Today’s conversation is on the topic Understanding Narcissism: Narcissists are Built Not Born. “My partner is a Narcissist, I have understudied him or her and arrived at this conclusion”.
This line if fast becoming a lot more rampant as i progressed in my career as a therapist. This led to a deciscion which involved my delving into the world of Narcissism and understudying 3 clear case studies i had encountered in my practice. For my opener, i’d like to describe what a Narcissist or someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder is.
“Narcissistic Personality Disorder” or NPD, as a term is one of the many personality disorders out there. It is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. However, the sad point to note is that if you scratched the surface just a little, you would uncover a a fragile self-esteem that cannot handle any form of criticism.
Just before we proceed any further, i’d like to mention that Narcissism or NPD is NOT the partner who is genuinely trying to defend themselves against your accusations or the one who remains assertive despite your trying to poke holes at their character – Temple Obike
NPD is a condition that if not recognized early has the ability to introduce a lot of issues in your relationships, finances, education, career etc. This simply means that an individual with narcissistic traits may not be happy when you don’t recognize them or show them the attention they believe they deserve. Before we delve into big terminologies, it’s usually best to go from the very beginning. I believe a story is a good place to begin understanding narcissism from.
The Story of Narcissus & Echo
I’m a sucker for a good story especially greek mythology. Gather around readers far and wide as i have a story to tell you. As with every good story, we begin at the very beginning.
Once upon a time…..
Nemesis, the Greek goddess of Retribution heard the words, and observed the callous rejection of others by Narcissus, and intervened. On one fateful day, Narcissus came to a pool in Thespiae to drink from its water, the youth saw his own reflection in the pool, and fell in love with it. Narcissus was unable to obtain the object that he had fallen in love with, just as so many suitors of Narcissus had failed to have him return their love. He kept on wooing his own reflection asking it to return his love but to no avail. Narcissus would eventually die of sorrow by the pool, despite the pleadings of the Naiads and Dryads who had observed Narcissus wasting away.
A funeral pyre was built for Narcissus by the nymphs, but when they came to place the body of the handsome youth upon it, they could not find it, as all that was left was a flower, the Narcissus flower. An alternative version of the death of Narcissus sees the Thespian youth, Narcissus falls upon his own sword, just as Ameinias had done.
NARCISSISTS’ are BUILT not BORN
Educating myself through tons of research materials and courses on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder was quite helpful in my career as a Psychotherapist. Most expressions of this condition occur in early childhood. We all develop and go through various phases of growth but it’s important to note that the toddler state mirrors this condition. This stage is called “The Terrible Twos”. This is a normal stage in a child’s development where the toddler bounces between reliance on adults and also nursing a desire for independence. This stage is usually identified by constant mood changes and loads of tantrums.
If a toddler who finds themselves at this stage experiences neglect or indulgence from parents, siblings or anyone around them (grandma too🤐) they will exit this stage without completion. The result becomes adults with a toddlers self-perception. Your toddler knows they depend on you, their parent but most times research has shown that they resent their dependence on you. With all these potpourrii of emotions, your toddler still fancies themselves the “Rulers within your family” as this reflects their present stage of development. This is where you let them fail sometimes to help them understand their limits and also create boundaries that they MUST learn to respect (most importantly respect for their parents, siblings and other children). It’s not the time to ask their other siblings to over-celebrate them for below average feats or indulge them because they are still babies.
Dear parents, with due respect to your various parenting styles and beliefs, i’m a firm believer that a child who is obviously starting to discover the boundaries and expectations you set up (if you have any) will throw tantrums at the supermarket, make unreasonable requests, want to challenge your authority (and others), try manipulating you and generate all sorts of emotions. This is the child to correct, reprimand or even spank in some extreme cases of unruliness (you can judge me later). – Temple Obike
The toddler whose excesses are indulged becomes a teenager and then an adult who manipulates, generates negative emotions, challenges authority and throws tantrums. All these qualities reflect are somewhat reminiscent of NPD. Indulging your toddler will limit their ability to understand boundaries as adults and may also affect their grasping of certain leadership concepts. These deficits herald the emergence of “DeepNarcissism”.
All you would have created is an adult who unconsciously continues to search for something that they never really developed. “Boundaries their parents failed to provide”. A narcissistic toddler seems almost cute but an adult with narcissistic patterns carved deeply into their adult personality is a very dangerous prospect for somebody else’s child. The Narcissist LIVES FOR ATTENTION, they don’t jst require it, it’s EVERYTHING FOR THEM.
The Narcissist grows up in search of a surrogate parent and one of the telltale signs of these individuals is their ability to catalyze existential crisis. The deep narcissists need for attention goes beyond normal doses present in each and every one of us. As adults, deep narccisists begin to mirror the “The Terrible Two” stages of toddlerhood by firstly trying to meet their needs for attention and secondly experimenting or even wishing for those boundaries that would mirror parental leadership so they could all out rebel. It’s this one behaviour that makes it hrd from most narcissist’s to leave their relationships even after they see it has failed.
The classic deep narcissist will work hard for a relationship to work when attention becomes withdrawn due to their fear of loosing their partners (surrogate parents) attention. This is not LOVE but a NEED to rally the relationship around their craving for attention. So it’s a negotiation that ends up as always, AN EXPLOITATION.
The sad reality about the last quote is that sometimes, the partners who seek out counselors or therapists for their supposed narcissistic partners are sometimes the culprits putting in all the efforts to save their relationship only after attention has been withdrawn by their partner. (Ouchy!). As a professional therapist, i believe that should be your first discovery.
The Right Way to Relate With a NARCISSIST
Anyone who currently is in a relationship with an N (please i’m tired of typing the word so we go with N moving forward) could need some real help because the usual advice is to NOT MAKE CONTACT with them as they most times will suck you in. Infact if you can, staying away from them is your best defence. However, in the real world, we know that this isn’t possible all the time but keeping a relationship with an N could occur if;
- There are children shared with one and co-parenting has to occur alongside other arrangements
- There is a parental responsibility to the narcissist such as child or step-parenting
- You’ve unknowingly breated a pattern where you MUST ALWAYS be in a relationship with a narcissist, because of your own childhood experiences with a narcissistic parent. This makes you unable to go for long without seeking out another narcissist. Not having them will postpone your own trauma.
- You have a professional parent-like relationship with them such as counselor, therapist or reformatory roles. (This role must be played by professionals who have the ability to navigate their unmet need for boundaries and attention without allowing the narcissist get under their skin as most N’s have been known to pay for sessions just to maintain the attention gotten from their therapists) – freaky weird, i knowww.
Like Magnets, Children of Narcissists May Seek Relationships With Narcissists
Children who grew up in homes that had a narcissistic parent when it was time to seek out their romantic partners unknowingly projected their own imago on their potential partner. Please indulge me as i explain further for those who may not understand the meaning of the word IMAGO.
Narcissistic parents traumatize their children by simply making them instruments of their ego, These children driven by childhood trauma then grow up seeking for some form of release from the negative emotions by trying to re-enact them somehow but this time with an outcome that could become more satisfactory. This is an illusion because these children most times grow up not knowing their upbringing by a narcissistic parent made them the perfect partner for a narcissist. Owing to the fact that they were already programmed by a parent to meet the attention-seeking craving of their narcissistic spouse or partner. Let’s not forget that the child raised by a Narccissist has unmet parental needs, the selfless love all children got from parents in a healthy home. This makes the child of the narccissist always ask their partner for the apology they know deep down will NEVER come from their narcissistic parent. This makes them become adults who;
- Always seek for team play
- Always yearn for a place to belong
- Always seek for business partnerships or relationships where partners look out for the best interest of each other (which comes in shorter supplies these days)
- Believe they may have been treated better if the narcissist partner saw their true worth (rather than first knowing what their true worth is)
- Always listens, empathizes, wants to improve their performance believing their narcissistic spouse would recognize their efforts and apologise.
So when the child of a narcissist seeks to get their unmet need for self-sacrificing love in a relationship with a narcissist (who has their own unmet need for boundaries), the relationship will enter a spiraling feedback loop of frustration.
The narcissist enjoys all the attention and new ways of manipulating their partner but after some time will still yearn for for some boundary to be set because this is an unmet developmental requirement their parent or caretaker failed to set for them as toddlers. Suddenly, the narcissist begins to search for non-textbook ways to provoke their partner and get them to establish the boundary required for them to finish their development.
As the partner of a narcissist who cannot resolve the trauma of their childhood trauma via setting boundaries, you may be tempted to become more understanding, patient, selfless, hardworking and spiritual hoping the narcissist will see all of this, apologize , become better and love you selflessly. 98 times out of a 100, that will not happen. However there’s a 2% chance we will uncover in the second part of this article for you the romantic optimist.
The narcissist will blame you for making them act in strange and crazy ways. You “trigger” them and “gaslight” them into being who they aren’t. These are all not true but points to an important fact. “You enabled their behaviour and you allowed them eat their proverbial cake without recompense”. This will continue as they continue to push the envelope even further to a point their partner leaves the relationship. This makes the narcissist see the pain they’ve caused, feel sorry and then apologise for everything they did wrong. Which is a mere replay of the toddler dependent on the same parent they so resented. You may believe them and come back but this newfound realization wouldn’t last for too long because as their partner, If you continue to set up boundaries like most therapists would suggest, you’ll also swallow loads of tantrums and abuse. For Temple Obike, i could navigate this but for an ex-partner, ex-wife of partner-in-hope this may do a lot of damage because your own needs are still unmet while you are trying to cater to someone else’s. Unfortunately, you cannot give what you do not have or at least given “selfless love” especially if you have to wait for years for the narcissist to recognize, unlearn and relearn.
YOU, the partner are the only one who can break this tragic pair-bond because the narcissist cannot do that. You must assume the role of a partner and break the relationship in extreme cases as most partners of deep narcissists if not disciplined end up having affairs (Read our article on types of affairs). If you MUST interface with the narcissist even after you go your separate ways maybe due to having kids together, they are family or a friend, then you have to set boundaries. You must simulate the role of a parent to their toddler nature by maybe teaching them delayed gratification with late responses to emails, not opting into rude conversations they generate or simply not getting emotionaly blackmailed.
Child of a Narcissist Take Heed (😁 i liked the sound of that)
As an adult who was raised by a narcissist, im sure you have been armed with enough facts to begin to change a lot of things about yourself, your relationship and more. However, there’s one thing that i’d like you to take note of.
The greatest difficulty the child of a narcissist may face is that they will intuitively reject partners who treat them well because their imago tranference is looking for a narcissist they can replay their childhood trauma with while having control of the situation. – Temple Obike
IF YOU’VE LEFT A NARCISSIST…
However, if you have loved and left a narcissist, you must have learnt how not to get involved with one again but most importantly, if your esteem hasn’t been irreparably damaged, you’ll get new relationships that gives you the appreciation for hard work put in and then reciprocate in kind. If you are lucky to find another adult child of a narcissistic parent then you might have just a match made in heaven for a pair-bonded relationship that makes both of you willing to appreciate the interests and longings of the other party. This is a win-win for both of you as long as you do not allow the shame of being taken advantage of in your past relationship stop you from being transparent with your new fellow “child of a narcissist”. Forgive your old partner totally and move on to enable you enjoy this new relationship and what it has in store for you.
I believe a good note to end this piece on is this. We all exhibit narcissistic characteristics, but not everyone is diagnosed as a narcissist. I will shed more light on the disorder in the second part of my piece.
Written by Obike Temple.
Temple Obike is a licensed marriage and family therapist, speaker, author and psychotherapist who has counseled over one thousand, two hundred clients comprising of couples, individuals, abuse victims (substance, physical, emotional and sexual) and grief-stricken clients. With over 70,000 in-counseling minutes (1,000+ hours) accrued in practice. He runs his private psychotherapy & counseling practice out of Lagos, Nigeria and has counseling centers in Abuja and Port-Harcourt. His practice also provides options for both online and on-site services.
His private practice has positively empowered lives through his online counseling, podcasts, free advisory services and free online materials. Readership of his articles also receive a growing number of visitors alongside subscriptions to his email newsletter at templeobike.com. His passion for empowering and uncovering the secrets to lifelong marriages and personal development led to his new book titled “Soul Bodega” available on amazon and across other online and traditional stores.
Never give up on yourself! You are a journey happening through various destinations.