I saw the search term: “narcissists aren’t bad” in my search engine stats just now. For anyone who wants to know whether a Narcissist is bad, I’ve written enough here about it to let you know. 🙂
That said: Narcissists aren’t bad people, they are people who do bad things. There is a difference. The school of thought to which I subscribe, because I believe it most accurately presents NPD as we encounter it most, is the one that says a narcissist is an individual whose emotional growth ended between age 6 and 7.
This age has commonly been known as the “age of reason.” It is the age, in most cultures, where a human child is believed to be emotionally developed to the point where he or she is capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong, and is capable of acting upon those differences, regardless their choice of action.
By the time an NPD individual reaches this age, he or she has assimilated emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse into themselves. They have integrated it into their own personality and for purposes of personal survival, have created clear lines of demarcation for good and bad within themselves. Generally, they will have been born to, and raised by, at least one NPD parent, if not two. If they have one NPD parent, the odds are very good the other parent is steeped in the emotional trauma wrought by a narcissist and is not capable of protecting the child because the non-NPD parent is too busy attempting to protect themselves.
The child witnesses this emotional war and defines for him or herself, based upon what they observe and are told, the best method to protect themselves from further hurt. This protection comes in the form of creating an alter-ego that, within the confines of their own minds, becomes themselves. This alter-ego is all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, and many times simply omnipotent. The child creates an alter-ego that allows them to be God, thus giving them the illusion of control, at least within themselves.
This alter-ego is not to be confused with multiple personalities or schizophrenia. It is simply a coping mechanism whereby the child, who, at this point has been filled with the terror and humiliation of unrelenting emotional abuse, manages to construct, in his or her childish mind, what they believe they should be based upon what they’ve been told they really are.
Emotional abuse is contradictory. The child of an NPD may be told one day that they are the sun, stars and moon and that their N parent believes them to be special in a sense that no other child is special. The child internalizes this. It goes in the “good” drawer. The next day, the N parent contradicts what was said the day before and tells the child he or she is stupid, clumsy, and compares the child to the the sibling of favor for that day. You know the routine: “Why can’t you be like so-and s0? So-and-so isn’t stupid. So-and-so got an A in arithmetic. So why didn’t you get an A?”
The child internalizes this. This goes in the “bad” drawer. The child keeps the “bad” drawer locked as often as possible and only opens it far enough to allow devaluation to slide in and then the drawer is slammed shut and locked.
As the child grows physically, he or she remains at around age 6, emotionally. An NPD has never learned to integrate the “good” and “bad” into a whole. This is a crossover trait to Borderline Personality Disorder. NPD and BPD have many crossover traits, and I’ve found that when the behavior issues are seen in a male, they are termed NPD and when they are seen in a female, they are termed BPD. This is not always the case, though. It’s simply what I’ve seen.
Now, think about a six-year-old child. What is their primary focus? Their primary focus is themselves. A normal six-year-old child, raised by emotionally healthy parents will experience emotional growth that corresponds to their age. A six-year-old child who has a narcissistic parent, and another parent who is too busy attempting to survive the abuse perpetrated upon them by the narcissist, will retain, and further, hold dear, their primary focus, which is on themselves.
The child has constructed an alter-ego who they have come to believe is their “real” self, because at age 6, they subconsciously know that they can’t be as bad as mommy or daddy has said they are. It is at this point that all the good that might be in that child is sublimated to the alter-ego. The child grows up believing they ARE their alter-ego. They also know, but refuse to accept, that the alter-ego is nothing but a construct pulled from what they have perceived to be “good” along the way. They add to that drawer full of “good” – they add the ability to mimic empathy and compassion, but because they have sublimated their TRUE ability for empathy and compassion, and because the parents have not nurtured this ability, all they have is what amounts to a photograph of it.
So they keep taking photographs. Enter the mirror. By the time the child has grown to adulthood, he or she has become very adept at watching others and adding photographs of what they perceive as acceptable behavior to their “good” drawer. The problem with this is that they stopped developing, emotionally, between ages 6 and 7, so their criteria for good is that which they originally created as a child, and is unreasonable, unhealthy and a total illusion.
These children, who were unloved and abused and who learned to cope through construct, have grown into predatory adults who seek mirrors in the form of other human beings. They seek love, because it is a driving need for them. They will never admit it is a need as deep as hunger, but it is what they seek. Having no foundation for love; no good role model for it, they believe love is defined by all those photographs they have taken of behavior that fits the construct created when they were 6 or 7 years old.
These adults can’t love because whatever love they gave prior to age 6, was repudiated. Think about a child between the ages of birth to 6. I can use my own son as an example. I have never felt more loved or needed in my life, than during those years when my son was between birth and age 6. At age 6 he began to truly think for himself, to spread his fledgling wings and for those who watched, including me, his behavior was a giddy balance between self-serving action and true remorse when he realized his actions had hurt someone who loved him.
At age 6, my son was learning to assert himself as an individual; he drew from his prior experience with me and his father, and grew in compassion, empathy, and love. He learned that while he might want always to be the center of attention and so special as singularly “better” than anyone else, that he WAS NOT singularly special, beyond the fact that I thought of him as special only because he was my son, nor was he always going to be the center of attention. He learned this was a good thing.
Children of NPD parents do not learn this. Their journey into adolescence and adulthood is dramatic, traumatic and filled with contradictory information. By the time they reach adulthood, they have lost the key to their “bad” drawer and their “good” drawer has spawned several more “good” drawers, each filled with a jumbled detritus of what they have deemed, with their six-year-old emotional capacity to be acceptable behavior and character traits.
This is why an NPD is, at first, extremely charming, seemingly compassionate, empathetic and sensitive to your every need. They are pulling from their “good” drawer those characteristics they have deemed useful to their effort to gain attention. As they grew, they became more selective. If they were in a group gathering, they would watch to see which members of their chosen sexual orientation seemed to be having the best time, and then they would watch to see what was causing these people to have such a great time. They would photograph these behaviors and file them away.
Remember, a photograph is a shutter click in time. It is not extended reality. It is merely something that is for a short time. At this point, an NPD has nothing within themselves to draw upon for normal interaction, because they built their bomb shelter long ago. Nothing was allowed in that didn’t pass their stringent criteria, because anything that came in had to be something they could recognize as a reflection of what they viewed as “good” in themselves.
Over time, this collection of “good” gets confused. It is never filed in any order, and it’s never given another thought by the NPD other than as a tool with which they can bring people into their lives. It’s not a tool that is well-maintained. It is a tool that is disposable. When it wears out and doesn’t work anymore, the NPD goes in search of more supply. The “good” drawer is never quite empty because the NPD, like an addict, will see his fix getting low and will become frantic to replenish.
Straight male NPDs will go in search of straight females who exemplify all the qualities they have in their “good” drawer. Remember, the NPD doesn’t actually have these qualities in himself, he simply has pictures of those qualities, and they are qualities he actually believes are his, not something stolen from various mirrors/prey along his journey to find the perfect mirror.
The qualities the NPD stalks are those qualities that he can only mimic, because in order to sustain the qualities, they have to be an integrated part of the personality. The NPD stopped integrating anything into his personality at around age 6.
The most dangerous part of all of this is that the prey of an NPD doesn’t know they are prey until they have fallen victim to the NPDs abuse when they stop mirroring what the N wants, and believes he is entitled, to see.
The N believes that all the qualities he sees in his prey are HIS OWN qualities. Because he sees them as his own qualities, he cannot sustain any form of relationship, as relationships are all about give and take. They are about compromise and reciprocation. An NPD does not compromise and he does not reciprocate. He pretends to those things, for a very short time, because those are qualities he knows nothing about other than having seen them, briefly, in someone he held in esteem for a short period (because that person mirrored his beliefs about himself so well). As soon as anyone evinces dissatisfaction with the Ns behavior, they are instantly and ruthlessly devalued and discarded.
That’s not the end, though. The N has programmed himself to destroy anyone or anything that might reflect poorly upon him. After the first session of D&D, the victim will probably believe she truly DID do something to hurt this wonderful person and will set about attempting to right something that she never did wrong in the first place. The N will complacently sit back and watch, ever-vigilant for a slip-up. He will direct the victim’s actions, controlling everything and at the first inkling that the victim might step out of line, the N stomps. HARD. The devaluation gets worse, it becomes vicious. Sometimes it becomes deadly.
Herein lies the truth: The NPD is not stomping on the victim. He is stomping on a MIRROR that is reflecting what he knows and understands to be his true character, and he is destroying it so that he does not have to look at it. To look at it; to confront it, would mean deconstructing his safe-house; it would mean tearing down all the carefully constructed walls that took decades to build and an NPD does not have it within themselves to do that. It is not possible. Some say it is. My observations show otherwise, but I’m not a psychiatrist.
Narcissists didn’t start out bad. I don’t believe they are, at a soul level, bad. I do believe that the young age at which they built their defenses dooms them to behaving badly for their lifetime.