I am a white male from families that mostly owned property or had social power. I have to say one of the most meaningful projects of my life has been to overcome my narcissistic background.
I once had a shrink that told me that my “paranoia” was like reverse narcissism. I really wasn’t as bad as I thought I was.
At the time, I was working twelve-hour days of physical labor, (four hours of it was a sweaty bike commute.) I was bringing home 900$ a month and paying $955 dollars a month in rent. I was coming back from a psychiatric hospitalization and battling housing insecurity with some financial help. I had many internalized parts that judged myself in narcissistic manners. These parts were reinforced by the attitudes of the few people I was in contact with at the time including the shrink.
The problem was that just about everyone I knew actually judged me worse than I judged myself. Within five minutes of talking to me they presumed I was delusional. To me that meant I was schizophrenic and that I would spend the rest of my life in hospitals. To many it meant I was no longer friend material.
Now over twenty years later, I feel like I am fighting narcissism and slander in most communities with which I come into contact. The only community that I don’t feel that way about is the community that subjects themselves to psychiatric treatment in the hospital where I work. In other communities I feel ostracized.
One might think a person like me could find social comfort via affiliating with communities that stand in resistance to narcissistic abuse. What I find is that the power structure of some of these communities often excludes me. Sometimes I feel excluded for good reasons, and sometimes I feel excluded for bad ones.
I tend to view power in society as narcissistic and unjust. Ultimately, I choose to think all these styles of narcissism I have endured are here to help me overcome my own sense of narcissism. I have learned to lean on a higher power to ease my desperate moments. I remember that the privilege I was raised in was the result of abuse of others. I choose to continue to learn ways that narcissism is wrong.
Today I intend to identify seven styles of narcissism that have tended to lead to abuse in my journey. In many people’s eyes, these styles vanish with the use of a label that explains all that I have gone through as being a schizophrenic medical condition.
I write imagining that the styles of narcissism I identify are such that others might relate to in a variety of ways. Each style is something that can turn chronically normal caring people into judgmental and exploitive narcissists.
I come from a culture that has used genocide and slavery to advance its power so it is number one. It’s arguable that this gives our citizens a natural tendency to think they are better than others. We always hear about American casualties in armed conflicts.
It strikes me that this is important now that narcistic abuse and gaslighting is starting to be a focus of psychotherapy practice. I hope to use aspects of my personal journey to help challenge narcissistic judgements and decrease the things that divide us.
Style Number 1: Exploitation Resulting from Unrealized Sexual Abuse:
Somehow, I developed a tendency to be hypervigilant regarding sexual intentions of others and to dissociate when things get uncomfortable. Since an early age, I remember having distressing feelings that I do not understand. I believe that in my case this has resulted in complex trauma or interpersonal struggles with others.
My teacher in kindergarten observed that I didn’t do well socially.
Back when I took baths with my sister I would play with my penis and ignore my mom’s nagging that I needed to stop. One time, exasperated that I would not listen to her, she sketched me with my hand in my crotch. This was effective in getting me to stop but also resulted in shame.
I shunned all things associated with masturbation at an early age. I used to explain this to other kids on the playground, unaware that there was anything unusual about this.
Latency was a very serious thing. I remember vowing to my best friend in second grade that I would never to have a girlfriend.
In the next year or so I was coerced into taking a bath with a family friend’s daughter and when I was groped. I dissociated and ended up eating a moth ball necessitating poison control to be called. This was a detail I never remembered until I was writing my memoir in my mid-forties. I showered in my shorts for a year after the incident with the family friend without ever understanding why.
During my first year at sleep away camp at age eleven, I was terrified by the expectation that we would be okay with skinny dipping.
In sixth grade I refused to dance with girls and repeated things my mother told me about sixth graders not being old enough to dance with each other.
Being different in this way led to a lot of teasing and shame. Not only is the act of sexual abuse narcissistic, but the social response to people who are easily shamed is also.
I now believe that I was sexually abused by a family friend at age three. Not remembering this made latency and the trouble I got into with my mother a very serious thing.
My father had an affair and eventually divorced my mother when I was fifteen. My mother was very hurt and rebelled by having polyamorous relations with other men. Thus, when I was sixteen and reaching a late puberty, I had a hard time forgiving my mother for this and developed lasting resentments. My failure to have empathy for my mother was rather extreme.
As Pete Walker suggests in his book Complex Trauma: from Surviving to Thriving, with early abuse “the superego morphs into a totalitarian critic that trumps the development of a healthy ego.” (26). In my experience, having a strong sense of conscientiousness can result in bullying or the failure to thrive as a social being.
I repeatedly struggled to have empathy for others when they engage in corruption.
Also, one summer during my teens, I believe I witnessed a brother rape his sister. I remember that they were skinny dipping. I have other vague and foggy memories of the deed. They are not attached to my other memories of the evening. I do know that the sister ended up having dissociative identity disorder. I remember running in absolute terror and feeling like a terrible coward.
In short, child sexual abuse may lead to complex trauma in relationships with others. Other kids always seemed to target and believe they were better than me and this reinforced my shame. This happened in a host of settings. I later developed mental health symptoms and food addictions.
Style Number 2: Being Underestimated and Misunderstood with A Neurodevelopmental “Disorder”
Diagnoses such as autism, dyslexia, attention deficit or obsessive compulsive are now being considered to be developmental trauma. I was not diagnosed with attention deficit and dyslexia until I was in graduate school. While it is possible for many with the right interventions to maintain their school performance, I never received extra support or understood why I struggled so much.
In simple terms, these kinds of learning challenges mean that some areas of the IQ may be high, while others are low. Or perhaps its easier to understand that some areas are more utilized and higher while others remain less utilized and fail to develop. Fluctuations in abilities as such make learning more challenging.
In contrast, people tend to associate neurodevelopmental struggles with a resource room, or ultimately segregated special education classes. In its most extreme form, segregated severely emotionally disturbed schools, with point systems may seem to prep smart students more for prison than it preps them for acquiring job related skills. These kinds of consequences and associations to these consequences can make a neurodivergent child be treated like they are less than.
Indicators of these kinds or struggles that I experienced were speech impediments, anxiety related to school attendance, getting teased, tendency to befriend only older or young playmates, and poor spelling. I nearly wasn’t allowed entrance into the school where my parents taught because I didn’t use the scissors like everyone else.
Some teachers or parents who see these emerging patterns of behavior may become critical and fail to connect with the neurodivergent student. Or they may not understand the struggle and set unfair expectations rife with microaggressions and high expectations. Thus, being misunderstood or not properly trained by the teacher may set up the sense that other kids are better.
In my case, I was extremely slow in accomplishing tasks, but I worked to compensate and brought home good grades. My father presumed my slowness was laziness and tried to force me to work harder. When I couldn’t sleep at night for a year, he intervened by taking a working vacation in which we worked physically for sixteen-hour days. I did sleep. It was a solution.
When you get older, people do intellectual assessments of you based on the college you attend, interpersonal skills, the company you keep and your job. As the reader will see, I haven’t lived my life to pass these intellectual assessment tests. Many people narcissistically judge misfits, underestimate, or ostracize them.
In high school, I spent dozens of hours perfecting a fifteen-page story and got a B. My college essay that I incessantly rewrote nearly got me kicked out of the school convincing the school psychologist that I really was suicidal. I poured my heart into my Poetry notebook which only earned me a B because it was too depressing. I wrote a twenty-five-page essay on Tibetan Buddhism with 60 references that went unrecognized.
For a variety of reasons that will become clearer, I chose not to go to a college in which the same thing would happen to me all over again. I did the work without being in community. It is arguable that this further amplified my neurodevelopmental differences.
Style Number 3: Facing Class Superiority with a Complicated Class Identity
My first experience of class came from comparing things like toys, houses, violence and vacations to those of my peers. I developed awareness of the stark contrast between rich and poor in the early years of my life. I noticed many who are well-to-do develop notions that they are better than other people and they fail to realize that other people may be smarter or stronger than them.
When I was a child, I seemed to have a raw deal. My parents had private school teacher salaries which are not all that impressive and they could not afford to keep up with the Joneses. Though they bought a house in one of the wealthiest Philadelphia suburbs, I did not understand it was a wealthy district. The house we lived in was old and taken care of by my father who was a do-it-yourselfer. Therefore, I grew up with a sense of depravity when I compared myself to my private school friends.
In contrast, in the summer we went into an impoverished rural community where we owned cottages and property. I compared what I had to what the other kids had and I found myself embarrassingly lucky.
I would notice that local kids would act very virtuous in front of me when my family hired their parents. That part of my family had been lumbar barons and the town had been built around the lumbar company. Thus, we were on remnants of a very unjust system.
One time, I challenged this fake niceness I was noticing and I found my virtuous friend to be capable of atrocious behavior that went beyond that which I was comfortable. Thus, I realized that many of my peers in that rural town had to fake it in front of me because their lives depended on this.
Of course, there was always an occasional kid who would urinate on me when I was three or try to fight me when I was thirteen. I was not embittered by these experiences. I could always understand how these acting out kids felt because I knew what it was like to have a raw deal in comparison to the suburban kids with whom I grew up.
At one point in my preadolescence, we rented out a property to a welfare family. The kids had fancy dirt bikes. For me, dirt bikes were a no-no. They were just too expensive for me to have one allotted to me. It was confusing. My father explained that in his experience growing up, scholarship students often had better things than he had. It was confusing but it was reality.
The welfare kids would give you the shirts off their backs because they liked giving. I could use their dirt bikes as much as I wanted. Then, my father exclaimed that they worked a lot harder than me. It was hard not to feel they were better than me at all turns. Plus, they knew how to have wild and unruly fun, unfettered by adult intervention. I liked them a lot and wanted to be like them.
Meanwhile, back in junior high, my cohorts were having a field day on me perhaps in part because I was not allowed to wear name brand clothes. I didn’t like being teased by spoiled kids and I fought back by acting out in odd manners. That was a problem for the teachers who witnessed this. I was sent to a shrink.
When the shrink met with my parents because I said they would not buy me name brand clothes, I learned that it was my fault I was not wearing the name brand clothes. The only good part about being blamed for something that was not in my control was that was I got to go shopping. The thing was I still learned that I was better off when I bought cheaper imitation brands. I stopped fighting and tried to get along for a spell.
The issue of income disparities and the superiority of the fortunate is complicated. The norms of rich people exclude people who don’t fit in. The norms of poor people seemed to me to be more open, even though in my case, the rural poor were forced to deal with me. I did not understand the violence that often comes with poverty due to the reality of the U.S. black market.
Ultimately, disparities in income have a tendency to make some people think they are better than you. The haves hate the have-nots is how many people understand this. False notions of superiority get spread throughout the culture based on this.
And yet the realities of crime are a great equalizer. Crime may have been what afforded those welfare kids with fancy dirt bikes. When crime, drugs, and corruption enter into the picture, things get a wee bit complicated.
Style Number 4: Judging those who Fail to Regulate Addictions
Around the time I was exposed to the reality of substance abuse, I refused to be influenced by peer pressure like everyone else. I did not feel ready to use and I didn’t like the way I felt drinking alcohol. My father drank in a way that often made me uncomfortable and I didn’t want to be like him when I was drunk. The result was that my social struggles were exacerbated. I did not associate my need to relax with socializing and with alcohol like everyone else did. I secretly became obsessed with eating.
It was the summer of 1988 and I was in a work camp in Orangewalk, Belize. My peers did notice my obsession with getting enough food and often made fun of me about how much I ate. Unlike them I was working many physical jobs all day under the Caribbean sun. They were sleeping after drinking ten or twelve beers the night before. I would go out with them but retire as soon as I could so I could work. Thus, when they saw me craving food, they made fun of me.
The next year I did not fight the temptation to drink and socialize when I was buried in school work, I fought the temptation to eat. I did this twice a day for lunch and dinner. Meanwhile with my undiagnosed learning disabilities I worked late into each and every evening trying to keep up and perform at the level I was capable of performing.
I lost my position as a starter for the varsity soccer team because my speed went down. I just didn’t have the gumption to chase the ball the way I used to. I still felt that I had to get a control of my appetite. I planned and organized social service events for the school community during the lunch hour. I started lifting weights and running long distances after soccer was over. I continued to sleep four hours a night to complete all my homework. And I started counting calories. By the summer I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital at 6’1”, 103 lbs.
The following year I was in and out of the psychiatric hospital and barely completed the year to earn my high school diploma. I moved in with a friend to get away from my parents. All the service work I had done the year before was credited to my colleague. I took to writing, but my best efforts failed to deliver the results I wanted in terms of grades or awards. I became invisible and my classmates shunned me. I skipped graduation night for a lifeguard course so I could move to a Summer Camp. I left the suburbs and my life at a private school and never looked back.
My peers thought I was bulimic because they always saw me eating cookies for lunch. In my opinion they were so wrong about me because they believed the gossip that emerged from my parents. I resisted their efforts to fatten me up in the first hospitalization they sent me to by vomiting in the hospital trash cans.
As I mentioned earlier, I increased my writing efforts as an outlet for my pain and my grades decreased.
I would want nothing to do with the school or my peers by the time I graduated. I followed a twenty-five-year-old old girlfriend to a local commuter college to rebel. I blamed the school and my peers just like they appeared to blame me.
What I failed to realize was that I became addicted to hunger, like many addicts get addicted to their substance of choice. It is expected that people my age start using substances and regulating themselves so they can still perform. I failed to do this. I know what they all concluded about me. It is what they conclude about addicts who fail to keep up their school work. I was weak. I was not worth their time.
It is not until I have lived many years and looked back that I realized the sense of narcissism in the private school community got expounded by my public display of addiction.
Style Number 5: Impact of Racial Abuse
As a white person, I cannot do justice to the narcissism associated with race in this country. I have not lived it the way people of color do.
I leave inner-city communities of color and can still look like I belong in the suburbs. I do not face micro-aggressive eyeballs everywhere I turn and people who fear that I will become violent. In fact, I know the white world pretty well having grown up in it. I may experience a pinch of imposter’s syndrome when I try to connect in suburban contexts, but it does not take away the fact that I grew up there.
I immersed myself in a black and brown inner-city community in college. I worked at a summer camp at the Camden New Jersey YMCA in which I was the only white person. I contrasted the facilities with those in which I grew up. A lot of those kids at the YMCA had middle class families that could afford the tuition and yet they had to accept the roach filled facilities.
As middle-class white kids we were taken out to nature and had other activities to enjoy.
Then, I worked at a Korean run deli with neighborhood coworkers for three years including two summers. Since that time, I have maintained ties with communities of color through years of working in social work. I have worked my current job for twenty years at a majority African American community.
My first apartment was roach infested and I had to carefully and respectfully connect with neighborhood people to get it. I used to make the managers dinner at the Deli to even be considered for the apartment. I needed to let my coworker con me into driving him to his connects house to cop. I needed to be friendly with the owners of the drug complex across the street from my complex. Then, when I proved to others that I was a safe resource, I saw how exploitive the police were.
Especially, I learned about how the vice squad were the real bad guys. I never went to a single college party with drugs in it and yet the vice squad harassed me on one occasion telling me, “You can’t hustle a hustler.”
Yes, you can when you have no hustle.
When the university career office suggested for me a career in law enforcement, it made me cackle and feel my intelligence was being insulted.
Bearing witness to the decisions that the youth who lived on the block were faced with also had an impact. They had to work to help their family out as opposed to me who was only worried about myself. My perspective on white America did change and I was angry with people who weren’t dealing with roach infestation. Seeing one of my younger coworkers leave the job to sell crack made me really sad because I knew the danger and the challenges that he would be facing. One day I would face the same danger.
Thirty years later, I still learns lessons about the impact of race on a regular basis and I still am aware that I am racist and am liable to offend others from time to time with my cultural manners.
Europeans invaded this country and brought with them three centuries of slavery and genocide. The concept of manifest destiny caused native Americans to be killed and segregated on reservations. Three centuries of slavery was horrifically narcissistic and degrading. Then, Jim Crow laws were historically so tilted against black and brown communities, it kept them segregated and lynched for a century. And still with zoning, gerrymandering, employment bias, immigration and drug laws definitely in effect, there is a disproportionate representation of black and brown people in jails and the prison system. Skin color is often associated with stereotypes and incarceration and fills many people overtly narcissistic with implicit bias
When I came in off the streets to a mental institute and was observed on an evaluation unit, they determined that I was schizotypal personality for making the same kinds of interpretations of power in the Rorschach that I am making in this blog post. I was not influenced by the cultures I had been exposed to: the rural poor, the suburban mainstream and urban people of color; I was clinically odd. I was started on antipsychotic medication.
Style Number 6: Extending Unequal Pay for Unskilled Labor
I grew up in the throes of the postindustrial revolution when the service economy started to set up very high degree of income disparity via making many jobs so low pay that people who worked them could no longer afford the American dream.
Service work makes sense if it is carried out by young, housed individuals who are looking for a little income as they move through school. It may teach people a work ethic and may motivate them to get skills in school that will enable them to get better salaried work.
As I grew up, there were some people from wealthy families who never had to learn how challenging service work can be. I had witnessed a lot of people take it for granted. There are people who start work negotiating good salaries that can sustain families without understanding how hard it is for people in that sector of the economy.
Working these jobs, a student can also meet and get to know people who work in this sector of the economy who don’t have it so good. Many may learn and accept that such people fall into the temptation to make fast money, yet do they see the consequences of doing this? Or perhaps they opt to use their parents’ money to get around this kind of work altogether. Some may think the work is easy and for people who aren’t as smart as they.
When I reached an independent age in which I had to balance rent with the rest of my needs, I really stared to learn how little that kind of work is respected. Additionally, when I befriended people who are in those situations I started to understand and respect the injustice.
I began service work in high school and college and it was always a means to get extra income that helped sustain me. In college I used it to pay my expenses, but I did not depend on it to sustain my rent or tuition. I had parental support for that.
When I started living independently, I always worked an extra service job to make sure my expenses were covered.
It wasn’t until I was forced back into the service economy due to my mental condition, when I really understood how difficult it was to sustain rent and independent living on so low of a salary.
Not being able to afford a car for help with transit and working forty hours a week earned me nine hundred dollars a month when my rent was nine hundred and fifty dollars a month.
I had to transport myself from an affordable location into my low paying job in a wealthy district which took four hours a day. I was doing everything in my power to survive and I couldn’t do it until I found a better salary back in social work ten months later. I never worked so hard in my life.
I found doing unskilled service work for such low pay was far more demanding than working two jobs and going to grad school which I did for almost three years. At least back then, I could afford to drive. Everyday I see people work these jobs and I do not know how they can afford to survive without family support.
I feel that people who do not understand how challenging unskilled work can be can be can easily undervalue it and treat people who struggle with it in narcissistic manners.
The shrink who made 125$ an hour presumed that because I was only making 9$ an hour that I really wasn’t working that hard. Certainly not as hard as she. She denied any level of financial exploitation from her business.
Style Number 7: Challenges that Await the Formerly Incarcerated
I was a ward of the state for three months in a state hospital where I obtained a diagnosis of schizophrenia. After the law could hold me no longer, I was streeted at a Greyhound bus depot with the remaining three thousand dollars I had in a bank account and a months-worth of medication.
I was afraid of again being followed by police and possibly by other people as I was when I was trying to cross the Canadian boarder to break a story of corruption.
My best friend had threatened me that he had the power to do me much harm if I ever betrayed him. I had been setting up services in a notorious section 8 housing authority project. There were many newspaper articles written about the project in the paper. Nobody knew that I was the off-the-record source responsible for a few of them.
My psychiatrist in the hospital refused to meet with me in spite of my requests. She moved me to the chronic unit which was a cold and dank facility. When I got very sick the staff refused to give me aspirin because she had failed to order it for me. When I was finally getting better after a severe fever, she came to see me.
“Once we had someone come here who said the FBI was following him,” she said, “and they really were following him. He hadn’t done very much but it was true they were following him.”
I did not trust her enough to ascertain that she was talking about me even though that’s what I still figure. I did trust her enough to return to taking medication because she didn’t believe the aids report that I had been sexually inappropriate the night I had begged for aspirin.
The first night I arrived in the state hospital, my roommate told me that the mafia was following me.
The girl on the unit who had a crush on me told me her father was the head of the Mexican Mafia in Montana.
Even though I should have known better, I often yelled at my parents accusing them of being mafia.
I only got beat up once. It was only by staff. They told my parents I had gotten violent when I had only tried to support another inmate who I believed to be an FBI undercover agent. He had wanted to play his guitar and I stood with him and suggested he should be allowed to do so.
I only got recruited to join one gang and I was able to refuse without any repercussions.
But nobody told me what would happen to me on the streets when I had this much exposure and knowledge about the underworld.
I did not have a parole or probation officer to drug test me or require me to get a job.
When I arrived in Fresno CA and bought a bike and paid for the rest of the month at an extended stay studio, I didn’t realize that I would be able to find a job while medicated. When I got a job, I got an apartment. It just so happened that when my meds ran out, I was unexpectedly cut from the low wage job and unable to find work. The only job I could find was a professional job as a social worker. But I was afraid that I could ruin my career. I was experiencing a great deal of harassment. I believed I was being followed again. When my bike was stolen, I believed I was being targeted.
Finally, I turned to family support. My father told me there was nothing he could do for me. But my aunt arranged for me to move close to her and she could get me a job at an Italian Delicatessen. Then she arranged family support as long as I kept that job.
I tried so hard to find work outside that Italian Deli for ten months until I was successful. The bike/train commute was really challenging.
Not everyone understands what it is like to work with young rich kids when you are in this kind of situation. I considered myself formerly incarcerated and it was hard to cool out. I finally got a car and started back on medication once I qualified for benefits.
On the bike ride to work, I would come across a man I knew from the section 8 housing complex where I worked in Seattle WA. One day he had come up to me and told me that he killed someone. I had looked at him like I was really not impressed at the time.
On the train platform he had a homemade sign that said CIA and he carried with him handcuffs.
I ignored him and worked my day.
Most days I experienced similar things that were equally bizarre and distressing. I still believe that these are tests that formerly incarcerated people are given. These kinds of oppressions are hard to measure as they are different depending on the situation.
When I finally did get a car, the police tailed me all the way to my shrink’s office which was a forty-five-minute drive. There was nobody to tell. No one who cared about anything I shared. I had to shut up and serve rich folk. I think these are examples of tests that formerly incarcerated people must endure to survive.
And everybody just presumed I was a spoiled loser who was a tax on my parents. Most of their friends, my mother told me, said they were just enabling me and I belonged in a hospital. Some of my friends just said I got into drugs.
That is the kind of narcissism formerly incarcerated people must face, I think. Many are presumed to be guilty regardless of whether they were set up or not.
False Medicalized Notions of “Psychosis”
The word schizophrenia which is based on Kraeplinian ideas about brain damage and an unfounded genetic mental illness concept, covers up lifetimes of narcissistic abuse. Quite often this concept tends to justify warehousing people and depriving them meaningful lives.
I have identified seven styles of narcissistic abuse that have been part of my life. Some of these styles are abuse I endured personally and some have been things I have seen afflict myself and others. I am aware there can be quite a variety of narcissistic behavior including physical violence of which I have not endured all that much.
Many of the styles of narcissistic abuse I have talked about are spread throughout the culture and can be quite normalized. For some, it can be easier to throw a person overboard than it is to acknowledge your own superior sense of narcissism. I do believe that often times people with privilege make the mistake of not acknowledging it.
I am aware that my view of power being a corruption of the human spirit is impacted by some of the trauma I have experienced. But I think an awful lot of people undermine the value of other people. When labels like schizophrenia or bipolar are involved, it is easier to presume that a person cannot get better than it is to give them a chance to do so. I believe that if given chances, that many more people could break through their challenges and fill their lives with meaning. But many people who endure these challenges are deemed untouchable.
Many articles I have read about how to deal with narcissism suggest setting boundaries with the narcissist, exposing the abuse by extending the concept of gaslighting that accompanies it, and halting the internalization of the messages made. Many ultimately suggest cutting off the narcissist because their methods will not change.
I think the schizophrenic who does this often is seem as having low insight into their illness. There is even a fancy word for this called agnosia. Agnosia provokes the ire of many a loved one who wants to help. Agnosia was not something I was able to overcome until I had reestablished safety and economic security. I had to work as a therapist for 6 years until I overcame it.
Unfortunately, a schizophrenic like me cannot necessarily escape from narcissistic abuse. It is hard to interact with others without seeing narcissism that can threaten my sense of self. The best I can do is expose aspects of it in order to avoid internalizing the abuse and thinking ill of myself.
Ultimately, I feel very burdened about the amount of narcissism I view in the world that doesn’t accept me or make space for my contributions. Not all of us get to have our contributions highlighted or honored. We can continue observing and undermining narcissism so that it stops with us. Maybe that truly is as good as it gets.