What is Pathological Narcissism?

person eye

PATHOLOGICAL NARCISSISM is used to describe an impaired expression of narcissism that disrupts one’s abilities to regulation emotions. It is distinguished by oscillations between the characteristic grandiosity and vulnerability of this personality type. Over time it correlates with emotional dysregulation and diminished interpersonal functioning.

How does pathological narcissism develop?

Pathological narcissism is a construct used to describe a maladaptive and socially destructive form of narcissism. It is understood to develop as a defensive ego structure that protects an wounded true self by shielding it with an omnipotent false self

A fortress for the ego

Pathological narcissism is a post-traumatic stress adaptation that develops to protect an injured psyche. It functions to desensitize the mind to feelings of dread, fragility, and hyper-vigilance by numbing vulnerable parts of the self. While it shields the self, it also results in low empathy for others and an inability to form authentic emotional bonds.

A fragmented self

Highly stressful or traumatic experiences in early life fracture and severe the self from pervasive feelings of shame and humiliation, which remain hidden in the subconscious mind. An all-powerful false self serves to cloak the fragility of a wounded true self.

Characteristics

Some characteristics of pathological narcissism are that it is:

  • Self-love to the exclusion of others
  • Harmful to self and others
  • Dangerous to the mental health of self and others, and
  • Uncompromising

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40% Child/Adolescent-to-Parent Violence and Abuse (CAPVA) Unreported

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MORE THAN 40% of Child/Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (CAPVA) is never reported to the authorities according to a study commissioned by the Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit.

What is Child/Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (CAPVA)?

Child/adolescent to parent violence and abuse CAPVA) is a term used to described acts of violence perpetrated by minor-, adolescent-, and adult children against their parents or caregivers.

Violence is any act that uses fear, intimidation, threats and/or harm to cause someone to do something against their will, or prevent them from doing something they want to. Violence can be physical and psychological.

Jane Griffiths of Capa First Response CiC explains how it might show up, “For many families it is their children that are using violent and abusive behavior in the home directed at parents or caregivers. Spitting, hitting, name calling, destroying property, threats of violence […] causing parents to ‘tread on eggshells.” 

What does child-to-parent look like?

According to the study, 89% of the recorded incidents show that CAPVA shows up as:

The study also found that 81% of the perpetrators of child-to-parent violence were adolescent boys acting out against their mothers with physical violence.

Fear of stigma stops parents from reporting

The study looked at pre-pandemic data from 2011 to 2020 and found that 40% of the parents and caregivers experiencing CAPVA did not report because they encountered stigma when they reached out for help.

“Parents feel huge shame around this behaviour; they feel judged and blamed for how their child behaves towards them.” explains Jane Griffiths, “It is a hugely isolating issue, with parents feeling unable to talk about what is happening or seek support.” 

Parents and caregivers in this situation require specialized support, which is available through organizations like the PEGS – Parental Education Growth Support program.

How does the UK plan to address the issue?

CAPVA occurs in approximately 1 in 10 British families and experts say the number increased during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London has suggested taking a multi-agency ‘joined-up approach’ to reducing child/adolescent-to-parent abuse.

He explained that the underlying causes for the aggression were often undiagnosed mental health issues, unidentified disabilities, and unidentified special educational needs. Perpetrators of CAPVA may also be acting out in response to trauma such as exposure to domestic violence and others harms.

For in-depth analysis of this report, read How Coercive Control Perpetuates The Cycle of Violence in Families.


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What is Gaslighting?

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GASLIGHTING IS A FORM of psychological manipulation that falls under the category of covert psycho-emotional abuse. Its aim is to cause a person to question their sanity. 

What Is The Definition of Gaslighting?

The term comes from the 1938 play Gaslight, about a wife who discovers that her husband is secretly turning down the gaslights in their home in order to make her doubt her reality. Today, gaslighting is a colloquialism that describes a situation where one person manipulates another to think or behave a certain way that causes them to second-guess their own perceptions and beliefs. 

Who is most likely to use the gaslighting tactic?

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic commonly used by people with malignant personalities, such as the narcissistic- and anti-social personality types. Emotionally sound people are unlikely to gaslight others because they are able to empathize with others and want to avoid causing them distress. People with darker personalities have low empathy and are less likely to care about causing others distress, which makes them more likely to gaslight others. However, not all people with malignant personalities gaslight others.

In what context is gaslighting most likely to occur?

Gaslighting can happen in any type of relationship, including friendships, romantic relationships, and even within the family. It can also occur in the workplace when one person tries to manipulate another into doing something they don’t want to do.

How does one person gaslight another? 

Gaslighting is usually accomplished by creating a false narrative and casting doubt on any facts or evidence that contradicts the false narrative. The perpetrator of the abuse misleads the recipient of the abuse by creating a false reality.

Why do people use the gaslighting tactic?

People who gaslight do so in order to manipulate and control others. The effects of gaslighting often leave the recipient of the abuse feeling powerless, invisible, and unable to influence the relationship.

What are some examples of gaslighting?

Some examples of gaslighting are:

  • When a partner denies having an affair, even when text messages are sent proving otherwise. 
  • When a spouse is criticized for expressing an opinion or feeling, but when their partner expresses the same opinion or feeling, they are commended for being open and honest. 
  • When a parent tells a child they are imagining things even though the child is not.
  • Denying that acts of aggression have taken place even though they have.

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Juliette Bryant on Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘Factory’ of Sex Crimes

Juliette Bryant on Jeffrey Epstein's Factory of Sex Crimes

JULIETTE BRYANT DETAILS how Jeffrey Epstein entrapped and exploited her for two years beginning in 2002. In an interview for the BBC2 docu-series, House of Maxwell, Bryant describes how the predator pedophile love bombed her into his notorious sex trafficking scheme. Bryant later filed a lawsuit against the Epstein estate in 2019. 

The “King of America”

Bryant claims that her initial point of contact with the billionaire pedophile was model Naja Hill. In her lawsuit, she alleges that Hill told her she had a friend who was the “King of America” with connections to Victoria’s Secret, who could help Bryant launch her modeling career.

Bryant Describes Epstein’s Love-Bombing Strategy

Bryant claims her first encounter with Epstein took place at a restaurant in Cape Town in 2002. According to the lawsuit, she met Epstein, a “former high-ranking U.S. Government official, a famous actor, and a well-known comedian.” 

New York magazine reports that Epstein visited South Africa in 2002 with actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Chris Tucker, and former US President Bill Clinton. 

Bryant claims that Epstein invited her to attend the former high-ranking politician’s speech the day after their first meeting. She also says Epstein boasted that he was friends with Z-brands impresario Leslie Wesner. She alleges that he instructed her to bring her modeling portfolio to a casting at his hotel after the politician’s speech.

Flattery and Future Faking

At the casting, Bryant claims that the billionaire pedophile flattered her ego, telling her that she “had the most beautiful figure [I have] ever seen in my life.” 

Epstein allegedly announced that he would sponsor Bryant’s work visa and a flight to New York so that she could embark on an international modeling career. 

The promises Bryant is describing are typical of a manipulation tactic called ‘future faking’ commonly used by highly narcissistic people.

“Future faking is when someone uses a detailed vision of the future to facilitate […] bonding and connection.” explains Greg Kushnick, PsyD.

Bryant claims that Epstein went as far as to personally offer reassurances to her mother. According to her lawsuit, Epstein had his assistant organize her trip from South Africa to the United States. 

Bryant Alleges She Was Isolated on Little Saint James

Shortly after she arrived in New York, Bryant alleges that Epstein flew her to his private island Little Saint James. She was led to believe that she was traveling there on a modeling assignment. Instead, her sex trafficking nightmare began.

Bryant recalls that there was a collection of disturbing images decorating the walls of Epstein’s island home, mainly nudes of girls and Ghislaine Maxwell. She also shared a photograph with the BBC showing a disturbing depiction of a giant walrus raping a woman.

This was a foreshadowing of what allegedly awaited Bryant on Little Saint James. The former model describes an incident when she was in Epstein’s private cinema with the billionaire and another girl. Bryant claims she witnessed the other girl performing a sex act on Epstein. She says the experience made her “absolutely petrified” as she had not been exposed to that kind of lewd behavior before.

It was then she says she realized that she was trapped on Little Saint James with no means of escape – a strategy typical of coercive control.

According to Bryant, “I was completely trapped, and there was nothing I could do.”

“He Fed Off The Terror”

Bryant alleges that she was raped by Jeffrey Epstein up to three times a day in his “ice-cold, pitch black” bedroom on Little Saint James.

“He fed off of the terror,” she recalls of the repeated sexual assault she allegedly suffered at the hands of the predator, “There was something about the energy of a girl being scared that he liked.”

She alleges that when Epstein raped her she would dissociate.

‘I just checked out of my body and let him do what he wanted because I didn’t know what else to do,’ Bryant explains, “I tried to escape in my mind, I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.” 

She is describing a trauma response common to victim-survivors of sexual assault. When faced with an existential threat, the defense mechanisms that emerge are fight, flight, freeze or fawn behaviors.

Threats and Intimidation

To silence her, Bryant says that Epstein threatened her and her family. She claims the combination of being repeatedly raped and terrorized by Epstein destroyed her self-esteem, “I was so broken at that point, I just sort of went along with it. I never felt okay again after that, everything just fell to pieces.”

Bryant says that Epstein used intimidation to influence her decisions. He let Bryant know he was accused of rape by another woman and that he’d managed to have his accuser jailed by planting drugs in her apartment.

She recalls the absolute power Epstein wielded in his social circle which convinced her that he would make good on his threats to harm her and her loved ones.

“I just did as I was told,” Bryant explains, “I was petrified of him, who he was. I knew crossing him would be a very bad idea.”

In this way, she says, Epstein was able to coerce her into remaining in his environs. She recalls, “Nobody disobeyed Epstein.”

Describing the climate of fear he cultivated, Bryant says, “It was just like a factory. [Epstein] was running a machine, and Ghislaine Maxwell was the one operating it. Ghislaine was running the girls and would tell us when we needed to go to his bedroom, you couldn’t say no, there was just no option.”

Surviving Jeffrey Epstein

Bryant says the final straw came when Epstein compelled her to fly out to his ranch in New Mexico. There, she alleges, he attempted to traffick her to another “important government official,” and Bryant resisted.

After the incident, Epstein berated her for not being compliant. Finally, an opportunity came for Bryant to return to her South Africa and she seized it. She says she never saw Epstein or anyone in his cabal again but he continued to harass her. In an e-mail as recently as two months before his alleged suicide, Bryant claims the pedophile sent her a leering message ask her to send him nude photos of herself.

“I’m tired of feeling ashamed,” says Bryant of her torment by Epstein, “I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I know other people have had far worse, and that is who I want to speak for, for the people who can’t talk anymore.”

House of Maxwell airs on BBC 2 on April 1 at 9 pm GMT.

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3 Causes of Parent-Child Estrangement in Narcissistic Abuse with Dr. Michael Kinsey

Adult Child-Parent Estrangement in Narcissistic Abuse

ONE OF THE MOST DEVASTATING aspects of narcissistic abuse in families is that it often leads to estrangement between the recipient of the abuse and their children. To orchestrate parent-child estrangement, narcissists use a manipulation tactic called triangulation. One of the reasons why extreme narcissism is so malignant is because a narcissistic person is prone to objectifying others and, therefore, has no qualms about weaponizing their children in order to exercise abusive power and control over the other parent.

Narcissistic abuse is most effective when the targeted person is isolated, so they excise external influences from the targeted person’s environment that threaten to disturb the narcissist’s narrative. In this way, the perpetrator of the abuse is able to control the targeted person’s perspective and shape the way the individual sees themselves, the narcissist, and the world around them.

In extreme cases of domestic violence, narcissistic triangulation can result in child-to-parent violence with the child mimicking the narcissist’s aggression toward the recipient of the abuse. This shocking behavior is devastating to the targeted parent, who cannot understand why their beloved child is unable to empathize with them or how their children rationalize enabling and sometimes participating in the abuse.

A member of our community who is a survivor of severe long-term narcissistic abuse suffered this cruel fate when they left their abusive partner and refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement after they were divorced. They wrote:

I am a survivor of narcissistic abuse and the atmosphere between my adult children and narcissist ex is cult-like. The children participated in the abuse when they were younger and refuse to have contact with me today. I’ve never met my grandchildren.

For answers to this question, we turned to clinical psychologist and parent-child attachment expert, Dr. Michael Kinsey, author of Transcendent Parenting: A Workbook For Parents Sharing Children With Narcissists, for his analysis.

1. Narcissists See The World Through A Binary Lens

An important factor in understanding the behavior of children in the context of parent-child estrangement is the awareness that narcissists view the world around them through a binary lens. Dr. Kinsey explains:

“The context that I would give people who are estranged from their children or who are caught up in the narcissist’s version of reality [is] to understand is the nature of the narcissist’s defensive structure. The world to a narcissist is divided into good and bad and the narcissist distances himself or herself from the bad as much as possible. There is intense profound disgust for the bad and the bad always has to be outside of the narcissistic personality and that means that there are scapegoats, demons, devils, and people who are completely unworthy of association.”

2. Children Often Identify With The Same Sex Parent

Another aspects as to why parent-child estrangement can occur is because the identity of the child may be in lockstep with the narcissistic parent due to social influences, such as gender.

“An identification often develops, especially with the same-sex parent,” says Dr. Kinsey, addressing why some children who grow up the the dysfunction of narcissistic family dynamics may be unwilling to empathize with the recipient of the abuse, “If the same-sex parent is a narcissist then there is a tendency to emulate that way of dealing with problems, difficulties, and emotions. so, functionally, what this means is the bad that exists in everyone and especially exists in the narcissist is displaced or it’s placed into the other parent. Usually, these are things like vulnerability, weakness, and unworthiness can be disowned in that way

3. The Child Prioritizes Their Survival In Power Holder’s Social Circle

Another social aspect of the equation that could impact the child’s behavior is their survival instinct.

“Being within the narcissist-child dyad is, obviously, a very coveted place. You know with both of our parents there is such a deep need to be loved and accepted,” according to Dr. Kinsey, “If a child is forced to choose, they might choose the person that they feel they are most like or they’ll also choose the person who they feel is safer or who they feel is the more desirable one to follow. In the case of the kind of scenario you’re discussing, it’s really a matter of survival. Being in the “in-group” of the narcissist is so essential to survival.”

Final thoughts

If you have been targeted for narcissistic triangulation and are estranged from your child, remember that you are not alone. Up to 45% of domestic violence survivors are targeted for this strain of post-separation abusive power and control. As distressing as the situation is, bear in mind that your children are secondary victims to intimate partner violence.

Focus on what you can influence and practice radical acceptance of the things you cannot control. Recognize that the aim of narcissistic tribulation between a parent and this child is to psychologically destabilize you, so it is especially important to practice emotional hygiene.

If you feel that you or a loved one could benefit from additional support with parent-child estrangement, reach out to Dr. Kinsey at Mindsplain

Watch Episode 1 of Co-Parenting with a Narcissist with Dr. Michael Kinsey.


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What is Covert Narcissism?

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COVERT NARCISSISM is synonymous with vulnerable narcissism and introverted narcissism. All three refer to a subtype of narcissistic personality disorder that manifests as extensive maladaptive and rigid sensitivity to criticism and defeat.

Normal or healthy narcissism is a personality trait all people possess that is necessary for our wellbeing. However, excessive narcissism can lead to narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a protective ego structure that hides of a failed self within a false self.

There are two subtypes of NPD:

  • Overt narcissism (also known as grandiose narcissism), and
  • Covert narcissism (also known as vulnerable or introverted narcissism).

1. Fragility

Due to its fragile nature, covert narcissism leads to recurring narcissistic injuries in the form of pervasive feelings of humiliation and emptiness. These show up as contempt, vengeance, and a yearning for retribution.

2. Toxic Shame

Chronic shame and an inner dialogue characterized by self-criticism lead to psychological torment and anguish. For this reason, this strain of disordered narcissism is often comorbid with depression, dysthymia, or major de­pressive disorder.

Social Withdrawal

Social withdrawal is a defense mechanism commonly used by covert narcissists. They do this to protect themselves from feelings of humiliation and their fear of being exposed as anything less than perfection itself.

Covert narcissists do not have abandonment issues and they are not self-destructive.

Inverted Grandiosity

In covert narcissism, the grandiosity that is one of the distinguishing features of narcissistic personality disorder becomes introverted and masked with humility to protect a painfully fragile ego.

Their inverted grandiosity to upholds their perception of themselves as superior. They are happy to forego attention unless it is affirming.

Other difference from grandiose narcissism

One of the affects of covert narcissism being disconnected from one’s own feelings of vulnerability as well as insensitive to these feelings in others.

Though their grandiosity is well hidden, covert narcissists remain superficial and exploitative pragmatists. This variant of excessive narcissism doesn’t always present with the impulsiveness, mendacity and malice commonly seen in overt or grandiose narcissism.

3. Fractured relationships with self and others

Covert narcissism often leads to adverse relationships with self and others due to its characteristic entitlement, insensitivity, and need for admiration.

4. Professional life

Some covert narcissists become very accomplished in their professional life due to their well-masked grandiosity, self-esteem, and soaring ambition. While performance anxiety and sensitivity to criticism and defeat prove formidable obstacles that prevent progress for others.

References

Gore, W. L., & Widiger, T. A. (2016). Fluctuations between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 7(4), Page 363.


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What Is Vulnerable Narcissism?

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VULNERABLE NARCISSISM (also known as covert narcissism and introverted narcissism) is a subtype of narcissistic personality disorder that presents as a pervasive and inflexible sensitivity to criticism and failure. It can manifest as part of the vulnerable dark triad. It is an aberration from the normal or healthy narcissism that is an essential component of psychological wellbeing. 

Ego fragility

The fragility associated with vulnerable narcissism can result in frequent narcissistic injuries, caused internalized self-annihilating feelings of shame, degradation, and emptiness. However, these emotions express externally as revulsion and a desire for vengeance and retaliation.

A deep sense of shame

A prolonged sense of shame coupled with a persecutory inner dialogue can result in feelings of sadness and torment. Thus, vulnerable narcissism goes hand in hand with depression, dysthymia, or major de­pressive disorder. Overwhelmed with humiliation and emptiness, vulnerable narcissists frequently withdraw socially. 

In this state, a vulnerable narcissist will lapse into protective mode feeling terrified of having their imperfections exposed. This is because they believe they have already achieved perfection. The grandiose aspect of their narcissism becomes introverted and masked with a show of excessive compliance, agreeableness, and humility to protect their fragile self-image.

Inverted Grandiosity

A reclusive vulnerable narcissist does not suffer from abandonment issues, nor are they self-destructive. They rely on their inverted grandiosity to sustain their view of themselves as secretly superior to others. Though they crave attention, nothing less than validation of their self-image will do. They revel in commanding the admiration and envy of their peers.

Desensitized to their own and others’ feelings of vulnerability, they never lose their slick, shallow, and exploitative pragmatism. Another feature of vulnerable narcissism is that the impulsivity, hostility, and deceptiveness that is typical of the grandiose variant may be absent.

Impaired relationships with self and others

The entitlement, insensitivity, and need for external validation associated with vulnerable narcissism can seriously impair the ability of someone with this pathology to sustain a healthy relationship with themselves and other people.

The impact of vulnerable narcissism on performance

In some cases, the hidden confidence, pretentiousness, and lofty ambition tied to vulnerable narcissism can drive these individuals to become highly accomplished. On the other hand, their ability to function may become impaired due to performance anxiety due to their inability to accept criticism or failure.

References

Gore, W. L., & Widiger, T. A. (2016). Fluctuation between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 7(4), Page 363.


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How Narcissists Groom People with Madelaine Claire Weiss

Madelaine Claire Weiss on How Narcissists Groom People

IN THE LOVE BOMBING PHASE of narcissistic abuse, narcissists have an uncanny ability to disguise themselves as your soulmate. They seem to want to learn everything about you. They study you intently and they mirror your finest qualities back at you, building a false sense of rapport. This is how narcissists groom people.

It can feel a bit like being caught in the high beam of an oncoming vehicle on a dark night. Love bombing is the first instance of gaslighting in the cycle of narcissistic abuse. It deliberately distorts your vision and the euphoria is designed to override your instincts. A love bombing narcissist has an uncanny ability to identify the places in the human spirit that are unnourished. Narcissistic people know that a hungry heart is willing to sacrifice a lot to experience satiety.

To learn more about how extreme narcissism can play out as aggression in the context of romantic relationships, I reached out to Madelaine Claire Weiss. She is a Psychotherapist and Executive Coach trained in Organizational Dynamics at Boston University and Psychodynamics at Harvard University, where she was the Administrative Director of Group Mental Health Practice. She was also the Associate Director of the Anatomical Gift Program at Harvard Medical School. In addition to this, she delivered training programs at the Center for Workplace Learning and Performance.

Understanding narcissistic personality disorder

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Please share what you think are the most important things to know about narcissistic personality disorder?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: When we talk about narcissistic personality disorder, we are talking about specific patterns of repetitive behavior that are destructive to self and destructive to the well-being of others. It is a mental condition that presents as:

  • An inflated sense of importance,
  • A craving for excessive attention and admiration,
  • Dysfunctional relationships, and
  • Low empathy for others. 

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Can you describe why people targeted by narcissists may have a blindspot for the manipulation taking place in the early stages of the relationship?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: It starts deliciously! You are certain the universe put this person on this planet just for you. This is the one you have been waiting for forever, who finally gets you like never before.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: How do narcissists ingratiate themselves with their targets.

Madelaine Claire Weiss: The narcissist lures and lands the giver of narcissistic supplies with incredible charm.

Narcissists seek supply to stabilize a fragile self

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Can you describe how narcissists extract ego boosts or narcissistic supply from the people they target?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: Narcissistic supplies can include attention, admiration, approval, adoration, and other forms of sustenance essential for the narcissist to stabilize the fragile self and fill up the emptiness inside.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What makes someone bright and talented susceptible to the manipulation of a narcissist?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: There may be gifts, endless compliments, so many calls and texts, so much gorgeous attention, that you have no reason not to believe this person isn’t crazy about you. You have finally found your soulmate, and nothing will ever take you apart.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: How can someone tell that the person love bombing them is a narcissist?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: It starts to hurt. Little by little, this person invades your life until it shrinks so small you can’t even find yourself in it, let alone the family, friends, outside activities, and interests you used to enjoy.

The aftermath of narcissistic abuse

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: In your opinion, what is the most harmful aspect of narcissistic abuse?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: Narcissistic abuse becomes a physiological peptide addiction – an addiction that must be broken.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What is your best advice to someone caught in the grip of narcissistic abuse, who is essentially battling an addiction?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: Break the addiction in the best way you can. There are techniques for this. Good health and happiness are waiting for you on the other side.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: After narcissistic abuse, people tend to blame themselves. What do you think is the most important thing for them to understand about what happened to them?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: It’s not just you. It happens to many people – up to 158 million Americans.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Is there an empowering central lesson survivors of narcissistic abuse can take away from their experience?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: Know this: the charming narcissist doesn’t target just anyone. Typically, you have to be pretty amazing in some way that the narcissist is not, to make the narcissist look and feel good. So go ahead and be flattered, but know this, too. 

Read Madelaine Claire Weiss’ new book ‘Getting To G.R.E.A.T.’ and follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.


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Book Review: The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas S. Szasz

pile of sparkling drug capsules scattered on pink surface

IN HIS BOOK The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundation of a Theory of Personal Conduct, psychiatrist Thomas S. Szasz argued that mental and physical maladies are about as similar as apples and oranges. Szasz believed it was erroneous to conflate the impact of environmental stressors on the mind with physical disease. Moreover, he did not believe that the subjective experience of life as problematic was tantamount to having a sickness.

“The notion of mental illness derives its main support from such phenomena as syphilis of the brain or delirious conditions—intoxications, for instance —in which persons are known to manifest various peculiarities or disorders of thinking and behavior.” Szasz explained, “Correctly speaking, however, these are diseases of the brain, not of the mind.” 

The level of rigorous self-examination Szasz applied to his field of study is as edifying as it is exacting. For example, he felt it was inaccurate to presume that minor neurological defects or psycho-chemical factors were at the root of all so-called mental illnesses. He saw this notion as absurd as it bypassed the influence of other factors such as individual needs, standards, aspirations, and value systems. 

It is important to note when reading The Myth of Mental Illness that it was published prior to the development of the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) technologies that arrived in the 1970s. Though neuroimaging had existed since the late 1800s, it was primitive and unable to harvest the kind of detailed data available today. For example, current research shows that there are gray matter abnormalities in patients with narcissistic personality disorder and structural and functional differences in antisocial brains. This kind of evidence did not exist when Szasz wrote his book.

“The notion of mental illness thus serves mainly to obscure the everyday fact that life for most people is a continuous struggle.”

Thomas S. Szasz

In absence of the evidence available today, it makes sense that Szasz held that the theoretical concept of mental illness was a metaphor rather than a real malady. He spent much of his career vehemently opposing what he regarded as coercive psychiatry, something that is truly admirable considering that he practiced in an era when it was common for husbands who had grown tired of their wives to label mentally ill and have them institutionalized. Such practices are still widespread today, the most high profile example being the conservatorship of performing artist Britney Spears.

Szasz audaciously argued that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) was a collection of unsubstantiated diagnoses that could be used to serve systems of oppression. He was determined to hold his profession to the highest standards and demand proof for the theoretical frameworks put forth in the DSM, which are constantly evolving. In the absence of proof, Szasz argued that the idea of mental illness was a superstition invented in a feeble attempt to understand people who were “disabled by living” as opposed to diseased. 

“The role of all these belief systems [is] to act as social tranquilizers.”

Thomas S. Szasz

“The notion of mental illness thus serves mainly to obscure the everyday fact that life for most people is a continuous struggle,” Szasz writes, “Not for biological survival, but for a ‘place in the sun,’ ‘peace of mind,’ or some other human value.”

Szasz believed that psychiatry was as dogmatic as any theology. He held that psychiatry is to democracy as religion is to theocracy, pointing to involuntary, court-ordered mental health treatments as a social scourge. Instead, Szasz advocated for informed consent so that mental health treatment could function as a partnership instead of an expression of might.

Szasz believed that, “…the notion of mental illness has outlived whatever usefulness it might have had […] it now functions merely as a convenient myth.” He described it as the “true heir to religious myths in general, and to the belief in witchcraft in particular.”

He issued a stern warning, “the role of all these belief systems [is] to act as social tranquilizers, thus encouraging the hope that mastery of certain specific problems may be achieved by means of substitutive (symbolic-magical) operations.”

If society is to improve and evolve it needs curmudgeons like Szasz to turn a jaundiced eye on its practices and exercise critical thinking to challenge the status quo. He had no illusions about the reality that the concept of mental illness is lucrative for pharmaceutical companies and neither should we.

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What Is Extreme Narcissism?

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EXTREME NARCISSISM refers to an antagonistic variant of this personality trait that exists at the far end of the narcissism continuum. It is a defensive ego structure that generates a false self to protect the failed development of a true self. It is used to describe the maladaptive, socially destructive strains of narcissism. It is synonymous pathological narcissism.

An Intersection of Two Disorders

Social psychologist Erich Fromm described the most extreme form of narcissism as malignant and placed it at the intersection of narcissistic personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder. He called it “the most severe pathology” and “the quintessence of evil”.

These intersecting personality disorders include the malevolent traits that comprise the dark triad, vulnerable dark triad, or dark tetrad.

The Dark Triad

  • Narcissism –  grandiosity, arrogance, megalomania and low empathy.
  • Psychopathy – antisocial behavior, ruthlessness, impulsiveness, selfishness, absence of conscience and emotionally frigid.
  • Machiavellianism – manipulativeness, amorality, callousness, and self-centeredness.

The Dark Tetrad

  • Narcissism –  grandiosity, arrogance, megalomania and low empathy.
  • Psychopathy – antisocial behavior, ruthlessness, impulsiveness, selfishness, absence of conscience and emotionally frigid.
  • Machiavellianism – manipulativeness, amorality, callousness, and self-centeredness.
  • Sadism – cruelty, mercilessness.

The Vulnerable Dark Triad

  • Vulnerable narcissism – introverted grandiosity
  • Sociopathy – Feeble conscience, absence of psychosis, and emotionally volatile. Also known as secondary psychopathy.
  • Borderline personality disorder – Distorted sense of self, chronic emotional dysregulation, splitting, self-destructiveness, emptiness, rapidly shifting moods, and anger management issues.

Why Does Extreme Narcissism Develop?

Extreme expressions of narcissism are a post-traumatic stress adaptation. It can be thought of as a kind of scar tissue that develops to protect the psyche from unhealed trauma and the failure to generate a true self. Its function is to dull, hardened, and desensitize the mind, to severe consciousness from a state of constant fragility, dread, and hyper-vigilance. It limits an individual’s capacity to form true bonds with others, as it is largely removed from empathy.

Extreme narcissism separates the psyche from painful feelings connected to highly stressful or traumatic experiences. Overwhelming feelings of shame and humiliation are buried deep in the subconscious mind, where a false self is formed to keep feelings of vulnerability emotions at bay.

Characteristics of Extreme Narcissism?

This variant shares the same characteristics as malignant narcissism. Both are:

  • Harmful to self and others
  • Loves self to the exclusion of others
  • Rigid, and 
  • Compromises mental health of self and others.

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