Tag Archives: causes of narcissism

Where Does Narcissism Come from? Part III

Two recent small studies have indicated that narcissists suffer from a lack of grey matter in the cerebral cortex; as one of them (Altered Brain Structure in Pathological Narcissism) says, there are “structural abnormalities in precisely that region of the brain which is involved in the processing and generation of compassion” (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/1306/19101434.htm). The other study, which I found at psychcentral.com>News>Research News indicates a very similar result. In a nutshell, these studies, through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, indicated that the brains of the narcissists studied are underdeveloped in the areas that control empathy, compassion and selflessness.

So, finally, there is scientific evidence that narcissists have a definitive problem with their brains. This is something that I have instinctively believed right from the beginning of my investigation into the causes and effects of narcissism.

It felt to me, and still feels, that to espouse the notion that narcissism is caused by poor parenting from the mother is totally simplistic and completely lacking in a recognition of the complexity of the human brain; it’s reductionist, to say the least. To say the worst, it just seems to be another attempt to arbitrarily throw responsibility for a societal problem onto the shoulders of women, again.

Yes, there are mothers who are responsible for having perpetrated the narcissistic wound in their children. But there are also fathers, other caretakers, and perhaps anyone else who came into contact with the child who later develops Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

However, I’m getting off-track a little here.

I see these two studies as having a couple of serious problems.

Firstly, there’s no way that the MRI can determine if the damage inflicted was the result of childhood experiential trauma to the tender developing brain or if the child was born with it.  The damage could also be a combination of both brain chemistry and  experience.

Secondly, the studies are both very small. Less than 50 partcipants. What can those small numbers tell us about anything? Well, as for most things in life, researchers have to start somewhere, and so it was that they started with two small groups. There other thing the small numbers tell me is that the researchers had trouble finding narcissists who would participate. In fact, in one of the studies, the participants were incarcerated.

Narcissists, by their very nature, can’t abide any kind of recognition that they might be less than perfect. To participate in a study where you might be confirmed as having a brain development issue – well, that’s just not on their radar.

To me, it’s perfectly understandable why the researchers turned to a, er, captive audience, so to speak. It must be frustrating to try to study a group that refuses to be studied, that in fact refuses to believe there’s anything wrong.

What would happen if, for instance, diabetics refused to be studied? If they refused to acknowledge that their pancreases aren’t functioning properly? I can easily see researchers turning to a prison population to try to get information.

However, I can also see something else, too: the probable, eventual dismissal of any attention to the issue from the society at large. This would be completely normal, really. What to do with a population that refuses to even recognize that there’s a life – threatening health problem?

Conversation on the matter would likely go something like this: Well, we’ve tried everything. If they won’t recognize the problem then there’s nothing we can do. We just have to let them go. It’s too bad when they go into shock, but that’s their own fault, isn’t it? Just wheel them out of the road when that happens. That’s all we can do.

Eventually, the only people who might care about those with diabetes would be those who have some sort of personal connection. Most others would likely just melt away. Research would become a niche area reserved for eccentrics. Really, there would be little reason for most people to remain involved.

Of course, this is not how we feel about diabetics. Behaving that way would be cruel and bordering on psychopathic, even if it were true that diabetics are unable to recognize their own illness.

Why is narcissism an exception, then?  It’s starting to take on the same proportions; it’s beginning to become a very serious, international mental health issue. We are suffering from it personally, economically, and politically. It is widespread and is spreading further. All any of us has to do is Google “narcissism” and look at the results. An awful lot of people have been victims of it: it infects our work lives, our home lives, and every level of government and finance. There are also serious concerns about what’s happening to our children and young adults in this atmosphere of helicopter parents and societal fear of failure.

But it’s not perceived as a problem. Or if it is, it’s someone else’s, or it’s the narcissist’s own. Just wheel them out of the road. Or more correctly, wheel the carnage they cause out of the road.

Yes, these scientists seem to be very alone and out in the weeds with their research, but in my opinion they should be supported and encouraged in every way possible. We need the information. Our world needs this information.

What is your opinion? Should narcissism research receive more support? Should we  begin treating narcissism as a serious mental health issue that society needs to work on?

Where Does Narcissism Come From? Part II

From what I experienced with my ex-husband, narcissism, and by that I mean the extreme narcissism that produces narcissistic personality disorder, is a result of a combination of personality and environmental factors.

Harry, my ex-narcissist, seems to me to have been born with a personality – in other words, the basic personality that was the result of his genetic inheritance – that left him unable to cope with much in the way of emotional upheaval. As a child, he was was probably much more emotional and sensitive than most people.

That was in the 1940s. And being an “emotional” boy would not have been an accepted trait during that time. He likely would have been castigated for any displays of emotion. “Boys don’t cry.” “Act like a man.” “Toughen up.” And so on.

Then, from what I’ve been able to piece together, the perfect confluence of long-term emotional upheaval began: his mother developed a drinking problem and was sent away by Harry’s father to get treatment. She was gone for a long period of time, possibly more than a year. Then, Harry’s father, distant to begin with, exposed Harry to a sort of uninvolved neglect. It could also be that at about this time, Harry became nascently aware that he’s gay – he was around ten.

As a result of these nurturing deficiencies, Harry became locked into childhood behaviour. He developed a love/hate relationship with women. He was in awe of his distant father. As he became older, he enacted repeatedly the wounding that he suffered from his parents, spreading it to others like a plague, hoping, on a subconscious level, to eliminate it from his life, or worse yet, dropping it on others so that they could feel the same way that he does. After all, it isn’t “fair” for others to feel better than he does.

Because he was a child when this occurred, with a child’s sense of understanding and logic, the narcissistic wounding was perceived through a child’s eyes. A childlike reaction resulted: in particular, narcissists react to criticism in very childlike ways. They are hypersensitive to any kind of perceived negativity that might be directed at them. One cliche certainly applies to narcissists and criticism: they can dish it out but they can’t take it. Eventually, the original wounding is forgotten and buried, and the narcissist can no longer make any kind of connection between event and  behaviour, if a connection had ever consciously been made in the first place.

Although Harry is a grown man physically, he relates to the world through the brain of a sensitive child who was damaged beyond repair. He has developed coping mechanisms and armour to protect himself from further injury. He has objectified others so that they can’t hurt him; since others are to be viewed with mistrust and suspicion, they become tools. Despite this, he is aware that others function better than he does, so he frequently copies them, masquerading what he interprets as “normal” behaviour. The fact that others seem to function better than him also causes frustration and rage. He thinks, “I’m doing what they’re doing. I’m saying what they’re saying. And I still can’t get it right.” He has completely lost himself in a confused morass of borrowed behaviours, opinions and habits, looking for the right fit, as if buying a new suit.

The sensitive child still lives within him, so there is a further impetus to over-react to criticism, or, he might perceive as criticism an action or comment that is completely innocuous. His bewilderment has continued to grow as he sees others handling criticism in a much healthier way, even as he sees them as objects of suspicion.

He doesn’t understand others or himself. He doesn’t understand life. He just emulates it. And he’s built such a ferocious, defensive fortress for himself, and has such mistrust of others, that he’s never going to admit that anything is wrong, let alone allow someone to help him.

He has wound up with no self of his own. He doesn’t know what he thinks or believes about anything. He might say that he believes or thinks this or that, but it’s only temporary. He will change his mind ten seconds later.

He is constantly on the hunt for some sort of satisfaction, idealizing, devaluing and discarding as he goes. He tries to soothe himself with the acquisition of things and money and people.

He doesn’t know love. He doesn’t know comfort. He doesn’t know empathy. He’s completely empty except for that infected, weeping wound and the fear and anger that it generates.

And the worst part is that he has come to the conclusion that everyone else operates in the same way. We’re all like him – without scruples, without principles, without truth.

There are times when I feel very sorry for Harry. He didn’t have the best childhood. He grew up during a time when it was expected that men be “tough.” A younger brother died in a tragic accident. He went on to face other life difficulties.

But then I stop to remember that there are many, many people who have it much, much worse than Harry, but who treat others with genuine courtesy and respect.

Is Harry, and are narcissists in general, more to be pitied than blamed? In many ways, they don’t know what they’re doing. Or should they be held to account, even if they don’t fully understand what that means? What do you think?

In my next installment on narcissism, I plan to look at the emerging theory that narcissism is the result of abnormal brain structure.