Last updated on 13/08/2021
Since a certain person in a powerful position was running for said powerful position nearly four years ago, people have been throwing around diagnoses of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (which even psychiatrists aren’t qualified to make from afar) with abandon.
I’m a counsellor. I don’t diagnose. But I can hypothesise.
Many of my clients, like so many of us, live with the consequences of having been close to people who sound as if they had narcissistic wounding.
My core counselling model, psychosynthesis, is a transpersonal model. We’re always looking at what might be trying to emerge at a soul level as well as what is happening at a personality level.
By thinking of narcissistic wounding as a spectrum on which we ALL can find ourselves, it’s easier to access that compassion for others AND to set and maintain the boundaries that are essential when dealing with certain people.
When our narcissistic wounding is high, we might:
- flip flop between self-loathing and grandiosity
- attempt to feel better about ourselves by belittling others
- act entitled as if our needs and wants are more worthy and deserving than others’
- toy with others’ emotions and even enjoy the shock, disbelief and pain caused
- disrespect others’ boundaries
- act pained when our ‘banter’ or a ‘joke’ or language or behaviour that others have said is hurtful is challenged (think ‘white fragility’ or ‘cultural appropriation’ when people explain why something is exploitative or at least has roots in exploitation and we make it all about our hurt feelings instead of listening and attempting to do better)
- we blame others for our own mistakes: ‘Look what YOU made me do’
- act all ‘me me me’ and forget to ask how others are doing or think about how they might be feeling
- let ourselves off the hook for bad behaviour because we knew what our intentions were but expect perfection from others.
When we’re with someone else who is acting out their own narcissistic wounding we might:
- give in to what they want because life’s just easier if we go along
- blame ourselves for other people overstepping our boundaries or disrespecting us
- not even bother asserting ourselves because what’s the point?
- play down our accomplishments and achievements in case we’re rejected for doing better than them
- contort ourselves emotionally to meet their needs to the point where we often can’t even identify our own wants and needs
- resent them for seemingly always talking about themselves but not challenge them for fear of reprisal.
These are by no stretch exhaustive lists but I hope it gives you a bit of a flavour.
Equating narcissistic wounding with self love is misleading.
True self love enables us to be more loving towards others. We’re accepting of our whole selves, shadows and flaws and everything.
This means that while we strive to do better, we don’t get lost in self-loathing. We own our mistakes.
All of us are human animals. We all needed to be seen and heard – as babies, children, teenagers and adults – for who we really are rather than who authority figures wanted us to be.
In an ideal world, we’re raised by good enough parents who distinguish between something ‘bad’ that we may have done and our BEING bad.
We’re then – knowing that we have their love – able to develop a healthier sense of ourselves.
Narcissistic wounding occurs when we’re NOT seen for who we are. We are hurt.
Think of the baby who cries and cries and cries without receiving that essential empathy and comfort. This lack of empathy actually impacts baby’s brain development and ability to self-soothe.
This baby is likely to grow up to disown that vulnerable, powerless ‘weak’ part of her or himself and exhibits a lack of empathy to others. Sometimes, even seeming to enjoy others’ pain.
Or the child who is seemingly adored but not for who she or he truly is. Who has the sense that this true expression of themselves would be unacceptable and so stays hidden.
Children raised in such environments quickly become adept at ‘reading the room’ and figuring out how to make themselves safe.
We might then wish we were less empathic but empathy is a strength. We can learn to redirect some of it towards ourselves and set healthier boundaries.
You’ve probably heard of fight/flight and freeze. Fewer people are familiar with the other stress response, ‘tend and befriend’.
Identified by Shelley E Taylor several decades after Walter B Cannon identified the fight/flight response, tend and befriend is a typically (but not always) female response.
We think that women evolved to react to stress in this way because fighting or fleeing isn’t an option if heavily pregnant, nursing or tending small children.
Tend and befriend as a stress response trigger means that we’re more likely to check on everyone to try and ensure they’re all OK. When some of these people have narcissistic wounding, this can get very tangled.
A lot of my work involves encouraging people to remember that we’re each the sun in our own solar system and not putting others’ needs ahead of our own.
This isn’t about riding roughshod over anyone else, simply basic self care which means we can learn to set and maintain those healthy boundaries and do so with love and compassion for ourselves and others.
If you’ve ever wondered if a loved one or someone else in your life has narcissistic personality disorder, notice how it feels to ask yourself if she or he has narcissitic wounding?
Does it help you feel more compassion towards them?
This is in no way meant to sound like I’m encouraging you to do what so many people with narcissistic wounding encourage in terms of amping up the empathy for THEM and putting yourself in emotional or even physical danger.
But when we have compassion, we can set those clear boundaries.
We can read around the subject – I often recommend Elan Golomb’s book Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists and Their Struggle for Self.
We can also do body work (eg grounding and expansive poses for self empowerment and confidence that comes from our core rather than being dependent on what anyone else is doing). You might find some of these tips helpful.
We can also do energy work, tapping to release blocks, limiting beliefs and fears (while empathising with ourselves about our feelings in any given moment).
We can send Metta and learn to get less hooked in.
We might choose a crystal (or a few) to help remind us to ground and be assertive and feel protected and safe.
Most of all, we can remember that we’re whole. We’re worthy of love and compassion and all good things. We are unique – just like everybody else.
We can do the little things, each day, that feed our souls. That help us connect with what makes us feel good so we can give and love from a place of wholeheartedness rather than feeling sucked into others’ dramas and manipulated.
If you’d like some support with this, you can read more about what it’s like to work with me and get in touch to arrange a free, no obligation telephone consultation.
And, as always, my work is all about self care – you don’t need me or anyone else to help you see yourself.
Get to know yourself – whether you recognise yourself as being higher on the spectrum or are affected by someone who is, let yourself feel your feelings.
Feeling our feelings and processing them – in therapy, with trusted loved ones, in writing and other creative pursuits – means we’re far less likely to act out unconsciously.
If you recognise yourself as someone who has been affected by someone else’s narcissistic wounding, self care could include putting extra time and energy into figuring out what you like and dislike. What you want. What makes you happy. What you enjoy. Who you feel good around.
Get to know yourself. Learn to see and hear yourself.
To honour yourself as well as others.
Self empathy is key.
We can learn to accept and send love to ALL of ourselves – even the shadowy aspects we’d love to disown and carry on projecting onto others.