Emotional Baggage · Relationships

Narcissism Takes Over

I find it hard to believe that I’ve made it this far in my blogging existence without talking about my dad.  I don’t talk to my dad anymore: it’s been over a year since we’ve had any meaningful contact.  There are many, many reasons why I’ve cut my dad out of my life and I don’t know if I’ve ever really forgiven myself for that decision.  Regardless, I think I’m better off without him (and the drama that comes along with him) in my life.  I won’t go into too much detail about my dad right now, but I will say one thing:

My dad is a narcissist.

And so, it hit me like a brick in the chest when my student wellness psychiatrist started asking me some of the typical screening questions for a narcissistic personality disorder.  She said, “I want to try something with you.  I want to show you a list of things just to get you thinking.”  As she said this, she thumbed through a worn out version of the DSM-IV-TR.  “I’m only showing you this because I know you can handle it.  I’m not saying you have this.”
My mouth was getting dry and my heart was starting to beat faster.  I was hoping she was looking up the criteria for a social anxiety disorder, or even an avoidant personality disorder, but I was nauseated when she flattened the book in front of me to the Diagnostic Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  It didn’t make sense at first.  We were talking about my discomfort in interpersonal relationships.  How I feel like I can never identify with anyone, or how I feel like no one ever likes me.  Why is he insinuating that I am a narcissist.  I was speechless.

Diagnostic Criteria

tried to believe her when she said she didn’t think I had this disorder.  I know that you need at least 5 of the traits, and they need to be pathological, in order for the diagnosis to apply.  She was just suggesting that maybe, unknowingly, in my interactions with other people I am projecting a sense of entitlement or over confidence even if my intention is the exact opposite.  And lets face it, no one likes a narcissist (I know this first hand).

I highlighted a few of these criteria, not necessarily because I think they apply to me, but because they are some of the areas that caught my attention (or that the psychiatrist brought to my attention as something I might be portraying to other people).  Do I expect to be recognized  as superior without commensurate achievements?  Well, maybe, I guess.  THe part that gets me, however, is the “without commensurate achievements part… I often wish I was recognized more often for how hard I work.  Usually I expect this recognition to come from people close to me, like my husband.  I do get lots of recognition from other people, like K, and other people I work with.  But lacking commensurate achievements… Well, I’m a mom of two young kids and I’m a med student, and I work hard and I get good marks.  I’m not sure if you would consider that a lack of something to be recognized for.  I don’t know.

I’ll skip over #5 for a second and go to the third point I have highlighted.  Envy.  First, don’t we all have envy, to a certain extent?  In general, I am envious of a lot of things and a lot of people.  I am envious of the residents I work with on a daily basis who know more than me, are further along in their education, and who are younger than me.  I am envious of K, for everything she has and the fact that she is so much further ahead of me, even when you consider our age difference.  I am envious of my mom friends who have jobs and money and more time to spend with their kids than I do.  Is it wrong to be envious of these things?  Do I think that other people ought to be envious of me?  Well, I know some of my female classmates envy the fact that I am married and I have kids and I am still managing to make it through med school.  However, they are younger, a lot younger than me, and they still have time.  I certainly don’t think they should be envious of me, nor does it make me feel proud to think that they are envious of me…  Either way, this point really got me thinking.

Point #5 is the main one that the psychiatrist pointed out to me.  If she hadn’t brought it up, I would have never suspected it (and, isn’t that part of the diagnosis of a pathologic personality disorder?).  I often feel like I can’t talk about myself too much or talk about my achievements because it sounds like I’m bolstering myself all the time.  I don’t like to talk much about myself because I feel like people won’t get me, or understand me, or they will think that all I do is talk about myself.  I also often feel like I have a complete lack of confidence and I try hard to exhibit a strong sense of confidence when it is necessary.  Perhaps all of this combined comes out as being over confident, or flaunting, or implying that I am better than other people.  Maybe it comes off as being “too good for you” or, in other words, entitled.  And, maybe part of the reason I had such a difficult time on my O&G rotation was because this is what I was portraying (combine that with my relationship with K and some of the other physicians, and the fact that I work hard and study hard, and that some of the doctors let me do things that they wouldn’t have let other med students do just because of my keen interest).  I really don’t know.  Nonetheless, it really got me thinking.

Hypervigilant Narcissist

“I know this was a hard session for you, G.  And, I only brought this all up because you have so much insight and I think we can look at some of these issues and see where they originiate from.” I know where they originate from… As much as I don’t want to admit it, I know my dad is a part of me. “I don’t want you to leave here and go home fixating on what we’ve talked about.  This is minutia in the grand scheme of things.”

Regardless, I went home ruminating.  I went home depressed.  I went home angry at myself and feeling like I didn’t know who I was anymore.  Can this be true?  Am I really just nothing more than a self-centered, female version of my dad?  I looked through the information that he psychiatrist asked me to read before I came back.  She’s right.  I completely fall under the category of a narcissist.  I guess if I had to choose, I’d rather be the hypervigilant kind than the overt kind, but it still doesn’t make me feel any better.

Since that day, I’ve been doing more reading and research and internal searching.  Is everything about me, everything I do, and every interaction I have really just rooted in this deep seated obsession with myself?  I was particularly taken aback by the very last statement under the hypervigilant category: prone to feeling ashamed or humiliated. Yes.  That is me, completely.  That is why I am working on my shame.  That is why I can’t handle criticism, especially from the people I care about most… ashamed and humiliated… that is my whole social experience.  All. The. Time.

And then I read about Narcissistic Supply: a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment (especially from careers, codependents and others).  Sounds a little like my relationship with K, no?  And then I was more depressed.  Do I have people like her in my life only because I want their attention and praise?  Do I leave her gifts and say goo things about her because I want to maintain my supply?  Is she really just an addiction, feeding my pathology?  I don’t want it to be true, but maybe it is.

I told my psychiatrist about my dad and his narcissism (the grandiose type) and I told her how much I fear becoming like him.  And her response: “It’s interesting that you say that because sometimes one of the major causes of a narcissistic trait is having been the receiver of a narcissistic personality for so long.  The development of a narcissistic personality trait can alos occur from maladaptive parenting and from being brought up in an environment where you are often criticized and neglected.”  No.  That wasn’t my childhood at all…

And then I think back to my dad and I hate him even more.  I hate that the only thing he gave me was this pathology.  I hate that I am becoming him.  I hate that it’s because of him and his narcissism that I’m a narcissist too.  I hate that even my most important and valued relationships are probably based on this unhealthy and selfish desire of mine to be liked and praised and to have my emotional dependence fed and supplied.

I feel like I don’t even know who I am anymore.  And maybe the person that I really am is someone that I don’t want to be.

16 thoughts on “Narcissism Takes Over

  1. Obviously I don’t know you in person, but I don’t know about those characteristics. As for #5, how could your enthusiasm and hard work possible be interpreted as entitlement? I just worry with a lot of these diagnoses that we are pathologizing everything. My mom’s a narcissist and I found this book very helpful and very relevant in explaining some of the ways I feel and react http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/1439129436

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    1. I’ll have to check out this book sometime. I agree with you that everything gets over-pathologized these days. I think it’s part of the reason there’s so much stigma to mental illness…

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  2. Holy cow. It sounds like you and I are leading parallel lives here. In my case, it’s my mother who’s the narcissist. That was a lot of fun growing up with her. She’s gotten much worse in recent years. It wasn’t until my therapist commented a few years ago that she thought my mother was a narcissist, that I even thought about it. Then of course I looked in the DSM and yup, she ticked points 1, 4 and 5 really heavily, with a bunch of 2, 7 and 9.

    But what’s really freaking me out is that Hypervigilant Narcissist list. I do every single one of those things all the time.

    So now I’m sitting here in the same situation as you. Hating my mother even more, and wondering whether I’m just a variation of my mother, and just as unpleasant. Yikes.

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    1. Well, I’m sorry to have blown your mind out of the water there, Mdm. And, I am sure you are in no way like your mother; much like I am not nearly as much like my father as I felt I was that day of my appointment. Just the fact that we have the insight sure says a lot.

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  3. I’m not a narcissist, but my ex is. He’s impossible to be in a relationship with and incapable of having a healthy relationship with his kids. For now, he’s not in the kids’ lives and unfortunately that’s the only way it can be until they can cope (or decide not to bother) with his personality. Too bad about your dad, but I totally get why you’ve had to cut him out.

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    1. Thanks! I often feel like I’ve made the right decision and then every once in a while I feel like maybe I’m being childish. I just got so sick of dealing with his drama. I guess I will never know the right answer.

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    1. Thanks, Meizac. You know your opinion means a lot to me. I guess we can all just go and be narcissistic together (or does that go against the basic concept of narcissism?)

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  4. Wow… up until now I thought I had avoidant disorder.. now I feel like I have hypervigilant narcissist disorder which sounds even worse. Is there are treatment for this? I always wanted to now why I felt so alone but after reading this I’m thinking, it might be better not to know. If you don’t know, there’s no obligation to treat. I also feel tremendous guilt over my dad, whom everyone in my family thinks is a narcissist. I haven’t spoken to him for 2 years now. I demanded he seek professional help if he wanted a relationship with his grandchild but of course he didn’t listen. Narcissists are the most resistant and unresponsive to intervention. Do you think you’re relationship with your dad will ever change?

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    1. It sounds like we have a lot in common! I think the reason I made this decision was because I didn’t want my kids exposed to his crap. I don’t think he’ll ever change. I know my sister said she showed him some videos of the boys (he’s never met E.) and apparently he was all teary and sad that they aren’t in his life. He likes to play the victim, but since I left the door open for him to come back if he makes changes, he is not the victim at all. (Sounds like narcissism, no?)

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    1. Maybe we are… maybe we like ourselves so much that we have to write about ourselves too. Or maybe we are all hypervigilant and we only feel safe in a community where we can’t get criticism from “in real life” people. Who knows. We’re all just sensitive… what’s wrong with that?

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