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The Neuroscience of Narcissism and Narcissistic Abuse


July 27, 2020

This article is purely scientific and does not, in any way, excuse the behaviors of narcissistic parents and the abuse they perpetrate against their children. All adults are entirely responsible for their actions, no matter the extent of their illness. This article will attempt to answer the question above. Also, we shall talk about the scope of the damages done to the brains of children of narcissists.

First, A Recap on Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a condition where people have an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep-seated need for attention and admiration. Those living with NPD show a distinct lack of empathy for the feelings and needs of others

Narcissists love to exert power over those they can easily control and rarely if ever, admit to their faults. Dr. Sandy Masterson, in her book What Is It About You: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, relates seven descriptions that identify a narcissist.

  1. Narcissists harbor a great deal of shame but are unable to connect with it and process it in a healthy fashion. As a result, narcissists act without shame.
  2. Magical Thinking. Narcissists think of themselves as perfect, i.e., the ideal wife, husband, and parent. They employ magical thinking to rationalize away any harm they do by placing the blame on their victims.
  3. Narcissists have an over-inflated sense of greatness and importance. To maintain their self-view of importance, they diminish and degrade others.
  4. Narcissists imagine themselves as great people, yet they envy what others have or have accomplished. They may, for example, envy their daughter for her relationship with a boyfriend and try to interject themselves into the relationship.
  5. Narcissists feel and expect favorable treatment and will practice two-faced standards, even going so far as to break the law because they think the law does not pertain to them.
  6. Narcissists exploit others without regard to the rules or the feelings of others. Deep down, they believe that people are expendable and that they deserve to have all their needs, no matter how harmful, met.
  7. Lack of Boundaries. Narcissists do not respect other’s space and see themselves as part of others. They might be β€œhooked at the hip” with a daughter or son living vicariously through them.

It is evident that narcissists are very harmful to those around them and have few redeeming qualities.

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I agree with you Laura Haynes Collector! Developing social policy solutions that support all families and address fiscal barriers to having a full time parent at home is a big and important step forward. Health economists often calculate the "cost" (or societal burden) of issues but fail to calculate the potential for savings from family friendly policy changes. Funding is often targeted and not designed to recognize or respond to related factors, etc. Silo'd or uncoordinated funding pushes against those closest to the margins, and often leaves large gaps of unaddressed social needs. Flexible funding (coupled with accountability) could be one solution to a complex issue. Evidence shows that shifting funding towards upstream interventions, results in significant downstream costs savings for individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. When employers LOOK UPSTREAM TO CHANGE THE COST AND OUTCOMES OF CARE everyone benefits.   
The US spends 55 cents for social services for every $1 spent on health care.  Whereas other countries typically spend $2 on social services for every $1 spent on health care.  

Lisa I agree with you 100%.

We must protect and nourish baby minds.  We must connect with babies.  This is intuitive if someone connected with you when small, but often upsetting/baffling if nobody gave you the modeling.

To me if every baby was carried and breastfed (basic attachment parenting) 0-2, and moms were given some basic skills and modeling, we'd clean up most MH problems in one generation.

The lag time between infant injury and later MH issues is 2 decades or more.  That's why we miss the profound connection.

Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism 



Author:  Sandy Hotchkiss

Forward: Dr. James Masterson  (He ran some personalities disorders clinic in NY I think - reading his stuff is where I learned about intersubjectivity)  


Understanding how personality forms in relationship with the primary caregiver (mostly the mother) in the first year of life is essential to understanding narcissism and preventing these aberrant forms of self development from being transmitted to the next generation.   Every person trying to recover from childhood trauma and every person trying to prevent childhood trauma can only be effective by understanding how these personality abnormalities are formed in infancy in the relationship between the mother and the infant via insecure attachments. 

If we really want to prevent "adverse childhood experiences" understanding how these personalities form is a must because these personalities - Narcissism, Psychopathy and Borderline (which is identical to complex PTSD), and Schizoid are the personality structures that traumatize the infant via an aggressive response to the infants attachment bid (the baby's cry) or by ignoring and neglecting the infant's attachment bid (the baby's cry).  All these personality abnormalities form in the context of insecure attachments and in relationship with the primary caregivers (parents).  The personality disorders represent forms of arrested infant and very young child development (up to 18-24 months).  The foundations for Narcissism and Borderline are laid down in infancy by 6 months of age. 

We can't prevent what we don't understand.   Doctors send parent after parent to therapists for help with child social emotional delays but I have really never had a therapist help the parent understand this stuff.   I did not understand any of this stuff until I threw my hands in the air and decided that I needed to get out all the textbooks and read all this stuff for myself.   Parents cannot transform what they don't understand.   Therapists cannot help parents recover from what they do not understand.    It is time that everyone had some really good courses on attachment, personality development and infant and child defensive responses to dangerous parental behavior (the DMM - I cannot stress how useful it is to understand type A and type C defensive strategies - including when you are trying to recover yourself).  Most parents want to be good parents and want to be the best they possibly can be for their children but we all let them down.   WE ALL LET THEM DOWN!  I cannot say this enough, we let parents down when we do not understand the dynamics of the parent child relationship and how children's brains and behavior develops through the NEUROFEEDBACK that child receives via parental responses to the child's attachment bid. 

Anyone who works with families or who wants to prevent child adversity and anyone looking to recover from your own injuries should understand concepts of how the self originates only when held SECURELY in the mind of the other (m), intersubjectivity is a great concept to understand,  understanding splitting, projection and projective identification is really helpful, reading Allan Schore's books The Development of the Unconscious Mind and Affect Regulation and the Origins of Self are essential.  I really like David Wallen's Attachment and Psychotherapy and David Howe's Child Abuse and Neglect, Attachment, Development and Intervention.    

When you are not held as a mind in mind, you don't develop a solid, consistent, firm, integrated self.   Your self becomes an identification with your uncontrolled feeling states.  I am scared. I am angry.  I am panicky.  I am frozen.   I am my feelings and my defenses.  You cannot mentalize and mentalizing which is reflective functioning is the basis of empathy.  It's been shown if you are able to teach mother's to mentalize their infant, you can stop the generational transmission.   

Almost everyone, and I would really go so far as to say, pretty much everyone with a high ACE score.... like 6 and above, is in one way or another personality disordered.   None of us were seen or known in the mind of the mother when we were infants.  Without that, we cannot develop complete and genuine empathy (maybe we hyper-mentalize like the borderline and then we call ourself an empath - no we are not an empath).    We cannot be anything but oftentimes defensive, aggressive, selfish and self-centered; we developed all along not in anyone else's mind, but instead stuck in a lonely world inside our own diffuse child mind.   Here we were afraid, alone, angry, raging, lonely, unseen, unloved, helpless, hopeless and REALLY, REALLY SAD.  

I could never say this about the Narcissist:

"It is evident that narcissists are very harmful to those around them and have few redeeming qualities" 

even though my life was almost destroyed by a seriously sick narcissist /psychopathic father.  The reason I can't say something like this is because I know that this individual came to be like this because of his own abuse and neglect and his mind was not held in mind when he was a baby.    Personally, I feel like we as a society are responsible for creating narcissists and borderlines and psychopaths because we have not taken the time to understand how these personality abnormalities develop and we don't protect babies or provide the appropriate services to mothers of infants that would help those mothers relate to their babies in a secure manner.  

There is an incredibly important reason for all of us to be invested in making sure all babies have a secure attachment, if we don't we get people who grow up to be antisocial, narcissistic, psychopathic, borderline and schizoid.   Securely attached babies are resilient.  Babies with personality disorders, when they grow up, they hurt other people and some gain so much power, they have the potential to destroy the entire world and all humans in it.    



Last edited by Lisa Geath
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