Narcissistic abuse takes a lot from its victims: Our sense of self, our security, our trust and happiness, and sometimes even our memories. Often, when we finally break away from a toxic relationship with a narcissist (or any other abuser), we are left feeling like there is no true “us” anymore. We are merely empty shells of the people we used to be. Can you relate to that feeling?
Do You Remember Who the Narcissist Really Was?
When you first leave a relationship with an abuser, it’s easy to look back on all the good times you had with your now-ex as if they were real memories instead of manufactured ones. You may even feel that you miss your ex. But in reality, this person was never really who you thought he or she was.
This person was the false self that your partner created for the express purpose of gaining control over you. Narcissists are expert manipulators who use their false selves to get close to their victims and then use their true selves to manipulate them into staying put by causing fear, guilt, and shame.
Are you ready to release your past and own your future?
If you are ready to release your past, to forgive yourself, and to love yourself despite what has happened, you will also be able to find your own place in the world. You will find your voice and your truth, and you can live confidently with a deep knowing that you are enough.
To do this, you have to let go of the shame and self-blame. You need to understand how their abuse works so that you can recognize it for what it is – the actions of someone who wasn’t capable of seeing you as their equal, who may have had a sort of “god complex” – and who wanted to use and abuse you as an object. If we see these things clearly, we can begin to heal ourselves.
Your Past Doesn’t Define Your Future
Imagine for a moment trying to put on the clothes you wore as a baby or toddler. The fact is, the clothes may be yours but they simply don’t fit anymore. It’s the same with reacting to our past with the narcissist. It makes no sense to go back and dwell because the past doesn’t define your future. Your past was full of narcissistic abuse and was probably traumatic, problematic. It caused havoc and made you doubt everything you thought was true – but you can heal your past for a healthy present…and future.
Is Past Behavior Always an Indicator of Future Behavior?
Your past definitely influences the future. What you went through or the mistakes you made will impact your thoughts and feelings which can lead to a crossroads. One road leads to unconscious thoughts and feelings that trigger destructive behavior and repeat circumstances over and over. Another road leads to healing the past, becoming intentional with thoughts and feelings which promotes healthier choices and actions. The good news is that your past behavior doesn’t have to be an indicator of what’s coming down the road if you do the internal work to heal.
Take Advice from Maya Angelou
Author, poet, activist, and all-around goddess Maya Angelou famously advised us to “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” My point is that the choices we make are influenced by a variety of things including:
Our support system…or lack of it
Our level of education
Our advantages…and disadvantages
The available choices at the time
We may make entirely different choices when any of these factors change. What we chose in the past does not mean it’s what we would choose today or tomorrow. As we grow, mature, find support, and experience different circumstances, we change and so does the quality of our choices. If we stay the same and keep making poor choices, it’s important to look at what is holding us back and do the work to heal and move forward.
Some Things are Out of Your Control
Sometimes circumstances are beyond your control – and when a narcissist is involved, they do everything in their power to prevent you from controlling your own life and circumstances. What you experienced in the past wasn’t anything you chose directly, but something that happened to you.
Still, it’s really important to remember that this doesn’t mean you can’t control the future. You may be unable to change what happened to you in the past, but going through tough situations does provide lessons and awareness that you can take with you and use in the present and future.
In a way, having things happen outside of your control can offer you mental resources that give you control moving forward. It may be as simple as choosing to forgive or learning you can manage stress or uncertainty. These are powerful tools to have today and tomorrow.
Your past doesn’t define your future, your awareness does. What you are conscious of, the choices you make with intention, and the actions you take today are what influence your future more than anything.
Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Resources
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
“To be rendered powerless doesn’t destroy your humanity. Your resilience is your humanity. The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless. They are the weak. To yield and not break, that is incredible strength.” ~Hannah Gadsby
Have you lost yourself during an abusive, toxic relationship with a narcissist?
Going through a toxic relationship with a narcissist can tear you apart and make you feel so beaten down that it feels impossible to recover. At a minimum, you are left feeling devastated, frustrated, headachy, jittery, drained, straight-up exhausted…the list goes on. The pain can seem so bad that you feel cursed. And who could blame you?
It’s awful how someone you loved so deeply could walk away from you without so much as a backward glance. And as they rush around scooping up everything they own maybe including the clothes off your back, it’s almost like they are abusing you all over again! But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are techniques, tactics, coping mechanisms that allow you to feel in control again and to help you reclaim your life after narcissistic abuse.
What is narcissistic abuse?
Narcissistic abuse is a pervasive, covert type of abuse that involves the exploitation and psychological abuse of one partner in a toxic relationship. This kind of abuse can affect a personal connection, such as marriage, partnership, friendship, or family relationships. When you’re dealing with a narcissist in the family, they will often abuse everyone in the household and even affect the extended family members. Even professional relationships and acquaintanceships can be affected by narcissistic abuse.
While narcissistic abuse can result in profound emotional and psychological harm, as well as long-term physical effects, the covert nature can make it difficult to spot and even more challenging to manage. Worse, if you find yourself involved in this kind of relationship, your self-confidence and self-worth are often so low by the time you realize it, you can’t or won’t leave.
The Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Process, Explained
You finally understand that these were textbook narcissistic abuse methods! You also learn how to recover from a narcissist because whether or not it’s a conscious and intentional choice or a cluster B personality disorder causing trouble in your life and your relationship, the narcissist is focused on hurting you.
First, take the time to mourn the relationship.
I’ve always felt that the best way to get through narcissistic abuse recovery begins with some time for a mourning period, with an end date in mind. Depending on the length and nature of your relationship, you may need a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months. If possible, take a little time off work to “launch” your period of mourning, and then maybe a few days at the end of your chosen mourning period.
Then, think like a scientist: research and notice the patterns.
I’ve often mentioned that you need to look at a situation logically before you can understand the emotions that go along with it. What I mean is that to really push through the most painful parts, you can sort of look at the details like a scientist. Think about the psychology of the narcissist, just a bit. Look at and notice the pattern in their behavior, and d some research. You’ll find that what they’re doing might look a lot like a playbook. And then you’re going to want to look at yourself and your own psychology in the same way. Figure out what led you to be vulnerable to the narcissist in your life and notice the patterns that allowed you to stick around as long as you did. Chances are that it might have begun in childhood.
Next, identify and name the narcissist’s behaviors.
For me, being able to identify and name the narcissist’s manipulation tactics sort of took the sting out of the situation a bit, on some level. When I was able to understand the psychology of a toxic relationship, and to sort of look at it “like a scientist” – logically, as opposed to emotionally – I could connect my emotions to the facts.
Then, connect your past to your present.
Find the connection between your past trauma to your present circumstances. That was a big part of stopping the pain and the addiction to the narcissist for me, and I’ve found that my clients usually find it most effective to follow a similar path along their healing journies. It also helped me to learn everything I could about my own psychology (and about codependency, C-PTSD, and the related side-effects) and then to uncover and understand exactly which parts of my life were among the most traumatic and life-changing. Then, I needed to understand exactly how those events and circumstances might have led to my current understanding of both myself and my life. This helped me to work on understanding and learning how to have healthier self-esteem and to recognize that I deserve at least basic respect and that I could choose to set boundaries that make me feel comfortable and safe.
How do you get over the narcissist with the least amount of emotional pain?
When you step back and take a look at all of the things you need to do for narcissistic abuse recovery, it can be distressing to think about how long it will take. However, recovering from narcissistic abuse is not impossible! I believe that with the right mindset and the right tools, you can speed up your recovery time.
What’s the most important thing that you have to do AFTER your break up with the narcissist? There is no instant, painless quick-fix for narcissistic abuse. There is no magical undo button that will erase the effects of psychological manipulation and abuse, nor there is such a thing as an “easy way out” or a fast recovery time.
One of the (many) downfalls of relationships with narcissists is that they keep us hooked with intermittent reinforcement, which, combined with long-game gaslighting and manipulation of our realities, makes it extremely difficult to realize the severity of a situation and deny a painful reality.
Even though there is no magic pill to relieve ourselves of the after-effects of narcissistic abuse, and even though we can’t just snap our fingers and get recovery over with right away, it doesn’t mean we can’t make things better in the process.
The narcissist has hurt you deeply, carved out huge chunks of your soul, and left you absolutely spinning. You don’t even know who you are anymore. You want to scream out loud “Why ME?!” You start to feel like you’re cursed. The pain is unbelievable, excruciating…and it lasts for months upon months. It’s like having shards of glass in your heart…
The only thing standing between you and the healthier, happier future you desire is the narcissist. So where do you begin?
Narcissistic abuse is a difficult thing to endure, but you’re not cursed. You’re a strong survivor and it won’t be long before the best parts of yourself emerge from the fog of manipulation and control. The pain will lessen with time…even if it feels like it will never end. But don’t give up – the journey to feeling whole again is more than worth the effort, I promise you. You can get help from a therapist or a coach, or you can join one of many online support groups for narcissistic abuse recovery.
Question of the Day: What have been your biggest hurdles in narcissistic abuse recovery, and how did you overcome them? Or, if you’re currently struggling, what’s slowing you down? Let me know – maybe I can help! Share your thoughts, share your ideas and your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.
Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today
Why are narcissists and codependents attracted to one another?
There IS a toxic and magnetic attraction between narcissists and codependents – but WHY? Ross Rosenberg, the author of The Human Magnet Syndrome, explains the truth about why narcissists and codependents are so attracted to each other and why, if you don’t take the time to heal before getting into another relationship, you’ll end up with another narcissist.
Plus, we’ll talk about the chemical attraction between SLDs and narcissists and why we are so likely to want to stick around, as well as why the words codependent and empath are not synonymous.
How does attachment theory relate to the Human Magnet Syndrome?
“I rely on attachment theory in order to explain the process,” he said. “(To put it) simply, attachment theory explains that our psychological health or ill health is caused by the manner in which we were loved, respected, and cared for during our critical ages of development, between birth and up to eight years old.”
“And if we endure psychological harm. abuse, neglect, mental manipulation – or we are deprived or neglected or abandoned, we don’t get to attach to a nurturing parent figure,” Rosenberg continued. “Without that attachment, we don’t develop the potential to be healthy high functioning adults. So if you were raised by a narcissist and loved conditionally and had to mold yourself into the type of trophy the narcissist needed in order to get anything, you will not have experienced positive and nurturing attachment.”
That, he said, will impact your psychological health, while your adulthood experiences would also have an impact on your adult relationship choices.
“So attachment theory explains through my Human Magnet Syndrome book why SLDs or codependents always choose narcissists – because they only experience that type of love,” Rosenberg said, adding that SLDs or codependents tend to respond to and are attracted to people that fit what he calls the relationship template that they experience in their childhood.
“That’s how chemistry is,” he said. “If a child who was brought up by the pathological narcissist and who did not attach in a way that would be healthy is going to find the narcissist as familiar and paradoxically safe because they know and have experienced their whole life living with that person and they know what to do.”
Why did Ross Rosenberg create the term human magnet syndrome?
The book cover on Rosenberg’s The Human Magnet Syndrome is symbolic, he told me, as it features hearts coming together and trapped within barbed wire.
“I came up with the term to explain why codependents or SLDs predictably reflexively fall in love with narcissists,” he said. “Talking about attachment, there it is the matching of relationship templates.”
What is the narcissist/codependent relationship template?
Rosenberg explained that most codependents or SLDs would have an intrinsic understanding that to love someone and to be loved, “you have to be silent, acquiescent, constantly vulnerable, and moldable.”
“You also need to be constantly interested in a person who’s not interested in you,” he said. “That’s just the way you understand relationships.”
“And then a narcissist understands relationships (will believe that) that people want to hear what they have to say. (People want) to enjoy their accomplishments; that they want to be told how great a person is – which of course is not true – but that’s what narcissists think.”
“So when the two people meet their opposites, one gives away love, respect, and caring. And (the other) one needs all the love, respect, and caring, these two opposites, through this unconscious process – chemistry – come together almost all the time,” Rosenberg said.
Codependents, Pathological Narcissists and Chemistry
“Codependents, SLDs, will almost always be attracted to through chemistry to a narcissist and narcissist to a codependent,” Rosenberg explained.
“That pull is the attraction process of two people feeling so comfortable,” he said. “Like a dance partnership, the leader needs a follower, the follower needs a leader, and the recognition of that on unconscious levels brings them together like two magnets.”
Rosenberg explained that he chose to reconceptualize and then rename codependency in a way that actually makes sense to people who are suffering from it. He wanted to identify the problem (of codependency) so that people could intuitively connect with and understand and offer them direction on what to do to deal with it.
Are codependents (SLDs) blameless victims of pathological narcissists?
“One of the things that sets me apart from most of my contemporaries talking about the subject is (that) I hold SLDs or codependents responsible,” Rosenberg, a former SLD himself, explained, adding that, “You cannot solve a problem if you share the responsibility, don’t know it or are in denial about it, and want to just blame the perpetrator.”
He said that focusing on being a victim is not helpful in recovery, so taking responsibility for your part in the relationship is key.
Are all codependents empaths?
Rosenberg strongly stated that not all codependents are empaths. And that, in fact, there’s no true connection between the two. So to understand the difference between empaths and codependents; first, we need to define empathy and codependency.
What is empathy?
There are three different types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. Emotional and compassionate empathy seem to be intrinsic for most people, and anyone can learn cognitive empathy. So an adult empath would be able to logically understand what a person feels and be emotionally affected by what they feel. That person’s emotions would also move them to take action to help them deal with what they feel.
What is codependency?
Codependency is when you are dependent on another person in unhealthy ways. In most cases, it seems to be affected by some form of trauma that often occurred in childhood; it is considered a behavioral condition as it inhibits your ability to have a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. A good synonym for codependency might actually be relationship addiction because codependents tend to be perpetually involved in one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive relationships.
Rosenberg on Codependency vs. Empathy
“I completely do not support the term empaths (in relation to codependency) because it’s a candy-coated term that makes the SLD or codependent feel good about themselves, when in fact SLDs have significant psychological problems. Significant!” Rosenberg said. “Without the resolution of that. they will always choose the narcissist – and they will over and over again.”
“They will almost always stay with the narcissist despite the fact that they’re not happy and they’re being hurt,” he said. “And then if they should leave or should be left, they will then choose another narcissist,” he said.
This is why it is so important to understand that self-love deficit disorder or codependency is a psychological disorder that is motivated through volition, he explained, adding that while there’s absolutely no excuse for abuse, as long as people play the victim card and look to books and videos that focus on demonizing narcissists and glorifying “the sacrificing poor SLD or codependent, no one gets better.”
“It holds them accountable in a non-judgmental empathetic, and compassionate way,” he said. “In my book, I explained this is why you are an SLD or codependent. You were hurt badly, and until you saw that trauma that happened when you were a child, you’re going to play out that script for the rest of your life.”
How can you learn more about healing after narcissistic abuse from Ross Rosenberg?
If you’re interested in hearing more about what Ross Rosenberg has to say about healing after narcissistic abuse, please subscribe to this channel and stay tuned for the rest of this series. Of course, you can also visit the Self-Love Institute, get his book, The Human Magnet Syndrome, on Amazon, and attend his upcoming 50 Shades of Pathological Narcissism event.
Get help with narcissistic abuse recovery right now.
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. It offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery and some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Divorce is always difficult and life-altering. When you’re divorcing a narcissist, there’s a whole other layer of manipulation and controlling behaviors involved. And, as painful as it is, it is less uncommon than you’d hope.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost half of all marriages end in divorce. If you are planning, experiencing, or have recently gone through a divorce with a narcissist, there are things you should know about starting over.
How Divorcing a Narcissist Affects Your Health
Research tells us that while most people are resilient after a divorce, surveys indicate that 10-15% of divorced people find it very difficult to manage to start over. If you’re dealing with a narcissist during divorce, you’re probably in that 10 to 15%, sadly. This means that your divorce was or will be quite traumatic. You may be feeling stuck, confused, lost, and abandoned.
Mental Health and Stress Issues When Divorcing a Narcissist
You might feel like dealing with narcissistic abuse for as long as you have could leave you without the skills to cope with loss and start over. And you would not be alone in that feeling – as it turns out, we have seen thousands of narcissistic abuse survivors struggle through divorcing a narcissist. You might suffer from increased anxiety, depression, and a variety of symptoms related to C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) related to narcissistic abuse in your toxic relationship, both during and after the relationship.
You might also feel excessive stress that can lead to additional mental and physical effects. Due to the rejection you feel during divorce, you might struggle with even deeper mental health and emotional wellness issues. In a study published by Ovid Technologies, researchers found that oxytocin, a pleasure hormone associated with social bonding, may have protective health benefits. A separate study published in the American Journal of Science showed that the brain areas that sense pain are also activated with social rejection.
And, according to one researcher, dealing with your parents’ divorce as a child increases your risk for divorce. This makes sense for narcissistic abuse survivors on a deeper level, as a large percentage of narcissistic abuse survivors are also the adult children of narcissists, according to my own research and experience.
The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which measures the relationship between life events, stress, and illness, tells us that divorce is rated as one of the top stressors – and this is just general divorce – not necessarily divorce involving a narcissist. Divorce is topped only by changing jobs in the list of stressors. Other top stressors include moving to a new place
Physical Health Issues When Divorcing a Narcissist
Divorcing a narcissist can be all-consuming, but it’s very important that you put yourself and your health first if you’re going to survive this safely. If you’re not careful, divorcing a narcissist can have serious physical health ramifications. Not only could your brain health be affected in surprising ways, but you might even die earlier than you would have otherwise. A study published in the Association for Psychological Science journal shows that people who are separated or divorced have a 23% greater mortality rate than married people.
With that being said, ongoing narcissistic abuse is known to cause mental and physical health issues that might even be more profound – and divorce may be the first step you must take in order to begin to heal yourself from the long-term trauma you’ve been dealing with. In any case, when you’re dealing with divorcing a narcissist, you’ve got to take good care of yourself.
Research tells us that staying physically healthy and mentally positive are the most effective ways to overcome the health risks associated with divorcing a narcissist.
Starting Over After Divorcing a Narcissist
Staying mentally positive can help you overcome challenges and be resilient when starting over after a divorce. You can do some basic things to help yourself be resilient.
Learn What Other Narcissistic Abuse Survivors Have Experienced in Divorcing a Narcissist
Since divorce with a narcissist might be more common than you’d expect, there are many others who have survived it. Their stories, ideas, and advice can help you start over. See some narcissistic abuse survivor stories here.
But be careful here and don’t allow anyone else’s experience overshadow what you are going through. How you feel may be different from what others have experienced, and my friend, that is completely okay. You are not required to relate or to do anything because of anyone else’s experience. Divorcing a narcissist is difficult and painful and the experience, as well as the healing, is going to be completely individualized for each person who experiences it.
That’s why it’s so important that you give yourself time to process your feelings instead of bottling them up or pushing them aside. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my own recovery from divorcing a narcissist was not allowing myself to take the time I needed to grieve the relationship. I thought that because I was “out,” things would just immediately get better. And in some ways, they did – but I needed to take the time to mourn the relationship.
Things to Avoid When Divorcing a Narcissist
Going through narcissistic abuse is, on its own, an extended trauma in your life. Pile divorce on top of it, and you’re looking at a whole new level of concern. It is never easy, and we all make mistakes in the process. But if you are at all able to avoid the following, you will be doing yourself a big favor when it comes to your narcissistic abuse recovery process (not to mention the process of moving on after your divorce).
Avoid doing anything, especially making life-changing decisions, out of desperation. Always take time to THINK before you act, even if that means you refuse to make any decision related to the divorce on the spot. Get away from the narcissist and take some time to think in a stress-free zone.
Don’t allow the narcissist to treat your children as negotiation or manipulation tools. Do your best to keep any kids you have out of discussions that do not involve custody or the business of raising them. Stay calm and only focus on FACTS when you must communicate about the children. Try to keep your emotional energy to yourself during the divorce – at least when it comes to the narcissist and their flying monkeys.
Be careful to avoid developing or resuming bad habits or addictions. This one is harder, but while occasional indulgences might not hurt, long-term bad habits can be hard to break. Focus instead on what you can do to make yourself and/or your life better in this process. So, rather than eating ice cream every day to feel less stressed, or having a glass of wine (or three), maybe you could add in a stress-relieving walk or a daily meditation session. (Or if you’re like me, your walk can BECOME your daily meditation!)
Avoid becoming a hermit. Divorce can lead to social isolation. Don’t get back together with your ex or date anyone available out of desperation or loneliness. Try socializing with friends or using your time for medication and self-care instead of engaging in risky behaviors. I suggest you wait a minimum of one year beyond the finalization of your divorce to allow yourself to have plenty of time to heal.
You should not be going this whole “divorcing a narcissist” thing alone. There are plenty of resources available to you, whether you’re looking for one-on-one coaching narcissistic abuse recovery coaching, one-on-one divorce coaching, a support group, or even a therapist. In any case, it definitely helps to talk to someone, be they a coach, counselor, or another mental health professional during a divorce. In some cases, you might even be lucky enough to have a friend or family member who is willing to listen and who may understand.
Since divorce is one of the top life stressors, don’t take this lightly – your health is essential, and NOT getting the help you need can put you at unnecessary risk. Even just talking out your problems with a friend can make a difference and allow you to develop resilience.
Remember too that self-care should have a space on your priority list. While there may be practical issues to manage, like living arrangements and dividing property, do not forget to make time to allow yourself to heal. You will need to practice your coping skills to start over and seeing a professional can help you build the resilience you need. Embrace the challenges of starting over with the knowledge that you are creating a new, different, and better life for yourself.
Divorce is almost never easy, and narcissists make it miserable. At times, it may feel like your whole world has changed, and that’s because it has – but my friend, that can be a very good thing if you allow it to be. Point your eyes toward your future and start intentionally choosing what comes next. You can take charge by starting over with an intentional mindset with focused and specific goals as you move forward. You might even want to consider strategizing your own personal “comeback” with one of our coaches.
Is toxic narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder always caused by bad parenting? Is it possible that a person raised by healthy, loving parents in a good, decent home could become a narcissist? Could someone turn into a narcissist as an adult? I’ll answer all of your questions in this video.
If you are in any way related to or otherwise involved with a narcissist, you’ve probably asked yourself at one time or another how they got that way, right? What made them a narcissist? How did they GET LIKE THIS?
And, if you’re like me, you needed to know in order to heal. So, you did your research and you found out that in most cases, it is related to their parents – and sadly, most often, to their mothers or primary caregivers and their attachment styles. That’s why, when you think of any narcissist, the first thing that likely goes through your mind is how badly their parents messed them up.
Because of the fact that most narcissists seem to stop developing emotionally when they are toddlers or middle schoolers at best, and because most research points to the fact that their parents did not give them the love and attention they needed in order to evolve, which led to their emotional immaturity, it’s easy to blame their mothers or parents in general.
But if you’re the parent or sibling of someone who might be a narcissist, and you know for sure that these issues don’t apply to them, you might doubt this theory and find yourself digging for an alternative possibility. And what about those families that have more than one child, and only one turned out to be a toxic narcissist? Or what about people who had good families and didn’t suffer any trauma in childhood?
You want to know if it’s ALWAYS the fault of the parents, right? Well, let’s talk about it.
Are parents always at fault when someone develops narcissistic traits?
Published research studies tell us that the area of the brain that controls emotional empathy and compassion is thinner in those who have NPD than in those who don’t. So, neurology as well as genetic predisposition will have an effect on how a person’s personality turns out.
And then you have situations where their parents who really did their absolute best to raise their children right, but due to their jobs or other responsibilities, might inadvertently neglect their emotional needs, which leads to their child developing a narcissistic personality. They may be clothed and fed well and taken care of when they are sick, and they may have all of the material things in the world – but the parents may not have given them the love and attention they felt they needed.
In these cases, the parents were clearly not in any way abusive. It may have been due to the fact that they had other kids, or they had a sick parent to take care of, or they had a demanding job that was necessary to support the family.
Of course, there are also times when narcissists end up becoming that way because of parents who were, believe it or not, overly validating (such as praising a child when the child may not have deserved it) and overly permissive. These parents may have not provided enough limits or discipline for their kids. And while some kids will sort of naturally self-limit, others won’t, and in some cases, they may become narcissists themselves as a result.
Research on How People Who Weren’t Abused or Neglected by Parents Can Become Narcissists
A 2015 study points to the fact that some parents might have overly praised their kids when they might not deserve it, or have always focused on how much “better” their kids were than other kids. And in some cases, they might have simply given too much attention and indulgence and not enough discipline.
“Loving your child is healthy and good,” as one of the study authors, Brad Bushman, a psychology professor at Ohio State University points out, “but thinking your child is better than other children can lead to narcissism, and there is nothing healthy about narcissism.”
In these situations, kids will often develop an overblown sense of entitlement, which they carry into adulthood. In many cases, they were also not required to show any empathy, nor were they asked to check their egos at the door.
This can happen in a number of situations, for example, being overly permissive with and over-praising children are often reported with only children. Please note that this isn’t always the case and that in fact, it is relatively rare. In some cases, though definitely not all, it can be a bigger issue when parents have struggled to get pregnant or when they’re adopted after a long struggle with infertility, or when they are born prematurely or with other issues that caused their parents to fear for their lives .among others.
And of course, in both the case of the adopted child who is older than newborn at the time of adoption and in the case of the premature or otherwise sick child who spends weeks or months in the hospital after birth, their attachment styles can be affected. That’s because parents aren’t able to connect on the same level as they would normally, so they develop a less healthy attachment style, which goes back to the original theory of the attachment style predicting narcissism.
Sometimes, people become narcissistic that has nothing to do with the parents at all. For example, if a child was ruthlessly bullied at school, or if someone else in their lives caused trauma in any way for them. In these cases, while their parents could have been loving and caring, the trauma they experienced at the hands of bullies or other outsiders could certainly have also been a risk factor for them becoming narcissistic.
And then there are those who end up with something we call acquired situational narcissism.
What Is Acquired Situational Narcissism?
So, we know that it might be possible that someone who was raised in a relatively healthy home by decent parents, but who had other traumas and issues, to become a narcissist. But what other situations could lead to toxic narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder?
And if so, what other types of situations and factors can play into it? Let’s talk about it.
Research on Acquired Situational Narcissism
Research published back in 1996 points to a condition that is referred to as transient, temporary, or short-term narcissism. And even before 1996, psychologists often recognized something they called “reactive narcissistic regression,” which meant that when someone was dealing with a big life crisis, they might end up going through a sort of temporary narcissistic phase where they’d behave like a toxic narcissist until the crisis was over.
And, according to what I’ve found in this and other published research papers, these types of temporary narcissism can also be triggered by medical conditions and even injuries. For example, traumatic brain injury (TBI) has often been linked to narcissistic behaviors and antisocial traits in people who had not previously displayed them.
How to Identify Acquired Situational Narcissism
So what does acquired situational narcissism (ASN) look like in real life? Well, do you know someone who is normally quite humble, but who ended up getting a high-end job and makes a lot of money, or who suddenly ranks high socially, or who ends up gaining celebrity status out of the blue? In these situations, many people are able to keep their heads on straight, but others will seem to sort of lose their humility.
In fact, according to Robert B. Millman, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School, this is what acquired situational narcissism looks like. He points to known narcissists who are among the billionaires, people who become suddenly famous or who manage to rise to aspirational levels in their careers who develop narcissism in adulthood.
Millman adds that celebrities and other suddenly wealthy people will often have lives that are outside of what we’d consider typical. Plus, they might be surrounded by “yes men,” who will ensure that they are given filtered feedback, excessive admiration and are never told “no” for any reason. Plus, anytime someone is a celebrity or a CEO or otherwise wealthy, they might be sought after in ways that will cause them to feel more important or better than others. All of this is like narcissistic supply on steroids if you think about it.
And, let’s not forget celebrities and other public figures might feel a certain amount of pressure from the public – fans and haters alike – to present a certain image and to live a certain lifestyle.
An Example of Acquired Situational Narcissism
A good example of this is the guy you grew up with who was considered a nerd and who was often picked on, but who grew up and invented some big app, or he created a YouTube channel that somehow got a bazillion subscribers and brought him fame, or he became an actor or singer – or who otherwise found himself a celebrity. In any case, this formerly geeky guy managed to attain success to the point he began to be recognized in public, or he suddenly became a member of the social elite for whatever reason.
As soon as he found himself outgrowing that geeky, quiet image, he suddenly felt like a whole new person. Maybe he went a little overboard and started to focus too much on his self-image, and on his own needs and wants. This, along with the fact that his life is very different from the average person’s (as the lives of all public figures will be), might cause him to lose any sense of compassion and emotional empathy he once had. That might lead to him being unconcerned with the “little people” to the point that he would end up inadvertently or directly abusing the people closest to him without remorse. So, while his transition wouldn’t happen as a child, he still would essentially have developed his narcissism the same way that any other narcissist did – just not in childhood.
But why does this happen to some people and not others?
Well, according to Millman, while it is possible to develop narcissism in adulthood for these reasons, among others, acquired situational narcissism is most likely to happen when there were already some pre-existing factors that would have led to narcissism under the right circumstances. All of this means that, at least in some cases, narcissism can be developed by people who had good, healthy upbringings – and that it isn’t, in fact, always the fault of the parents.