An absorption with the self is a classic trait of narcissism. This absorption is total and not just the self indulgent symptoms of a society which is concerned with how we look to others online and elsewhere. For the narcissist, the whole world begins and ends with how they feel and whether or not they are receiving the attention they feel that they deserve. When the attention is focused upon them all is well, should the attention shift away to the needs and experiences of others, the howling black void which is being defended against, makes itself known and rage surges up as a defence. For anyone who is involved with a narcissist in any capacity, knowing that the warmth and charm masks rage and vindictiveness, is a critical level of awareness. When the narcissist feels that the game is not being played in the way which best benefits their needs, a shift in the wind follows close behind.
The narcissists nightmare is not to be the centre of attention and to find themselves in a place where they are required to see another point of view. In fact, rather than getting to the place where another point of view becomes apparent, narcissistic rage is triggered as a defence. This effectively puts a stop to any kind of interaction which allows for two people to hold different ideas. For the narcissist it is their way or the highway and there is absolutely no in between.
This is how narcissism is similar to the psychological splitting which is seen in children. In fact narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis includes splitting as a core defence mechanism. This is a way for the narcissist to preserve their sense of themselves as being wholly in the right with a sense of purity of mind and intention, whilst others who challenge the narcissistic world view become devalued and demonised, cast out into the wilds as being beneath.
The tragedy for the children of narcissistic parents is that they were never valued for themselves but only for what they can bring to the table of the narcissist in terms of feeding their needs. A narcissistic parent will often appear to be wholly invested in their child only to simply lose interest in them if they can no longer control the child and manipulate them to provide the supply of devotion and obedience which is required of them. This is why removal of children from parents with such personality disorder often leads to the narcissistic parent walking away. If there is no control then there is nothing for the narcissist to use to uphold the defences and so the child must be demonised. In some cases I have seen narcissistic parents tell their children how useless and wicked they are for not being obedient. In others I have witnessed parents blame their children for not providing them with the support for their desires in life. When children are rendered into beings to feed the needs of their parent, the narcissistic march continues through the generations. Children need their parents to be wholly focused upon their developing needs and to be able to provide appropriate boundaries as they grow older. There are no boundaries in the narcissists house, just a whole mess of nebulous desires waiting to be filled.
A narcissist is revealed when the wind changes and the true nature of their projections upon the other become apparent. This can happen in an instant should the narcissistic wound be activated through opposing ideas and beliefs or through refusal to act and react on the narcissists terms. It is the diminishing of all others into meaningless minions which gives away the narcissist and this which ultimately means that there can be no real movement forward in terms of giving help.
One of the strange things about narcissists is their tendency to believe that everyone else is a narcissist and they are normal. This projection of the shadow self (that which cannot be seen in the self is only ever seen in others) is a delusional state of mind which is seen clinically when the person with narcissistic personality disorder finds it impossible to understand the diagnosis. This is because of the defences which are employed in narcissism, which act always to protect the person from the reality of their lack of an integrated sense of self. This trait can be seen regularly in online spaces which are filled with armchair amateur psychologists who diagnose others with narcissism. It can be seen in the untrained and unqualified self appointed expert who deconstructs every action of others into evidence of narcissism or a variation of the same. Narcissists are often highly intelligent, extremely clever and able to use their knowledge to protect themselves from what is felt like an assault on their reality when they are challenged to accept a difference of opinion.
When a child has been captured in a delusional state of mind by a narcissistic parent and that delusional bubble is popped on removal of the child, the most common outcome is that the narcissistic parent walks away from the child and does not return. I have seen this occur in several residence transfers where narcissistic traits were present and in the four cases of diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder I have worked with in my time. When this happens, the tragedy for the child is that they have to reconcile for themselves, the fact that they as an individual human being, never really mattered to the parent who inveigled them into rejecting the other parent. That loss for the child is a powerful one and great care has to be taken to protect the child by helping them to understand that the problem is not theirs but that of the parent who is no longer there.
Achieving this with a child without maintaining the split state of mind is our goal in reunification work. Repair of the split is the protection the child needs against development of personality disorder in their own selves. This work is delicate and time consuming but very necessary. It is achieved through the building of a sustained relationship with the child which offers them the therapeutic support that they need to understand that a parent thinks differently to others and to develop the internal recognition that this is not their fault or responsibility.
For a child to have a parent who loves with a glow warmer than the sun and who then switches that warmth off and abandons without a second glance, is a truly terrifying experience. For the receiving parent of such a child, therapeutic parenting is the key. The reunification of the child with the rejected parent is only the beginning of healing, what comes next is critical to the child’s onward healthy journey to a life lived in integration of the self.
For the narcissist the nightmare is to be challenged, for the healthy parent the nightmare is to repair the damage done by the imposition of the narcissistic defences upon the child.
As the narcissist walks away, the healthy parent is left holding the evidence of the generational march of defences.
Transforming these into wellbeing and strength is what comes next.