack between my partly opened bedroom door and the frame, clenching his jaw. Weird. My siblings and I would make ourselves scarce when he arrived home from work because we didn’t know what kind of mood he would be in but a bad mood was a safe bet. He didn’t like us and moved out once because he couldn’t stand us.
The narcissist exhibits an intuitive, almost preternatural awareness of who we are and what buttons to push in order to elicit the responses they want. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and diagnosed NPD, labels this sense “cold empathy” — that is to say, a dispassionate, more strictly cognitive form of empathy. But I don’t think it’s any kind of empathy.
As a black hole is a failed star collapsed under its own gravity into an inescapable singularity, the narcissist is a failed child reduced to a single function: the insatiable acquisition of attention to feel special (narcissistic supply). We can’t see black holes but for the distortion of space and effect on objects surrounding them. Similarly, narcissists hide in plain sight belied only by the social disruption left in their wake.
“Oh god! Oh god! Oh god!” Mother is crying out, punctuated by her boy-husband, Motherfucker’s grunts. The window’s open so that the entire neighborhood can receive each explosive thrust of this howling tryst, especially Father well within earshot just next door. Wheels on the metal bed frame are catching air, slam slam slamming against the floor. The second floor. Beneath ground zero, my friend, Steve, gives up, gets up from the couch he was trying to sleep on in the living room and goes to my room where I’m laying in a fetal position with a pillow wrapped around my head, also trying to ignore the punishing humpfest upstairs.