What Movies Get SO Wrong About What It Means To Be A Narcissist

Photo: weheartit
What Movies Get SO Wrong About What It Means To Be A Narcissist

Many years ago, when my son was studying the Mafia at school, he wondered aloud how difficult it could be for the police to catch members of the Mafia. After all, they all sit around in bars wearing white vests, smoking, and plotting. (He had never seen Goodfellas)!

Surely if he, a smart 5-year-old, could figure it out, what was holding the police back? You simply arrest anyone wearing a dirty white vest and looking suspiciously evil.

In fact, I lived in London during the height of the IRA terror attacks and the police did pretty much adopt this policy. You are male, you are in your 20s, and you are in a white van — you must be an Irish terrorist. I reckon they could have driven through London in a green van with a giant shamrock on the side and the police would never have blinked an eye, but Prince William in a White van would have been fair game.

Are you wondering what has any of this got to do with narcissism? Well, how does it work on TV or the big screen?

It normally goes along the lines of a really smooth, good looking guy arriving from nowhere. No one knows him, he has no history, but suddenly he has infiltrated the family with his wide smile and helpful nature, and I’m on the edge of my seat.

How can they not see through those good looks? Don’t they think it is odd that he arrived from nowhere and singled out this single mother and her hapless brood? The emotional abuse starts small at first, then seems to quickly escalate. And still nothing — no recognition on the face of the hapless victim.

You feel like screaming at the screen; you could yank your hair out in frustration. How can she not see what is going on?! How can she be so stupid?!

That was my impression of a narcissist and, frankly, I thought if you couldn’t spot one, you must be fairly stupid. And yes, I admit it, I thought you probably deserved it.

I should say as someone who works with clients to create solutions to their relationship or life issues, I tend to steer clear of labels. Often when we label another person it detracts from our ability to heal ourselves.

It becomes too tempting to remain in "victim mode" rather than taking responsibility for the situation you find yourself in and work on finding the missing pieces deep inside of you. In that way, you can understand why or how you have allowed or opened yourself up to this type of individual and his or her behavior.

Of course, my stance on this is that no one can treat us disrespectfully without our consent. That said, however, there is always the exception to the rule and spotting a narcissist is no exception.

What if you knew no differently? What if you were born into the arms of a narcissist and their control is so total that it is merely your reality?

You believe everything you are told; there is no physical abuse. In fact, you are pretty much left to your own devices as long as you tow the line, follow the rules of which there are many and all of which are aimed at keeping you small, insignificant and completely emotionally closed.

What if you are so completely brainwashed that not only do you fall into line but you are in awe and dream of growing up to be just like this person?

What if you are so manipulated that you are ever striving to be the good girl or boy because maybe, just maybe you will hear those all elusive words? "I love you, you are enough." 

Of course, they never come, but it doesn’t stop you from trying. It is your life’s mission to be enough and be loved because truth be told, you know that if you aren’t even enough for your mother or father, then who will you ever be enough for?

This is the face of narcissism that few talk of. But this is my story, which still is painful to acknowledge. And yes, I feel pretty stupid, just like those women in the movies — how could I not have seen it? How could I not have realized until it was nearly too late?

How could I know any better when part of the manipulation was being taught not to let people know, and there they were — all the enemy, not to be trusted? And lest the idea arrive in my mind that I deserved to be loved, there were enough tidbits thrown at me to keep me quiet?

There was also a huge amount of guilt involved in being me! Nothing I did was ever celebrated, however great the efforts I made.  However, a lot of effort went into ensuring that I understood that it was unfair that I always seemed to land on my feet.

On and on, through nearly 35 years of this abuse, I had excluded my father from my life; it was required of me to have a fighting chance of being loved. And still I never questioned. Oh yes, as I write this, I feel stupid, manipulated and, at times, I question my own mind.

Another thing I was taught to do — because feelings were denied, situations rewritten or just plain recreated to fit with the picture — was wonder if other people felt as unhappy as me, that life seemed unduly difficult and the world a lonely place. But I never asked because I had nothing to be unhappy about.

I had so much more than I ever deserved. Yes, I knew I had because, for 30 years, my mother had been alluding to this. In recent years, when her grip on me has been lost, there is no more alluding, just name-calling and some pretty true colors being shown.

Thank heavens! I still have days now where I wonder whether I made this whole thing up, just as she tells me I have. That she is the one who has suffered at my hands, that I made her life incredibly difficult and heaven knows what she did to deserve me.

So yeah, those movies have a lot to answer for. They don’t show how deviously clever and subtle the narcissist is. They don’t show them as an average type. They are always beautiful, attractive people, predominately men, and their motives seem premeditated and aimed to destroy.

I don’t believe my mother’s motive was aimed to destroy me, though it nearly did. I tried hard to live up to her expectation and she, in turn, to those of her own mother's. It was all she knew.

However, when my kids came along and my life crumbled, I couldn’t understand how I could treat my children the way I was treated. I couldn’t accept her view of relationships and connections. I had a taste of the unconditional love you only feel with a baby. I was so very confused because the rules I had taken on didn’t fit with being a mother.

Of course I tried to make it work, but in the end, something had to give and that is where my journey inwards began.

It took a lot of work, many years of forgiving myself and creating a positive sense of who I was before the penny finally dropped.

I wasn’t seeing the signs that others were picking up on. I was happier than I had ever been. My kids were happy and my husband was ecstatic; he loved this version of me. I was reconnecting with old friends and seemed to attract new people into my life.

The only one who wasn’t happy was my mother, and feeling her loss of control over me, she began to punish me in subtle ways that no one could see and could justify as just my misinterpretation. Then other people began to share their story of a narcissistic parent which planted the seeds in my mind.

Finally, in a conversation with my healer, she said, "How is it possible that your mother can make so many mean comments by accident? I thought you said she was very careful about the image she portrayed."

BAM! You know that moment in the film when our heroine — the victim — suddenly puts all these pieces together? That was it. That was the final part of my jigsaw.

Not the final part of my story — that is about forgiveness and why it was so important for me to find a way to let go of the hurt of not being loved by my own mother in order to love myself unconditionally. But that is a story for another day.

Today, though, I am enough and I am working very hard at loving myself unconditionally.


To know more on how Allison Reiner works and how she can help you, check out her website, email her at Or to get working immediately, why not download her 5 step worksheet to help identify where you can begin to make changes? Click here. To get to know Allison join her Facebook Community.