My good guess is that many of the readers who find their way to this blog have had/or still do have deep and lasting relationships of some kind with people who frequently or chronically display behaviors that could be considered classically part of or related to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Although I doubt this statement can be found on a grand scale to describe people who abuse infants and children, I believe that Borderline Personality Disorder as well as the entire spectrum of personality disorders contain what I call classical NPD ‘symptoms’. This is part of what makes these people so difficult if not impossible to depend on to sustain our very real human attachment needs.
In contradiction to what might be thought of as ‘self-love’, NPD is about such a person not having a clear strong self at all, which prevents them from having a relationship with their own true self or empathy with others.
A NPD person seems – when push comes to shove – when they feel threatened at their core, which can happen occasionally, frequently or nearly all of the time – to so completely put their own self first that this mistake could be made, “Oh my heavens this person loves their self so much nobody else exists at all in their universe.”
There is far more to their story, one which always includes failed early significant relationships and deep wounding during early stages of the development of self.
Wickipedia’s short version of what happened to Narcissus
I have no real hopes of being able to explain here what I mean – in part because I will not use examples from those I am close to and therefore I will not be able to present details of the many, many times I have seen NPD in action.
So be it. I have an ‘alternative route’ explanation in an image that came to me this week to make my point in a moment here.
I am not so interested in exploring the depths of mythology or the ‘official’ NPD psychiatric diagnosis as I am in learning from within my own experience of being connected to and emotionally involved with people who seem to me to display NPD attitudes and actions.
My own ‘alternative route’ that I discovered relates to a toy that I had for all three of my children. (If this ebay picture has timed out by the time you read this post, simply do another Google search for its terms and you will be lead to a different one.)
Please click here to see the image I will refer to next:
By the time I had my second child in 1975 I was already becoming very sensitive to the harsh and to me often abusive words contained in many old children’s stories and nursery rhymes. So I simply changed them for my kids.
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe – She had so many children she didn’t know what to do – She fed them some broth without any bread, (I changed ‘whipped’ to) kissed them all soundly and sent them to bed.
My point is the image that came clear to me inside my (right) brain-mind this week. People without NPD components to the way they operate in the world have LOTS of entry places to match the people around them in their lives. In the case of this SHOE, windows are access points right along with doors – each being shaped and sized for the ‘person’ who is entering the structure.
If I liken in my own mind a ‘house’ to ‘a person’s heart’ I would say that in my encounters with NPD people I can now see they have ONE and ONLY ONE entryway into their ‘house’ – the one that has their OWN shape to it – and none other.
If anyone else has a desire, a need, a want, a wish to be in interaction with a NPD person, they better figure out how to enter that person’s reality through that one and ONLY doorway. In this process we really must leave any part of our own true existence completely out of the picture. There is no doorway or entryway into a NPD world that takes the necessary shape of another person to let them inside.
Everything in a NPD universe exists from this person’s single-point view of what they can bear to experience of the entire world – that can for them ONLY come in a shape that can fit through their one entryway.
Simply click on the shoe image above and consider how a triangle or a circle or an oval shape is going to fit, say, through a single NPD square doorway?
We might try forever to reshape our self – reframe our self – so we can fit through a one-shape ONLY entrance to a NPD world that is not OUR shape. This is, yes, a nearly complete failure of a healthy empathy process for NPD people.
At the same time I understand this I also understand that just as this NPD empathy failure is directly connected to their insecure attachment patterns formed that formed their body-brain at a very early infant-toddler age – so too are the empathy-ability disruptions that everyone with an insecure attachment disorder lives with (at least half of our population) formed in this same way.
In fact, I doubt it is common for a person with a safe and secure attachment pattern to seek or maintain – want or bother with – any long-term relationship with a NPD person. Early abuse and neglect survivors might be so familiar with and so accustomed to the truly bizarre interactions that happen with NPD people on a regular basis that we try to take them completely in stride.
We also might with wisdom realize that while we are deeply connected to/with a NPD person that we are not going to leave them or throw them out of our life.
I believe it is a continual learning process about how not to expect the impossible from NPD people. I do not believe they have a choice in the way they relate to the world – even if they were to take some ‘trained monkey’ approach to TRYING to NOT be NPD with their dealings with the world.
If I were not a survivor myself of 18 years in infancy and childhood with a severely mentally ill abusive mother, I doubt I would have fallen for anything like a NPD distorted version of relationship. I bet I would have known the truth in my gut in all cases where I encountered a person who society might simply label as ‘selfish’, ‘self-centered’, ‘egotistical’.
The problem is much bigger than this, and very illusive.
NPD people will never be able to experience multi-faceted relationships with people. They exist on a one-way street where all traffic must come directly AT them. I believe the limitations to human interaction that are a part of them have to do with protection against threat. If you only have ONE entryway – and if you make it so that you completely SHAPE this entryway according to what you understand and can tolerate – and if you seal off any other POSSIBLE way into your reality – well, there you have supreme protection over a deeply wounded self.
So now I am beginning to learn how to reframe (rephrase) most of my interactions with NPD people so that what I am bringing into this relationship SEEMS totally non-threatening to the NPD person. This is a translation process that fully acknowledges the reality of the limitations of the person I care about.
What good does it do me to knock my head against the wall of a NPD fortress trying to find or to make a way that FITS ME to get inside the NPD universe?
What good has it done me to feel rejected, abandoned, hurt, disappointed, confused and/or angry that this reality is absolute for a NPD person?
So if I am going to remain connected to the NPD people in my life it is time for me to be realistic myself. Either I translate everything that might be (unconsciously) threatening to a NPD person – make it palatable, yes, not unlike a parent bird chewing up food for its baby and then spitting it into its offspring’s mouth – and pass this through their one-self-shape-perception doorway (through which nobody else really can fit anyway) – or I walk away.
My feeling misused, misunderstood, taken for granted, let down, unappreciated, disappointed, rejected/abandoned, etc. is of no use whatsoever. (I am not talking about any kind of ABUSE here – if that is happening in relationship – GET OUT!)
The one-door ‘wooden shoe’ is the way a NPD person’s body-brain was formed very early in their life through unsafe and insecure attachment relationships. They cannot be FIXED by us no matter how much we love them.
To find my own straight path, to recognize and honor my own ‘shape’ is as essential as it has always been difficult for me given my extreme infant-child abuse history. But as I near age 61 I realize I CAN still remain in relationship with NPD people – if I choose to – without trying to create with them a reality that simply does not exist – because it cannot.
I think to maintain relationship with NPD people one must become very wise. I see that the self of these people really is locked inside their one-doorway shoe starving to death. “Pass in the narcissistic supply that keeps me alive” is their unending, consistent, perpetual mantra. These people cannot consistently depend on any relationship even if they want to. It is not a part of their makeup to do so.
I am not saying that NPD people cannot LOVE other people. It is my experience that they do so deeply and permanently – but love is itself nearly intolerably painful for them. Love hurts!
These people do not have the tools to negotiate their way in relationships fairly, so they simply do not try to negotiate (and I do not include game-playing to get what they want as negotiation). They simply recognize the only-one doorway and leave it that way – throughout their entire lifetime.
The trap for me has been that I am only now gaining the clarity of this helpful image for myself at the same time I am beginning to deeply understand that I have been trying to reshape myself to fit through my NPD people’s doorway. This is impossible and harmful and hurtful to me.
“You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.” Those of us who allow other people to be in our life as they BE THEIR OWN SELF, as we allow them to have their OWN shaped doorway to come and go through, are extremely fortunate although we probably take our abilities completely for granted. Yet we are at risk for lots of troubles (trauma dramas) if we blindly expect NPD people to be able to do this as we can.
In essence I suppose these people are hidden away hiding! Hiding IS one of the survival-stress-response modes useful at times to retain life in dangerous situations. But if one’s life has ALWAYS been in this state? It is probably best under this circumstance to completely block it from awareness and move on. This does not mean the rest of us need to block it from ours. (And it does not mean it is our task to try to change them, either!)
We are always completely free – with our eyes and our hearts completely open – to take care of our own self while we love these people exactly the way they are.
(NOTE: I am writing here about NPD relationship of people ‘of age’ — not children!)
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