But if you cannot escape or choose to remain and stick it out or if you have grown up with years of accumulated narcissistic abuse, then you would greatly benefit from reading Mariette Jansen’s book From Victim to Victor: Narcissism Survival Guide. Dr. Jansen has not only studied narcissism extensively but, more importantly, she has experienced it herself.
What is narcissism? It is a type of personality disorder that is exemplified by an obsession about oneself combined with a lack of empathy. Narcissists may be different from sociopaths but their disregard of and lack of concern for the health and safety of others put them in the same boat and ballpark.
Although there are different shades and levels of and to narcissism and it is a sliding scale from on the spectrum to full-blown (we can have healthy and normal ranges too), narcissists can be pathological and malignant. In fact, they tend to manifest the following behaviors and attitudes: they have a grandiose self-opinion with a sense of entitlement (they belong on the center stage and in the limelight, while others merely exist to serve them and propel their goals and ambitions), they will attempt to control and manipulate (and they are extremely successful at that with rumor, gossip and blatant lies), they cannot handle any form of criticism (they are perfect and it is never their fault) and they lack empathy and emotional awareness (they are cold and incredibly cruel and feel they are above the law).
And yes, the 45th US president is a narcissist. Yet often, it is much harder to spot them as they are very good at manipulating and falsifying information in addition to controlling others, and they are perfectly adept at gaslighting, which they indeed may have invented in the first place! If you can, it is best not to confront them as they can spin information and even facts to such a degree that they make your head spin and make you even doubt and question your own reality and version of events.
To keep your sanity, Mariette suggests you take pictures or gather evidence in any form you can. This is not done to convince the narcissist (sorry, you will not succeed there) but rather to remind yourself of your sanity and to keep a physical keepsake of the truth. In fact, to avoid falling into the narcissistic trap, it is best not to become jaded, that is not to fall into the temptation to JADE – to justify, to argue, to defend, or even to explain yourself to them.
Not only would this be a waste of your time, but in the process, you might open yourself up and become vulnerable to further and more vicious attacks from the narcissist. In fact, keep in mind that they will not accept or own up to mistakes but they will always blame you, others, or the circumstances, and they might as well call you or claim your reaction to be overblown, oversensitive, hysterical, and unreasonable. Hence, you shall never be validated, no matter how hard you may try and how reasonable and convincing you may be.
No matter how much we would like to help or change them, narcissists cannot be helped. Even in the best but highly improbable case of fortuitous circumstances that they should be pushed to look for professional help (they will not because they think they are perfect and that they will not need to change, while they will easily point the finger back at you claiming it is you who needs psychological support), even then, this condition cannot be successfully treated. However, what can be treated and remedied is the lasting and traumatic effect and legacy they have on their victims.
It took Mariette various decades to recognize, realize, and free herself from narcissistic abuse. She has grown up under the tutelage of a narcissistic mother and the amount and extent of damage one receives as a child is immense, profound, and long-lasting. Growing up in a narcissistic household will leave you with many deep emotional scars.
You will be anxious and insecure and in a constant state of hypervigilance, where you are always both consciously and unconsciously alert to potential threats and dangers around you. This state not only erodes and undermines your self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth, but it also leads to the production of high levels of stress hormones that become lodged in our body and mind.
It is a vicious cycle during which you have not received love nor established trust in yourself; in fact, you have been fed and filled with doubts and confusion, which puts you in an ideal state for narcissistic parents as you can be easily controlled by them.
It certainly does not help that other people, including friends and family members, often come to the rescue of the narcissist and defend their abuses against you. They will say empty platitudes like you have only one mother and wait until you are a parent yourself, or that nobody is perfect and that they have suffered in their lifetime etc. while you ask yourself what exactly did I do wrong to deserve this kind of treatment and abuse?
In reality, you are not to blame in this situation and have done nothing wrong. You are not difficult, demanding nor significant, but this is what the narcissist wants you to think and believe. As Mariette herself explains, narcissists are cruel, manipulative, and clever, and they have subtle means and skillful manners of distorting the truth and of confusing, brainwashing, and controlling you and others.
The good news is that with the right tools and mindset, you can overcome those deep-seated traumas and this book provides essential and vital coping skills. It takes a substantial amount of effort and perseverance to undo the wrongs that have accumulated in your psyche. It is best not to cast blame but to try to deal with the pain and suffering so that you can come out on the other side unscathed, healed, and renewed with your authentic loving self re-instated and intact.
But first, we would need to spot them. Spotting them is not always easy and clear-cut but there are certain things that they say and do that can provide us with hints. I have recently watched the series Dirty John based on real-life experiences with a narcissistic seducer and con artist and whose wife suffered many relapses until she was able to free herself from him indefinitely.
Like many unsuspecting victims, she fell for him, his charm, his ruse, and lies, and it is indeed easy to fall prey to their manipulative ways. Recently after watching the documentary Diana in her own Words, I have come to suspect that Princess Diana may have been a narcissist as well; if this turns out to be true, then she has managed to take us for a ride for such a long time by projecting a shy, noble and caring person via the media. The same can be said about other potential and suspected narcissists like Madonna and Steve Jobs as well as various other celebrities and entrepreneurs.
But narcissists do not need the media to broadcast their lies and conceits since they have their own army of flying monkeys. Flying monkeys are the hired and recruited help for smear campaigns; they will spy on you, and if need be, punish you on the narcissist’s behalf. The narcissist uses rumor and gossip, most of them unsubstantiated, some of them partial yet distorted truths, and some of them unabashed fabricated and blatant lies to reach their aims and goals. Narcissists lack emotional awareness and do not have a conscience, so they know no bounds; moreover, the law is for normal people and it does not apply to them since they think they are elevated beings.
For instance, waiting in line is a huge challenge for narcissists as it does not show them to be the special being they think they are, so they might either make up an excuse to move ahead or they have been known to carry and brandish a fake walking cane to get ahead of the line. And yes, the person who refuses to wear a mask and holds a family BBQ without social distancing in the midst of a raging and contagious pandemic is a narcissist at heart.
The flying monkeys are family members and friends that the narcissist wins over by claiming that he or she has been mistreated by certain individuals. Narcissists are very good at victimizing themselves, not accepting any responsibility whatsoever for their own actions, and blaming others. They will shed crocodile tears but do not be fooled; it is just a ruse. They are very skillful at hiding their real nature and at projecting a fake persona.
Narcissists will present themselves as perfect models and examples either as the ideal Prince/Princess charming or as the flawless mother/father. Moreover, narcissists have a very limited range of feelings, and they are of the negative kind, such as anger, fear, envy, and hate. Although they claim to suffer, they do not do so and are in fact incapable of it.
But flying monkeys are either weak, highly insecure, and confused individuals or they are frustrated and filled with envy and anger themselves as they would vicariously relish in causing harm to others. Either way, if family and friends have joined forces with the narcissist, you will have lost them and need to break contact with them as well. You will have to move away and remove them from your life and be cognizant that you will lose a lot of other family members in the process.
Do not trust the narcissist nor the flying monkeys, their chosen diplomats and extension of the narcissist, with any personal information as it can be used against you at unsuspected but strategically important and vulnerable moments of our life. For instance, in the series Dirty John, the titular character had found out that a young man’s mother had been killed by his father, and in a moment of fury and anger at being exposed, he strategically used that stored piece of information to his personal advantage. He snapped that it was a good thing the man’s father had shot his mother so she could not see what a complete loser her son had become. These words were meant to cause a devastating blow and could only come from a person without remorse and conscience, or human feeling for that matter.
Be wary of what information you divulge. One thing that all narcissists need is what Mariette calls narcissistic supply. Narcissists are extremely insecure and they try to hide this via external validation. Like an addict who needs and depends upon their fix, they crave attention and, more importantly, admiration and praise. If you choose to talk to them, stick to safe impersonal topics they are interested in. That way you can give them attention without comprising or endangering yourself.
Yet it is best and most recommended and safest not to have any contact with them whatsoever. Once you have successfully cut the cord with a narcissist and your relationship with them is a closed book, do not resuscitate the relationship but keep the book closed forever.
If you have been a child of a narcissist and have siblings, you will be categorized into three different camps. You are either the golden child who is supported and admired and feels loved, the invisible child who is overlooked and ignored, and the scapegoat who is the black sheep and always gets the blame for everything. These categories are flexible and depend on the extent you are following their orders and pleasing them.
In fact, you can quickly move from golden child to black sheep but that simply means that you have upheld standards of honesty and integrity and have not bowed to pressure or criticism. The previous “honor” and distinction of being in the narcissist’s good books would then go to another sibling who continues to put their mother on the pedestal no matter what she says or does.
In that way, you are disposable and easily replaceable, and the other child will provide them with the narcissistic supply they crave. In our household, my mother has propagated and perhaps even believes herself that she is the perfect embodiment of motherhood, while my younger brothers have always supported her - to their very own detriment.
Moreover, narcissists thrive on control as it gives them a sense of importance and relevance. As a result, they look for an insecure and kind partner and they tend to instill fear and insecurity in their children to keep them bound to them, often for life. The household needs to be dominant-submissive where one parent dictates and everyone follows their order, whereas children are viewed as objects that need to be controlled, used, and manipulated and they are not allowed to grow up as it is then easier to manipulate them.
Narcissist mothers are also the ones who would let their offspring know on a steady and consistent basis how much they have sacrificed for the health and well-being of their children. Mariette recounts those cringeworthy moments where her mother would tell everyone how she did everything for her children. Narcissists are great at victimizing themselves as it frees them of and safeguards them from any responsibility while creating feelings of guilt and remorse in the other.
In our family, we would hear on a constant basis how our mother has sacrificed so much for us and that we supposedly show little respect and appreciation for her. If you dare to speak up or disagree with them on many matter, you will feel their anger by having them either withdraw their love and support or they will shun and avoid you; as an intended form of punishment, they would badmouth you with others and/or by ostracize you from the rest of the family. Narcissists are the ultimate bullies as it gives them a sense of power and control over others, something they relish; yet nowhere is this type of behavior more unethical and cruel than when it comes to parent-child bonds and relationships.
Narcissists are toxic and will infect others with toxic stories about cruelty. The divide-and-conquer strategy that hey use and engage in helps them to stay and remain in power as it negates any type of direct communication, unity, and rebellion against them. Since they can come off as convincing, people often take their words at face value and this creates distance, division, and resentment, which is to the advantage of the narcissist. If you have them as a romantic partner, they will create a rift between you and your friends and family so that they can easily control you and so that they have your undivided and full attention.
They may also use emotional blackmail. As they are masters of deceit and manipulation, they will even have you believe they have serious illnesses and medical conditions. They have known to fake cancers and heart attacks as they will use it to either make you feel guilty for their supposed plight or to make you feel sorry for them or both. Sometimes they would use a member of the flying monkeys to exert pressure on you. In this drama triangle, you will be the guilty party, while the flying monkey will feel validation by being the rescuer, and they will all judge and prosecute you for supposedly hurting the “innocent victim”- the narcissist.
Since narcissists love to be the center of attention, they love themselves a good show and spectacle. Mariette’s mother used to hate funerals and weddings because she would not be the centerpiece, but they love to make scenes as the drama they create puts the focus back on them. My own mother loves family events because they would be the perfect stage for her performance during which she would victimize herself and put the blame on me. Her army of flying monkeys would of course quickly jump and run to her side by fully and blindly supporting and validating her.
Narcissists also will not give expensive gifts in private. They like to show and demonstrate to others how generous and loving they are, and they would display it at family gatherings. As external presentation is important to them, some of them would also dress in extravagant fashion to impress others and might even go to the opera or theatre not because they are cultivated and genuinely interested but because they want you to think and believe they are. The opposite is also true when they wear shabby clothing to instill, arouse and elicit feelings of pity and of compassion as well as commiseration in others.
I particularly love the following quote in Mariette’s book: “people who feel the need to control others, don’t have control over themselves” and it summarizes the situation with narcissists. Do not trust them as they will bend the truth to their advantage either by reframing events or by fabricating lies. Do not fall for the "fauxpologies" as they swear to change or be better; they cannot and will not do so and those instances are only meant to deflect or induce guilt.
And more importantly, do not doubt your gut feeling. If you have made a decision including to remove them from your life, do not hesitate nor defend yourself. You do not owe anyone, least of all a narcissist, a reason for your choice and stop wasting mental and emotional energy on trying to please them or keep them satisfied.
Do not give in to attempts of hoovering where they try to suck you back into their miserable life by begging, seducing, guilt-tripping, yelling, shaming, making false accusations and playing the victim only with the aim of eliciting a reaction from you. They will even use kind and loving words to confuse and manipulate you by saying things like ‘I love you so much, how can you think I would hurt you?’ or by making you feel guilty with cringe-worthy statements about how they endured suffering or gave up so much because of as well as for you.
At all times, stay true to yourself, your inner compass and sense of direction, and stick to integrity and justice. Keep in mind that the road to freedom is arduous, difficult, and cumbersome, but in the end, you will not only lead a more authentic life, but you will be able to find joy and happiness. And if you need help, remember to check out Mariette’s book as well as her blog to guide you along the way to your liberation.