• survivethenarcissist

The How...

It's all well and good to know the characteristics/traits of a narcissist, but the HOW is hugely important. How does one become a narcissist anyway? Is it hereditary? Is it caused by bad parenting? Is it the result of trauma? Yes, yes, yes and then some. But before I delve into all of the hows, please, please know and understand that being raised by a narcissist does not define you, nor does it mean you will become one. I did not become a narcissist, but I had a very clear picture of all that was wrong, and all of the behaviors I DID NOT want to repeat.

I've done extensive research on narcissism, especially with regard to how this happens. I've also had many, many conversations with my therapist about what behaviors cause one person to become a narcissist, and another person to not. Let's talk about trauma, first. I believe Psychology Today said it best: "What seems to drive narcissistic individuals is something called “the Narcissistic Wound”. At some time in their life, usually in childhood, the narcissistic individual is shamed or disgraced in such a way, that they can never again truly feel good about who they are. Perhaps it is a parent or a critical coach or teacher. Perhaps a superbly timed and well-targeted putdown just at the moment when the young narcissist is acting like a star that he thinks he is." So this person who is this compliment and/or admiration magnet is nothing but a wounded little child. He/she cannot face the day without the adoration from others. And when they don't get it, they feel incredible pain; like big losers; failures. Just like they felt the first time they experienced the Narcissistic Wound of humiliation. And they spend a lifetime trying to heal that wound, but failing every time.

It should be noted that in many cases the Narcissistic Wound was so severe, and so traumatic, that the person has suppressed the memory of it. The resulting behavior is the same, but they cannot face the reality of that original experience(s) of shame or disgrace. In the few conversations I've had with my Narcissistic Mother (NM) about why she felt the need to treat us as badly as she did, her only response was that's how my grandmother (Nanny) treated her. I asked her why she didn't change the behaviors that she hated, and her response was that she did-never acknowledging the emotional abuse she perpetrated upon us. My therapist's theory is that my mother suffered an extreme traumatic experience in childhood (the Narcissistic Wound), maybe even sexual molestation, and either does not remember it, or refuses to talk about it. While I tend to agree with this, I have an alternate theory.

Enter Uncle Lawrence. My mother's uncle, youngest brother of my Nanny, and my great-uncle. He was very smart, made a lot of money (which my mother liked), and had no boundaries. He lived in big houses with swimming pools, housekeepers, and cooks. He married later in life. His wife Marjorie was a widow with a young daughter, and together they had my cousin Jonny, whom I actually got along with quite well since we were only a year apart. Marjorie was mean, demanding and adored herself. She could not walk past a mirror without stopping to admire herself. She loved being rich and reminded everyone of that over and over. Periodically they would invite us to swim, or have a meal, and one never said no to them. What they said was what you did. Everything they did was to make themselves feel good, and there was always a price to pay. There was always some deed that had to be completed for them as a way of showing appreciation for a gift or an invitation to their home. They held money over our heads, and bought our allegiance to them.

Uncle Lawrence was a bully and he humiliated. He, too, was very demanding. When he said "jump," my mother asked, "how high?" My mother was his lackey as a child, a teen and as an adult. She did whatever he told her to do. He occasionally gave my parents small amounts of money, or an old car he was looking to get rid of. My mother never said no to him (nor did my father). He used her for whatever he needed/wanted, and would throw her away until the next time. This is all I know about my mother's relationship with Uncle Lawrence.

Now in my own mind I have questioned whether Lawrence molested my mother. While I am not 100% sure, I don't think he did. I don't think that's what he was about. And many of his behaviors with my mother continued with me. He bullied me, he humiliated me, and when I stayed in his home in Florida for my 21st birthday, he ordered me around like a servant. I needed to earn the privilege of being his houseguest. But, he never touched me inappropriately. Actually, he never touched me at all. Never a hug or peck on the cheek. Never a warm hello, or how are you. He didn't care; wasn't interested. He loved to create games with me like asking me if I knew the definitions of big words. And if I didn't know the answer, he would make fun of me. Once he handed me a dictionary and told me to read it. Or he would show up at my parents' home with crazy Marjorie, and have my parents drag me out of bed at noon on a Sunday to be interrogated about my quest to find a new job. How did I behave in an interview? What did I say? What would be my answers to the same questions he was throwing at me. Repeating this over and over until I said "the right thing." And if I failed any part of this little game, he would berate me and humiliate me. All the while my parents stood there, arms folded, and never once stepping in to defend me, support me, or to make him stop. They just watched while he humiliated me. It was like double doses of abuse. Lawrence was the abuser, and my parents were the spectators at my expense. These experiences had a profound negative effect on me, and took weeks of intense EMDR therapy to emerge from this abuse and to be able to put it behind me. The most interesting thing that I discovered, however, was that all those years I hated him for what he did to me--the humiliation was so painful. But in my very intense therapy sessions I realized that I really had no feelings for him one way or the other; it was my parents I hated, especially my mother. The most destructive and humiliating behavior was the fact that she allowed him to treat me the way he did and she did nothing to stop it or protect me.

The Narcissistic Wound, in my opinion, is the number one cause of narcissism. But let's not forget there are other causes. Intense admiration of a child by a parent is another way a person can grow to become a narcissist. The parent idolizes the child, and places that child on a pedestal. That child can do no wrong. He/she is the most beautiful/handsome, smartest, funniest, most capable, most athletic, kindest, and most loving child ever put on this earth. And this is often at the expense of other children in the same family. The parent's obsession with this child, and how they perceive this child, causes the child to grow to be an entitled adult who needs constant stroking and adoration from everyone around him/her. They see themselves as a star, far above everyone else. And when they don't get the stroking, or they are not rewarded as they think they should be, they feel wounded. They may be extremely moody in order to get the attention they need. And they may treat others poorly with manipulation and/or humiliation.

Lastly, bad parenting is a known contributor to creating a narcissist; parents with super high expectations of the child, and love the child conditionally. The only way the child can receive love is by high achieving and making the parents happy. Everything the child does is to make the parents happy. And when the child fails to be "the best," the parents withhold any contact at all. The child is often lectured, berated, humiliated and punished for not meeting the parents' expectations. The child is even punished with silence; the parents literally stop talking to the child to let him/her know how angry and disappointed they are.

One thing I discovered in researching and writing this post is that all of these different causes of narcissism can overlap. Trauma, extreme admiration, unconditional love, extreme punishment, etc. may all be present in the same situation. I experienced traumatic events, my mother's love was always conditional yet distant, and she punished with silence. When I didn't live up to her expectations, she stopped talking to me until I begged to know what I had done. And yet, I survived it all.

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