The topic of narcissism has gained ground in recent years and there seems to be a lot of mud-slinging around this issue. I want to share a story about what sparked my own interest in this topic along with the reasons why I have mostly decided to leave it alone.
I don’t know when I first heard the term, “narcissist,” but I do remember when I became interested in learning about narcissism.
Someone I know well was making social media posts about “narcissism” that were aimed at another person that I know well. It amazed me because the things that were being described as symptoms of narcissism seemed to describe the person making the post more than it described the person that they were passive-aggressively trying to harm and slander (which is something narcissistic-trait people like to do).
Turns out, projection (accusing people of doing things that you do) and lack of personal accountability and honest self reflection go along with narcissism.
In learning about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I learned a lot about the treatment I had long endured from others–especially the person who made all those posts about narcissism. I also heard from people who went through the same thing, and I learned that it is normal for people who go through long-term “narcissistic abuse” to form similar ways of mal-adapting to stress. CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can often result from long-term narcissistic abuse, and sometimes the similarities to narcissism can be confusing.
I also noticed that people really love to rip on people with narcissistic personality disorder. I understand why. When you live through it, it creates a lot of anger, despair, and resentment and it’s natural to get to a point when you have to vent that towards your abuser–especially in cases of narcissistic abuse when you were totally unable to express any dissatisfaction with the abuser without incurring their wrath.
However, some people were just plain viscous, forgetting that people with NPD are people too.
I also noticed that when people who really have NPD get a hold of NPD terms, they like to sling those around carelessly–just like I witnessed when I became interested in the subject.
However, I also know that it is common for people who suffered narcissistic abuse to go through a period of amazement when they first learn about the disorder, and it is natural for them to see these traits in the people who harmed them. They might even become fearful for a time and think, “everyone around me is a narcissist.” I’ve been there.
The point to all of this is complicated, so let me try to break it down. People are complicated and the things we think we know in the realm of “psychology” are going to be flawed and many “symptoms” overlap. I use the psycology terms so that I can communicate with people who want to discuss these troubles, but I think our understanding is flawed and these labels are going to fall short.
I also don’t like how these illnesses have become weapons to use against people or falsely accuse them, and sometimes (though not always) the person making the accusation is the one with the problem.
Accused of narcissism?
It could be that a narcissist is just projecting and there is nothing really going on to consider. It could be that you have NPD, but that does not mean you are exceptionally evil like people say. You can heal too, but honesty must, must, must, come first. You have to see yourself and Jesus is great at helping with that. It could also be that you have CPTSD.
Narcissism or CPTSD?
I want to discuss my understanding of the difference between someone with NPD and CPTSD (according to my limited knowledge and life experience) because it seems common for people with CPTSD to receive this accusation, and this accusation can be very hard on a person with CPTSD because they are already very hard on themselves.
According to my limited knowledge and life experience, a truly narcissistic person will not be accountable for themselves truly. They create an idea of their ideal self and they present that self to the world and to themselves. They compartmentalize their poor actions and negative personality traits in a way that allows them to rationalize their bad behavior or all out deny it.
They might fain accountability for a time if it suits them socially, but there is no real remorse and any bad thing is justified by some wrong that was done to them.
According to my limited knowledge and life experience, a truly narcissistic person lacks compassion and empathy for others on a deep level. This is not the same as the numbness and fear of connection that can come from CPTSD. People with trauma can love people that they feel safe around. People with true narcissism cannot really care about anyone but themselves.
They might fain empathy for a time when it suits them and outwardly seem to be the most compassionate people. They often take on care-taking or religious rolls to create an image of being such a person, or to convince themselves that they are kindhearted when they are not.
A narcissistic person will rage at people who threaten their false image or fail to meet their demands. They will purposefully slander others to protect their image. They will cause division between people to control situations and people for their gain and for retaining their image. They enjoy hurting others because it makes them feel superior. They will never be satisfied until they have the praise and adoration they feel entitled to, and they abuse people or discard them when they do not provide this to their satisfaction.
People with CPTSD might rage when they feel cornered or see some harm come to others they love. A person with CPTSD might “ghost” people who they view as a threat or disinterested in them, sometimes rightful and sometimes wrongfully. A person with CPTSD might have difficulty taking criticism in the moment, but if left alone of if they have time to heal from their shame in a loving place, they will learn to accept feedback and become thankful for it because they spent many years getting false feedback in the form of slanders, accusations, and projections.
Good feedback helps a person with CPTSD feel grounded in reality and learn good judgment, which is something they struggle with due to the effects of trauma on the brain. Especially if they endured long-term gaslighting (see link) and goal-post moving (living with someone who was never satisfied and made contradictory demands).
Because of this, a person with CPTSD might have trouble over-relying on the opinions of others until they become healed enough to form a solid sense of right, wrong and self. This can look like attention-seeking behavior or over-obsession about what people think of them.
Back to the point. There are many things that seem similar from the outside or from a superficial glance. So, be careful who you accuse and take care not to listen to the accusations of others. If you think you might have NPD, know that it could be trauma-related, CPTSD instead or maybe you’re just dealing with a person who is threatened by you in some way, so they do what many people with NPD do once they get hold of the NPD terms: they use them as a weapon against you.
If someone accuses you of being narcissistic:
If you can consider yourself honestly, then you probably do not have NPD. In any case, we all have troubles to deal with. We all have sins or personality flaws we inherited from this fallen world, but we can heal in Jesus no matter how far gone we think we are or others think we are. Consider it because there might be something useful to learn about your character flaws if there are any truly, but do not let it sink into your heart if this accusation is false.
Before you accuse someone of being narcissistic:
Learning about NPD can help if you suffered this form of abuse, but be careful in what you do with that information. Don’t use NPD terms to harm people or accuse them. They are sick too, if they have it. Be gentle. If they have trauma instead, you’re just making things worse for them possibly. Use the information to help yourself heal, not to harm others. If you like to harm others, then you have enough of your own issues to worry about.