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Lack of empathy is one of the hallmark signs of many personality disorders, one of which is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Dealing with this kind of behavior without understanding the “why” behind it was frustrating, depressing, infuriating, and confusing. That is why I feel the need to address this issue in-depth in this blog.
I can’t even begin to count the number of occasions that I witnessed lack of empathy in dealing with the narcissistic family in my past. As you probably know from my previous blogs, I had adenomyosis (a painful and debilitating uterine disorder) for seventeen years. During that time, I went through most of my attacks on my own without any help from the narcissistic individuals at that time. I had nights where I thought my abdomen was going to explode (literally!), and there were narcissists in the other room who never checked up on me even though they knew I was sick. I could have been dead in the other room, and they never would have known. I went through many years of this disorder on my own with very little support, and this is one of the main reasons I am so vocal about this disorder. Not only have I been through all of the physical pain, but I have also been down the road of emotional and mental neglect involved in this disorder. There was only one time that a narcissist showed any emotion over my condition, and this is when I actually received the diagnosis of adenomyosis. However, this display of emotion occurred in front of other family members. I now know that this display was for show only. Narcissists like to “appear” like they care, but they really don’t.
There were times when I desperately needed to go to the hospital due to abdominal pain from adenomyosis, and a narcissist actually argued with me about having to go there because they just didn’t want to go. It was too much trouble for them. This happened at another time when I had severe back pain due to a herniated disc and broken vertebrae. Even though this person was seen at the hospital with me, it usually was preceded by a lot of complaining before we arrived.
I witnessed one of the narcissists telling a family member to “get up and go get me some face cream” when that person had been up all night vomiting.
One of the narcissists wanted to go on vacation so badly that she made her sick husband drive over twenty hours, and when they arrived, we noticed that he had red streaks running up his leg. He had cellulitis, and we had to take him straight to the doctor for immediate treatment. They knew he was sick before he left on the trip, but the narcissist insisted that they go anyway.
One narcissist was sick with a head cold, and we were scheduled to go to visit them. We wanted to wait until she was better, but she insisted that we come, saying that “she needed to see us”. While I was there, I came down with a serious head infection. In fact, when we arrived home, my doctor told me that my ears were on the verge of rupturing due to the infection. The narcissist insisted that she didn’t get me sick, saying “It must have come from the plane”.
One day, we received a call about my dad who was in the hospital. The doctors told my mom that she needed to call in the family because he had taken a turn for the worse. The narcissist who drove me to the hospital complained the entire time, asking me if I knew for sure the end was near. This narcissist did not want to go. I cried almost all the way there, but he showed no emotion. He just complained.
Do you see what was going on here? These are all perfect examples of a lack of empathy on the part of the narcissists. They don’t care at all about any discomfort that others are in – they only care about their own needs and wants. During these years, I started to question myself. Did I just complain too much? Shouldn’t I just be a stronger person and deal with these health issues better? Did that infection actually come from the plane? I actually began to feel like I had to “prove” that I had these health problems. One narcissist insisted that I would feel better if I just went to the gym. This shows the ignorance in the knowledge of adenomyosis. Exercise in itself will not heal adenomyosis. Neither will it heal a herniated disc and broken vertebrae. In fact, it may actually worsen the back condition!
I can’t prove that the head infection came from the narcissist, but chances are pretty high. Other than that, the answers to these questions are an emphatic “NO!” The problem is with them, not me. Adenomyosis is a serious uterine disorder that significantly disrupts a woman’s life! If my ears were on the verge of rupturing with that head infection, I had one serious infection! There was no apology – just another incidence of trying to put the blame on someone on the plane. If they can’t understand that – don’t have the ability to empathize – that is their problem – their own personality disorder that THEY need to deal with. I have learned that there is nothing wrong with me. The problem is narcissism and their lack of understanding that they need help.
I now am surrounded by people who actually empathize/sympathize with my health conditions. I have to say that it catches me by surprise when someone is actually sympathetic or empathetic. I’m not used to it. But I can tell you this – I couldn’t be happier that these narcissists are gone and that I actually now have people around me who really care about my well-being. It is refreshing…so refreshing…to have empathetic/sympathetic people in my life who truly want to help me get through the rough times.
If you feel like the people in your life are not empathetic in rough times, I strongly urge you to re-evaluate those relationships and get out of them if possible. Lack of empathy is one of the hallmark signs of many personality disorders, and if they can’t empathize/sympathize, that is a HUGE warning sign that you are not in a healthy relationship. I would advise to get counseling as soon as possible, but don’t expect a change in the narcissist. They rarely admit to having a problem. You may just have to end the relationship.
Hope this information helps. Have a great day, everyone!
Many of you who know me personally know that I try to take my negative life experiences and turn them into something positive. My work with adenomyosis sufferers is one big project that is close to my heart. I had this uterine disorder for seventeen years, went through pure hell, and finally received my diagnosis at hysterectomy. Although my struggle with adenomyosis was brutal, I decided to share my story and work to promote more research for those women who continue to suffer from it. I am in the final editing process of my second adenomyosis book, and I founded the group, “Adenomyosis Fighters”.
After thinking about this for months, I have decided to share some of my other life experiences…and yes, they are negative. However, I am determined to once again turn a negative into a positive. I have dealt with many narcissists in my lifetime, and after about five years of counseling, I (and some other close acquaintances) have come to the conclusion that several of these people I dealt with probably suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (also known as NPD).
I will be writing many future blogs on NPD. I will give actual examples (with names withheld) of statements that were made or situations that I observed. I have read many articles on NPD, and although they describe the traits of someone with NPD, I believe it would be even more helpful for the reader to have actual examples of statements and/or situations so they can more completely comprehend this personality disorder. My hope is to help others who are currently dealing with someone with NPD.
During my counseling, I not only learned about NPD, but I also learned about the characteristics of someone who becomes a victim of a narcissist. Victims of narcissists tend to have a submissive personality and try to please everyone around them. I am definitely a “people-pleaser”. In my past, I have tried to make people happy even if it is to the detriment of my own mental health. During the years that I dealt with narcissists, I started taking an antidepressant, thinking that the depression that I was feeling was just my inability to deal with stress. In fact, one of the narcissists actually put that idea into my mind, and I believed it. I became more depressed with time, and I actually had some panic attacks. During these years, I began to lose my sense of self, and to be honest, I was miserable. Counseling helped me to become much more self-aware, and I have learned the things I did wrong during those years. I will get more into this in later blogs.
To begin the discussion, I believe that it is of utmost importance to know that all of us are narcissistic to a certain degree. The term “narcissism” seems to have a very negative connotation these days. Narcissism in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the degree of narcissism is the determining factor if it is “healthy narcissism” or “pathological narcissism”. Pathological narcissism is the unhealthy form of narcissism that is linked to the personality disorder called NPD.
Many people today associate narcissism with someone who is loud, extremely arrogant, and who always wants to be the center of attention. Some with NPD definitely fit into this category, but some can actually be quiet and calm. One of the narcissists that I know falls into this second category. Either loud or quiet, all narcissists are quite charming and appear quite attractive. However, as you get to know them, you may notice behaviors that are quite disturbing such as control or manipulation. This initial charming appearance is what is referred to as the “false self”, and those with NPD will do anything to keep up this “false self” appearance.
The following is the DSM IV criteria that psychologists use to diagnose someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (eg., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people (or institutions)
Requires excessive admiration
Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
The sad part is that those with NPD rarely get treatment because they don’t see themselves as having a problem. One narcissist that I knew began counseling after a major event in his life, but only went twice. When I asked him why he stopped going, his response was “Counseling is a waste of time. It doesn’t work”. I suspect that counseling didn’t work because he would be forced to face issues that he didn’t want to face. I also suspect that the counselor told him things he didn’t want to hear.
In my next blog, I will discuss the topic of the “false self” in greater detail.
*DSM-IV criteria for NPD obtained from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, American Psychiatric Association