And thank God I'm not anymore.
I understand narcissists. I used to be one.
It started during my teenage years, but thankfully, didn’t last long. My parents both caused (and screamed me out) of narcissism. Here's how I stopped being a narcissist when I wrote a letter to my grandiosely narcissistic father and covertly narcissistic mother.
As a child, I felt loved for what I did but not for who I authentically was. You worked hard to remove who I authentically was, replacing it with a downloaded copy of yourselves. Growing up was never about self-discovery; it was about brainwashing, indoctrination and performing well. Thus, my self-esteem in myself as a child was very low.
Because of this, parental correction and discipline were excruciatingly painful. It brought on full narcissistic collapse: the feeling that you’re less than nothing, don’t deserve life, and are the lowest human on Earth. I felt worth less than sh*t and that I had no basis upon which to make eye contact with another human, let alone stand up to them. I spent many hours curled up in the fetal position, sobbing my eyes out.
The envy I felt toward other normal teens was horrific. I hated them for being more confident, prettier, opinionated, happy and healthy. I hated and envied them for what I didn’t have.
But I didn’t hurt anyone because I didn’t want anyone to endure the pain I endured. Committing narcissistic abuse is a choice. I chose not to abuse. It’s wrong. And my empathy and sympathy for others runs deep. I didn't want anyone to endure at my hands what I endured at my parents’ hands.
I suspect this is how you, Dad, felt about yourself and what triggered your blackout rages followed by hours of lying in your darkened room, experiencing narcissistic collapse.
Was I “defensive” as a child? Absolutely! I was fighting for my life. Fighting to be OK. Fighting not to collapse. And it was odd. Every time I started to cobble together some vanity and feel OK about myself, you destroyed me again. It was as if you sensed I was starting to feel better about myself and wanted to take that “prideful” girl down a notch. Again and again and again.
I was not prideful. I was vain and that's something entirely different. It’s called “False Ego.”
But you never understood that. Remember how I tried to explain to you that grandma was vain, not confident? Oh, how she bamboozled you!
Pride has a valid basis. C.S. Lewis came close to describing it in The Screwtape Letters when he said, “[God] wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.”
That is true self-esteem and pride: Healthy, accurate, truthful.
Vanity, however, is like the vanity cakes Ma Ingalls made. Fluffy on the outside, but nothing on the inside. No self-esteem. It is the Narcissistic Supply and False Self every narcissist develops just so they can survive and function in this world, work with others and make a living.
A healthy person has self-esteem and can thus afford to be humble because to admit a flaw does not destroy them. They know they can afford to be wrong because they know they’re OK.
As always, C.S. Lewis said it best in The Screwtape Letters:
“You must, therefore, conceal from the patient the true end of humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has.
Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists of trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are, in fact, less valuable than he believes but that's not the point.
The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method, thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they're trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.”
But in the end, dear parents, you screamed me out of my narcissism, too. And I thank you for that. I learned that the best way to mitigate the drama was to…grovel. To show you, Mom, the empathy Grandma always denied you because you were assigned the role of scapegoat.
“Oh, I’m so, so sorry.” I could turn on the tears on a dime; that helped. After all, you always screamed at me until I broke down into tears. So, if I cried right at the beginning there was less drama.
Somehow, I learned how to live without much self-esteem. I couldn’t stand up to anyone and I couldn’t handle professional criticism. But I could drag myself into the world, day after day, always late, always dreading it, always feeling like a piece of sh*t and the lowest form of life on the planet, shunning eye contact, without turning to narcissism to cope.
But a funny thing happened when I got married. Naturally, I thought you had handed over your job of constantly criticizing me to “keep me on the straight and narrow” to my husband. Wasn’t that one of the reasons you denied me my freedom? Because you didn’t trust me to remain moral, make my own decisions, and choose a good man?
I even offered my husband, Michael, the job. I told him to go ahead and tell me how I needed to improve. How pathetic is that? I shudder at the thought. But at least I was humble.
Now that, parents, is true love and respect — something you never had for me. Because you’re narcissists. You have no self-esteem. Even your daughter is a threat. You’re weak. Scared. Terrified. You didn’t parent me. You bullied me.
Thank you for screaming me out of narcissism. I’m glad I’m not a narcissist anymore. And I’m glad I understand it.
You have my empathy.
This article was originally published at Psych Central. Reprinted with permission from the author.