Posts Tagged ‘NPD’

Is That My Reflection or Your Projection?

Mental Health | Posted by Kim
Jan 29 2011
A Closer Look at Narcissism: Why the mirror is really the self obsessive’s worst fear.

Feeling a little crazed by the narcissist in your life? You are not alone. You may feel invisible but you are not alone.

The New York Times recently ran an article about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) being dropped from the upcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.-5). The DSM committee’s decision has made some old school psychiatrists unhappy. But the manual’s definition of the disorder is woefully shallow. The common definition of a narcissist is that of one who, in love with his own reflection, demands constant praise and adoration from others to reinforce his self-image. But that’s only partly accurate. What the true narcissist really seeks by looking into the mirror is not his own reflection, but a reflection of another whose identity he can consume in order to disguise his deeply felt shame.

What level of crazy can dealing with someone with a narcissistic personality disorder make you feel? A true narcissist will have you arguing that Occam’s razor is a shaving utensil. A really good one will have you making a trip to the store to buy a pack of them, then arranging them neatly in his bathroom vanity (pun intended).

We all possess a degree of narcissism. Positive self-regard is a natural, necessary component of a healthy ego. But given a severe enough injury to our self-image, narcissistic tendencies can blow up so far beyond balanced proportions—leaving no room for other people’s needs or feedback—that it becomes pathological; a true personality disorder.

Causes of Narcissism

Distilling it down to its simplest explanation, narcissists use their behavior to hide, or avoid feeling, deep shame. In her book “Disarming the Narcissist,” Wendy Behary explains that the brain connects us with memory-driven mind states—positive or negativein a matter of seconds. It is what our brains do to tell us how to respond to a person or situation; tells us whether or not someone or a situation is safe.

In narcissism the presupposition is always attack. No one stands a chance in the face of the narcissist’s insecurity and insatiable need for approval. Behary ascribes such reactions to schemas, or personal life themes, that the narcissist may be reacting to outside of his awareness.

Behary lists several types of schemas. Some are, fear and inadequacy; entitlement or grandiosity; insufficient self-control and approval seeking. “When a schema is triggered, it can produce extremely powerful negative emotions, thoughts, physical sensations, and self-defeating reactions…Those coping skills often involve donning three protective masks: The perfectionist: the hallmark of his unrelenting standards schema. The avenging bully: the hallmark of his entitlement schema. The competitive braggart: the hallmark of his approval seeking schema.” (Disarming the Narcissist, p. 46.)

Love Him or Leave Him?

We meet one another at points all along the spectrum of self-awareness and human development. In the case of a parent, sibling or child, it’s not possible to completely eliminate a narcissist from our lives. Nor is it necessarily optimal. The better approach is to learn how to navigate our own healthy egos through the raging fires of their self-doubt.

For compassionate caretaker types, it can be hard to recognize a narcissist because her voracious needs and insecurities are often disguised as superiority or persistent indignation. Telling them how their behavior affects you is always, always your problem. Your needs are always, always about their needs. Draining, isn’t it? That’s because narcissists are emotional vampires. They aren’t in love with their own reflections. Vampires don’t have reflections! Because narcissism effectively damages self-image, narcissists lurk in front of the proverbial mirror, seeking another’s image. When a close, core or essential relationship appears, the narcissist pounces! Projecting herself onto you and taking over your identity. From that point on, everything you do and say she will hear and experience as you telling her who she is.

Intuitively it would seem that the narcissist’s theme would be me, me, me. But the hallmark statement of his disintegrated and disassociated ego identity is to constantly say, you, you, you. “I didn’t get to work on time because you didn’t set the alarm.” “I’m bending over backwards for you and you don’t appreciate it.” They master the art of deflection lest self accountability, or even interrelation, destroy their fragile sense of self. Instead of self-regard they are always in a state of self-guard.

Productive dialogue with a profound narcissistic is often impossible. What is being said cannot penetrate the steely armor of the ego wounded. Conversation bounces off  the mirror the narcissist has turned into a bullet-proof window.

Someone in a profound narcissistic state perceives even benign statements as attack. A simple “How was your day?” is a question the narcissistic mind hears as an accusation; a demand for accountability. For the person whose ego is playing out an inferiority or inadequacy schema, every plea for talk is felt as an indictment. To those unaware, it can feel like he is playing mind games, being intentionally mean or even sadistic.

The narcissist needs to feel special. Yet, when they perceive rejection, criticism or blame (which is almost always any time you tell a narcissist how you feel or what you need) they react in ways that make it hard to love or care about them, nevermind see them as special.

Triggers (Don’t Pull Them!)

Triggers make us aware of bodily, emotional and cognitive changes without clear understanding that it is memories, not a present threat, that are responsible for the changes. (That’s why you can’t get to the end of a sentence with your triggered narcissist.) In triggered states, sensory re-enactments of an early experience eclipse the present moment. In other words, “Honey, where did you put my pruning shears?” translates to your spouse’s mind, the enraged mother accusing him, when he was eight years old, of touching things he shouldn’t touch and now he’s going to get in trouble. His heart rate spikes, he starts to sweat and he goes into fight or flight mode. Telling your narcissist (including yourself) to stop living in the past is futile and actually hurtful. Not knowing the source of the uncomfortable physical and psychological states we are experiencing causes us to feel childlike and powerless over the mechanics of moving from threat to safety. Not surprisingly, the bodily symptoms and emotional distress of a narcissist’s triggered schema often mimic post traumatic stress disorder.

Behary uses the example of a supervisor walking by the desk of an employee with a defectiveness schema. The supervisor has what the employee perceives as a ‘funny look’ on her face. The employee immediately thinks he is going to be fired. “Our brains are primed to launch protective missiles when an enemy is present, and in this case the schema is the enemy.” (Disarming the Narcissist, p.47.) Depending on your particular schema, Behary continues, you may flee to safety, avoid tasks, become distracted, make mistakes.

Or, in the case of an abandonment schema, you may make unreasonable or relentless demands for reassurance. Either way, ultimately you end up fired, or dumped from a relationship.

So, how can you avoid triggering a narcissist? Practice active listening. Practice compassionate and reflective dialogue. Remember always the weight of the shame your narcissist is struggling under, and resist the urge (often the very strong urge) to counter-attack, argue your side or seek revenge. It can feel like an unfair burden but the rewards are worth it. Meet another person’s need for being heard and the obnoxious behavior goes away. For the moment anyway. You may have to ‘lather, rinse and repeat’ many times. But soon a level of trust builds to quiet the schema’s voices.

Are you a narcissist?

Do you recognize yourself in reading this? Don’t worry. A chronic narcissist is unlikely to take interest in this article’s title, never mind read down this far. Try this social experiment: print out this article and leave it in a conspicuous place. See who reads it and who ignores it. Narcissists tend to resist that scariest of all objects of self-awareness: the mirror!

Learn more about  Narcissistic Personality Disorder at http://narcissismcured.com/Narcissism_Cured.html

For more in-depth articles on mental health and relationships subscribe to the Herbal Heresy e-newsletter.

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/narcissism-no-longer-a-psychiatric-disorder/