In the previous posts, I presented some similarities that borderline personalities share with abusive patriarchy, and I only alluded briefly to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Everyone has healthy self-interest, and some of us have more of a problem balancing that healthy self-interest with interest and empathy for others. Young people are narcissistic, and because of how we are constructed as human beings, we do start out with awareness of ourselves. As we grow and as life “puts us in our place,” we quite naturally grow out of our own extreme of self-interest because of perspective and into a balance with responsible and kind care for the interests of others. NPD, like all other personality disorders, emerges as a stable personality pattern in mature adults that is to enough of an extreme that it creates significant problems for affected person in their both their personal relationships and in their own emotional and thought life. Though we all can be narcissistic from time to time as a function of our personality, those with NPD have a consistent (or stable) problem with the core elements of the diagnosis.
Patriarchy and NPD: A Matter of Extremes
In a way, NPD is “too much of a good thing.” This is something that is very true of patriarchy: It starts with very desirable and good things, and it takes those good things too far with too much zeal and ambition, and soon the end justifies the means. Perhaps that is something that makes patriarchy so misunderstood. It starts from a very good place with very good intentions, but it is not balanced and it does seek intensity and drama. We live in a world that has serious problems, and it can be so appealing to go out and sacrifice everything to make a difference, setting the world on fire with passion for the things that should matter most and changing it for the better. My college days and shortly thereafter were full of these kinds of social efforts from “Hands Across America,” to “Live Aid,” and into later Christian causes like “Operation Rescue.” Those things can be very exciting and rewarding, but most people cannot achieve that “high” on a regular basis. Much of life is about the matters of “every day” life which are not so exciting, and I see patriarchy, among other things, appealing to the desire for excitement and significance by celebrating the every day things. I think it goes off track because at some point, the creature concerns replaced the Creator as a focus, and elements of daily living became sacraments. Gender became a sacrament that imparts holiness and spiritual merit, for example. I think that this is something that NPD and patriarchy share in common in that they make too much of a good thing. It lacks balance in its means and in its kind respect and consideration for others who differ from them.
What is NPD?
If you read the posts about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), you likely already understand much about NPD. I have heard others refer to NPD without the memory problems and other hallmark behaviors that are unique to BPD because both disorders share the same core problems. In a most basic sense, narcissists with NPD display exaggerated self-interest because they are compensating for fear and high sensitivity to criticism. This exaggeration is a means of coping with and resisting the disturbing emotions that they feel deep inside, emotions that they deny feeling, even to themselves. Some of the hallmark features of NPD include personal grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration/attention, a sense of entitlement, and a diminished capacity for empathy. When a person with NPD feels threatened or becomes uncomfortably aware of their internal sense of shame and inferiority, they behave in a number of predictable ways which creates problems for those with whom they interact.
Dr. Daniel Amen refers to this as the “hardware of the soul.” A software program [e.g., good training, Bible Study, good morals] cannot work properly if the hard drive is broken through a stroke or another disease, one of which is NPD.) Because of the nature of the problem, the narcissist has little motivation to change their behavior. They are, by nature, not interested in balancing power and respect in relationships, so they have difficult setbacks to overcome in order to mature beyond their tendencies with little if any motivation to work toward change.
Another consequence of diminished empathy involves what is thought to be an impaired ability to observe or notice the emotional responses of other people, something that adds to their impaired ability to understand the emotions of others. This is also a feature of many disorders “in the autistic spectrum” of diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Disorder. Just as research continues to show in people with BPD, those with NPD also have very limited faculties when it comes to comprehending how other people feel. The areas of the brain that govern some of these functions are small and atrophied, and functional studies such as SPECT and f PET diagnostic testing show that these brain areas do not show the same levels of activity when their findings are compared with the normal population. (Plasticity of the brain – the ability of the brain to adapt through rewiring and growth through behavioral and cognitive change – does offer great hope for recovery, but the mindset of the disorder itself does not give the affected person much motivation to change at all. The brain does not have to stay in its original condition, but it is difficult to get the narcissist to make the first step toward healing because they deny that they have a problem that needs healing. That is a feature of the disorder.)
More practical information discussing the traits of a narcissist with NPD:
- How to Identify NPD
- How to Recognize a Narcissist: Never love anything that can’t love you back
- How to Recognize a Narcissist (Sam Vaknin’s site)
Living with a Narcissist (Coping as an Adult Child of Narcissistic Patriarchy)
If you are a child or partner of someone with NPD, you will find them unable to handle any kind of criticism, resorting to demeaning tactics and intense anger when they feel threatened (though they will never let you see that they feel threatened because of their grandiosity). They NEVER admit to wrongdoing, and when consequences force them to realize that they have failed to be perfect, they will become even more dramatic, emotional, and aggressive. Life is all about blaming other people for their shortcomings, because they are really just terrified inside. Like playground bullies, they don’t take well to open confrontation. Direct confrontation usually becomes explosive, as the narcissist prefers to be passive-aggressive because they actually fear confrontation. That makes them hard to understand, because on the exterior, they seem to seek out conflict and aggression. Considering their inner experience of helplessness and fear seems oxymoronic (if not impossible) when you are on the receiving end of their wrath and if you believe their exaggerated perceptions of themselves.
Narcissists also demonstrate an emotional aloofness, and they can come across as cold and exacting. They are not in touch with their real emotions. (Their inner world is a war effort against true feelings and a desperate flight from emotional discomfort.) Their flattened emotions concerning some matters manifests as a function of their flattened empathy. Trying to negotiate a healthy relationship with a narcissist is very difficult because they do not listen to others (and cannot listen to some extent). Conflicts are usually seen as all-or-nothing challenges wherein there is an absolute victor and a shamed loser. They tend not to comprehend “win-win” situations wherein both parties in a conflict can arrive at mutually equitable solutions or agreements. Every game is a zero-sum game. If they perceive that their opponent in a conflict has any sense or position of personal power, because of their fragile sense of self inside, they believe that they have no power. Power, truth, happiness, and things like fulfillment seem like “finite resources” to them. In their minds, there isn’t enough power to go around for everyone.
Narcissists feel that they always must be the winner for these stated reasons. If they cannot win, they tend to completely remove themselves from the relationship because their internal discomfort is so great. They would rather avoid the terrible discomfort of losing or the reminders of past loss by completely avoiding people with whom they are forced to share a balanced sense of power and worth. Narcissists don’t share these things. In terms of patriarchy, this behavior and response manifest frequently. Patriarchy isolates families from venues wherein they are not in control, and those outside of their system are demeaned and devalued. Because those in patriarchy are special and have a corner on truth, they can rationalize their isolation, thus avoiding the work of interacting with others who compete with them, particularly in terms of ideology. (Oh, those evil Marxists and secular humanists…) Some of this involves a fear of “contamination” as Vision Forum’s Kevin Swanson puts it, but a great deal of it involves a “refusal to play” when they know that their group cannot “win the game.” Refusal to cooperate or even make the effort shields them from the annihilating pain and rage that they face inside when they loose. Patriarchal families also use this as a means of coping when their children reject their belief system through the practice of shunning.
Another aspect of NPD that can be seen in patriarchy is the tendency to take too much pride and credit for the accomplishments of their children, another behavior and attitude that reduces family members into objects, merely things that exist for their use. Their sense of grandiosity gives them the idea that they are of higher worth and status than all others, even their children in a functional sense. (They likely have ideals that attribute great worth and laud to their children in theory, but as the captors of their own internal personal pain, their habits and behavior functionally bear out a sense of superiority over their children which objectifies them.) This sense goes hand-in-hand with the narcissist’s tendency to control and manipulate their children in ways that benefit their own interests as opposed to behaving in a way that preserves the best interest of their children. They medicate their own sense of low personal worth with their children’s lives and success, and this temporarily fills their sense of internal emptiness. They can also become pre-occupied with money and the social status that comes with wealth, and this can also be projected on to children.
All that makes for a great deal of difficulty, because any suggestion to a person affected by NPD results in drama and desperate self-defensiveness on their part. They become like a drowning man who is reaching out to grab onto anyone or anything to stay afloat emotionally. Professionals who are trained in the best ways to handle narcissists struggle in their efforts to help their narcissistic clients, so it is no wonder that loved ones and family members also struggle! Rewarding and intimate relationships require negotiation and common respect, and the narcissist does not have the tools to be able to accomplish these ends.
But take courage! In an upcoming post, I will point you to some approaches and tactics that will help you communicate better with the narcissist in your life in a way that they can best hear your perspective without triggering their defenses.