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Should Narcissistic Abusers Be Held Accountable for Their Actions?
Written by Randi G. Fine, Author of Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery
Excerpt from my January 7, 2014 show on A Fine Time for Healing, Whether to Forgive or Not Forgive the Narcissistic Abuse
Many recovering victims of narcissistic abuse struggle with the dilemma of whether or not to hold the narcissist accountable for his behavior. We learn in our recovery that narcissism is a personality disorder and wonder, “Isn’t having a personality disorder the same thing as having a mental illness? And if so, how can we hold a mentally ill person responsible for their actions?”
One reason we find ourselves in this conundrum is that for many years we have been trained by the narcissist to first sacrifice our own needs for theirs. So it stands to reason, given our brainwashing and our typically gentle forgiving natures that we overlook our own suffering and wonder if narcissists are to be pitied for their lack of self-control.
And where does forgiveness fit in? Can and should we forgive them for their actions if we believe they cannot control them? What if we believe that they can control their behavior but find it difficult to do so? And should we forgive them if we believe that they are in complete control of their behaviors?
There are two schools of thought on the culpability of the narcissist. I’ll first talk about the less popular of the two.
Some say that the narcissist does what he does without conscious regard; that he does not premeditate his campaign of abuse. And when he is functioning on a conscious level he is unable to predict the outcomes of his actions or control his behavior.
This theory may be true in part but is not substantiated as a whole, though both theories do agree that the narcissist lacks impulse control. And they both maintain that because he lacks impulse control he is not entirely responsible for his actions.
That is where the schools of thought differ. One believes that he is entirely at the mercy of his disorder; the other believes that he is partially at the mercy of it.
The second school of thought is that the decisions that propel the narcissist into action are unconsciously experienced, but that the narcissist is in complete control of how and when he will act them out. This theory maintains that he clearly knows what is right and what is wrong, that he has the ability to anticipate the results of his actions, and that he is fully aware of the penalty others will pay for his choices. So the decision of whether or not to act on his compulsions is made consciously and calculatingly.
The problem for the narcissist is that suppressing his compulsions is not an option he is willing to take. And why should he? He doesn’t care about anyone but himself.
As far as the narcissist is concerned, people only exist as sources of his narcissistic supply; sources of adoration, admiration, and attention. One person doesn’t mean anymore to him than another does. People are dispensable and interchangeable; they are merely a means to an end. So if one person doesn’t give him what he wants, he disposes of them like trash and moves onto another source of supply.
The narcissist satisfies his never ending hunger for attention at the expense of anyone naïve enough, dependent enough, or willing enough to feed him. He is an addict who will stoop to any level to get his fix. Since he lacks the ability to empathize, he does not have to experience the implications of what he does to others. He may know that you are hurting but he doesn’t have the capacity to feel your pain.
Narcissists are consumed by inner turmoil, conflict and fear. And what do they fear the most? They fear losing their narcissistic supply; the supply they get from us. Acting out on their compulsions like parasites is how they alleviate the pressure and anxiety that restlessly stirs inside them. And they don’t have a conscience in regard to their treatment of others. They don’t care about or feel responsible for whoever must be sacrificed or expended to fulfill their needs.
Narcissists may lack empathy but they do not lack emotion. In fact they are highly sensitive, though they only experience that sensitivity as it relates to them. And they do not experience emotion the way other people do. They have a false self; a powerful defense mechanism that keeps them from having to deeply feel their emotions. It keeps them from feeling responsible for anything that goes on in their lives.
They do feel pity, but only as it relates to their self and their own personal interests. Because they have a false sense of grandiosity they feel forever victimized. They see life as being unfair to them; feel like they never get all they deserve. They believe that everyone owes them all the time.
But should we feel sorry for someone who is ruled by their fears and suffers a great deal emotionally? The answer is no…we should not. Who among us does not have emotional pain and feel fear? And haven’t we suffered a great deal of pain and fear at the hands of the narcissist. We are the casualties of their behavior; not the other way around.
The degree to which any human being suffers is directly related to how much he allows these common human emotions to impact his everyday life. The narcissist cowers and victimizes others in the face of his pain and fear. We do not. We draw on our inner strength and courage in the face of our pain and fear.
So narcissists have a personality disorder, but are they mentally ill innocents who know not what they do? Think about it this way. How many times have you witnessed the two faces of your narcissist? How many times have you seen him behave entirely different, with different people, under the exact same circumstances? How many times have you seen him control his behavior when others are there to witness it, and then completely go off on you when no one is there to see it happen? The fact that he only acts out only when he thinks he can get away with it demonstrates the existence of choice.
And how many times have you seen your narcissist pouring on the charm with someone they think is important, influential, famous, or wealthy? These people are the narcissist’s ideal. It doesn’t matter what the person’s morals or ethics are. Their position in life is the only thing that attracts the narcissist who believes that because he is unique and special he should only engage with other special, rich, or accomplished people. Narcissists are attracted to wealthy people, beautiful people, and successful people who they believe they can benefit from in some way or who will enhance their self-image by association.
The fact that narcissists can turn their charm on and off, just as they would a light switch, is further evidence demonstrating the existence of choice.
Narcissists are envious of everyone. They envy the fact that others have feelings. They envy others’ houses, education, marriages, children, station in life, careers. They especially envy the fact that others are happy.
Being around happy people exaggerates their own sense of deprivation and their misery. Happiness in others provokes viciousness in narcissists. They will do almost anything to snuff the light out of someone who is happy, especially someone who they feel they have control over. If they can’t safely lash out at their target they will lie and badmouth them to others, or do a slow burn about it and then blame or take it out on someone close to them. Making themselves feel better by making other people feel worse, reinforces their sense of omnipotence. They make it clear that those close to them are only allowed to feel happy when they want them to.
Narcissists do not feel remorse for the abuse they inflict on those closest to them. The narcissist sees them as easy marks that he does not have to try to win over; extensions of himself. He just takes it for granted that they are there for him, safely and readily at his disposal, to abuse as he pleases and fulfill his narcissistic supply as needed.
Have you ever told your narcissist that he is hurting your feelings or expressed how badly he is making you feel? Have you ever asked him to stop treating you the way he does?
Anyone who loves and cares about you would take your feelings into consideration, but not so for the narcissist. He sees your vulnerability the same way a lion sees a young gazelle. It provokes his predatory urges even more.
It also adds fuel to his fire. He is appalled that you would question his actions. Any suggestion that you see anything he does as less than perfect enrages him. If you have lived with a narcissist you understand how terrifying being the target of narcissistic rage can be.
Narcissistic rage is a defense mechanism the narcissist’s false self employs to protect his fragile ego.
But it is also a control mechanism meant to erode your self confidence, intimidate you, humiliate you, and disable you; all for the purpose of keeping you around so he can continue to feed off of you.
Though the rage may be difficult for someone with narcissistic personality disorder to control, the motive used to keep you in line is deliberate. They are fully aware of what they are doing but simply do not care.
To listen to this show in its entirety, please go to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/randi-fine/2014/01/07/whether-to-forgive-or-not-forgive-the-narcissistic-abuser-1
I am available to talk about any life issues that are concerning you. Private, confidential counseling by telephone. http://clarity.fm/randi-g-fineListen to more podcast shows about Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Narcissistic Personality Disorder Defined Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Parent/Child Abuse Narcissistic Personality Disorder: The Family Portrait Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Narcissistic Mothers Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Mothers and Daughters Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Answering Your Questions Listen to More Podcasts How Do I Honor a Father and Mother Who Act Dishonorably? Difficult Controlling Mothers: Life Without the Guilt Trip