And now, the Narcissists. We have a large selection and they vary in degree and even according to their gender. There are Narcissists and Malignant Narcissists. There are Covert and Overt Narcissists.
And we have a problem. “Narcissistic” has become a buzzword for people that are selfish and self-centered, which takes away from the gravity of the mental illness itself. In order for there to actually be a diagnosis, there are many guidelines to follow, a set of specific symptoms. And because it is such a common term, we minimize the importance of identifying a true narcissist. This can have devastating effects on families, children and workplaces. A Narcissist destroys every relationship in its path.
The main characteristic of any person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a constant need for attention, an inability to understand emotions and the emotional world, a lack of self-awareness an inability to recognize other people’s needs, an inability to love due to superficial emotions, a deep feeling of envy towards everyone else and a tendency to use people to satisfy themselves.
There are many ways in which these symptoms play out in each type of Narcissist, but those are the basic traits. Hardly traits that are favorable to the upbringing of any child or to the creation of a healthy romantic relationship.
What differentiates a Narcissist from a Psychopath?
A Narcissist has feelings, they just do not know how to identify them and cannot see them in other people. Their lack of empathy comes from only believing they have feelings/needs and no one else has them. They are not aware of their actions and how these actions can affect others. A Narcissist may feel guilt or remorse, but will quickly turn the story around in their heads so someone else/everyone else is at fault. They never apologize unless they need to manipulate.
What is the tricky part?
We tend to think of the Narcissist as the Grandiose/Overt type: the arrogant, the show-off, the ones who openly ask for affirmation and admiration, the ones who think they are “special” in some way and are entitled to special treatment. That is what society identifies as “Narcissistic”.
This is why many go unnoticed or misdiagnosed. I believe many women throughout history were misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disordered women instead of Narcissists, because the characteristics can be so different in some cases.
The truth is some Narcissists are quietly Narcissistic, manipulating from the shadows, pretending to be dependent in order to get attention, manipulating stories and acting innocent even when caught. These people are Covert Narcissists: they seem fragile, helpless, are hypervigilant to other people, deeply envious, feels inadequate and need attention consistently in order to feel worthy. These people are just as, or even more destructive than overt Narcissists.
If you are unable to identify other people´s emotions, because yours are the only ones that matter, how can you raise a child? A child must have parents that can read their needs and feelings and respond to them. Most Narcissistic parents feel bothered by their children’s expressions of sadness and anger as it disturbs their peace. Healthy parents help a child learn to identify and express themselves in a safe way and respect that children are not an extension or trophy, but a separate human being from them.
These children grow up feeling unseen and unheard if they do not play the accomplishment game- “I accomplish good things to get my parents’ attention”. They grow up feeling that love must be earned. That perfection is required and then maybe, just maybe, their parents will see and hear them, identifying them as a whole being. They hide their “negative” emotions in order not to burden their parents and are hypervigilant to what makes their parents happy, trying to satisfy them in every way.
And I am afraid that this is only the tip of the iceberg for the trauma and abuse caused by Narcissistic parents.
When we think of Psychopaths, we think of serial killers first, but that is not accurate. Some Psychopaths may be serial killers, some serial killers may be psychopaths, but most of them walk around in the general population living a life much like our own. Yet they are shells of people.
Psychopaths do not experience emotions except for sexual arousal/excitement or rage. They thrive on excitement and violence. They may seem like they feel emotions but have studied people closely in order to understand when to act out a certain emotion and how to do it in a way that is believable. They are observers. They know they are not the same as other people and can see that they are not like other people but must pretend to fit in.
Psychopaths cannot feel empathy for other people nor remorse for their actions. Due to this, they can perform callous and violent acts with no second thoughts for the consequences. If they are caught, they simply lie or pretend like nothing has happened. Other people are seen as simple objects to be used for their own needs and satisfaction. They manipulate and lie their way through life. They feed off of other people’s pain.
They usually cannot support themselves financially, so they find ways of leading a parasitic life. They do not have the ability to establish nor carry out long term goals and are irresponsible in their actions.
What does this mean for children who grows up with a Psychopathic parent?
There is most certainly abuse in all of its forms: sexual, physical and emotional. The Psychopath displays sadistic traits and can torture a child with no guilt. Since they are excellent manipulators, outside observers cannot see these events happening.
They use their children in order to obtain their own needs and punish their children when their needs are not met accordingly. They expect their children to be a source of income and to live off of them for as long as possible.
These children live in a impossibly confusing and dangerous world. It is difficult to tell truth from reality, especially when the parent is adept at lying skillfully. The children question their own perception of the world. They must keep silent or the abuse increases, because the Psychopath knows no limits when it comes to violence. They are used in complex games and strategies that allow the parent to obtain what they need and are often witnesses to other acts of violence.
The children’s needs are never a priority. The financial needs can be taken care of by the provider and the Psychopathic parent does not even realize that the children have emotional nor psychological needs. The parent’s needs are the only issue that matters. This usually involves manipulating and creating conflict as well as dangerous situations for the family.
Children with a Psychopathic parent grow up in a home full of violence and neglect, confusion because of the constant lies, learn to be hypervigilant to all external signals of danger and do not experience unconditional love. Or love of any sort from that parent.
There are different categories of mental illness. The way I organize them is:
– we have symptoms that can be treated with therapy and medical treatment. There is no loss of the perception of reality.
– we have symptoms that can be treated with therapy and medical treatment. Here, the medical treatment is key. There is a momentaneous loss of perception of reality, where the person sees or hears things/people that are not actually there.
– we have symptoms that cannot be treated with therapy and medical treatment. There is permanent disconnect between reality and the person’s perception of it. No hallucinations. People see the world in a specific way that is not what most people perceive.
Most Personality Disorders have in common a few characteristics although there are 10 official ones:
– lack of self- awareness
– relational conflicts
– intense emotional reactions or lack thereof
The way I can describe a Personality Disorder is that the person sees the world through glasses that blur what they see and cannot see the world the way the average person does, even though it is explained, confronted and proved wrong over and over again.
It is not that they are in an imaginary world per se but there are many elements of the world they do not seem to have access to. There is no way to see behind the veil of the Personality Disorder.
Many Psychologists and Psychiatrists believe that these are genetic. Many believe they are triggered by external factors. Many believe both. I am more on the genetic side of the voters, due to the fact that I have seen many cases that have no reason to have been triggered from social circumstances or events. I believe that there are family patterns that repeat in patients with Personality Disorders, but as we will see it is a chicken or the egg type scenario.
I have decided to center my work on:
– Psychopathic Parents
– Narcissistic Parents (in all of its manifestations)
Yes. The top tier of Personality Disorders. The ones with the lack of empathy and remorse. The ones that have adult children that show up at my practice wondering if they are sick or crazy.
We cannot talk about recurrent trauma in children of parents with mental illness without exploring the mental illness of the parents that have raised them and the illness in siblings caused by the dynamics that these parents create. Although it is true that some children experience trauma only once or have had an adult that has been brave enough or able to protect their children, so that they are not exposed repeatedly, most do not or cannot. Many children are trapped in interactions with their parents and their siblings that they have no way of escaping. These interactions change people deeply – from their brain structure, to brain cell connections, to their behaviors and emotion management. Nightmares, flashbacks and intense emotional tsunamis inundate adult lives if they are not treated properly or cannot identify what is affecting them.
The whole family is trapped in abusive interactions that perpetuate for years and through generations.
In the first years of my practice, many patients would come to me with the idea that they were mentally ill because they presented symptoms such as difficulty managing intense emotions, maintaining relationships and confused about what abandonment issues actually mean versus trauma symptoms. And they are not the same thing.
After a few years, I found what I was looking for. It is a concept called C-PTSD: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not a Disorder ( I have wondered about the name it will end up with) and has not been recognized by the DSM-V (Official Psychiatric Diagnostic Manual) as mental illness. It seems to be a syndrome (a set of specific symptoms,) but Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition caused by external abuse from others which is what differentiates it from a mental illness which is caused or triggered by internal factors. It will be interesting to see how Psychiatry will handle this topic.
This blog has been created in order to explain this condition, differentiate it from mental illness and somehow explore as well, how some people that have suffered trauma from family members with mental illness end up with the effects as a post traumatic condition and others develop the mental illness that traumatized them in the first place.
Welcome to my blog.
– My voice will not be silenced. Not this time. The belt is no longer hanging on the hook behind the door.