Narcissism and Empathy

The topic of narcissism has been on my mind a lot recently. After writing a few posts on my insecurities when meeting new people, it become apparent to me that I was being consumed with external fears and values. I began to wonder if I had become a narcissist. Why have I been so concerned about what others are thinking of me? At first, I wasn’t sure… So I’ve spent a large amount of my spare time researching narcissism.

Before I continue, here is a brief (google) definition of a narcissist:

1. a person who is overly self-involved, and often vain and selfish.
2. Psychoanalysis. a person who suffers from narcissism, deriving erotic gratification from admiration of his or her own physical or mental attributes.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success, or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a variety of situations.
 It’s uncomfortable for me to accept this, but the further I look into narcissism, the more I see that not only was my father a narcissist, but my mother was as well. I had wondered if it were other mental health issues such as drug induced psychosis or schizophrenia, but in learning about narcissistic injuries and the covert abuse tactics it’s impossible to avoid the giant elephant in the room any more.  Apparently there are several types of narcissists, most commonly mentioned are the “overt narcissists”- those who are very clearly narcissistic. And then there’s the “covert narcissists” who are secretly narcissistic, subtly inflicting pain on anyone willing to allow them to do this. When I consider the toxic advice from my others on my fathers side of the family I’m now wondering whether they may be covertly narcissistic as well.
I ended contact with my father around ten years ago, and for the most part understood that he wasn’t very kind. Last year there was a strange coincidence where he saw my grandmother and I out to lunch and decided to invite himself to join. The moment I saw him my heart began racing, my body was tingling, and I felt all of the blood rush from my face. I don’t recall the last time I had been so afraid. He had a forceful energy and was entirely inconsiderate of all those years ago when I worked up the courage to tell him I didn’t want him to contact me anymore.
It was that intimidating encounter that opened my eyes to his narcissism. I believe he is overtly narcissistic, because he was so openly cruel towards me, however he does appear to keep it from many people who simply believe he is a bit of a dead beat. He waited for my grandmother to leave the table to say some very cruel and calculated insults, and while she was there he dropped some incredible double-ended compliments in between boasting about his work in helping veterans with PTSD knowing all the while that I was diagnosed with PTSD months before he began beating me.
I felt hurt and invisible. He did not once ask what I had been doing with my life, and had also managed to put me down in several ways right there in front of everyone. On top of that pain, my grandmother called me later to talk to me further about how wonderful and intelligent he is. I felt so hurt and invisible, just as I had been trained to accept. She knew I was uncomfortable in his company, and she knew that I didn’t want any contact with him. Why had she not asked him to leave us to our lunch, or why did she not ask me about or mention how things were going on in my life?
Our lunch date had essentially turned into a presentation of how amazing my uninvited father is. I sat there pretending not to be afraid or upset, and walked away from the experience shaking until I closed my apartment door and cried. This was just under a year ago and I’m still having nightmares, I’m still feeling scared for my safety. I didn’t connect it at first but I’ve also been feeling quite lost about who I am and what makes me happy. Looking into narcissism I have remembered the advice my grandmother would give me if I opened up to her about his physical abuse when I was an adolescent and teen. “You shouldn’t aggravate him, leave him be”, “He isn’t used to parenting a child and you’re difficult”, “You’re exaggerating/ overreacting/ being too emotional” etc.
I believed her. And I believed her when I asked for her to take me in and she told me I was too much hassle, she couldn’t deal with me. I believed her when she told me I should get over it. And I believed her when she told me I didn’t deserve any special treatment. These were the messages I received when I reached out, as a small child living with my abusive mother, and as an adolescent/teenager living with my abusive father. I believed her because these were the same messages I received from my parents any time I reached out for support.
Why didn’t I deserve support and love? I have no answer for that. Why could I not connect my kind, genuine nature with the harsh, unloving abuse I received? Well, I think I’m slowly figuring it out… If I were to connect this on a rational level, I would have to look at these people close to me, the pillars of my ‘family’ as narcissistic and cruel abusers. Just thinking of it now makes my heart sink because I fear losing hope in them. It scares me that there are people who are unable to feel love. My mother, my father, my grandmother. Admitting their abuse was reinforcing their comments about how selfish and irresponsible I was. But how was I all of those horrible things as a child who loved nature and animals and making people happy? To believe these adults had absolutely no interest in my well being is still so scary to accept. With sadness in my heart I have to accept this, because disassociating from the reality of my abuse is driving me into my own version of insanity.
I’m not a narcissist. I know that because I love them. I loved them while they abused me and I still love them knowing the reality of their abuse. So why was I consumed with how I looked? I don’t relate with being materialistic, and I have a great passion for being a conscientious consumer. It doesn’t make sense that I feel so concerned with how people perceived me based on such shallow values as looks. My only understanding is that I’ve created this face-value paranoia because that was what they told me people saw in me, and I thought if I looked like a respectable member of society they would see me as I truly am. I thought so much about the face-value reasons for their emotional neglect for two reasons; a) I assumed I must look differently to how I feel I truly am, for them to insult me in the ways they have and b) I held on to the hope that someday they would see me as the person I am. My lifetime of doing this has created an extremely unhealthy distortion between what I see and feel within myself.
My truth is that I am someone who feels deeply, the beauty and the pain. I just feel it for others, and ignore it of myself. And my deeply seeded fear of loving, trusting and feeling deeply is not my own. That is a bad habit I have picked up along the way, from the narcissistic beehive I have been living in. I’ve accepted the insecurities of others as my own and forgotten to even question how it made me feel to be told such problems were mine and mine alone to deal with. I dismissed myself because I was punished for standing up for the self that was mine. And I must admit as I wrote this post I’ve felt for the first time what it means when people say there is freedom in pain.
Warm regards, xxx

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