Self-Esteem Among Narcissists is ‘Puffed Up, But Shaky’

Self-Esteem Among Narcissists is 'Puffed Up, but Shaky'

LIKE A GROTESQUE MASK reflected in a pool, narcissism has two faces, neither of them attractive. Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-worth, seeing themselves as superior beings who are entitled to special treatment. 

However they also tend to be thin skinned, reacting angrily when their unique gifts are challenged or ignored.

This combination of high but easily undermined self-worth might seem paradoxical. A positively viewed self would be expected to be a happy and secure self. To understand the paradox we need to parse the complexities of self-esteem.

Self-esteem

The main thrust of early research on self-esteem – the broad positive or negative evaluation of the self – explored the implications of its level. 

People with higher self-esteem were compared to those with lower, and were generally found to report better life outcomes. High self-esteem people tended to be happier, healthier, more successful in love and work, and more resilient in the face of adversity.

On the strength of such findings, self-esteem came to be seen in some circles as a panacea of all manner of personal and social ills. If we could only improve people’s self-esteem, we might remedy their suffering and underachievement. 

In the 1980s the state of California set up a self-esteem task force to promote that cause.

Unfortunately, the self-esteem bandwagon was sideswiped by some troubling research evidence, presented in an influential review published in 2003. Studies commonly showed that high self-esteem was a consequence or side-effect of life success rather than a cause. 

Enhancing a person’s self-esteem would therefore no more increase their performance at school or work than applying heat to a light bulb would increase its luminance.

In addition, high self-esteem appeared to have some negative implications. For example, people with some forms of high self-esteem are sometimes especially prone to forms of aggression and antisocial behaviour.

Different forms of high self-esteem

One way to reconcile this ambivalent picture of high self-esteem is to recognise that it is not only the level of self-esteem that matters. We also need to consider the consistency and stability of self-esteem. 

People whose overt self-esteem is high but accompanied by covert self-doubts may be worse off than those whose self-esteem is consistently high. And people whose views of self are dependably positive are likely to be better off than those whose self-views are equally positive on average but oscillate wildly.

These two alternative ways of thinking about high self-esteem have been recognised by psychologists as “defensive” and “fragile” self-esteem, respectively. 

People with defensive self-esteem evaluate themselves positively by questionnaire, but negatively when their automatic or non conscious self-views are examined. Their positive self-views are inferred to be defences against lurking insecurities. 

The self-views of people with fragile self-esteem are prone to fluctuate, dropping sharply when they encounter difficulties because their self-worth lacks a firm anchor.

Narcissism and self-esteem

These two forms of self-esteem help to make sense of narcissism. There is evidence narcissists tend to have higher than average levels of self-esteem, but that these levels are to some degree defensive and fragile. 

Below the shiny surface of their arrogance and grandiosity, narcissists often view themselves less positively. Their inflated self-image also tends to deflate rapidly when punctured by evidence that other people do not share it.

The dynamics of self-esteem among narcissists are well illustrated in a recently published study by a team of German and Dutch psychologists. The researchers examined the facets of narcissism and linked them to the level and stability of self-esteem in a series of laboratory and field studies.

The studies spring from a model that distinguishes two key components of narcissism. “Narcissistic admiration” refers to assertive self-promotion of a grandiose self-image. People high on this component may be charming, but it is a charm that gradually loses its lustre as the person’s unquenchable appetite for admiration becomes apparent to others. 

In contrast, “narcissistic rivalry” is the tendency to react antagonistically to perceived threats to the narcissist’s egotism. People high on this component are fiercely competitive and prone to denigrate those who challenge their sense of superiority. 

The two components are only moderately related, so narcissistic people may be substantially higher on one than the other.

The researchers found that admiration and rivalry had quite different associations with self-esteem. People high on admiration tended to report high levels of self-esteem and average degrees of stability. Those high on rivalry, in contrast, reported average levels of self-esteem but high degrees of instability. 

By implication, narcissists scoring high on both admiration and rivalry would show the familiar toxic combination of high but fragile self-esteem.

In one of the researchers’ three studies, for example, a large sample of students reported their levels of self-esteem on a daily basis over a two-week period. People who reported higher average levels of self-esteem scored high on admiration and low on rivalry. Those whose levels of self-esteem varied widely from day to day scored high on rivaly.

In addition, when self-esteem dropped from one report to the next, these drops were greater among people high in rivalry. A follow up study showed that these people were especially likely to experience drops in their self-esteem on days when they felt less liked by their peers. A perceived lack of social inclusion is particularly bruising to the self-esteem of people who see others as threats to their sense of superiority.

This research shows that narcissism is not a unitary phenomenon. In the words of the researchers, it involves a self that is “puffed-up but shaky”. Such a self may be unpleasant to others, but it is fundamentally a vulnerable self.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at The Conversation and is republished here under Creative Common License.


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Why Are We Becoming So Narcissistic? Here’s The Science

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THE SUBJECT OF NARCISSISM has intrigued people for centuries, but social scientists now claim that it has become a modern “epidemic”. So what is it, what has led to its increase, and is there anything we can do about it?

In the beginning

The term narcissism originated more than 2,000 years ago, when Ovid wrote the legend of Narcissus. He tells the story of a beautiful Greek hunter who, one day, happens to see his reflection in a pool of water and falls in love with it. He becomes obsessed with its beauty, and is unable to leave his reflected image until he dies. After his death, the flower narcissus grew where he lay.

The concept of narcissism was popularized by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud through his work on the ego and its relationship to the outside world; this work became the starting point for many others developing theories on narcissism.

So when does it become a problem?

Narcissism lies on a continuum from healthy to pathological. Healthy narcissism is part of normal human functioning. It can represent healthy self-love and confidence that is based on real achievement, the ability to overcome setbacks and derive the support needed from social ties.

But narcissism becomes a problem when the individual becomes preoccupied with the self, needing excessive admiration and approval from others, while showing disregard for other people’s sensitivities. If the narcissist does not receive the attention desired, substance abuse and major depressive disorder can develop. 

Narcissists often portray an image of grandiosity or overconfidence to the world, but this is only to cover up deep feelings of insecurity and a fragile self-esteem that is easily bruised by the slightest criticism. Because of these traits, narcissists find themselves in shallow relationships that only serve to satisfy their constant need for attention. When narcissistic traits become so pronounced that they lead to impairment this can indicate the presence of narcissistic personality disorder. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes narcissistic personality disorder as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts”. People with narcissistic personality disorder show a grandiose sense of self-importance, are consumed by fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love, and are extremely sensitive to criticism, among other things. 

Younger people and men seem to be most affected. The exact causes of narcissistic personality disorder are unknown, but childhood abuse and neglect may be possible factors involved in its formation. 

What has led to its increase?

In the clinical setting, about 2% to 16% of people suffer from this disorder, while in the general population, less than 1% of people are affected. Some suggest that narcissistic personality disorder is quite rare, but study estimates vary widely depending on sample sizes and the ways that narcissistic traits are assessed.

Others have labelled narcissism a “modern epidemic”, pointing to the rapid change in society that occurred in industrial and post-industrial times as the cause. The past few decades have witnessed a societal shift from a commitment to the collective to a focus on the individual or the self. The self-esteem movement was an important turning point in this. It determined that self-esteem was the key to success in life. Educators and parents started telling their children how special and unique they are to make them feel more confident. Parents tried to “confer” self-esteem upon their children, rather than letting them achieve it through hard work.

The rise of individualism (with its focus on the self and inner feelings) and decline in social norms that accompanied the modernisation of society also meant that the community and the family were no longer able to provide the same support for individuals as they once did. And research has shown that being embedded in social networks – for example, being actively engaged in your community and connected with friends and family – has major health benefits

As the social fabric deteriorated, it became much harder to meet the basic need for meaningful connection. The question moved from what is best for other people and the family to what is best for me. The modernisation of society seemed to prize fame, wealth, celebrity above all else. All this, combined with the breakdown in social ties created an “empty self, shorn of social meaning”.

The rise in technology and the development of hugely popular social networking sites, such as Facebook, further changed the way we spend our free time and communicate. Today, there are nearly 936m active Facebook users each day worldwide. Internet addiction is a new area of study in mental health and recent cross-sectional research shows that addiction to Facebook is strongly linked to narcissistic behaviour and low self-esteem.

So what can we do about it?

Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder exists and this includes pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. Meditation has also been shown to have positive effects on mental health. Further research, however, is needed on the effectiveness of various treatments. 

So what can we do about all this and how can we lead a happy and purposeful life? One of the largest studies on happiness was conducted by a group of Harvard researchers who followed a large cohort of people over a period of 75 years. What they discovered – unsurprisingly – was that fame and money were not the secrets to happiness. Rather, the most important thing in life and the greatest predictor of satisfaction was having strong and supportive relationships – essentially, that “the journey from immaturity to maturity is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection”. 

So maybe it’s time to take a break from that smartphone, shut off your computer and meet up with a friend or two. Maybe, just maybe, you might feel a little better – and boost your self-esteem.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at The Conversation and is republished here under Creative Common License.


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What is Narcissism?

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WHAT DOES NARCISSISM MEAN in the context of psychology? Narcissism is self-idealization. It is a personality trait all people possess that exists on a continuum. However, the degree to which people are narcissistic varies. In and of itself, narcissism is neither good nor bad. It is simply a necessary component of the human personality structure. In fact, a normal or healthy degree of narcissism has a range of health benefits. Narcissism becomes problematic only when there are aberrations.

The words narcissism and narcotic both originate from the Greek narkao which means “I numb myself”. In other words, narcissism has a similarly soothing affect on our senses as a narcotic. Holding a slightly flattering view ourselves serves to dull the impact of otherwise painful existential realities.

12 Signs of Normal or Healthy Narcissism?

Clinical psychologist Michael Kinsey, PhD, an expert in personality dynamics, breaks down some of the most prominent characteristics of healthy narcissism as the ability to:

  1. Admire others and accept admiration from them.
  2. Believe in the importance of our contributions.
  3. Experience gratitude and appreciation.
  4. Empathize with others, while prioritizing self.
  5. Embody self-efficacy, persistence and resilience.
  6. Respect self in health habits and boundaries.
  7. Feel confident about being seen.
  8. Tolerate others disapproval.
  9. Set goals and pursue them with desire.
  10. Be attentive to the external world.
  11. Be aware of emotions.

As a trait, narcissism is very different from its subtypes in a number of ways. It is flexible and can change over time. Most importantly normal or healthy narcissism helps us develop a positive self concept and helps form healthy relationships with others as healthy narcissism helps us extend our love to others.


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3 Signs A Narcissist Is Unfaithful with Genesis Games

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IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO CONFRONT a loved one who you suspect is being unfaithful to you. This is especially true if you are dealing with a highly narcissistic partner or someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) because they are likely to respond by blame-shifting, gaslighting, and a host of other tactics to escape being held to account.

To discern what’s really going on with a narcissistic partner often means learning to ignore what they say and watch what they do. But what exactly should you look for if you sense your partner may be cheating on you?

For answers, we turned to Genesis Games, a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Gottman trained couples therapist. She operates an online practice called Healing Connections, where she helps people navigate romance, friendship, and family relationships. She also works with high conflict couples, specializing in addiction, infidelity, mental illness, parenting, and divorce.  

Genesis shares three ways to see past the smoke and mirrors narcissistic partners use to distract you from their infidelity.

1. Withholding Information

If you suspect your partner is withholding information, Genesis describes what to look for:

“A big indicator is the lack of transparency. Does your partner begin to omit information about their day to day life or expenses? Does your partner become very protective of their phone? Does your partner lie about their whereabouts? Do they tell you conflicting information? If your partner used to be open and communicative and all of a sudden it seems like they are keeping things from you this is a red flag.”

2. A change in language

Another subtle sign that your partner has emotionally checked out is a shift in the words they are using.

“They go from using ‘we’ language to ‘I.'” says Genesis, “Speaking in terms of ‘we’ is referring to us as a team and suggests that they are committed to building a life with you. Language is very powerful, if we notice this change in language we would want to explore the why.”

3. There is increasing distance

You may sense that your partner has somehow moved beyond your reach.

Genesis suggests, “If they begin to create distance, emotional and/or physical, this would also be a significant red flag. The distance might be created by sleeping on the couch, spending time in their home office instead of in common areas where you can interact, shutting down when you try to engage in conversation, flaking on plans you make together, and when you are together picking fights.”

Final thoughts

Behavior never lies. If you want to understand what’s going on with a narcissistic partner, be observant, focus on their actions, and you will eventually arrive at the truth. So, how do you move forward, once you’re suspicions are confirmed?

“These are three major signs that something is “off” in the relationship that needs to further be explored, and often come up when infidelity is taking place.” Genesis explains.

If your partner is highly narcissistic or an NPD, confrontation is likely to lead to conflict. Instead, prioritize your mental health and reach out for support from a licensed mental health professional to help you determine the best way forward for you.


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What is DARVO in Narcissism?

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WHAT IS DARVO in narcissism?

To answer this question, we must first deconstruct the word narcissism, strip away the distortions of popular psychology, and understand it in its original context.

Narcissism is a word used to describe self-idealization. All human beings have a propensity to assign value to themselves. In fact, in and of itself, narcissism is not an inherently negative trait. On the contrary, a normal or healthy amount of narcissism is necessary for our mental health.

One of the keys to understanding narcissism is recognizing that it exists on a continuum. Problems arise when narcissism is excessive. Likewise, when it is deficient, it can pose a different set of challenges.

Excessive narcissism can inflate the ego to the extent that it generates a sense of superiority that eclipses one’s ability to value others. The most extreme expression of this trait is narcissistic personality disorder, also known as NPD.

The inability to see the value in other people can be an obstacle to treating others with respect and dignity. It fails to inhibit the individual’s aggression and relies on a plethora of primitive defense mechanisms to preserve the bloated state of the ego. For this reason, it is sometimes called malignant narcissism.

It is in the fertile soil of this brand of narcissism that DARVO can occur. DARVO is an acronym that stands for:

  •  Deny
  • Attack
  • Reverse
  • Victim, and 
  • Offender.

Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, coined the term DARVO 1997 to describe a defensive tactic commonly used by manipulators to avoid being held to account by scapegoating the person they harmed.

She explains:

“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.”

What is DARVO in narcissism? It is one of the most extreme forms of gaslighting commonly used by highly narcissistic people and NPDs to preserve their idealized image of themselves. 


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DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender

DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender

DARVO IS AN INITIALISM that stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim, and OffenderIt is used to describe a defensive manipulation tactic used by one person to avoid being held accountable for their acts of aggression toward another person. It is an extreme form of gaslighting behavior that can be perpetrated by an individual or group. In the latter instance it is referred to as institutional DARVO.

Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D. first conceptualized DARVO in an article she published in 1997. Dr. Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, explains that perpetrators of DARVO

  • Deny their behavior
  • Attack the person who is confronting them, and 
  • Reverse the roles of
  • Victim and
  • Offender.

According to Dr. Freyd, the DARVO tactic can be used by people who inflict harm on others as well as the bystanders who support them. Sometimes the purpose of DARVO is to minimize a transgression, and at other times it is used to deny that the transgression ever took place.

The DARVO tactic can be a means used in the process of scapegoating. It changes the focus from the misdeeds of the true culprit and emphasizes real or invented shortcomings of the person they harmed.

For example, a perpetrator breaks the law by assaulting another person but minimizes their crime by claiming that they were the actually victim by framing the victim-survivors acts of resistance as the actual assault. Thus, they make it appear as if they are the victim and the actual victim-survivor is the perpetrator.

Dr. Freyd explains:

“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.”

DARVO often relies on cultrual biases and people’s propensity to discrimination. It is most successful in the context of systemic oppression, i.e. racism, sexism, etcetera.


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3 Narcissistic Cheating Patterns With Jeni Woodfin LMFT

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT

Narcissistic cheating patterns are important to learn. They will help you see through attempts to gaslight and manipulate your perception of reality. Because highly narcissistic people and full blown NPDs i.e. people with narcissistic personality disorder, are compulsive liars, they excel at concealing their true intentions and activities. Confrontation is useless. The closest most people come to getting a straight answer out of a narcissist are the farfetched accusations they make to deflect from the terrible truth about their treachery.

So how do you catch a narcissist cheating?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT explains that the truth is evident in their behavior and shares how to spot three key narcissistic cheating patterns.

Why Are Most Narcissists Chronically Unfaithful?

Narcissists are relentlessly disloyal, which is why involvement with them leads to inevitable harm. 

More often than not, narcissism is a driving force behind promiscuity and infidelity. Narcissists may feign commitment as a means to an end but in reality, they approach romantic relationships with an attitude of I’ll-get-you-before-you-get-me.

One of the reasons for this is that narcissists detest feelings of vulnerability. They are driven by an insatiable hunger for power and control because it relieves them of early experiences of impotence.

Narcissists prefer ego-boosting sexual conquests as proof positive of their ability to charm and seduce. It’s one of the ways they parade their superior manipulation skills.

Lying puts narcissists at an advantage as it thwarts their partner’s ability to make informed decisions. Misleading and deceiving others is a way to ease the nagging insecurities that plague them.

The risks of a relationship with a cheating narcissist

Under normal circumstances, infidelity can destroy relationships. But if your partner is a narcissist, the betrayals are so absolute and extreme that they may leave you completely shellshocked. 

If you’re involved with a narcissist and they are cheating on you, you’re likely at risk for a traumatic discard which may include being unceremoniously replaced by a new partner who they’ve secretly been grooming behind your back.

Alternatively, a cheating narcissist may drive you to end the relationship with one outrageous offense after the next. Only to immediately replace you with a new love interest they have quietly groomed behind your back.

Learning to recognize these three subtle narcissistic cheating patterns will empower you to see past the smoke and mirrors of a narcissistic partner’s endless deceptions.

3 Narcissistic Cheating Patterns

For expert guidance, we reached out to Jeni Woodfin, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist trained in repairing relationships after infidelity. She obtained her master’s degree in counseling psychology from John F. Kennedy University. Today she practices in Silicon Valley where she specializes in betrayal trauma, including infidelity, emotional affairs, and other trust breaches. 

They Put More Effort Into Their Appearance

Manya Wakefield: You’ve worked with hundreds of couples as well as with people who are cheating or recovering from infidelity. What’s the first narcissistic cheating pattern to look out for?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: Your partner changes and it’s noticeable. 

Manya Wakefield: Do you mean that there are changes in the narcissist’s baseline behavior?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: You may see your partner become very happy, suddenly interested in their appearance, losing weight, buying new clothes, trying a new haircut, or updating their manscaping game. 

Manya Wakefield: So the first narcissistic cheating pattern to watch out for is some kind of superficial change, like a change in style or appearance.

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: If you notice your partner suddenly grooming more than normal, this is a potential sign your partner is thinking about how to be and feel attractive.

They Start Changing Their Schedule

Manya Wakefield: What would you say is the second of the narcissistic cheating patterns people should be aware of? 

Jenny Woodfin, LMFT: Another clue would be a change in schedules. 

Manya Wakefield: Can you describe what changes in the narcissist’s schedule might look like?

Jenny Woodfin, LMFT: Many of us have a fairly predictable schedule or routine. If your partner begins to take late meetings at work, has new business dinners in the evening, or is away from the house more, this potentially signals they are making time for another person. 

There Are Changes in Sexual Activity

Manya Wakefield: So, a narcissist who is unfaithful would be grooming themselves more and making changes to their routine to win over another romantic interest. What would you say is the third one of the narcissistic cheating patterns to look out for?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: The last sign that often happens is a change in the bedroom that can go either way. Sex may increase, new sexual moves may be introduced, or new sexual behaviors may be requested. Or, some affair-involved partners go the opposite way with the bedroom becoming dead. 

Manya Wakefield: This is an interesting red flag because, for many, it seems like a dead giveaway. Walk us through the strategy of the last one of these narcissistic cheating patterns. Why would a cheating narcissist stop having sex with their partner?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: These people may experience very low sexual desire for their partner, may avoid being sexual, or may have difficulty performing. 

Manya Wakefield: Something I often hear from survivors is that people with this personality report feelings of boredom. Their infidelities are usually less about their partner and more about the insatiable emptiness they are constantly trying to fill with white knuckle experiences like substance use, promiscuity, infidelity, gambling, and the power trip of manipulation.

To summarize, what would you say is the common denominator shared by all three narcissistic cheating patterns?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: The link between all these signs is change. Many couples know each other very, very well. If you see a change from a long-time pattern, especially if the change results in coldness or distance, this could be a result of an affair.


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Co-Parenting with a Narcissist, Part One

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CO-PARENTING WITH A NARCISSIST is often said to be impossible. A popular quote by A. Price asserts that “A narcissist will never co-parent with you. They will counter parent. They don’t care about the emotional damage that the constant drama inflicts upon the children as long as it causes emotional damage to you.”

A distinguishing feature of narcissistic family dynamics is dysfunction. The more malignant a narcissist is, the more they are prone to ignore healthy boundaries to satisfy their need for control. Narcissists think nothing of using their children to dominate and manipulate the other parent

Children are frequently exposed to or experience psycho-emotional abuse and coercive- and controlling behavior from narcissistic parents who seek to dominate the child’s perception by distorting their reality.

In many instances, children are made to navigate disruptive patterns of intermittent reinforcement, which narcissists use to bring the people they target under their influence.

A narcissistic parent’s oppositional behavior and mischiefmaking can have serious consequences for their children who often struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression.

So what is the best course of action for people who are co-parenting with a narcissist?

For answers, we turned to Dr. Michael Kinsey, founder of the mental health blog mindsplain.com. Dr. Kinsey is the author of the children’s picture book ‘Dreams of Zugunruhe’  and ‘Transcendent Parenting: A Workbook For Parents Sharing Children With Narcissists.’

He received his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the New School for Social Research and he is a specialist in the dynamics of personality, intergenerational trauma, and parent-child attachment.

In addition to his distinguished background, Dr. Kinsey is in private practice in New York City.

N.B. This interview aims to provide general information, not advice one should rely on. Please get the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking or refraining from any action based on the information in this interview. 

Preventing personality disorders in children

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Welcome to Narcissistic Abuse Rehab, Dr. Kinsey, it’s an honor to have you here today to talk about co-parenting with a narcissist!

The first question is “I’m co-parenting with a malignant narcissist who was verbally & physically abusive to me in front of our children is it possible that my children risk developing personality disorders as a result of exposure to pathological narcissism?”

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Children learn first and foremost by what they see and what they observe. There are going to be lasting impacts of trauma in a context where there is emotional and physical abuse. 

The question you’re asking is, “What are going to be the long term developmental impacts of that trauma?”

That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many variables. I think there are things people can do to buffer against the permanent arresting of development that can happen as a result of witnessing or seeing that type of abuse. 

The first thing I would say is creating meaningful narratives around the experiences. Not walking away from it, not silencing it, not pretending as if it’s not happening. That’s a really important thing for kids. Kids need to know that they’re not experiencing an alternate reality from their parents. 

And especially when the parent who is experiencing the abuse is the same-sex parent. There is a strong identification, i.e. the classic example of a husband abusing his wife emotionally or verbally. The child who is going to be most greatly impacted by that is going to be the one who is identified with the one who is being abused.

Of course, there are other problems in continuing the line of abusers down the line when the observer is identified with the abuser.

So I guess what I would say, going back, is just sort of validating the experience. Letting the child know that what they saw was really disturbing and it’s not okay what happened and that something is being done to protect or insulate the child.

One thing I can think of just at a very practical level [would be to say], “I know what you saw was really scary. Do you have any questions for me? Do you have any feelings about it?”

And also for younger kids watching for signs of the impact of the abuse in play is super important and not silencing the play when it shows up and saying in the language of the play, as well. So, if toys are fighting then you can sort of say, “Oh my gosh, they’re fighting. How scary.”

Things like that and just sort of validating that the child is seeing something that’s very hard.

Emotional abuse is a little bit more abstract and harder to pin down. But the other thing I would say, too, is that one of the biggest buffers against personality disorder development is having some sense of understanding of one’s feelings and the feelings of someone else.  

And, I think a theme that we’ll touch on quite a bit throughout this discussion is the fact that narcissists are not devoid of feeling states. 

To optimally protect kids, we need to help them develop an understanding of who that person is and what their emotional system is like and give them a context for understanding the behavior.

This is different from condoning the behavior. We can hold intention that the behavior itself, that the abuse itself, is unacceptable.

But, if a person is staying in that relationship despite the abuse, there’s already a way in which the abuse is being condoned.

So, at the very least, the child needs to have an understanding of who the narcissist is, why they are behaving the way they are and how it’s possible to still maintain a loving understanding of that person, even though they do very bad things. 

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: This is important because I think you saw yesterday on Twitter we were talking about gaslighting and having your reality invalidated. I think what you brought up is important because a lot of the times survivors who are co-parenting with a narcissist try to overcompensate for the dysfunction in the family. What I see when the overcompensation happens is that it feeds into creating a false reality for the child. Down the line, what I’ve seen, is that it affects the child’s judgment – it skews things because good becomes bad and bad becomes good.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Absolutely.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That can become very problematic. But, let’s go over to question two because it gets a little bit deeper into this. I hope it’s not…well, it is probably a hardball question.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: That’s what I’m here for.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That’s very true and I think it’s a great answer. I think all of these questions I have for you are kind of hardball. I hope you’re ready for question three! And it’s about–

Dr. Michael Kinsey: –Well, you know, these are…in some ways… I was observing your twitter yesterday and there is so much terminology within this community that is new to me and I find it fascinating!

The softball questions aren’t going to help anyone and hopefully, there’s something in there that will be of use to people.

Triangulation with the narcissist’s new partner

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Let’s get into question three about counter-parenting or co-parenting with a narcissist: I am being triangulated with my ex narcissist’s new partner. They are telling our children that the new partner is a better parent because they are carefree, while I have been battling anxiety & depression. Ultimately, they want the children to move in with them. In your opinion, what is the best course of action for someone in my situation?

Dr. Michael Kinsey: I think that there’s the short view and the long view here. The short term view can be pretty discouraging. The kids may be believing it, they may be acting in line with what the alienating or narcissistic parent is feeding them.

But the thing to keep in mind with narcissistic people is that if you have an estranged relationship with them you are one of many people. The hallmark of narcissistic personality disorder is there are chronically strained relationships.

And the reason for this is that everyone ultimately has a fall from grace with a narcissist. So if you kowtow and you ingratiate yourself back into favor things can continue peacefully. But it will always happen. 

People will always see through the façade at some point. Maybe at first just for a few moments. Maybe there will be a prolonged estrangement that develops between the narcissist and the kids. But there will always be an opportunity.

And so what I would advise people is to create a very welcoming, open, accepting, non-contentious environment for the kids to return to. 

In many ways, that’s the best you can do.

  • You stay above the fray.
  • You don’t comment on it.
  • You don’t respond to it.
  • You speak to the kids.
  • You don’t speak to the narcissist through the kids.

You speak to the kids and you say, “It really hurts that it feels that way to you, that this other parent is better, but I’m your mother or father and I’m always here for you.”

Part Two of ‘Co-Parenting with a Narcissist’ will be published on May 22, 2020. You can find Dr. Kinsey on Twitter at @mindsplain He can also be reached through his website mindsplain.com

‘Dreams of Zugunruhe’ is available on Amazon. 

Transcendent Parenting: A Workbook For Parents Sharing Children With Narcissists is available at mindsplain.com

Watch the Co-Parenting with a Narcissist video

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