Survivors of Narcissism Need Help

Colleen Sheehy Orme

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I left a diagnosed narcissist. I have spent over a decade in counseling and research on the topic. No one is more relieved to see an elevated awareness of this mental health disorder.

We need to hear these personal stories. We need to grasp the reason for the confusion and the craziness which accompanies it. We need the resources and the rescue. However, we also need the facts.

Not everything which is being written about Narcissistic personality disorder is accurate.

Narcissism has become a popular buzzword.

A catchall label for the misbehaving.

Even now, I can tell you there are intricacies of this complex disorder that I would not feel qualified to address. That is how emotionally entangled it is. And for those of us who have suffered the abuse of loving a narcissist, it's crucial we get the urgent assistance we need.

Anyone who suspects they may be involved with a narcissist needs to consider the following:

1. There's a difference between NPD and narcissistic characteristics.

There are plenty of individuals who are self-absorbed, selfish, or arrogant. Likewise, there are those who are manipulative, controlling, and/or attention-seeking. One or a combination of these traits does not mean someone is suffering from Narcissistic personality disorder.

These are simply narcissistic characteristics. There are plenty of run-of-the-mill, difficult people who possess these types of personality tendencies. Today, many are being 'labeled' with this disorder for simply being jerks.

A true narcissist lacks empathy as well as a combination of these traits. Empathy is the ability to feel the pain of another human being. It's a developmental stage we receive in childhood. It is not something that can be put back into a person.

It's a frightening deficit and what makes narcissists so alarming and abusive.

2. The diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

I was married to a 'diagnosed' narcissist but this is rare. Most narcissists go undiagnosed. They are typically discovered by secondary means, i.e., marriage counseling, addiction treatment, etc. They seek counseling or medical help for an entirely different reason and are inadvertently diagnosed.

There's a reason for this.

Narcissists don't believe they are narcissists. The lack of empathy prevents them from looking outside of their own world. It also prevents them from looking into the world of another. They don't reach what I term 'a moment of emotional sobriety.' They are incapable of reflection. Unlike a gambler or an alcoholic who might suddenly be 'sober' enough to understand their affliction and the damage, they are doing to themselves and others.

Therefore, narcissists do not actively seek treatment on their own.

Adding to this, there are therapists who are not qualified or able to diagnosis NPD. Our first marriage counselor was a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who identified my husband as having a difficult personality.

Had I known I was with a narcissist that early in my marriage, I know I would not have looked back.

It would be many years later when we saw a marriage counselor who was a psychologist that I would understand why I had married a cruel and abusive illusion.

The average counselor may not be equipped to identify Narcissistic personality disorder. It's that extraordinarily complicated and narcissists are by nature extremely charming and manipulative. The best bet is to seek a psychologist, psychiatrist, or highly specialized Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or therapist in the field of Narcissism.

4. Not all narcissists are created equal.

I was with a covert narcissist and while overt and covert narcissists may share the same characteristics and lack of empathy, they can present differently.

My husband appeared laid-back not controlling.

He was passive-aggressive the quietly disconcerting version of control. This is common with covert narcissists. He was not openly arrogant. Instead, he was smug, not feeling the need to regularly voice his feelings of superiority.

Again, in line with a covert narcissist.

Not all those with Narcissistic personality disorder are created equal.

They have commonalities but their behavior, manipulation, control, etc. may exert themselves in various forms. As well as the form of punishment and abuse they inflict on those they love.

A narcissist has an objective. To get the outcome they desire and maintain control. Therefore, it stands to reason their abusive tools (manipulation, control, punishment) are consistent but the method of inflicting it may change depending on what they are trying to achieve. Because they are making calculated choices on what will make a person do what they want for that specific result.

4. Reading personal stories about encounters with narcissists.

A personal story is just that, one individual's experience. And while there are some very good informative ones, there's a danger to the average person writing about a serious mental health disorder.

For the following reasons:

-NPD fools even licensed professionals who are not specialized in Narcissistic personality disorder.

-Many writers are sharing their stories while 'guessing' they were with a narcissist rather than having an actual diagnosis.

-Some cite sources and statistics but without extensive counseling and research, even that can be misleading. For instance, I've read articles that reference how low the statistical number of narcissists is. In actuality, the number is thought to be much higher. Because narcissists don't seek treatment.

-Others say narcissists can be rehabilitated. This is inaccurate. The lack of empathy prevents treatment. The narcissist can't hear what a mental health professional is saying and they don't believe they are a narcissist. It would be rare for a true empathy-lacking narcissist to be rehabilitated.

-I've even read a piece by a social worker therapist who also believed narcissism could be cured. This is two-fold. It reinforces not all counselors have the advanced degrees, training, or specialization on this topic. And the intricacies of the disorder. Was this writer talking about narcissistic characteristics and not actual NPD? Was she speaking to narcissism being a spectrum disorder and some milder?

-I've also read stories where the individual claims ALL narcissists lovebomb or are physically abusive, or anger easily. This might be their own experience. While all narcissists are emotionally abusive they are not all physically abusive. A covert narcissist would not anger easily as they are passive-aggressive and don't overtly present that way. And not all narcissists lovebomb. I was with one who didn't.

5. Listen to how you feel.

A Narcissistic personality disorder is so complex it may be more important to listen to your instincts. This might be a better way of determining if you have entangled yourself with a true empathy--lacking narcissist.

Do you feel confused? Does it feel like you're in love with two different people? A charmer who is equally cold and cruel? Is this person unnaturally cold and capable of abusive emotional cruelty?

Do you feel like no one would believe you if you told them another side of this person existed?

Do they make you feel crazy? As if you are in actual reality and they are in their own version of it? Does your gut tell you something is not right? Do you feel like you dated one person and moved in with another?

If you are living with what I call the five C's:

Cruelty, confusion, contradiction, craziness, and control.

Chances are you have fallen for a narcissist.

You need to find accurate information, the right counselor, and solace that there are others like you. Who realize what it's like to escape this type of abuse. Who understands these aren't difficult self-absorbed or selfish personalities.

That narcissism isn't a topic to be taken lightly.

It's not a catchall label for misbehaving.

It's abuse.

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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a National Relationship Columnist, freelance journalist, and former business columnist. She writes about love, relationships, and self-restoration. She has spent more than a decade in research and counseling on the topics of divorce, relationships, and Narcissistic personality disorder.

Reston, VA
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