In my work with victims of narcissistic abuse I am more often than not asked the same question: “How do I know I’m not the Narcissist?”
When I asked my own therapist this question so many years ago she answered “If you were the narcissist you wouldn’t be asking that question, because narcissist’s won’t see that the problem is with them.” They are too busy projecting the issues onto those around them.
However our own narcissism is an issue worth exploring in more detail. For example: Why do we ask that question to begin with. What is it that makes us feel we are the narcissist?
In talking to a client today I had a big realization. She was telling me how she was always disappointed in her previous boyfriends or partners. They just didn’t measure up to her expectations. As we dug a little deeper she explained how she has wavered between feelings of superiority and feelings of inferiority. She has built her own illusion or idea of who she was which in her own reality placed herself upon a pedestal. So in a sense she was doing the same thing a narcissistic personality would do. She sheltered herself from her feelings of inferiority by placing herself upon a pedestal. That pedestal created a false confidence.
So when the narcissistic personality comes into her life her false confidence is initially mirrored by the narcissist who reflects to her the image worthy of the pedestal she has placed herself upon. But as the relationship progresses her feelings of inferiority are triggered as he projects his own inferiority upon her. Now she is experiencing the feeling of having her mate disappointed in her inadequacy just as she has been disappointed in past partners for their inadequacy.
What is the difference than between the narcissistic partner and the one who feels abused? Compassion and Empathy! The client I was talking to today, identified with her partners feelings of superiority and also with his feelings of inadequacy. She had empathy for him. She didn’t want to see him hurt because she knows how painful it is to experience those same kinds of feelings. A pathological narcissist could give a rip about his partners hurt feelings. He is only concerned with himself and his own needs.
The inverted narcissist, as Sam Vaknin calls it, is the perfect match for the pathological narcissist. Because when their false selves meet, the illusion of who they believe themselves to be is reinforced to a point where it may feel like Cinderella meeting her prince who takes her out of her hell hole, where she is made to wear rags and sweep ashes all day. Suddenly she is swept off her feet, she fits the glass slipper perfectly, and is carried off to the Castle adorned with beautiful gowns and riches fit for the queen she is.
Perhaps in this fairy tale, Cinderella always fantasized herself to be a queen, but she lived the reality of being an ash maiden. She was ridiculed and condemned by those around her and made to feel unworthy of the good things in life. But she would show them someday. She would show them she was really a queen.
For those of us who come from painful childhoods where we were somehow made to feel inferior, we can easily create fantasy worlds where we escape into never never land. We imagine ourselves as fairy princesses and imagine our prince riding up on a white horse and sweeping us off our feet, carrying us from our humble reality to a great castle where we are treated as a queen should be treated.
In the psychic realm the psychosis of the pathological narcissist is a great match for the fantasy world of the inverted narcissist. Because in the world of make believe a great fantasy is created where the King and the Queen of never never land get together and ride off into the sunset. It is such a beautiful love story, in the beginning.
But all glass slippers eventually break and so do the glass houses the “ideal” couple reside in. There love is not built on anything real, but rather an illusion of perfection created by both parties. She is saying “be my prince” and he is saying “be my queen.” But once they settle into the Castle the true selves begin to emerge. The feelings of inferiority begin to surface. Both partners don’t really want to be found out, less they risk losing their status upon that pedestal. “What if she finds out I’m really a frog?” He might think. And she might wonder “what if he knows the truth of me, that I’m only an ash sweeper?”
The narcissistic dance is really a dance of ego’s. It is an escape from the true self. For the true self has never been discovered and cultivated. The narcissistic facade is a preservation of the ego that needs to appear larger than it is. From that wounded little child he inflates his lowly sense of self into something others would envy. He strives for greatness, not for the sake of the task but for revenge against those who would mock him for his inferiority.
We see this scenario played out often in the movies where the ugly geek grows into the beautiful swan or the handsome prince and is the envy of those who used to taunt him. But inside he may still feel like the ugly duckling. A true pathological narcissist is so clever at hiding from that ugly duckling within that he hides it from himself. He is no longer really aware of those feelings. He is cut off from them. Where his victim is likely very much in touch with those feelings. She feels the depth of the pain being triggered by his poor treatment and lack of consideration for her. It triggers all those feelings of unworthiness that she has been running from most of her life.
If the inverted narcissist doesn’t grab this opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth she will likely just fall back into her old ways and re-create a similar scenario. But the opportunity is there for a great transformation. One that comes from truly embracing the self and becoming real! We peel away the layers of who we are not and cultivate the truth of who we are. This begins with embracing that little wounded child who has been rejected, taunted, teased and made to feel inferior in so many ways. We can begin by having compassion for that child within in the same way we found ourselves having compassion for the narcissist in our lives.
Once we own that rejected part of ourselves there is no longer a need to hide her from the world behind a fantasy illusion. We no longer need to be seen as “the queen” but are alright with just being ordinary. Ironically once we accept our ordinary-ness we actually do begin to stand out, for real. Because we stop trying to be something we are not and start accepting who we really are. Our true selves always carry the greatest light.
As I work with more and more victims of narcissistic abuse I begin to see Narcissism as the catalyst for personal transformation. The narcissistic abuse spirals us into our deepest, most fragile aspect of self, the wounded, rejected child within. I used to believe we were just taking on the projection of the narcissist, but I’m coming to realize this isn’t true. This is the very part of the narcissist we identify with. He too has the same cast away, lost, rejected inner child, covered over by an illusion of grandiosity. So our work is not to simply stop taking on the projections of the narcissist in our lives, but rather allowing ourselves to make that decent into the deepest, darkest places within our psyche and rescuing that rejected child within.
Ironically once we accept our inadequacies, we no longer feel so inadequate. We come to understand that nobody is perfect, including us. We make mistakes, we have faults, we have areas where we are ashamed of ourselves, and now we simply admit these realizations to ourselves. Instead of taking the inventory of the narcissist in our lives we take our own inventory and list the areas where we have deceived ourselves. When we finally see that being imperfect is being real, we accept ourselves just the way we are and stop trying to be something we are not.
Becoming real is a process. I call it growing up. We peel away those layers of who we are not, in order to refine who we really are. And…we come to see ourselves as beautiful even with our flaws. In actuality it is our flaws that make us unique and beautiful. Perfection is the illusion!
We may be angry initially that we are cast into the deep pain of self reflection and personal growth while the narcissist is off in another fairy tale; but instead of envying him for his ignorance, we should instead thank him for the gift he has given us. He has brought us to our true selves. The pain of discovery may be great initially, but it is well worth the journey, because now we can truly live and we can truly love. Once we accept the imperfections in ourselves we can accept the imperfections of our future mates and have a much greater opportunity for real love.