Q: Thanks so much for this website. My ex husband was diagnosed with NPD, and having this resource has made a huge difference to me. It takes away some of the enormous pain of wondering how can he do such terrible, selfish things to people who loved him, because now I know it’s not personal. I would trace his NPD back to his mother, who was fun and interesting and one of the least empathetic people I have ever met. I can see how her toxic mix of attention (he was the “golden boy” his brother was the scapegoat) and emotional neglect would warp a child.
I have questions that may be more philosophical in nature, while I read through the specifics elsewhere on here.
1) To what degree do you think narcissists are “made” rather than just born with something wrong in their brains? If he’d been co-parented normally/morally (his father died when he was young) might he have turned out differently? Overcome his genetics? I ask in part because I have kids, and I do NOT want them to end up like him.
A: Many researchers and mental health professionals believe NPD results from a combination of factors including biological vulnerability, relationships/interactions with early caregivers, and psychological factors such as temperament and the ability to manage stress. Some authors feel NPD individuals are “made”, i.e., more likely to develop when children experience care giving that is excessively pampering and overindulgent, or when parents have a strong need for their children to be talented or special in order to boost their own self-esteem. Other authors feel that NPD develops as the result of neglect or abuse inflicted by parents during childhood. Yet other authors suggest that NPD is due, at least partially to genetics. The common premise here is that the development into an adult fails for some reason which results in the person remaining in the early, self-focused narcissistic stage of development. You may find the article “Causes of Narcissism” on this website to be helpful. More than likely it is a combination of nature and nurture. If your ex had been parented normally/morally, as your children will be, the potential for him to be a full blown narcissist will be significantly decreased. There is healthy narcissism and I do hope you allow your children to develop a strong sense of self confidence without worrying that they will become like their father. Narcissism is normal in children and decreases with age.
2) Is there a progression of behavior in NPD? He seemed more “normal” early on and got more extreme as time went on… particularly after his mother died. She was awful, but there was something about her passing that allowed his NPD to really bloom. Was it an internal sense of abandonment? His advancing age? Something else? Toward the end, it was like he couldn’t control or disguise his motives any longer, even though that worked against him in the divorce, at work, etc.
A: Yes, there is typically a progression in symptomology. It has to do with time rather than other factors- the longer time goes on, the harder it is to keep up the façade of normalacy; the harder it is to keep the mask on. It is possible that a traumatic event (such as his mother dying) would cause the mask to slip off permanently and, certainly, to a narcissist the death of someone they put on a pedestal would be traumatic and likely would bring on strong feelings of abandonment.
3) I totally admit to codependency — I loved him very much, he was SO exciting, and I’m a people-pleaser who was always trying to fix the problem without understanding what it was… if I’d behaved differently (put up with less foolishness) might he have ended up differently? I feel like the answer to this is, no, we’d just have split up much earlier.
A: Some of the reading you have done is paying off in understanding NPD. You are correct, he would not have “ended up differently” and most likely you just would have split up sooner.
4) I finally understand his “love”… he adored my adoration, and got nastier when the kids and I got older and started to resist his control and call him on his behavior. Do narcissists have any internal sense at all that they are manipulative or unkind? Or is it just everybody else’s fault? He was not a rule follower, so maybe he figured emotional rules were for lesser people. I know this is meandering, but I feel like if I’d shown him every single thing on this website he would not have identified with it at all, unlike the way I can identify bad behaviors in myself (whether I like them or not). I still struggle with how he could be so bright and yet so oblivious to how offputting he could be to random people when he wasn’t deliberately trying to charm. Did he just not care? Even a narcissist should be aware that infuriating people might come back to bite them, or is that just a huge blind spot? Or doesn’t matter/he will win them if he needs them? Thanks for your time.
A: If they intellectually understand that they are manipulative or unkind, they rationalise it away or blame the other person. Again your understanding is coming through- emotional rules do not apply to him and he is not capable of genuine positive emotions. Narcissists do not feel there is anything wrong with them– they rarely go for therapy- and most of them would not identify themselves as such even when reading an article that fits them to a tee. If he is not trying to charm someone for a specific reason, then they are meaningless to him and so he does not care about them. Sometimes they insult, degrade or offput others in order to beef up their feelings of superiority. Narcissists do not care about others or other’s reactions—positive or negative—unless they want something from that individual.
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