Parents who are narcissists will often be competitive, and live their life through their child. Their child has to be perfect, in order for the parent to feel good about themselves. Parents who are narcissistic themselves see their child as a narcissistic extension of their own self esteem. In particular, if their child performs well they feel grandiose or perfect; if their child does not live up to their idealized expectations, the parent feels inadequate about themselves. The parent projects their own inadequate feelings on to the child, by putting pressure on the child to perform; leaving the child to feel inadequate if they are not perfect in their parents eyes. The child grows up having to get the parents approval, and live up to their idealized expectations in order to feel good or grandiose; and if they fall short of these high expectations, the child is left feeling inadequate or flawed for not being perfect. The child fuses with the parent’s expectations, and hides their real self or feelings. When the child was vulnerable or hurt, they learnt that these feelings display weakness and hide them; because they felt shamed or humiliated by the parents. They were told; “Big girls don’t cry”, “toughen up”, “You’ll be right”. They create the narcissist child.
Essentially, the narcissist did not have parents who regulated healthy self esteem for them or manage their feelings, so narcissists become either over-inflated, or feel empty and inadequate. The narcissist does know how to live a self-enriched lifestyle; they are constantly trying to gain approval or supplies to fill the emptiness within them. They do not know how to live a life according to their real self so they are forever searching for ways to escape how they feel inside, rather the develop fulfilling relationships, due the impaired sense of self and false self defenses that keep them stuck.
The Narcissistic Child
According to James Masterson, the ‘Manifest’ or ‘Grandiose Narcissist’ (known as exhibitionist) has an over-inflated sense of self, or grandiosity, that feels above others. They received more of the idealisation from the parents; they could do no wrong, and often were indulged or praised because they mirrored the parents grandiosity by making the parent feel special or perfect. These children are the golden child, favoured, adored, or admired by the parents. They may have gotten away with things, or not had discipline or boundaries, because they were treated special. They may have had no limits, so their grandiosity was kept intact by the parent and they never had to face knocks and falls to their self-esteem, because the parent would defend them; so they never got into trouble. They were propped up because they supplied the parents self-esteem, by being a perfect mirror. Yet, as adults, these grandiose narcissists often expect others to treat them this way, to mirror their grandiosity or how perfect they are. Since the parent never managed the fall of their grandiosity, by empathically attuning to their feelings when they did not do well or hurt themselves, they cannot handle the hits to their self-esteem or blows to their grandiosity in later life; and they learn to devalue others who do not treat them special, because that is what they expect.
The Profile of a Narcissist
So how does the Grandiose Narcissist relate to the child, partner, and colleagues? Grandiose Narcissists expect others to measure up with their high expectations, be on the same page by sharing the same view, be perfect, mirror their grandiosity by admiring them, and so on. When children, partners, or colleagues do not this, the narcissist feels injured and finds ways to boost their self-esteem or inflate their grandiosity; to make themselves feel better, because they do not have the internal platform inside to manage their self-esteem. Therefore, when criticised or injured, they will prove how good they are – defend, brag or promote themselves – in order to not deflate, as an attempt to inflate their self or grandiosity. Often they project out their inadequate feelings by devaluing others, defeating them by proving they are right, forcing their view to be heard, often deflecting the problem so others are wrong; never being at fault themselves. They’re never able to listen or take ownership for their issues or problems. So their spouse, colleagues, or children end up feeling inferior – not good enough – and give up their view, or mind of their own. Others soon realise you do not question them or you get attacked with narcissistic rage, so others walk on eggshells or feel pressure to agree with them, since they’re always right.
The Grandiose Narcissist often complains that others do not appreciate how perfect they are, do not back their views, or perfectly attune to their grandiose needs or demands by giving them exactly what they want (money, diamonds, holidays). They feel a strong sense of self-entitlement to things, and get bored easily due to the empty self; but project that their partner is boring and not exciting (not giving them supplies), whereby they feel they deserve a more exciting partner and justify having affairs, never owning up unless found out. They never feel remorseful because they feel they deserve better; yet may pretend to be remorseful to get back their partner. Effectively they feel above others, above the law or rules since they didn’t have to follow rules and be told no. They could have whatever they wanted and there was no consequences of their behavior. So, they were invincible since the world evolved around them (world was their oyster); oblivious to the needs or feelings of others. their life pre-occupation becomes about chasing the dream, by keeping the grandiosity going by being successful, perfect, good looking, materialistic and so forth. They are continuously chasing anything that pumps up their grandiosity so they feel good (superficially). They become the master of getting supplies, telling lovers what they want to hear to win them over, acting caring because they know how to hook into what partners want. Love is about making them feel great, it is what they can get to fill themselves with supplies, it is rarely about the other. But they can convince partners otherwise. They often discard partners who do not fulfil their supplies or deflate them, by exposing them. The will say “she wasn’t the right partner for me”.
The ‘Closet Narcissist’ on the other hand obtained more of the devaluing projections from the parent; they felt criticised for not being perfect, or didn’t receive acknowledgment for their real self because it was not perfect. The Closet Narcissist feels like a fraud for not being perfect, so they fake it, feeling like an imposter and they often marry the idealised object who is perfect to them, so they can feel grandiose in the admiration of them (hot younger wife, rich business man, mentors). The idealised object has all the supplies to fill their empty self, so they feel good by looking up to them. The look at pleasing them, agreeing, indulging them, in order to maintain the supplies; often avoiding expressing their real self or feelings. The Closet narcissist will do whatever the idealised object wants or expects, to feel special in their eyes and avoid judgement. As long as they are fused with the perfect partner, boss, or child, they feel special from how the other makes them feel. Unlike the Grandiose Narcissist who invests in themselves to get supplies, the Closet invests in the other to get supplies from them (other acknowledges them or approves them). Unlike the Grandiose, the Closet feel empty and depleted when they feel unable to live up to the expectations of their partner and feel immense pain when others leave them, despite the fact that they hide this.
In relationships, the Grandiose Narcissist cannot handle the hits to their self esteem and cannot hear constructive feedback, feeling criticised. So they will dismiss others and promote their grandiose self, devalue or attack the injuring source in order to manage their fragile self-esteem, so they avoid fragmentation. When in an argument, they feel flooded with their feelings, become immobilised, and find it difficult to recover. They can stonewall for days, by disengaging from the conversation to remove themselves from feeling wounded. They can walk away from their partner without feeling any empathy or showing any consideration for their feelings. As a result they are not able to learn or grow, or have healthy relationships. They put up a protective shield so not one exposes them, hiding their vulnerability and feelings; not being able to hear the needs or concerns of love ones. When partners get worn out from feeling defeated or drained of supplies, the narcissist discards them easily and finds a new supply source to boost their self esteem. However, the narcissist will not be able to maintain real relationships, having a stream of affairs, addictions to porn, in order to find the endless supply.
The Masterson therapeutic approach assists narcissists to manage the harsh feelings deep within themselves, so they can foster healthier self esteem, be their real self and not resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms to feel good. By managing their feelings, the narcissist learns to accept feelings in a way that is more containing for them, rather than project them out onto others by devaluing or criticizing others.
Nancy Carbone is counsellor for individuals and couples, who works with narcissistic behavior and survivors of narcissistic abuse. She has trained from the psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute in New York for the treatment of personality disorders. You can follow her at http://www.counsellingservicemelbourne.com.au/, Facebook, LinkedIn.