Invisible Trauma of Childhood Abuse

The Wound of Being ‘Too Sensitive.’

Is it Because of My Childhood?

Article Written by Imi, Copied from Eggshell Therapy and Coaching Website

In my work with emotionally intense, sensitive and gifted individuals, I am cautious of the confines of categories and diagnoses. Far too often, the most creative, forward and independent thinking people are being misunderstood, mislabelled and misdiagnosed. However, it is also true that because of their innately unique ways of perceiving the world, they are acutely aware of and have more intense internal responses towards existing problems in their early lives, which may exacerbate the impact of any developmental deficits and trauma.

A wide array of theories have been proposed to give explanations for heightened sensitivities and its associated traits, but none of these should be regarded as the one ‘truth’. With this caveat in mind, it may be useful for us to acknowledge some of the research and literature on the link between heightened sensitivities and traumatic childhood experiences.

THE INVISIBLE TRAUMA

In the past, psychologists have typically focused more on the impact of ‘shock trauma’ from extreme events such as accidents, wars and natural disasters. However, there is a second type of trauma that is very real and pervasive, yet not captured by the traditional diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Developmental trauma, or Complex PTSD, results from a series of repeated, often ‘invisible’ childhood experiences of maltreatment, abuse, neglect, and situations in which the child has little or no control or any perceived hope to escape. Growing up in an environment full of unpredictability, danger, parental inconsistencies or emotional abandonment, these individuals are left with ’hidden traumas’ that disrupts not only their psychological but also neurological and emotional development.

It is easy tor recognise when a child is explicitly, physically or sexually abused, but the impact of having inadequate or deficient parents can be elusive and escape our collective awareness. Sometimes the trauma could even be about what your caregivers did not do (omission) rather than what they did (commission).

Unfortunately, unlike shock trauma or physical abuse, the psychological injuries caused by emotional abandonment are often invisible and unacknowledged. This may leave these children feeling confused; assuming that their traumatic experience is not justified, and many turn to blaming and shaming themselves. Even as adults, they may suppress or deny these painful memories as they dismissively compare their trauma to those who were more ‘noticeably’ abused.

Growing research has found that a wide array of psychological difficulties finds their roots in these chronic childhood relational and attachment injuries. Children who experience this type of trauma show a disrupted ability to regulate their emotions, behaviours and attention, and these symptoms often extend into adulthood, leading to clinical presentations including Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder and even chronic physical pains (APA, 2007).

THE UNSEEN CHILD

 Either due to physical or mental sickness, extreme work demand, parents who are preoccupied with their own needs may leave their children emotionally unattended, to the point where they feel invisible.

These children are deprived of ‘mirroring’- an essential process for a child’s growth and development of self identity.  All children has a primary need to be regarded as the person they really are, including all thats they say, feel and do. Mirroring is when their parents validate their needs and feelings, and this process is necessary for a child to develop a sense of self worth, a sense that they deserve to exist and that their existence is valuable; the lack of it during the childhood would lead to a sense of hollowness in adulthood.

Our innate need for mirroring is vividly demonstrated in the Still Face Experiment, conducted in 1975 by Edward Tronick (here is a short but provocative video clip).In this experiment, the mother was asked to keep a blank face and not respond to her child’s attempts to engage with her.  When the baby received no emotional responses, he “rapidly sobered and grew wary”, he made repeated attempts to get the interactions with his mother, and when these attempts fail, he withdrew and turned away with a hopeless facial expression. These series of events happened so fast that they were almost invisible.

Since the original study, the Still Face Experiment has been thoroughly tested and replicated, and the impact of parental unresponsiveness is proven to be profound and far-reaching. Babies are not born with the ability to manage their own emotions and need to learn such skill by having another person as a mirror. Without it, these children are left with a sense of chaos, shame, dread, powerlessness and despair.

In some dysfunctional families, the caregivers may disdain their children for needing too much attention, and react contemptuously to their children’s call for connection and attachment. The dismissal of the child’s needs, alongside the dearth of loving interest and engagement, can be more traumatising than physical abuse.

Emotional neglect or abandonment is traumatising for any child, but it’s effects is especially crippling for sensitive children. From a young age, the emotionally intense child has a strong need for deep and authentic connection. Due to having a more sensitive nervous system and heightened perceptive abilities, they are highly aware of their surroundings and would not easily bypass the unconscious messages of contempt or dismissal coming from their caregivers.

While all children must learn to emotionally self- regulate, this skill is critically important for the naturally empathic child. These children may have a more active mirror neutron system, and from birth, they are more susceptible to emotional contagion— the tendency to absorb, ‘catch’, or be influenced by other people’s feelings (see Emotional Contagion). Without adequate mirroring, they do not have ability to ground themselves. This means they can get easily overwhelmed by unregulated emotion contagion, and be further traumatised in the relational and interpersonal world. Feeling bombarded and powerless in school and at home, these children may then learn to shut down, numb themselves, or even dissociate from reality.

Difficulties in regulating emotions– Uncontrollable mood swings, persistent sadness and depression, explosive or inhibited anger, being easily triggered by external events and not able to manage the emotions that surge up.

Chronic Shame – A persistent sense defectiveness— the feeling that one is disgusting, ugly, stupid, or basically flawed. This may involve thoughts such as ‘nothing I do is good enough’, ‘there is something fundamentally wrong with me’, ‘I am bad and toxic’. Such extreme self- hatred may lead to suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviours.

Disconnection and Isolation– Because people who experience early trauma had not felt welcomed into the world, connection (with both themselves and others) becomes a core struggle. They may feel a sense of isolation, of being completely different from other human beings. They simultaneously have an intense need for and an extreme fear of contact.

Feeling ungrounded and powerless- Many People who suffer from developmental trauma constantly feel ungrounded and un-centered in their bodies. They may feel like frightened children living in adult bodies. Many get overwhelmed easily; when things happen, they easily feel close to breaking down.

Hopelessness and Despair – Chronically traumatised individuals feel hopeless about finding anyone who can understand them. Many lose a sense of meaning in life, struggle to sustain faith, and live with a lingering sense of despondency.

Nameless Dread/ Hyper-Vigilance– By being chronically traumatised, their nervous system remain in a continual state of high arousal, which reinforces the persistent feeling of threat. Many feel that they cannot relax, and have to always be looking out for danger. They may be irritable and jumpy, suffer from insomnia, and other anxiety-related disorders and obsessive- compulsive tendencies.

Numbness and Emptiness – Because the repeated abuse or neglect was so painful, many have employed dissociation as a way of coping. This may involve disconnection from the bodily self, emotions, and other people. By keeping threat from overwhelming consciousness, they can continue to function in the outside world, but is left with a chronic feeling of internal deadness.

Environmental Sensitivities

In their seminal work ‘Healing Developmental Trauma’, Heller and LaPierre (2012)  discuss the idea of ‘energetic boundaries’ and how these boundaries can be compromised when a person is developmentally traumatised.

Our energetic boundaries constitute the three-dimensional space that is above us, below us, and around us. It buffers us and regulates our interaction with other people and the environment. We are all to some degree aware of the impact of a compromised physical body— try imagining someone standing too close to you in public transport. However, unlike physical boundaries, energetic boundaries are invisible. Thus, the experience of a boundary rupture can be puzzling and distressing. For instance, you may not be able to recognise clearly when and how your energetic boundaries are being violated.

People with intact energetic boundaries are able to have an internalised sense of safety, and a capacity to set appropriate limits with other and the world around.  However, where there is a chronic early threat, you may struggle to fully develop these energetic boundaries.

You may become extremely sensitive to your surroundings. Sometimes, you can appear psychic and be able to energetically attuned to others and the environment. On the flip side, you can feel swamped or invaded by other people’s energies and emotions. Damaged boundaries can also lead to the feeling of “spilling out” into the environment, not knowing the difference between self and other, inner from outer experiences.

Environmental sensitivity is another telling sign of having compromised energetic boundaries. Because intact energetic boundaries are needed to function to filter environmental stimuli, without it, you may feel extremely raw, as if you are ‘walking around with no skin’. You will feel constantly flooded by environmental stimuli, including ‘human contact, sounds, light, touch, toxins, allergens, smells, and even electromagnetic activity’(Heller and LaPierre, 2012, p. 157) .

The inability to filter external stimuli makes the world seem continuously threatening, leading to a constant state of tension and hyper vigilance.  As a result, you may feel the need to isolate yourself. As you don’t have an adequate internal sense of safety and energetic boundaries to count on, you may have defaulted to using minimising contact with other human beings in order to feel safe.

Developmental Trauma Checklist

Here are some of the questions drawn from a Checklist developed by Heller and LaPierre (2012) on symptoms that may indicate difficulty with the connection (with self and others) due to early developmental trauma.

  • Do you suffer from environmental sensitivities or multiple allergies?
  • Do you have migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, or fibromyalgia?
  • Did you experience prenatal trauma such as intrauterine surgeries, prematurity with incubation, or traumatic events during gestation?
  • Were there complications at your birth?
  • Have you had problems maintaining relationships?
  • Do you have difficulty knowing what you are feeling?
  • Are you particularly sensitive to cold?
  • Do you often have the feeling that life is overwhelming and you don’t have the energy to deal with it?
  • Are you troubled by the persistent feeling that you don’t belong?
  • Are you always looking for the why of things?
  • Are you uncomfortable in groups or social situations?
  • Does the world seem like a dangerous place to you?

Specific Healing Goals

The therapy for developmental trauma is different to the therapy for simple PTSD, general depression or anxiety.

Because of the complicated issues around a personal sense of safety and stability, being exposed to traumatic materials before you are ready can lead to re-traumatization, and reinforce the cycle of hopelessness.  Themes such as safety, mourning, and reconnection are some of the key themes specific to this process.  The following are some of the healing goals that are essential to the recovery from developmental trauma:

  • Locating or developing an internal sense of safety
  • Building connection with self, the body, and emotions- through mindfulness and other mind-body techniques
  • Expanding the ‘window of tolerance’ for various emotions, so you are not constantly in either state of hyper-arousal (acute stress, rage, tension, and panic) or under-arousal (dissociating, disconnecting, feeling empty and depressed)
  • Finding ways to cope when feeling overwhelmed, without resorting to avoidance or compensatory behaviours (overeating, over spending, and other impulsive habits)
  • Learning to experience connection with others as enriching rather than tiring or threatening
  • Becoming aware of and finding ways to preserve your energetic boundaries
  • Neurologically regulating the nervous system in order to cope with day-to-day stressors and triggers
  • Lessening the impact of your internalised shame, and the voice of the inner critic.
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Narcissistic Abuse Reaches Epidemic Proportions

Narcissistic Abuse Reaches Epidemic Proportions

Article Written by Randi G. Fine

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word “victim” in the following ways:

  1. one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent
  2. a person who is tricked or duped
  3. one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment

By these definitions it is clear to me, one who has personally experienced narcissistic abuse and one with a plethora of experience working with the narcissistically abused, that narcissistic abuse is a victimization situation. Those who suffer it bear no responsibility whatsoever for what has happened to them. The only responsibility they have is to try to rise above the abuse, heal from it, and live the rest of their life with some semblance of normalcy.

Human nature compels us to validate, show compassion to and lend support to people and animals that are suffering. This is not often the case when it comes to the narcissistically abused. Instead of receiving compassion or support from their families, friends, communities, co-workers, clergy, or legal system, more times than not they are shamed and blamed by them. This experience only creates more hardship and suffering for those who are already broken from the many forms of cruelty they have endured.

This is a tragedy. First they are victimized by their abuser. Then they are victimized by ignorant bystanders who not only blame them for putting up with the abuse, but also assign them some level of responsibility for the part they played in the relationship.

Narcissists, adept at soliciting sympathy from those oblivious to the manipulation portray the victim as the perpetrator and themselves as the victim. Once this happens victims cannot possibly redeem themselves in the eyes of those who stand falsely in judgment of them; those who admonish them for being such heartless, cruel individuals. The harder they try to defend themselves the deeper hole they dig for themselves and the guiltier they appear.

Deeply in pain from all they have endured they seek help and solace from licensed professionals such psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers, believing that these “professionals” know how to help them—at the very least validate their experiences. In most cases this assumption proves false and disheartening.

Clinically trained therapists who are not out of the box thinkers typically do not recognize narcissistic victim syndrome when they see it. They do not learn about it in school, and there is no diagnosis for it in the DSM-V, the book they rely on to diagnose mental illness. They are trained to recognize the individual components of narcissistic abuse syndrome such as depression, anger, anxiety, PTSD, fear, phobias, weight issues and eating disorders, and relationship conflicts. It can take years of therapy to work through each of these symptoms individually; therapy that will never address the core issue and is therefore a waste of time and money.

In therapy, narcissistic abuse victims are often asked to recognize their part in the problems they are having when in fact they have no part in it. This treatment only makes the abuse sufferer feel more confused and more guilt ridden.

In addition, licensed mental health professionals cannot legally diagnose a narcissist as a narcissist until they have conducted a full evaluation of the person. For that reason they will hesitate to label an abuser that way, even when there is every indication that the person is one. The abused rarely receive the validation they desperately seek.

Confused and disoriented narcissistic abuse victims often present to mental health professionals with an extreme spectrum of uncontrollable emotions. Many who seek psychiatric help for anxiety and depression are falsely diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and put on medications for it. These medications do not address the core issue. They will often exacerbate their existing symptoms and create new ones.

The narcissistically abused who must use the legal system to resolve conflicts such as divorce or child custody are often treated like criminals. In more cases than not they are accused of horrendous falsities by lawyers, judges, and case workers that have been manipulated and bullied by the true criminal—the narcissist.

The children are the ones who suffer the most. They are legally stolen from the safety of their loving, nurturing parent and thrown into the arms of a parent who physically, emotionally, psychologically, or sexually abuses them; a parent whose entire agenda is not to love the children but to seek revenge on the good parent.

These children will not fare well in adulthood. So emotionally tortured with no hope in sight, some do not make it that far.

This problem has reached epidemic proportions. It runs rampant in every country of our world. I work day and night not only to help the narcissistically abused understand what they have endured and recover from it, but to spread the word about this terrible injustice.

I wrote the book, Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: the Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery, released in October 2017 to reach the global population so I can educate them about this epidemic. My hope is not only to help the abused recognize what they have endured, validate them and give them hope, and show them the way to recovery, but to educate mental health and legal professionals about this monumental tragedy that too many have turned a blind eye towards.

I am hopeful that things can change but I cannot possibly do this alone. This will take a collaborative effort. Together we can fight and eradicate this insidious behemoth—one that is responsible for the destruction of innumerable lives.

Please email me at loveyourlife@randigfine.com with any comments, questions, and suggestions.

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Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Begins With Self-Love

Narcissistic Abuse Expert Randi Fine discusses the Importance of developing self-love in NPD Abuse Recovery.

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Narcissistic Intermittent Good Bad Reinforcement

The Narcissist’s One Trick That Can Keep Us Hooked Forever

Casinos know it. Animal trainers count on it. Narcissists have perfected it

It’s the powerful emotional tool known as intermittent reinforcement, and when used correctly, it guarantees to get—and keep—virtually anyone hooked on anything.

Intermittent reinforcement is when one person in a relationship metes out or reinforces rules, rewards or boundaries occasionally or inconsistently. Instead of discouraging the other person, intermittent reinforcement actually does the opposite. It fuels their attempts to extract the reward once again, keeping them hopelessly locked onto the relationship.

Take for example a parent who says “no” to their child 90% of the time. It’s the 10% of the time the parent backtracks, which incites the child to whine, throw tantrums, or harangue to get another yes. Animals will do tricks every time, even after the trainer withholds the reward, like B.F. Skinner’s rat that hits the bar repeatedly for the chance pellet, over and over, whether it gets one or not. Gamblers, too, know that the intermittent reinforcement of the random, small pay out, will keep them at the slot machines until they empty their purses or pockets.

Those of you obsessed with checking your Tinder account, Tumblr blog, or Twitter, for the ambivalent thrill that comes with those hit-or-miss shots of validation, know what I’m talking about.

The narcissist knows what I’m talking about too. He is adroit at delivering a ping of validation when he senses you’re about to pull away, just to keep you tied to a relationship that serves his needs, usually at your expense.

It’ll be bad bad bad bad, but then all of a sudden good, and you are fooled into thinking good is here to stay. So you stay too. And like Skinner’s rat that starved to death in pursuit of the ever-diminishing, random reward, chances are you too will tolerate increasingly abusive conditions in the hope of catching hold again of a (brief) encounter with good.

But with a narcissist, the good is fleeting by design. That’s intermittent reinforcement.

If you’ve ever been stuck in the sticky grip of a narcissist, you know the drill. When the two of you first meet, the narcissist floods you with expressions of love. You are beautiful, witty, enchanting, the woman he’s always wanted but didn’t think existed. His search is over. Your shoulders relax, you let down your walls, throw open the gates. Your heart sings. You let yourself believe you’ve finally found the one.

Then, without warning, the narcissist switches tracks. Out of nowhere, you can’t do anything right. The qualities in you that she first exalted, are now your worst faults. She’s bored with you, disinterested. She starts to mention other guys, her old boyfriend. You think, what happened? You review everything she said, examining past events for clues that she really cared. Let’s see, she went to my hockey games, came with me to visit my mom in the hospital. Stuck love notes in my gym bag. Didn’t all that mean she loved me? What happened? Is it me?

No. It’s not you. You’re just caught in the narcissist cycle. The D&D, devalue and discard phase. The narcissist practice of projecting their internalized self-hate and disdain onto you, by doing and saying things to make you feel invalidated, rejected, and insecure.

Most of us with even a shot glass of self-esteem get hip to this, and decide to say sayonara. That’s when the narcissist will employ the emotional hook: Intermittent reinforcement. To keep you from exiting, the narcissist will do an about face, and signal you’re back in. He’s on time, attentive, he brings your favorite take out, remembers it’s your dog’s birthday. He takes you in his arms, the clouds part, and the light of his love shines down on you once more. You exhale with relief.

It won’t last. Doesn’t matter. Most of us will cleave to those haphazard disbursements as evidence that a loving, reciprocal relationship is still possible. After the investment we’ve made in the narcissist, we’re already set up to seize on reasons to ignore the bad stuff. So we hang in, continue to chase the good. The narcissist delivers her well-timed, little ping. We’re hooked.

The problem is, over time, the episodes of intermittent reinforcement get fewer and fewer, and the incidents of D&D increase. But the pain of D&D will never loosen the hook, as long as the narcissist continues to fall back on intermittent reinforcement. The only way to get free, is to adopt a strict no contact policy. The sooner the narcissist becomes a memory, the better off you’ll be.


*Learn more about Intermittent Reinforcement in Randi Fine’s groundbreaking new book, Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery

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Petition to Stop Parental Alienation

Dear Friends,

The annual convention of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) is being held in Washington, D.C. the first week of June 2018, offering an opportunity for the voice of targeted-chosen parents to be heard by the primary legal-psychological professional organization involved in child custody and high-conflict divorce.

To  quote Dr. Craig Childress Psy.D, a leader in the fight to stop parental alienation, “The world is changing.  We are bringing your voice to the APA.  The solution is coming.  We will not stop until all of your children, including your now-adult children are back in your arms.”

I just signed the petition, “The American Psychological Association: Ending “Parental Alienation” Pathology for All Children Everywhere.” I think this is extremely important. Will you please sign it too?

Here’s the link:

https://www.change.org/p/the-american-psychological-association-ending-parental-alienation-pathology-for-all-children-everywhere?utm_medium=email&utm_source=petition_signer_receipt&utm_campaign=triggered&share_context=signature_receipt&recruiter=539754353

Thanks for your support,

Randi

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FREE Offer for Narcissistic Abuse Survivors

For a Limited Time

Randi Fine is offering a FREE private, 30 minute telephone narcissistic abuse counseling session

and TWO FREE gifts (as shown below)

in exchange for a five-star review on Amazon for her groundbreaking new book,

Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery.

*Sorry, offer only valid for those with United States addresses and telephone numbers

IT’S SIMPLE:

  1. Go to Amazon.com and purchase the Paperback or Kindle version of Close Encounters of the Worst Kind.  (If you have already purchased a copy you can still go back and leave a review)
  2. Leave a 5-star review.
  3. Send an email to loveyourlife@randigfine.com. Provide the name you used on your review, as well as your true name, and mailing address.
  4. VOILA! You will receive an email about setting up your free counseling session, and in just a few days your gifts will arrive in the mail.

Declare That YOU Have Survived Close Encounters of the Worst Kind with this Free Pen and Bookmark!

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Close Encounters of the Worst Kind

Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery

Written by Randi G. Fine

Now Available in Paperback and Kindle

Please leave glowing reviews on Amazon about this book so others who need it will feel confident in purchasing it. Let’s make this a global bestseller so everyone around the world can get the help they need!

Watch the Book Trailer Here

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Prayer for My Integrity and Dignity

Prayer for My Integrity and Dignity

Author Unkown

Let me find myself in the beauty of the world when I open my eyes.

Let my soul be refreshed when I view the new day.

Let me look at each day as a new beginning, a chance to be kind, to do good, to offer inspiration, to be strong, and to strengthen my resolve to live my life with dignity.

Let me always know my blessings.

Let my life be enriched by the new life that surrounds me, and wisdom garnered from the lessons of the past.

Let no person be allowed to destroy my dignity.

Let me find the resolve to live my life with self-respect and let no person divest me of this purpose.

Let me have faith in times of despair and in my times of joy, always mindful that they are on the same continuum, that no life is free of either.

In despair, let me never close my eyes to my blessings. In joy, let me not forget that others are despondent and may need help.

Let me value my life and treat myself with the dignity and respect that was the purpose of my creation.

Let me experience the love that surrounds me in this world and know that I have never been alone.

Let me consider the road I have traveled but not ponder it too much. I know the reasons for the oppression I have endured.

Let me forgive myself for not having had the courage in the past to live my life in freedom.

Let me honor myself now for the courage I had to leave a life that divested me of my dignity.

Let me live in the present and build hope in the future.

Let me for all my remaining days live my life authentically.

Let me have the courage to face my fears, and know that challenges are an opportunity for growth. Problems have solutions and stretch one’s soul.

Let me never again compromise my integrity.

Let me maintain my direction and self-discipline, and use these gifts. I realize that my purpose on Earth is still unfolding.

Let me persevere to fulfill this purpose. Let me allow myself to flourish and become the person I was meant to be.

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Toxic Narcissistic Leadership in the Workplace

The Mantra of Toxic Leadership

Article Written by Martin Ward

“You’re in my world now”.

Five simple but emotionally charged words that were fired at me by a senior colleague I worked with many years ago, during a debate on some point I can’t now remember. The words sent a chill down my spine and for good reason, as time would reveal, since this was to prove my first glimpse into the inner workings of a highly narcissistic mind.

We are told that the opposite of success is not failure, but failure to act. I can buy this. Likewise, I believe the opposite of positive leadership is not negative leadership per se, although this runs a close second; it is actually narcissistic leadership. Why? Because even with negative leadership it is still essentially all about the team, just with unhelpful tactics thrown in the mix. With a highly narcissistic person at the helm it is all about the leader themselves, and only them; the team are simply pawns in the narcissist’s game.

So what’s the issue with a narcissistic leadership style?

Firstly, narcissistic leaders create a toxic culture that is literally a ‘cult of personality’ that pays scant attention to the needs or well being of other team members. Narcissistic leaders are also unlikely to solicit or accept any critical feedback on their chosen course or direction, which can spell disaster if they get it wrong. Finally, and most importantly, narcissistic leaders can cause real damage to the mental and physical health of people whom they target, which will typically be anyone who challenges them, positively or otherwise, or in any way makes them feel threatened. Paradoxically, the individuals targeted for such abuse are oftentimes the very ones who, through their experience or talents, are best placed to offer positive and constructive support; but the narcissistic leader wants none of this.

Broken careers, failed health, long periods of sick leave, nervous breakdown, complex stress disorders and, in extreme cases, even worse. Often these people will have had no real idea what was happening to them until it was too late, leaving them reeling from extreme behaviors that they could not have hoped to understand, let alone reconcile or begin to manage.

So, what is narcissism and how do extreme narcissistic leaders behave?

Just like most psychological traits, narcissism exists on a continuum and we all have an element of it in our make-up; this ‘healthy narcissism’ helps to protect us and ensure our personal needs are met. In fact, narcissism is a natural stage of human development that all infants pass through – speak to anyone with a two-year-old child for confirmation!

However, adults with extreme narcissistic traits have very low self-esteem and a shaky sense of self, which causes them to invent a ‘perfect’ false self as a defense mechanism. Their entire existence is then geared towards maintaining the ‘image’ of this false self. In this pursuit they will bully, lie and cheat without remorse. Any perceived challenge will be met with ‘narcissistic rage’, an explosive anger designed to protect their fragile ego from damage. Other people are used as ‘narcissistic supply’ to validate the narcissist’s false self, and then discarded when they no longer serve this purpose.

In the workplace, all of this can be disastrous. A leader with extreme narcissistic traits will show little empathy for others. They will exhibit a strong sense of entitlement to whatever special treatment they feel they deserve. They will say and do whatever gets them to their desired goal, whether it be true or false, right or wrong, fair or unfair. They will use any, and every, tactic of manipulation to ensure they exert total control over their environment.

So how do you spot an extreme narcissist before it’s too late?

When you know what to look for it’s actually quite easy. There are formal diagnostic criteria that define extreme narcissism which you can find through a simple Google search, but it’s probably more valuable here to focus on some practical pointers to the typical behaviors you might witness. Here’s my watch list of the extreme narcissist’s mantras:

#1: I’m right, you’re wrong. Extreme narcissists have to be right, always. Their very sense of self depends on this being the case. They are never wrong.

#2: I win, you lose. Extreme narcissists have to win at all costs. But this isn’t enough. They also have to prove that you lost, hands down.

#3: Challenge me and I’ll destroy you. Extreme narcissists cannot accept any form of challenge, whether real or perceived, to their authority, ideas or goals. They will rage against anyone who dares to do this, irrespective of that person’s motives or the merits of their arguments.

#4: The truth is whatever I say it is. Extreme narcissists will say whatever they need to in order to reach or precipitate a particular outcome they wish to achieve. Aside from direct lies, they will re-write history if it suits their purposes.

#5: You are there to serve my needs. Extreme narcissists have a strong sense of being special and entitled to commensurate treatment. They will not care if their actions cause additional work, inconvenience or problems for you.

#6: The rules don’t apply to me. Extreme narcissists will not be held accountable for their actions under any circumstances. Rules are for other people and they play by their own personal and private set at all times; these will change to suit the circumstances.

#7: You are required to adore me. Extreme narcissists crave adoration. This is what keeps their fragile sense of self intact. If you don’t deliver this adoration on cue, you are liable to be treated as an enemy.

#8: It’s dog eat dog. Extreme narcissists believe that everyone thinks the same way they do and is ‘working an angle’ to gain an advantage. Hence, it’s fine for them to behave the way they do. Ironically, this cynical world view often precipitates the very behaviours in others that they imagine are there in the first place, creating a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy.

#9: I’ll decide what you get to know. Extreme narcissists use information as a tool to control others. By ensuring they are the only one with the full picture they are able to manipulate situations to their advantage, play people off against each other and remove the likelihood of others questioning them. Lack of transparency is the hallmark.

There are other mantras for sure, but you get the picture.

Armed with the above insights, if you do find yourself working with someone for whom these behaviours ring true, and you’re in the firing line, you have two clear options. You can unconditionally accept the behaviours and take whatever comes your way, which is of course incredibly hard to do over an extended period. Or, you can pack your things and slip away, drawing comfort from the fact that you recognised the warning signs and had the good sense to remove yourself from harms way.

The reason is because, for the extreme narcissist, it will be a fight to the bitter end and they will win; they have to win in order to protect their very sense of being. It is a fight you simply cannot win and one you will be ill-equipped to pursue. They, on the other hand, will almost certainly have been fighting, and winning, such battles most of their life. It just will not be worth the toll on your well being.

The golden learning point

Over my career, I’ve encountered a handful of extreme narcissists. In most cases they have been very capable people, but without exception they have left a trail of human carnage in their wake. As I have researched what makes these people tick, the critical learning point for me has been quite unexpected and, in many ways, counter-intuitive.

Extreme narcissists are essentially ‘messengers’ who can shine a torch into your soul and ensnare you by the lure of a promise to meet your deepest needs. Once you actually hear that message and understand this lure, you will be equipped to chart a new course for yourself that is hugely more positive than any the extreme narcissist could ever put in front of you.

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Happy Holidays 2017

Happy Holidays 2017

Thank you for all the faith and trust you have put in me in the last year. Wishing you and those you love a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. ~Randi ♥

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