Editor’s Note: This story was submitted by a fellow survivor of narcissistic abuse. You can submit your story here.
Something weird recently happened to me with my narcissist mother. Last Tuesday, I got an email in my junk folder (all of my mother’s emails go there automatically because they present like phishing or scam emails – how ironic that this is exactly what they are meant to do!!!).
The message was a Pinterest sermon entitled “Just because she’s your mom.”
It looked strange to me because she never refers to herself as “Mom.” And why would she? She never raised me and about seven years ago, she told me that she had two daughters. (She has three daughters and I am the eldest).
I typed the title into a search engine and found the same Pinterest sermon. Basically, there was a list of everything she had done to offend me. She was saying that I had done all of these things to her.
In summary, “I’m your mother so don’t clap back at me or it will hurt my feelings. I’m the only mother you have so you had better stop resisting my efforts to control your emotions through guilt and shame”. It was such an obvious attempt to manipulate me that I had a laugh out loud.
What sparked this narcissistic clapback, anyway?
During the last week of December 2017, my mother sent me a subject only email (no message content) in all caps demanding that I buy furniture for her new home. (She already has two in two different countries).
She was inviting me to visit her in the United States but only if I bought the furniture for her new condo.
The thing is, I was seriously ill and was in the hospital. She had no idea because she did not ever contact me to find out how I was doing. My mother was told over a year before that I have a chronic, incurable condition that causes me crippling pain. My treatment is expensive and I need to spend a lot of time in a hospital. I can’t socialize, travel or do many leisure activities.
So, I reminded her that (a) I was sick and in the hospital and that (b) I needed the cash to pay for my medical treatment. Her response was “I don’t know of anything being wrong with you.”
I reminded her of our conversation a year earlier. I also said that it was extremely rude and vulgar to demand money from anyone via email. She wrote back to me, saying that I was the one with bad communication skills.
Then, I told her I was not okay with not receiving an apology or being blamed about something that she herself had done. I also told her that I was accustomed to her acting immaturely. Then, I reminded her that I was in a lot of pain and would have to sacrifice medical treatment to buy her furniture. She did not rescind her request. In response to that, I told her I would no longer send her money.
I was sick and needed my downtime to recover.
“Please leave me alone so I can heal. Do not send me any more messages. I do not want to be spoken to.”
I sent photos of myself being wheeled from one examination room to the next.
Luckily, I was able to set the hard boundary because I was in therapy for codependency and complex post-traumatic stress syndrome. My therapist told me that once the toxic parent notices that I am sticking to my healthy boundaries, I was going to be getting exactly this kind of pushback. They would tell lies and do everything in their power to guilt me into changing my mind. I was told to completely cut off contact and never discuss my feelings or intentions with the toxic person until I was able to fully accept that they did not care about me. I did not expect her to respond like that. Blaming me for everything she herself did? Color me shocked.
In general, a narcissist is someone with a high opinion of him/herself. In narcissistic abuse situations, this refers to a toxic, verbally (and sometimes physically) abusive person who may have narcissistic personality disorder. People with narcissistic personality disorder have deficits in the areas of self-awareness, empathy, and guilt. There are also malignant narcissists and pathological narcissists, meaning someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) along with antisocial features, paranoid traits, and ego-driven aggression. They may also exhibit an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power and an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement.
Please note: The study I mention here mentions pathological narcissists. In my experiencing reading these studies, they often use this term to describe someone who has socred high on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) test.
How is a Narcissist’s Brain is Different Than Everyone Else’s?
“Persons with pathological narcissism, on the one hand, suffer from feelings of inferiority, while on the other hand projecting themselves to the world as arrogant, disparaging, and self-absorbed,” researchers say. “One of the key features of a narcissistic personality disorder is the lack of empathy. Although patients suffering from such a disorder are well able to recognize what other persons feel, think and intend, they display little compassion.”
Although the findings point to a clear difference between those with and without NPD, more research is needed to pinpoint specific brain regions for each deficit. In the meantime, there are many other ways narcissistic brains differ from others’.
Research Shows Less Gray Brain Matter in Narcissists Which Translates to Less Empathy
“Our data shows that the amount of empathy is directly correlated to the volume of gray brain matter of the corresponding cortical representation in the insular region and that the patients with narcissism exhibit a structural deficit in exactly this area,” said one of the researchers Dr. Röpke. “Building on this initial structural data, we are currently attempting to use functional imaging (fMRI) to understand better how the brains of patients with narcissistic personality disorder work.”
In general, when someone is said to lack empathy, it means they have a hard time putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. If you take this approach, it can be difficult to understand how a person without empathy would ever make a choice that would hurt another individual. In the case of a narcissist, however, there are other things going on in their brains that explain why they may engage in cruel or seemingly thoughtless behavior.
In a study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researchers scanned the brains of people with and without narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD. The results showed that those with NPD had less activity in their brains’ dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and left temporal lobe. Since these areas are involved in processing empathy, it suggests that those with NPD have a deficit in this area.
Narcissists Show More Brain Waves in the Right Hemisphere, So They’re Easily Bored
Narcissists May Stroggle to Recognize Emotions and Facial Expressions
The hippocampus is responsible for processing verbal and visual memories as well as spatial navigation. It also helps us recognize emotions and facial expressions in others. Those with NPD tend to struggle with these skills and display deficits in these areas. This can explain part of the reason they don’t show emotional and compassionate empathy for you. (But don’t assume they can’t tell how you feel – they DO have cognitive empathy, meaning they might not FEEL anything about how you feel, but they probably KNOW how you feel, at least up to a point).
How Does the Mind of a Person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) Work?
When you consider the differences in your brain and the brain of soneone with narcissistic personality disorder, it can feel pretty shocking. But what is it like inside the mind of a narcissist? Here are some quick facts to give you an idea of what it’s like to be inside a narcissist’s head.
Narcissists are deficient in some important “human” ways.
People with narcissistic personality disorder have deficits in the areas of self-awareness, empathy, and guilt. They also lack the ability to handle any negative emotions they may encounter. This leads them to dump their so-called emotional garbage on their closest sources of narcissistic supply.
Narcissists lack emotional and compassionate empathy.
They operate within the paradox of narcissism.
Narcissistic personality disorder creates an interesting paradox; those affected by it are both incredibly fragile and incredibly tough. On one hand, they are extremely oversensitive to criticism and failure. Yet, on the other hand, they also have a remarkable ability to bounce back from adversity – even if they need to lie to themselves to do it.
Narcissists are shameless.
Narcissists don’t feel shame about their behavior. One reason why is because they don’t really know what shame is. Shame is a feeling that’s triggered by a belief that we’re flawed as human beings – but narcissists don’t see themselves as flawed or bad or wrong – so they simply can’t feel shame as other people do. (The exception to this are covert narcissists, who seem to live in perpetual shame.)
Narcissists lack remorse.
Those with narcissistic personality disorder don’t have a conscience the way you and I do. They can’t put themselves in another person’s shoes and understand what it would be like to be abused or insulted or abandoned or embarrassed. They simply don’t care what happens to anyone else as long as they get their way.
Narcissists might secretly hate themselves.
Narcissists are often described as having a grandiose sense of self-importance, which they do. Still, this can be misleading because it suggests that narcissists have extremely high self-esteem. And while they do often appear to be overly sure of themselves, the truth is that narcissists tend to have very fragile self-esteem, which can be easily injured by criticism or failure. Their personality is characteristically defensive and tends to become aggressive and passive-aggressive when challenged in any way. (This is where we often see narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury rearing their ugly heads).
Narcissists can be blind to their own flaws.
Those with NPD usually aren’t aware that anything is wrong with them, unless they’re of the covert nature. Why? Because the average pathological narcissist has an over-inflated, grandiose sense of self-importance. They tend to see themselves as being superior to others and walk around the world with an enormous sense of entitlement. and feel that everyone should admire them for their accomplishments.
Narcissists don’t understand their own emotions.
Research by Professor Jason Moser and others suggest that narcissists have a diminished capacity for what’s known as emotional reactivity. This means they experience less extreme emotions than most other people do, at least when it comes to how they affect other people. (Narcissists are known to have over-blown emotions in regard to their OWN feelings.) In particular, narcissists have been found to have deficits in what’s called vicarious embarrassment—the ability to recognize when another person feels shame or embarrassment.
According to Moser, the way this deficit manifests itself is in “a reduced tendency to feel compassion for others in embarrassing situations.” In other words, because narcissists also lack introspection (the ability to understand their own emotions), they don’t feel bad when they make others feel bad. This not only helps them avoid feeling humiliated themselves; it also allows them to more easily humiliate others without experiencing any of the guilt that a neurotypical person would have.
Narcissists are inevitably self-focused to a fault.
Narcissists are extremely preoccupied with themselves, which they demonstrate in the following ways:
They talk excessively about themselves
They are reluctant to share their time with others unless it benefits them
They require constant admiration from others
They require constant attention from others
They tend to be envious of others or believe that others are envious of them
They have a sense of entitlement – they believe they are entitled to certain things as “more special” than others
They have a strong sense of superiority about themselves
Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): What It Is & HowIt’s Related to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – Reactive attachment disorder is caused by a lack of attachment to the mother or to any specific caregiver when someone is in early childhood.
The normal attachment develops when the parent or caregiver does the most basic types of care during infancy, such as respond to normal cries or signals for food, cleaning needs and offers basic physical affection like holding or hugging.
Without this attachment, the affected person is unable to form this normal attachment, resulting in an inability for the child to form normal, loving relationships with others. Left untreated, this leads, in some cases, to the adult affected with reactive attachment disorder becoming a narcissist or sociopath. I’ll fill you in with this video.
Codependency can be an unhealthy side-effect of a toxic relationship with a narcissist, but what does “codependency” really mean? What are the signs of codependency? What does a dysfunctional family have to do with codependency? And how do you stop being codependent?
Here’s everything you need to know about codependency and how to recover from it.
The Definition of Codependency
When you hear someone use the word “codependent,” often the first thing you think about is someone who is in a relationship with an alcoholic or drug addict. That’s because the term was developed specifically for this kind of relationship – initially.
What is codependency?
“Codependency” is defined as an unhealthy relationship where partners are overly reliant on one another. As a result, a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem-solving develops between the two. This is a learned behavior, most often learned in childhood, meaning it is often passed from parent to child over the course of many generations. Psychologists consider it both a behavioral and an emotional condition that affects your ability to have healthy relationships.
What is the origin of the term codependency?
The term was developed by therapists who observed that family members often took on the psychological defenses and survival behaviors of the alcoholic or drug addict, thereby extending the disease from the individual to the entire family.
Who is affected by codependency?
Originally, the term was used to refer to the family members of alcoholics and drug addicts. Today, we understand that codependency also affects people in toxic relationships. Codependency begins in the family, meaning that it can affect any type of relationship, but the codependent personality is developed in childhood due to family dynamics.
How Codependency Develops in the Dysfunctional Family
What is a Dysfunctional Family?
Dysfunctional families are more common than most people realize. While the dysfunctional family deals with regular conflict, blatant (and more subtle) misbehavior, they often appear “normal and healthy” to outsiders. In reality, many kids in dysfunctional families deal with physical or emotional neglect and in some cases, psychological and/or physical abuse from parents, step-parents, and older siblings, often on an ongoing basis.
Why does a child from a dysfunctional family become a codependent adult?
We develop our understanding of the world and our place in it in childhood. Our parents reject, ignore or neglect us, causing us to feel like we don’t matter, or like we aren’t seen or heard. When we are made to feel unimportant, invisible, and unworthy, we begin to see ourselves this way. We’re not validated and are in fact invalidated by our dysfunctional families. This leads us to become unhealthy, codependent adults. And, if we don’t heal ourselves, we can end up raising codependent, dysfunctional children, who may then continue the cycle with their own children.
Bottom line: kids who grow up in a dysfunctional family become codependent adults because dysfunction feels normal to them, so they subconsciously seek it out or attract it to themselves. Then, they pass it along to their children, who in turn, do the same. That’s why a total personal evolution is required to fully overcome codependency – and to potentially protect future generations from being dysfunctional.
As you might expect, this is also a common phenomenon among people who are in relationships with narcissists. This is because the narcissist has such unreachable standards in any relationship that the “supply” is treated as an extension of the narcissist’s self, when it’s convenient – and as nothing, when it’s not.
Does that make sense? Both the narcissist and the codependent have no sense of self – so they need to have a connection to someone else (the narcissistic supply) in order to sort of siphon off their energy and personality.
When two people have a very close relationship, it’s natural and mentally healthy to depend on each other for certain things. However, if one of you is toxic, abusive (mentally, physically or otherwise), controlling, and/or overly neglectful of the other person in the relationship, this can lead to codependency.
If you’re you’re the victim in this situation, you lose sight of who you are, in order to please only the other person, the relationship can become very unhealthy. One of the most troubling relationship elements is codependency.
The Codependency Quiz
Not sure you’re dealing with codependency? Try our codependency quiz here, or just ask yourself these questions – and be honest when you answer them. This will help you understand if you’ve fallen into a pattern of codependency in your relationship.
Are you afraid to express genuine feelings to your partner? If you notice you often hold in your feelings for fear of how your partner will react, that’s a sign the relationship is not as healthy as it could be.
If you do express feelings honestly, do you then feel guilty? Perhaps you think “I shouldn’t have said anything… it just made matters worse” after you’re open with your partner.
Is much of your day taken up with trying to do everything for your partner? If you’re completing numerous tasks for your loved one that could easily be done by them, you might be caught up in a dysfunctional, codependent relationship. These chores are done at the detriment of your own life.
Are you leery of asking for help from your partner? If you can’t seek assistance from your partner, it’s very frustrating. In a healthy relationship, partners freely and regularly ask for a hand.
When you do ask for help, how does your partner react? Hopefully, your partner is open and willing to help you out whenever you ask. However, if you’re codependent, you might not feel comfortable with asking or with your partner’s response.
Do you find yourself feeling hurt or angry because your partner doesn’t notice your needs? Although you try to take care of everything, you’re disappointed that your partner does not spontaneously see what’s going on with you. You wait and wait for your partner to recognize your needs but they rarely do.
Do you believe you can’t have a friendship independent of your relationship? Because you’re busy doing chores and errands for your partner and he’s rarely satisfied with how you do them, you don’t have time to maintain a friendship.
Do you have hobbies and activities to enjoy separately from your partner? To maintain a healthy individual identity, it’s important to cultivate your own hobbies and interests, apart from the relationship. If you don’t, it could be a sign of codependency.
Do you try to control things to make yourself feel better? Because you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, you don’t want to upset your partner. Therefore, you take steps to control situations however you can.
Would you describe your partner as needy, emotionally distant, or unreliable? These qualities often draw in partners who are seen as “caretakers.” Thus, the codependency begins.
Do you have a perfectionistic streak and try to get things exactly right? After all, if you get things perfect, then maybe your partner will be happier, more satisfied, and less angry, disappointed, or annoyed with you. If you feel this way, your relationship is likely codependent.
Do you trust your partner? If so, maybe your relationship is not codependent. If you wonder what you’re partner’s doing or suspect they’re not telling you the truth about something, there could be codependency in your relationship. On the other hand, there may be just some trust issues you might want to resolve.
How is your health as it relates to stress? Often, people involved in codependent relationships experience health issues that might be related to stress like asthma, allergies, out-of-control eating, chest pain, and skin disorders. Of course, if you experience any of these symptoms, it’s wise to see your doctor.
The good news is that if you believe you’re in a codependent relationship with a narcissist now, you can begin changing your behavior right away to gain back a healthy sense of who and what you are – and that is what will lead to your healing from this abuse and pain.
Use these questions to guide you in correcting your behaviors and emotional expressions in your loving relationships – and as you grow stronger, you can work toward removing the negative influences from your life.
Codependency recovery is a little different for each of us, but there are certain elements of the process that are common to all recovering codependents.
For all of us, codependency recovery begins with recognizing the problem. The first thing you need to do is find some support from people who understand codependency. Scroll down for a bunch of free codependency recovery support and resources.
Next, you need to start working on understanding the situation and why it happened. Identify the toxic people and situations in your life and figure out how they got that way. This will help you to start to see the situation logically instead of emotionally – and that will help you get to the next step.
This leads to the overcoming codependency phase – where you start actually moving forward. This part is all about you: you’re learning who you are, deciding who you want to be and getting ready for your own personal evolution. This is where you begin to thrive and prepare to evolve.
You learn to set and maintain personal boundaries and relationship deal-breakers. You start figuring out what you really want, and you learn to listen to your own intuition again. All the while, you’re clearing out those old “voices” that tell you that you’re not good enough, that you’ll fail, that you will never be (insert dream here). You know, those repeating phrases and devaluing self-concepts instilled in us by our abusers.
You begin to define yourself and intentionally fine-tune your life. During your evolution, you can define yourself. You learn to first unconditionally accept yourself as you are in any given moment and to then decide intentionally what and who you want to be. This leads you to polish and refine yourself and to become secure enough in yourself that codependency is no longer an issue.
Narcissist Relationship Patterns (You MUST Know!)
Tips for Identifying Narcissism and Codependency in a Toxic Relationship
Could you be in a toxic relationship with a narcissist? What is involved in identifying narcissism in a toxic relationship? Are you asking yourself: “Am I codependent?” What qualities do codependents share? Here are the answers you need – narcissism, explained.
If you feel you need additional help and support in your codependency recovery, seek out a trauma-informed professional trained in helping people who are dealing with codependency. Depending on your particular situation, you might benefit from Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching, or you might do better with a therapist. You have to decide what to do from here – if you’re not sure, start with my free Narcissistic Abuse Recovery quiz. With your results will come recommended resources for your situation. It’s totally free.
More Free, Helpful Information & Resources to Help You Overcome Codependency