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Enabling the Narcissist: How and Why It Happens

There is nearly always someone enabling the narcissist. Being fundamentally dependent on others for the self-assurance and definition they lack, narcissists don’t get very far without enablers. An enabler supports the narcissist’s insistence on control, inflated persona, exaggerated entitlement, and abusive behavior by

unquestionably accepting his/her version of reality,
not standing up to his/her abuse,
hiding or cleaning up his/her messes,
acting as an apologist for him/her, and
blaming others for his/her behavior.
The Enabler’s Delusions

Narcissists usually have enablers in their family, such as a partner, parent, child, and/or sibling. They may also have enabling friends, coworkers or employees, and other members of their social network. People become enablers of narcissists for different reasons, from misguided care-taking, to self-doubt, to fear, to a desire for power. Often they become enablers gradually without understanding their situation. A narcissist’s partner in particular may feel confused by that partner’s brainwashing messages, believing some or all of the following:

I am causing her/him to act this way.
I am the unfair/angry/cruel one.
If I weren’t so stupid/selfish/needy/unattractive s/he would love me.
S/he doesn’t really mean to hurt me/the kids.
Deep down s/he loves me/us but doesn’t know how to show it.
All relationships are difficult like this.
Things will get better when we get married/have kids.
If I change, s/he will be happy with me.
If I am more loving/lovable s/he will stop acting so angry.
If our children act/do better, s/he will be happy with us.
Oftentimes enablers see abusive dynamics in a relationship as normal because they grew up with demanding, selfish, neglectful, or abusive caregivers. Enablers of narcissists may come from narcissistic homes or other environments in which they learned to subjugate their needs and feelings, such as in service to an alcoholic or mentally ill parent.

Enablers may delude themselves into thinking that they alone can understand and fulfill their difficult but special partner. They may see their partner as somehow a great catch and believe they need to do extra work to keep him/her. Perhaps their partner feels a bit out of their league—more intelligent, good looking, charming, educated, wealthy, or successful than they are and therefore worth the high maintenance they need to do. Similarly, a narcissist’s favored and enmeshed child may be under the delusion that s/he is the only one who can manage that parent’s happiness. Such children often construct their identity around the demands of the parent, constantly working to please and appease.

No Way Out

Frequently, enabling partners of narcissists stay in their relationships even when they realize they are being abused because they don’t see a way out. Their abusive mate is likely to have undermined their independence and support network by

eroding their self-confidence,
burdening them with excessive responsibilities and problems,
isolating them from family and friends,
draining their finances,
alienating them from their children, and
threatening to leave them with nothing.
The Enabling Covert Narcissist

In some cases an enabler may be a covert narcissist impressed with the apparent confidence or success of a more overt narcissist. Such an enabler may admire the other narcissist and feed his/her self-esteem and identity by living vicariously through that partner. Or the more covert narcissist may derive satisfaction and social attention and approval from managing the overt narcissist’s difficult and selfish personality. In such a relationship the narcissistic enabler may present him- or herself as the long-suffering good, kind, loyal, patient victim who deserves better but below the surface is just as self-centered and exploitive as his or her counterpart. In a sense the overt narcissist enables the covert partner through positive or negative association. As parents, both narcissistic partners enable each other by overlooking and/or supporting their negligent and abusive behavior toward their children.

Trauma Bonding

Typically a narcissist manipulates an enabler through alternating abuse and special treatment. The enabler falls into a pattern of avoiding attack while also seeking rewards such as affection, praise, sex, or money. In this dynamic the enabler experiences trauma bonding with the abusive narcissist, becoming emotionally and physically addicted to the roller-coaster of positive and negative reinforcement.

Enablers Versus Flying Monkeys 

“Flying monkeys” are enablers who also perpetrate the narcissist’s abuse on targeted victims. Like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, they assist in the narcissist’s dirty work and carry out abuse by proxy. Often children or other relatives in the narcissistic family, flying monkeys may be narcissistic themselves. There is a fine line between enabling and acting as a flying monkey. Often enablers cross that line to avoid being targeted themselves or because they are invested in believing the lies that justify the narcissist’s abuse of others, particularly scapegoated children. For such children, the betrayal of the enabling parent may be harder to accept and forgive than that of the narcissist because the enabler is the “safe” parent who should know better.

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Big Sissies: How and Why Narcissists Get Worse with Age

Why does it seem that narcissists get worse with age?

Aging is hard. Losing our vitality and facing our mortality can be scary and painful. But we discover upsides, like reaping the fruits of our personal and professional labors, recognizing our core values and releasing shallow pursuits, and enjoying long-term connections with family and friends. But for the narcissistic personality, gratitude is difficult and aging tends to heighten feelings of vulnerability, fear, and rage.

Bitterness

Instead of maturing, mellowing, and gaining wisdom, narcissists, unless helped with treatment (which is unusual), remain emotionally stunted children whose deficient empathy and self-centered neediness intensify with aging. They view growing old as a series of ravaging defeats that they struggle against with denial and resentment or submit to with depressed resignation.

Having relied heavily on externalities such as their looks, wealth, fame, connections, or professional achievements to fortify their fragile self-esteem, older narcissists find themselves increasingly stripped of their defenses and diminished in their ability to charm, impress, bully, manipulate, and otherwise control others. Since narcissists nearly always refuse to take responsibility for their actions or circumstances, they grow bitter and feel victimized by life, blaming others for their disappointments.

Going to Extremes

Narcissists tend to age into extreme versions of their worst selves. And when dementia comes into the picture, it often exacerbates matters. As narcissists get worse with age, they become more

  1. desperate,
  2. deluded,
  3. isolated,
  4. paranoid,
  5. defensive,
  6. bitter,
  7. angry,
  8. rigid,
  9. mean, and
  10. abusive.

Isolation

Because of narcissists’ lack of compassion and their antagonism, as they age their relationships and friendships often falter or fail, leaving them lonely and isolated:

  • Spouses may have left or withdrawn to avoid their criticism and combativeness.
  • Adult children may have pulled away or cut contact altogether because of their toxic influence.
  • Their grandchildren may be estranged from them because their adult children have asserted boundaries to protect their families.
  • Friends may have pulled away because of their unmasked arrogance, selfishness, and envy.
  • Neighbors and other community members may have rejected them because of their callous behavior and rude assertions of superiority and entitlement.
  • Extended family may have excluded them because of their divisiveness.

Bigotry

As their personal power fades and their social sphere narrows, narcissists are more likely to look for scapegoats anywhere they can. Their increasingly desperate grandiose delusions often bring out bigotry and assertions of superiority over marginalized people, including other old people. Aging narcissists often express ageism, sexism, racism, and queerphobia to bolster themselves against their feelings of lost power over others.

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Maddening and Bizarre Things Narcissists Do Explained

Many of us are familiar with the narcissistic personality’s classic traits such as grandiosity, callousness, and trigger-happy rage, but there are other things narcissists do often mistaken for individual personality quirks that are actually explainable aspects of pathological narcissism.

See if you recognize these weird things narcissists do and the reasons behind them:

1. They fat-shame. From judging you about your weight and eating habits, to controlling your food choices and portions, to eating food off your plate, narcissists have funky food issues relating to body image, shame, and control.

2. They walk ahead of you. They literally walk in front of you or way ahead because they’re so impatient and/or need to show their kingly/queenly superiority.

3. They value the opinions of strangers over family. They are always looking for the next new person to idealize as a source of validation and status while devaluing those close to them because reality disappoints.

4. They speak in an affected way. They speak in a theatric, haughty, or otherwise self-important way to get attention and convey their exceptionalism. Some even adopt an accent.

5. They’re weird about gift-giving. Their self-centeredness and manipulativeness lead them to

  • not give you anything at all;
  • give or regift cheap or random things that show they have no idea or concern about what you like;
  • give you things they would want that you have no use for;
  • give excessively to show how thoughtful/generous/tasteful they are, particularly when trying to ingratiate themselves;
  • buy one for you and one for themselves; and/or
  • attach strings to your gift.

6. They’re prone to conspiracy theories. They, particularly closet narcissists, view themselves as victims and project their envy, paranoia, cynicism, and bankrupt motives onto others.

7. They admire totalitarian leaders. They respect dominance, view people hierarchically, and believe in an entitled class of superiors lording over the worthless masses.

8. They don’t answer questions directly. This keeps you off guard while allowing them to avoid responsibility.

9. They rewrite history. They interpret events according to how they need to see things rather than as they are, and the past is open season for distortions, omissions, and outright lies.

10. They traumatize you before your important events. Whether you’re graduating, having an audition, or getting married, they need to make it all about them and sabotage you.

11. They sleep with and/or stay in touch with your ex. Does your father still keep in touch with your ex wife/husband? Did your mother have a “special” relationship with your boyfriend/girlfriend? Did your ex sleep with your best friend? To hell with boundaries; what a perfect way to feel superior and in control while humiliating you!

12. They interrupt. In particular exhibitionist narcissists feel compelled to dominate the conversation; are easily bored because they miss nuance and lack empathy; have low impulse control; think they have more important things to say than you do; and believe they have greater entitlement to speak.

13. They show poor sportsmanship. When they win, they gloat because they feel superior. And when they lose, they pitch a fit, pout, make excuses, or challenge the outcome because their self-worth is on the line.

14. They’re too involved or not involved enough when you need help. You know this one: They get angry at you and/or abandon you when you’re sick, hurt, or in trouble because it’s a pain in their a** and they really don’t care. Or they use your illness/misfortune to get attention for being a long-suffering victim/saint great humanitarian.

15. They see things naively. Yes, they’re cynical and often calculating and sneaky, but their simplistic black-and-white thinking, compulsion to deny reality, and need to idealize certain types of people can make them childlike and absurdly naive about life, love, and human behavior.

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