Early on in my search for answers, I came across the information that narcissists and sociopath are made, while psychopaths are born.
What does that mean? In essence, it means that a person who would, otherwise, be normal and have no brain anomalies, will become a narcissist through the influence of the environment and upbringing. One of the most common ways to create a narcissist is to raise them in the midst of abuse. Often times, narcissists are raised by one or more already disordered individuals – this could easily be a narcissistic parent themselves. Instead of going into the specifics about the creation of a pathological narcissist, I will instead share the video below for those of you who would like to learn more:
It’s fairly safe to say that before becoming narcissists, not all, but many have been victims. For those of us who have been victims of created narcissists, this can be hard to swallow sometimes, because they have acted nothing short of monstrous towards us, it’s counter-intuitive to think about them as victims of anybody. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they were likely abused in some way, shape or form during childhood.
Yet, while this explanation may give us some insight on the cause, it’s a much simplistic way of looking at the issue. Because, interestingly, not every child who is abused becomes a narcissist. In fact, a lot of these people go on to create amazing good in the world, either by becoming advocates/activists in causes related to abuse or any other arena that serves a greater purpose.
So it’s only logical to assume that there has to be some other factor at play. I don’t have the answer as to what this other factor may be; what I do have are a question and an answer:
Question: how do I, as a victim of a narcissistic ex-partner, feel about this explanation?
Answer: I empathize with what caused them to become narcissists, but that doesn’t make their actions and behaviors justifiable or any less monstrous. These are two separate things that can be looked at separately.
Let’s elaborate on that:
I think any empathetic person will agree that a child who suffers any kind of abuse or neglect is a victim and that should never happen. It’s very unfortunate that this can’t be completely extinguished from the face of the earth. Equally unfortunate is the fact that many of these children end up creating psychological defense mechanisms that keep them trapped in cycles of destruction all around them while being at some level oblivious to their dysfunction.
With that being said, while it isn’t their fault that they have been abused, it’s still their responsibility to lead their adult lives under the same laws, social norms and expectations as the rest of us. Their words, actions, and reactions are still their responsibility.
I also highlighted the expression “at some level” because they may have internal perceptions that were shaped by those defense mechanisms, which they use to “justify” their misdeeds to themselves – but they do distinguish right from wrong – otherwise, no lying or manipulating would ever take place.
And this is precisely when the victim becomes the abuser. It’s where the term “hurt people hurt people” is derived from. Because from the point of telling right from wrong onward, they are faced with choices like everybody else. We all have to make decisions in life that sometimes mean we choose to take the right path instead of the easy one. The narcissist’s criteria come from a different point of reference: “what better serves me and what doesn’t” – including when this is completely devoid of a moral compass.
If previous abuse could justify destroying people’s lives, then we would have to rethink our society as a whole and set all criminals free. It would also mean that now, after being in an abusive relationship, it would be acceptable for me to go around exploiting, manipulating and hurting people. We all know this isn’t how it works, now is it? So, this becomes much more a matter of philosophical questioning than a viable, practical approach to life.
Let me give you an example to illustrate my next point: my first experience with a Cluster B was a friendship with a borderline woman over the span of about 7 years, roughly. The crazy-making behaviors leaked into all areas of my life. She was in therapy at the time and asked me to take part in a session one day. Without going into too many details, from this experience resulted my knowledge about borderline personality disorder. I did extensive research on it. With it came understanding, empathy, and compassion.
What I failed to realize at the time, to my own detriment, was that it was possible to understand and feel empathetic while at the same time refuse to keep engaging in the friendship, at the expense of my own well-being.
Empathy towards Cluster B disordered individuals is viewed as a vulnerability to be exploited. So, needless to say, my ability to empathize caused nothing but more exploitation and other issues. So, I decided to distance myself and go no contact. I continued to understand and empathize with her struggles and childhood history, but I no longer put my own sanity and well being in jeopardy to fill her bottomless well of needs. Years down the road I was even able to hold a superficial conversation with her – at a distance. But I never again engaged it as an ongoing friendship.
The important lesson here is this: we can’t let our loyalty and empathy towards another person overpower our own need for well being, sanity and self -love. Being loyal, empathetic, caring and supportive are good qualities to have, however not at the complete expense of being loyal, empathetic, caring and supportive towards ourselves. With the exception of parenthood, if a relationship causes you to consistently neglect yourself in order to satisfy the other person’s needs, it’s time to reevaluate it. Particularly when this isn’t a two-way street and the other person not only doesn’t extend you the same types of compromise but on top of that refuses to acknowledge and appreciate you for yours.
All Cluster B individuals have some level of narcissism. Many of them have been victims of some sort of abuse or neglect. This is unfortunate and sad, but reality, as it presents itself after the fact, becomes unfortunate, sad and destructive to people close to them. These are the facts, it is what it is. If anything could, in fact, be done to free them from their dysfunction, that would be a different story. However, little to nothing can be done and, therefore, avoiding these disordered individuals becomes a matter of survival – psychological and/or physical – and, therefore, our only viable option.
Here’s something else I want to point out to victims out there who may feel guilty about leaving the narcissist, as we know this happens a lot: you may see it (like I also did) as if leaving them somehow would be unfair, cause them hurt. This is your gaslit mind talking.
You may reason that despite the abuse, they aren’t all bad, there are good sides to them. They have done seemingly loving things (keyword here being “seemingly’). They may, indeed, have done such things, however, this too is part of the game!!
I used to think “I can’t possibly leave him, I’ll be yet another woman to prove to him that relationships hurt”. Somehow this became more important than the fact that I was feeling miserable, I was sick, I had chronic anxiety, always at peak levels, I was shaking constantly, I was skin and bones. I was being psychologically tortured, smear campaigned, neglected and abused. More importantly, every single justification I found to stay was sustaining a false dichotomy and masking the underlying fear I felt towards him and what he was potentially capable of doing if I left. The fear was real and proved justified. So I ask you:
How would something like this be fair to you? How isn’t this cruel to you? How much is this hurting you? Isn’t it illogical and cruel for us to be punished by the abuse inflicted on them by somebody else?
Here’s what is going on: they have gaslighted you into keeping your focus on them while entirely diverting it from yourself. I am not overstating this when I say that this mindset has almost cost my life. While you’re so busy trying to prove yourself to them, you completely ignore your own needs and rights as a human being; a gaslit mind will feel guilty if, at any point in time, you think about or express your own needs – and, mind you, this is done to you intentionally.
So you need to take a step back and look at this situation more objectively. Why is it that you feel it would be unfair to them for you to leave? How genuinely concerned is this person about how you feel, as they watch you drown? Is this fair to you? Does the fact that they may have been abused as children give them the right to abuse someone else? Bring your focus back onto yourself for a minute, ask yourself how a third person would see your situation. What would someone who really cares about you tell you about what you’re experiencing? Imagining a third person perspective is one of the many helpful ways to bring objectivity into your thinking process. Or, how about what you would tell your dearest friend if they were in your position?
The bottom line: leaving a narcissist doesn’t necessarily keep you from having the ability to understand how their dysfunction came about, nor does it mean that you lack empathy for what was done to them. All it means is that you choose not to keep yourself further victimized or your physical integrity threatened by their dysfunction. That you choose to break the cycle of abuse. This doesn’t make you bad, it makes you human with a survival instinct and the right to be treated with respect and dignity. If you can’t see that, in and on itself, this lack of awareness is very telling of a mind that has been gaslighted to the core. That should be your first clue. I know this because I’ve been there.
Narcissists bring upon themselves their worst fears of abandonment, leaving behind trails of destruction and hurt. They are bound to repeat the generational cycle of abuse. I used to think it was logical that people who had been abused as children would grow up to be keenly aware of how their actions can hurt others and never do towards another what was done to them. I also felt like, through my ability to love my ex-narc I would be able to help heal those wounds. With narcissists, unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The childhood abuse shapes their core functioning and they become either unable or unwilling to break the cycle. This becomes especially complicated when children come into the picture and you find yourself with the responsibility of protecting them too. This is a very difficult situation to be in.
At the peak of the abuse, when I went into survival mode and had absolutely zero awareness about narcissism, I felt mostly confused, hurt and scared and I wasn’t particularly concerned about understanding the root of the problem. Now, through my healing process, I am able to have a clearer picture of how he became who he became and accept it for what it is, while at the same time having compassion towards myself for what was done to me and taking care of my well-being. This can be very empowering. It isn’t my job to fix him, it isn’t my fault or responsibility that he turned out to be a narcissist. My job and responsibility are to stay true to myself, protect myself and my child and release feelings of resentment and hurt, as this is one of the most beneficial things I can do for my healing. And these are also things I have some level of control over, as opposed to how the narcissist behaves. Hurt people hurt people. In holding on to feelings of anger and resentment, we keep hurting ourselves.
I recognize that in the early stages of recovery it is next to impossible to see things this way. If that’s where you are, don’t worry about it. The grieving process happens in stages and they all have their purpose. Grieve at your pace, but keep moving forward. It may never become a less traumatic life event, however, how you see and deal with the trauma will change. The open wound will become a scar, the victim will become survivor, the survivor can rebuild, thrive and go on to to great things, because of – and despite – having once been the victim. Embrace the healing, aim for thriving. Peace be with us all.