Are we being too harsh on lower-level narcissists?
A couple of posts by another blogger:
Sam Vaknin’s damaging “definition” of NPD
The demonization of narcissism
We can’t deny that abuse happens, that some people are evil, that malignant narcissism exists. A simple glance at crime reports, ISIS, Nazis, politics, and the like, will confirm that. Just reading about Lance Armstrong convinced me that he was a narcissist, and that his “repentance” was not for real.
The trouble is that lower-level narcissists and borderlines may get lumped into the “evil” category. Not every narc is the same; not every borderline is the same. Heck, it’s said that we are all on a narcissism continuum, that without any narcissism, we’d be doormats.
I suppose we writers must have some form of narcissism, to want to share our lives and stories with the world in our writing. Yet I know I have no desire to hurt or use others like a narc. I just want to write and be read.
While my own experience with BPD is an abusive woman described here, Tracy is not the only person with BPD whom I’ve ever known. I’ve also known borderlines who do not wish to abuse anyone.
It’s because they’re all people. I’m an introvert, for example, but on the extreme end of it. Yet I still enjoy spending time with friends, and not just at home with a book. Other introverts may be far less shy and not nearly as quiet. Not all introverts are the same. Not all NPDs or BPDs are the same, either.
As a Christian, I have a hard time seeing anyone as irredeemable. However, I recognize some people are so far gone that they just don’t want to be redeemed. But does that mean every NPD is on the road to perdition? Not if they repent. Can they repent? Maybe a malignant narcissist won’t, but what about one who’s not malignant? Are they all malignant?
The other blogger writes,
Sam [Vaknin] is not a nice person. I have personally experienced Sam’s toxic behavior (I’ll go into more detail about this later) and came away wounded but much wiser. He is everything he says he is, and his book “Malignant Self Love” makes his self hatred all too evident. It’s a dark and depressing read, and his overall attitude is very negative.
Sam has generalized his deep hatred toward himself to ALL people with NPD. He is the person who is most likely responsible for all the hatred and stigmatization flung at ALL people with NPD on so many of the narc-abuse sites and that attitude has spread like wildfire across the web in recent years.
Before Sam came along and started posting about narcissism back in 1995, NPD was just a psychiatric diagnosis. Now, it’s equated with something more akin to demonic possession.
Yes, of course malignant and high spectrum NPDs can be quite evil, but lower spectrum narcissists are really no more evil than anyone else with a severe mental disorder who act out because of defense mechanisms instilled in them during childhood.
I do still have hope for the narcs who haven’t yet lost their souls. I actually know a couple of borderlines who do not seem abusive at all, and have been in therapy. I have also read about different kinds of borderlines: ones who are full of angst and may try to kill themselves, but mean no harm to others; also ones who are high-functioning and narcissistic. Obviously the second type would be more malignant, but not the first.
I especially hope this, because of the possibility that Tracy and her husband will eventually come to my church. I can hope that the teachings of Christ will finally get through to their hearts and influence them to repent for how they’ve treated people. I can see behavior in their visits to my blog which makes me suspect–is that a trace of compassion?
In the early days after their abuse, all I could see was an evil couple. Nowadays, I still see their behavior as evil, but them–Evil? I don’t know about evil. Despicable behavior, but not irredeemable people. I have seen behavior in Richard that I don’t think was fake emotion.
I was abused so badly by my ex Phil, and in so many different mind-screwing ways (as you can see here), that I’m convinced he’s a narcissist. And yet nine years ago, I got an apology from him. We’re actually civil online, the few times we’ve interacted since then. Lower-level and not malignant, perhaps?
The other blogger writes:
I’m certainly not saying that the victim sites aren’t helpful, because they definitely are (I have one myself–although I cover a lot of other topics too). I’m also not suggesting that narcissistic abuse victims should enable or stay with a narcissist or not go No Contact, or that narcissists aren’t dangerous (they are), but this wholesale vilification of all people with this particular disorder has gotten way out of hand, and Brown thinks it was Sam Vaknin who got the ball rolling on that. I think he is right.
She also writes that Vaknin’s definitions of narcissism combine traits from various different disorders which he suffers from, not just narcissism. (She also posted a follow-up after seeing my reblog, here.)
Some of the narc blogs and abuse blogs do go to an extreme, lumping all narcs into the “evil” category, then spurring you on to hate them and never let go of the hate. The trouble with that is you get so focused on the hate that you forget there are good things in life, too. Do you really want to spend all your days stuck in anger over what happened? Or do you want to let the anger separate you from the narcissist, then let it go from a distance?
Evil does exist, malignant narcissism does exist, and denying this will only make you vulnerable. The experiences of the narc-abuse victim need to not be dismissed. Just like you shouldn’t tell a rape victim to “get over it” or pity the rapist. The victims of narc-abuse should not be scolded for being “bitter” or “not forgiving” when they see in the eyes of the narcissist that he’s not sorry. I also spent a little time (all I could stomach) reading the blog of a guy who claims to be a narcissist–and loves it. He seems to have no conscience or human feeling.
But the danger comes in believing that all narcissists are like this and will never change. Or that all borderlines are the same. I have seen for myself, on one of the more extremist blogs, how this attitude has turned the blogger and his/her commenters into a group of bullies. I see them demonstrating the same narcissistic behavior they condemn.
I also noted that after several years of writing about and finally beginning to move past my own experiences of narc abuse into a place of healing, of letting go of the anger and moving on–
returning to this person’s blog felt like stepping back into anger and a desire for vengeance.
This horrified me because I had been a huge fan of this blog for some time, and thought it was correct about narcissists and how to deal with them. I adopted many of its attitudes and considered it helpful. It affected the very language I used in writing or thinking about narcissists: words like deranged and insane.
Then I had a huge wake-up call about this blogger, after the events I describe here. Another person got bullied by the same blogger and friends for daring to say that not all narcissists are malignant and incurable.
Now I had to backtrack and ponder how much the blog was just encouraging me to become a narcissist myself.
Yet that blog is HUGELY popular.
In this post is embedded a video in which Vaknin discusses the modern phenomenon of narc blogs and the narc abuse victim community, and how it’s turned into a groupthink: Dare to suggest that not all narcs are demons, and you’re turned on, the old mob violence. Vaknin even says it’s because Americans got involved, that our culture/religion is very fundamentalist and puritanical, God vs. the Devil.
He said his purpose was NOT to inspire a mob, but to bring closure to victims of narcissists. Meanwhile, the groupthink online refuses to let the narrative turn away from Good vs. Evil, even though the latest research says otherwise. You do so, and you’re accused of being a “narc lover” making excuses for and pitying the narc.
As I wrote in the comments here,
The trouble is when you get abused by someone who exhibits these traits, you don’t want to empathize with them, because those traits caused the abuse. In the early days, I also found sources that said these people choose to be this way. Well, if they choose to abuse you, you don’t want anything to do with them. Victims also fear that the focus will be taken off the harm that was done, while everyone pities the abuser instead.
But at the same time, as a Christian, the idea of irredeemable evil is abhorrent to me. I believe that anyone could potentially be redeemed. In fact, my conversion to Orthodoxy started when I discovered some of the Orthodox saints believed in some form of universalism. It wasn’t “official” church doctrine, but I identified with their heart. There are even beliefs of Christ preaching to the already-dead….I don’t want to get into all that here, but basically, I don’t want to give up hope for anyone.
But evil does exist, and some people do fit the description. And many of them end up in positions of power. We can be empathetic to a degree, but too far leaves us vulnerable.
The takeaway I get from all this can be summed up this way: Of course what happened to us was wrong. Of course there is evil in the world.
But the purpose of learning about narcissism is NOT to make yourself some kind of crusader against all the narcs in the world, but to help you learn, understand–and then heal and move on.
It’s to help you learn about reasons why people might end up behaving a certain way, not to excuse the abuse, but to recognize that you didn’t deserve it.
It’s also to help you figure out ways to avoid becoming a victim again, to help you not just to recognize narcissistic behavior in others, but to recognize your own vulnerabilities and attraction to such people.
Just as I realized that gullibility and loneliness keeps making me susceptible to such people and their lies, so I need to be more careful. It doesn’t mean I deserved what happened.
Calling yourself a narcissist “magnet” is not helpful if that means you have no responsibility whatsoever in figuring out why you’re susceptible. Do you really want to keep being a victim over and over, or do you want to enjoy life?