What is a Narcissistic Injury?

The Narcissist's Hidden Depression

IMAGINE LIFE WITHOUT the ability to experience genuine feelings of joy, love, or compassion.  It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that one’s internal ecosystem would be a bleak and desolate landscape. However, if you were to open up the mind of a pathological narcissist and look inside, what you would find is a psychological wasteland riddled with persecutory objects.

The ambiguity of malignant narcissism is that its outward manifestations are often the opposite of the internal reality, which is a gaping void. The gnawing emptiness within is a catalyst for grandiose pretensions that serve to preserve their idealized false self. Chest thumping boasts of supremacy are a safeguard against the toxic shame that has engulfed their true self.

Where others have a conscience, the pathological narcissist has a vacuum. For this reason, they are on a constant hunt to consume anything that might fill the void. Alcohol, narcotics, pornography, sex, gambling, people – you name it, the narcissist ravenously devours it. But it doesn’t fill them up because they are bottomless pits.

When narcissists encounter people who are able to manifest constructive emotions the narcissist cannot, it wounds their pride, stirs their jealousy, and causes a narcissistic injury. 

What is a narcissistic injury?

A narcissistic injury is a threat to the narcissist’s false self. The threat may be real or imagined. What matters is that the narcissist’s steely psychological armor is penetrated and they experience a painful reminder that their false self is an illusion.

Sensing danger, their ego sends all hands on deck to rescue the false self from annihilation. For this reason, narcissistic injuries go hand in hand with narcissistic rage.

The narcissist’s first line of defense is a disavowal of reality. They devalue the threat, stripping the individual of their humanity and reducing them to the status of object. The narcissist’s ego then fractures the object as it resorts to primary defense mechanisms, such as splitting and projection.

narcissistic abuse rehab | narcissistic injury | triggers | false self

Someone who was once all good is now all bad. A person once hailed as the light of the narcissist’s life becomes the very heart of darkness. The threatening object is made wrong so that the false self can be right. Thus, the narcissist vindicates themselves from any criticism, wrongdoing, and – most importantly – shame.

The more the narcissist uses splitting as an ego defense, the more anything resembling a cohesive identity unravels. Whenever the ego splits an object, an identical split takes place in the ego itself, causing it to become fragmented. The more a narcissist splits off from the abuse they inflict, the more it escalates.

To escape accountability, the narcissist uses a sleight of hand and projects their sadistic acts on to the people they target. This enables them to shape-shift into a new persona – which they do with the ease of a serpent shedding its skin. 

What are the causes of narcissistic injury

The narcissist is a paper tiger. Their psychological structure is too feeble to grasp a self-concept with any complexity. They are satisfied to worship an illusion of their perfect false self. This disposition is common in toddlers, but it’s crippling in adults.

The construction of a false self may have shielded them from adverse childhood experiences in their early years, but it is maladaptive in adulthood as it prevents them from living authentic emotional lives.

The need for emotional bonds disgusts them. Yet, paradoxically it is also something they covet.

While the false self mimics edifying emotions, it does not experience them. A kind of emotional rigor mortis defines the narcissist’s existence.

How do narcissists cope with narcissistic injuries?

Their fragility sends them on predatory crusades to boost their ego. They may sustain their insatiable false self with adulation or attention or with cruel power trips utilizing coercive control, and psycho-emotional abuse.

Narcissists believe that by destroying a person or thing, they obtain power over it.  They accomplish this through deception, seduction, and psychological cannibalism. To the narcissist, this affirms their imaginary superiority.

It is their way of making the false self appear real. 

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Narcissistic Injury FAQ

A narcissistic injury is any threat to the narcissist’s false self. The threat may be real or imagined. What matters is that the narcissist’s psychological defenses are penetrated and they experience a painful reminder that their false self is an illusion.

Narcissists are shame-based and have fragile ego structures. They can suffer from low self-esteem, depression, rage, and paranoia.

Narcissists want power and control.

Bibliography

The Coercive Control of Children with Dr. Evan Stark

Children Are Targets for Coercive Control | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

CHILDREN CAN BE TARGETS for coercive control in dysfunctional families, according to Dr. Evan Stark, author of the book Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. Research studies show that the coercive control of children occurs in 45% of families where domestic violence is practiced. It is used as part of an abusive partner’s wider campaign of intimate partner violence in which children are weaponized to isolate the primary target of the aggression.

Why is the Purpose of the Coercive Control of Children?

Abusers seek to maintain total dominance over the people they target by isolating them. Manipulation of the victim-survivor’s perception is easier to achieve without outside influences, which could be accessed through children or the child themselves.

Therefore, it is in the interest of the abuser to undermine the authority of the victim-survivor in their parental role and willfully sabotage the relationship between the targeted individual and their children.

In his research Dr. Evan Stark, author of the book Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, found that this kind of abuse has a far more damaging and pervasive effect on the a targeted individual than acts of physical abuse.

Dr. Stark’s research found that the violence model of domestic abuse was too limited to gauge the extent of injury because much of suffering inflicted on survivors was not prohibited by law at the time.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to amend the understanding of partner abuse that limited it to violence,” Dr. Stark told Welsh Women’s Aid, “And we’ve talked a little bit about the extent to which it involved coercive control. We rejected the violence model in part because we heard from women themselves about the range of harms they were experiencing beyond violence.”

The Impact of Coercive Control on Children

Child abuse occurs mainly in connection to domestic violence. Dr. Stark’s research found that in 45% of domestic abuse cases, the abuser was hurting the spouse and the children. Exposure to and direct abuse were harmful to children.

Dr. Stark explained, “As I began to interview children and looked at the research of Emma Katz and others – which was based on my work but went way beyond it by looking at the qualitative effected of coercive control on children. It really became clear to me that children were being coercively controlled as well as women.”

The study showed that child abuse is closely linked to the abuse of the targeted parent.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

She explains, “Children’s access to resilience-building and developmentally-helpful persons and activities were limited.”

The abuse children experienced at the hands of an abusive parent were low-level assaults, comparable to the abuse inflicted on the targeted parent.

The research findings were the same regarding the sexual assault of children.

According to Dr. Stark, “There was sexual assault of children, some of it dramatic, but most of it fell on a continuum of sexual coercion: touching, inappropriate dressing [of] boys as well as girls.”

The research also found that children experienced the same patterns of isolation, intimidation and control as the targeted parent.

Children are weaponized in coercive and controlling relationships

The evidence gathered by the researchers discovered that children were often “weaponized” against the targeted parent by the abuser.

Abusers use coercive control tactics to modify the identity of the child and turn them against the targeted parent.

Dr. Stark explains, “Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them sometimes as co-abusers if they were older children. They would use them as pawns in court processes as ways of extending their abuse.”

What can be done when children are targets of Coercive Control?

Raising children with a high conflict personality, such as a narcissist or psychopath, can be extraordinarily challenging.

This is especially true, for survivors who have left the relationship and are targets for their abusers vindictiveness.

For information on how to approach this situation please read our interview with Michael Kinsey, Ph.D. ‘How To Co-Parent with a Narcissist.’

Have your say

Have you or someone you know experienced coercive and controlling behavior? Does Dr. Stark’s descriptions of the power dynamics in a dysfunctional family resonate with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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How Narcissists Use DARVO to Escape Accountability

What is DARVO?

SOMETIMES IT CAN SEEM as if highly narcissistic people possess such extraordinary manipulation skills that they appear to bend reality to their will. In many cases, survivors of narcissistic abuse are left reeling as the perpetrator blithely revises the fact of their aggression, twisting the truth into a narrative that bears no semblance to what actually transpired.

This is because narcissists have mastered a tactical maneuver that effectively grooms individuals and, indeed, entire social groups by controlling their perception of events.

The name of this strategy is DARVO.

What is DARVO?

DARVO is an acronym for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender. It is a defense mechanism used by manipulators to evade accountability for the abuse they inflict on others. It is a blame-shifting tactic used for gaslighting in the context of emotional abuse.

The term was first presented in a 1997 article by Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon and founder of the Center for Institutional Courage.

According to Dr. Freyd, “The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim – or the whistleblower – into an alleged offender.”

Denial is used by the abuser and bystanders in their clique. It usually sounds like:

  • I didn’t do anything, but if I did, it wasn’t that bad.
  • It never happened, but if it did, it wasn’t that bad.

At the local level, this strategy is common among perpetrators of sexual offenses, psycho-emotional abuse, and domestic abuse. DARVO is a regular feature of coercive and controlling behavior.

At the structural level, Dr. Freyd refers to this tactic as institutional DARVO.

Who gets targeted for DARVO?

For DARVO to occur a power imbalance must exist. It is most effective when the abuser has more social capital than the survivor.

If the abuser is a member of a dominant group and the survivor is a member of a disenfranchised group, generally the survivor is less likely to be believed.

People who are likely candidates for DARVO are:

  • Survivors who confront their abuser.
  • Whistleblowers.
  • Socially vulnerable individuals or groups, e.g. women are more likely to be targeted for DARVO than men.

What is the purpose of DARVO?

The DARVO tactic serves many purposes.

  • DARVO is a smokescreen used by narcissists, psychopaths or other manipulators to conceal the truth of their behavior.
  • DARVO enables the narcissist, psychopath or other manipulator to control how others perceive the target and the conflict.
  • DARVO often stuns the targeted person into confusion and silence.

Thus, the abuser is able to craft a scapegoat story which is used to cultivate biases against the target and rally bystanders to their cause.

“This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of ‘falsely accused’ and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation,” explains Dr. Freyd.

In a DARVO climate, no amount of evidence will suffice as proof of the abuser’s transgressions. The target will not be believed within a social circle that has been groomed by a narcissist, psychopath or other manipulator. On the contrary, the target will be subjected to a terrifying campaign of victim-blaming by the group.

Once the abuser has successfully secured the bystanders’ support and conditioned them to perceive the survivor as the perpetrator, the clique collectively subjects the survivor to the merciless process of scapegoating.

If the survivor lives through it, they are usually driven into isolation and social death. Other outcomes can include homicide or death by self-annihilation. The narcissist, psychopath or manipulator’s endgame is the complete destruction of the target.

DARVO as a collective grooming tactic

The cognitive distortions created by DARVO cultivate an ecosystem of moral corruption. Members of the peer group are encouraged by the narcissist to engage in polarized or black and white thinking.

The group’s empathy for the narcissist is weaponized and used to encourage negative biases about the recipient of the abuse. Narcissists, psychopaths and other manipulators do this in order to ensure that members of the dominant clique become indifferent and callous about the betrayal of the survivor.

The desensitization of the group opens the door to the objectification of the targeted individual and once this is accomplished every kind of violence becomes acceptable.

Examples of this can be seen in manifestations of anti-semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia.

Why do bystanders participate in collective betrayal?

According to Dr. Freyd betrayal blindness is a survival mechanism that arises “when awareness would threaten necessary relationships.” 

In other words, bystanders yield to betrayal blindness in the interest of looking out for themselves and to avoid the loss or pain they might risk if they sympathized with the target.

They assign more value to their relationship with the abuser so it follows that it’s in their best interest to empathize with the narcissist not with the survivor.

In fact, in many cases bystanders may stand to gain more social capital if they lend their support to the narcissist. So it is usually a combination of greed for gain and an instinct for self-preservation that eclipses any ethical or moral considerations in the bystander.

In other words, members of the clique adapt to conflict within the group by “turning a blind eye,” to the harmful behaviors of the narcissist.

The longterm effects of DARVO on survivors

Many survivors feel psychologically obliterated by the trauma of experiencing DARVO. It can have disastrous consequences for the survivor’s mental health. For example, it can cause severe anxiety, panic, depression, and post-traumatic stress which, in turn, can adversely impact the survivor’s physical wellbeing.

DARVO invalidates the survivor’s lived experience. It inflicts further pain and suffering as the wronged party is cheated out of any measure of justice. Instead, in addition to the original violation, survivors are persecuted and blamed in spite of the fact that they are the wronged party.

Rejection from their peers and the narcissist’s immunity to being held accountable is a constant cascade of salt poured in the survivor’s wounds, causing them to be repeatedly re-traumatized.

More about DARVO

Learn more about DARVO with Dr. Freyd in their lecture ‘Institutional and Interpersonal Betrayal.’

Bibliography

  • Freyd, Jennifer J. “II. Violations of Power, Adaptive Blindness and Betrayal Trauma Theory.” Feminism & Psychology 7, No. 1 (February 1997): 22–32.
  • Sarah J. Harsey, Eileen L. Zurbriggen & Jennifer J. Freyd (2017) “Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame,” Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 26:6, 644-663
  • Freyd, Jennifer J. “Institutional and Interpersonal Betrayal.” Freyd Dynamics Laboratory (August 2014): 08.48 minutes.

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4 Subtle Ways Narcissistic Parents Abuse Their Children

Narcissistic Parents | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

THE CHILD OF A HIGHLY NARCISSISTIC PARENT is born into a gaslit reality, in an environment where everything must revolve around their parent’s false self. From an early age, the child must learn to avoid wounding their parent’s fragile ego or risk their parent’s unbridled aggression.

An excessively self-absorbed parent cannot recognize the emotional needs of their child. The more narcissistic a parent is, the more likely they will see their child as an extension of themselves and not as a separate individual. The type of parent will punish any attempts by the child to differentiate themselves.

Highly narcissistic parents master the art of inflicting psychological pain on their children without raising a hand. One of the ways they accomplish this is by invalidating the child’s sense of reality through gaslighting, one of the components in coercive and controlling behavior.

The cumulative effect of emotional neglect and intermittent reinforcement on children over time can cause the child to suffer depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress. These conditions can persist long after the child has matured, and they are common among adult children of narcissists (ACONs).

1. The false self becomes a false idol

As a parent, the narcissist’s false self becomes a false idol that demands to be worshipped by their family unit.

Narcissists create glaring power imbalances between themselves, their spouse and children.

Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Because the narcissist’s needs supersede the needs of everyone else, the group internalizes the message that their needs don’t matter unless the narcissist says they do.

If the spouse is empathic, the narcissist undermines their authority. The children learn that might is right. They must appease the narcissist if they want to have their needs met.

2. The narcissist engineers dysfunction

Because a narcissistic family unit is an organism that operates in a gaslit pseudo-reality, it is less akin to a family and more like a cult or a dictatorship.

In this dynamic, the group can’t be supportive, accepting, healthy, or just. Instead, family members behave and interact in unhealthy ways.

The children must learn to navigate the power imbalances and the inevitable abuses of power that ensue.

Thus, the default setting for existence in a narcissistic family is dysfunction.

3. Love is conditional

Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. The narcissist shows them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to punish them and call it love.

For the child of a pathological narcissist, love is having your personality rejected and replaced with one the narcissist prefers. Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.

Love is intermittent reinforcement with spouses and children alike.

The child is love-bombed when the narcissist feels the child reflects their false self. The moment the child fails to do so, the narcissistic parent blithely discards them.

4. Narcissists reject children who are not like them

Survival in a narcissistic family depends on each family member’s ability to take on and reinforce the assigned roles, toxic attitudes, and habits of the narcissist. No one is safe from a narcissist’s pernicious scrutiny, not even their children.

In the narcissist’s view, anyone who does not echo their image of themselves is rejecting them. Failure to reflect and affirm their false self is a threat. Thus, a child who does not accept the role assigned by the narcissistic parent triggers a narcissistic injury.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem.

The narcissist cannot process negative feedback, and by extension, nor can their family unit. They have zero tolerance for any person or thing they believe may endanger their fragile false self. When faced with such a threat, narcissists attack — even if the source of their ire is an infant.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination. Their response to this perceived narcissistic injury is contempt, oppression, and rejection of the offending child. As an act of expediency, the narcissist casts the child in the psychologically devastating role of the family scapegoat. The narcissist condemns the child to bear the blame for all of the family’s dysfunctional behavior and its outcomes.

Conclusion

To grow up in a narcissistic family is to grow up in an inverted reality, where right is wrong, and wrong is right. Anything goes as long as you tow the narcissist’s line.

There will be flagrant betrayals, hypocrisy, double standards, cruelty, and abuse. If one of the parents is empathic, the children will get a daily dose of how to manipulate, exploit, and subjugate another human being.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem. How the child turns out depends on how they navigate the harsh psychological terrain of the family.

This article is also published at Medium.com.

Resources


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Christopher Hitchens on Bill Clinton

Christopher Hitchens on Bill Clinton | Photo by Gage Skidmore

IN JAMES BALDWIN’S ACCOUNT of the Atlanta child murders of 1979-81, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, he recalls a dreadful earlier moment from 1964. The swamps and creeks of Mississippi were being dragged for the bodies of Schwerner, Chancy, and Goodman (done to death by the political ancestors of Bob Barr), and the search parties kept turning up corpses. Examinations proved that these were not the cadavers that the authorities were seeking. It took a while for the subject to change, or at least for it to change enough for someone to exclaim: Wait a minute! What are all these other bodies doing in the swamp?

It is one thing to say, with reasonable confidence, that the Oval Office is currently occupied by a war criminal, a rapist, and a pathological liar. It is another to ponder the full implications. If half of what one knows about Clinton’s business deals and date-rapes is half-true, then he has been going through political life for years, aware or quasi-aware that any or every telephone call might be the one he has been dreading. That’s more stress than most of us could take. Only a certain kind of personality could be expected to endure it. You can find this under the simpering liberal inertia of “Comeback Kid,” or you can check it in a taxonomy of an entirely different kind, where the key phrase is “Threat to self and others.”

Almost no allegation ever made by a woman and denied by him has proven to be untrue.

Christopher Hitchens

It seems to me morally feeble, as well as intellectually slack, to split the difference between Clinton and Broaddrick or to characterize her allegation as unprovable. The feeblest summary of this compromise is contained in the lazy phrase “he said, she said.” In the case of the “he,” we already know he is a hysterical, habitual liar. We also know that almost no allegation ever made by a woman and denied by him has proven to be untrue. And we know that ex-girlfriends have been subjected to extraordinary campaigns of defamation, amounting in some cases to intimidation, merely for speaking about “consensual” sex. What allegation could be more horrific than that of rape? And yet, “he” hadn’t said anything yet. If I were accused of rape and the woman making the charge was a lady of obvious integrity, I would want to do better than have a lawyer speak for me and make a routine disclaimer (especially a lawyer, in this case, the pathetic figure of David Kendall, who had not even met me at the time of the supposed crime). Asked by NBC to say where Clinton had been on the morning in question – a fact easily established in the life of a state attorney general – the White House declined cooperation. I would have wanted to do better than that, too.

A provisional but by no means unsafe induction, then, is that Broaddrick is speaking the truth.

Christopher Hitchens

So much for the “he said.” What of the “she”? If the allegation is false, then Broaddrick is not just getting her facts wrong. She is deliberately fabricating one of the most damning charges that any one person can make against another. She must be a wicked or deluded or malicious person. There seems no escaping this corollary conclusion. There also seems no reason at reaching for it. Where is the famous Clintonian rapid-response team? Has it no pride? Can it not find or produce any shadow of a doubt to cast on Broaddrick’s character? I think that if it could, we would know by now. Furthermore, a woman who groundlessly makes such a charge may be, and in my opinion ought to be, proceeded against for slander and wasting police and legal time. No hint of that.

A provisional but by no means unsafe induction, then, is that Broaddrick is speaking the truth. Questioned fairly closely by NBC’s Lisa Myers, she and her contemporaneous corroborative witnesses were easily able to answer the questions about silence and delay. The victim felt guilty for letting an unchaperoned man into her room, even if he was the attorney general. In a banana republic like Arkansas, allegations against powerful men were believed to have potentially unpleasant consequences. The victim was also having an extramarital affair with a man she hoped to marry. She did not want to be exposed, and she did not expect to be believed. Finally, and very importantly, she didn’t “go public.” She was made public. The feminist movement has taught us to recognize this pattern of response as a familiar and intelligible one. (How sad it was, by the way, to see Patricia Ireland changing her mind at this late stage. Doesn’t she know that she has lost something that she can’t ever hope to retrieve, and has lost it to Clinton?)

I also know of three other women who could, if they chose, lay a charge of assault against Clinton, which makes him a serial rapist.

Christopher Hitchens

Perhaps I won’t be taken as an authority on the moral credibility of the feminist leadership. But something ought to be said about the honor of the male sex in this business. It has been disgusting, all through the past year, to hear Clinton defended as homme moyen sensuel. “Everybody does it…all men lie about sex…a gentleman is expected to lie.” One reason a gentleman may be obliged to lie is to protect the reputation of the woman. Clinton has lied in order to trash them. I don’t have any male friends who say that it wasn’t “sex” because the woman got nothing out of it (the gallantry defense). I don’t have ay male friends who hump the help and then (with the assistance of paid slanderers) call them liars, golddiggers, sluts, and blackmailers. I don’t have any male friends who have been plausibly accused of rape, either, though I do know several women who have been sexually assaulted and decided not to go public. I also know of three other women who could, if they chose, lay a charge of assault against Clinton, which makes him a serial rapist. This puts him, in male terms, way outside the limit of what can be tolerated. I see him on television all the time, biting that fat lip of his, and now I have an additional reason for the powerful nausea I have always felt. I imagine his teeth in Juanita Broaddrick’s lips after he’s told her to lie still or he’ll bite her again. But hey, it’s time to move on. So forget it. Forget it if you can.

This article was originally published with the title ‘The Clinton Swamp’ by Christopher Hitchens in his column The Minority Repost at The Nation on March 29, 1999.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

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