Monday, October 13, 2008

Narcissism and the Meltdown

I don’t know if you saw an Associated Press article in your newspaper last week (10/7/08) about a Los Angeles area married man who killed himself, his wife, his three children and his mother-in-law. He was unemployed, previously worked in the accounting industry and was despondent over his extreme financial difficulties. Apparently he left a suicide note saying he considered two options: just killing himself or killing his whole family. He reportedly chose to kill his whole family, because it was “more honorable.” (San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/7/08, p. A4)

Why would someone do this? And what can we do to help prevent this from happening more widely? Some ideas came together for me yesterday while speaking about high conflict personalities with 230 domestic violence professionals in the Chicago area. They had a powerful display of life-size figures of women who have been killed by their husbands/boyfriends and T-shirts with writing by children whose parents were killed. The danger of domestic violence is on their minds every day and their work is so important. I used the above example to explain ways to work with Narcissists.

First, Recognize Narcissism for what it is: an unconscious human defense mechanism. Narcissists are preoccupied with their public image, because their very shaky self-image is managed by trying to look superior in public. Images of wealth, having honorable status, trophy spouses, children in the best schools, etc. often help narcissists cope with a deep underlying sense of powerlessness and inadequacy. When the public image is shattered, many narcissists cannot cope. Some become violent toward others, often those closest to them, who they blame for their own problems in their distorted and dangerous thinking. Others blame themselves. In either case, violence becomes a much higher risk.

Second, Narcissism is Widespread: Researchers indicate that each younger generation has become more and more self-centered and narcissistic over the past 50 years (and this seems to be worldwide). A very recent national study in the U.S. (Stinson, et al, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, July 2008) determined that over 6% of our population meets the criteria for a narcissistic personality disorder. This means that over 18 million people in the U.S. may appear normal, but are stuck in a self-centered, self-defeating dysfunctional cycle of thinking, feeling and acting.

Third, There Need to be Consequences: Narcissists can’t stop themselves, whether it’s domestic violence or greed. However, when they know that there is a strong enough negative consequence, they will restrain their behavior. That’s what we just learned about Wall Street with insufficient regulations, and that’s what we know about domestic violence reoccurring when there aren’t strong legal consequences, like jail time.

Fourth, Don’t Diss the Narcissists: Taking a chapter title from my new book (“It’s All YOUR Fault!”), it is very important to resist the urge to criticize obviously narcissistic people when their fortunes turn sour. Resist the urge to say I told you so, and resist the urge to say Now look at you, Mr. Big Shot. DON’T tell people you think they are narcissistic. It might hurt you in the long run. Instead, give them your E.A.R.: Your EMPATHY (not sympathy—empathy means you can have similar feelings and frustrations), a little ATTENTION, and RESPECT them for their efforts and positive qualities as a person.

Fifth, You’re Not Alone: One of the surprising things about this financial meltdown is that it is worldwide and will affect everyone. No one individual is solely to blame for this (although those who have significant responsibility should have appropriate legal and financial consequences). We need to stick together. We need to let others know that we care and want them to know that there is more to living than making money. Perhaps the silver lining in all of this is that we will discover that we can care for people more than money after all!
Please check out my new book "Its All Your Fault".


Anonymous said...

Um, right. So if only the LA woman had given her partner more *empathy* and *understanding* she, her children, and her mother would be alive today. She was responsible for it! She facillitated her own murder! What a ridiculous case of victim blame. Shame on you.

Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. said...

Thank you for responding to my blog. After seeing your response, I re-read it to see what may have given the impression I was blaming the victims. This certainly was not my intent, especially as I have represented many victims of domestic violence in court. When I suggest that we should not “diss the narcissists,” I am talking about all of us: professionals, co-workers, bosses, neighbors, family members, politicians, etc. It’s common these days to see people react to angry people with more anger, rather than setting limits (from peers telling abusers to stop to courts putting them in jail) and calming people down (using empathy, attention and respect). No one person is to blame for another’s behavior – yet we all share a responsibility for stopping violence and abusive behavior in our communities. If we do a better job of this as a society, individual family members will be safer and abusive people will get help and change their behavior. No one can stop domestic violence on their own.



Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post. Recognizing that in many cases the individual understands at some level that his/her anger, and in all cases, violence, represent far less than the ideal responses to stressful situations, is the beginning of successful intervention. And for this, E.A.R. is what is needed---well said.

BTW, might you have another source for the paper you cited on the prevalence of narcissism disorders in the U.S.? I was unable to locate it under the title listed. I apologize if it turns out it's right under my nose.

Thanks again,


Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. said...

I appreciated your feedback. The article is: “Prevalence, Correlates, Disability, and Comorbidity of DSM-IV Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Results From the Wave 2 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions,” by Frederick S. Stinson, Ph. D. and 10 other authors, in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 69:1033-1045, July 2008.
Thanks, Bill

Anonymous said...

Great article. I like the idea of E.A.R. On a whole I think that is a great way to respond in order to de-escalate a situation when someone is angry. Sadly, we often do respond to angry people with more anger. Our society desperately needs to start taking more responsibility in how we treat each other.

However, I feel a GREAT NEED to point out the danger in using empathy with a narcissist. Empathizing with a narcissist can easily be misconstrued as taking away their uniqueness or suggesting something is wrong with them. It can be as great a narcissistic injury as blatantly putting them down. To a narcissist their pain is greater than anyone else's. To suggest that you understand them while they are in distress can be dangerous. It is one thing for them to say they are going through a difficult time, it is something else altogether for someone else to acknowledge this. That would be the double standard often seen in that personality disorder.

It is confusing to comprehend how anyone could receive such a supportive gesture and react with outright rage and contempt. But this often happens with abusive personalities. Words of kindness are easily twisted in ways that are virtually incomprehensible to others. It is no surprise that the feeling that one can never do the right thing is a common mantra for individuals of narcissistic abuse. I know this because I have experienced this personality disorder in the clinical setting as a professional therapist as well as personally as a survivor of domestic violence/abuse via a narcissist.

Narcissism is no doubt a very difficult disorder to understand as well as to attempt to treat. But there's a reason they say it's untreatable. What I mentioned above is part of that reason. However, I applaud your efforts to stop domestic violence and to remind everyone that we all play a role in shaping our culture. If we continue to turn a blind eye to abusive behavior in others we are doing a great injustice to our society. I believe that we are creating the very problems that ail us by not speaking up and by leaving that to the victims who are often too beat down to do anything about it in a safe manner. Thanks for working to make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Narcissism, I have been following the antics of Sarah Palin, especially the story regarding the birth of Trig. Sarah Palin is fascinating to study. I'm very interested in your take on her. If you have any free time, please consider doing a little "research" on her and letting us know what you think.

Bonnie from Texas said...

As tempting as it is to say "Please comment on the Rod Blagojevich impeachment" I second a Sarah Palin analysis, as I literally could not believe her response to the Branchflower Report. "Cleared of any hint of ethical wrongdoing??" How was that conclusion even considered sane?

I was completely wigged out. Luckily, Rachel Maddow had several segments on her show (available on You Tube) dealing with the whole "Troopergate" investigation, which helped my bewildered state of mind.

Palin/Blagojevich 2012 (snark)

Anonymous said...

I have just found this site and am very impressed with it's writings. I only wish I had found it much earlier for it's help and advice. Why was I looking in this area? For years I've had problems with my relationship with whom we have a daughter who is now 8. I was wood, wined & dined etc. He got me. Within a few months, I wanted to get out due to DV and his control, etc etc., but the usual, he would woo me back in. Finally after 2 years, l got out, but have continued with abuse from all aspects for now 10 years. In and out of court re our daughter and custody. I did all I could to let the legals be aware of my concerns, he finally recently won getting shared care. Reason? With all his pathogical lies, he played the victim role so well and made me out to be mentally unstable and that it was all my fault. He has the money, I don't. He got a barrister, paid a huge amount of money for him who convinced the court that l was the problem. I now have to attend a psychologist regarding my unrealistic concerns for our daughter that supposedly lack authenticity. He was ordered to do an anger management course, never did it because he didn't believe he was wrong. The court let it go. He was ordered mediation, but refused as he said he could do that with me as l was the problem, not him. He abuses our daughter and denigrates me to her, he constantly denies it. Shared care was given because it was believed that our daughter was so close to me that it was impeding on the father to gain a positive relationship with him and that she was telling me all those negative things because that was what she wanted me to hear. The father denied doing or saying those awful things. This is just an insight to what has happened, it's all about the same things, but over all these years. On reading the writings on here, his actions and symptoms fit in with Narciccistic...can someone please tell me if I'm right and how do I deal with it with the psychologist as I don't want tohave to say nothing, just incase they see me as he has portryayed me in court and himself as the victim and I loose total custody of my daughter.The Child Psychologist believed him and doesn't think she needs counselling as he thinks I'm the problem too. Please help wirh urgent reply. Thanx

aaudrab said...

Dear Anonymous April 9th, 2009,
Please e-mail me@

Anonymous said...

Glad I found your site. I need your advice on mediation with a narcissist. Very controlling & calculating. Very wealthy and greed has taken over his life in many ways. Plays the spiritual hypocrite so well. Is mediation a possibility with such a personality? You would not believe what I have been through. My therapist says I should write a book. I am not afraid to go to trial, but I need to strengthen my skills in taking him on in the negotiation arena, since a try at mediation is mandatory in my state. Any suggestions? My self esteem was shot, but I'm working on building it back. We've been separated for over a year now, with no contact. Thank heaven! He has lied to my adult children and continues to play the poor pitiful me role with my community, our friends, our children, and especially our church. He has labeled me as a nut case/pill popper because I gained the courage to file for divorce. Got any suggestions? I'm not throwing in the towel. I'm dealing with that we don't live in a Perry Mason world like I thought we did. I want truth. Will it come?

Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. said...

We cannot provide advice on this blog. You may want to read "Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing A Borderline or Narcissist" before going into mediation or litigation and, as always, it is a good idea to find an attorney with experience dealing with high conflict divorce cases.
Best wishes,
HCI Staff

Caren said...

Good Lord! I just came across your site and I am flabbergasted!
The two stories about court & custody with the Narcissist gave me eerie chills up my spine. Each story matched my experiences EXACTLY. The lies and the manipulations and the way our child is used to further support HIS image that HE is the victim is staggeringly identical to my own story. I came about this site because our court appointed Case Manager directed me to find out more about what I have been up against for the last 10 years. My God, it is clinical!
My only freedom and peace I have acquired recently was learning how to file Pro Se’ in our Superior Court. I can file myself for Contempt of Court when "he" violates the Parenting Plan. Which he does so often; I have won 2 contempt charges in the last 7 months. I have filed against him on 5 different occasions all to my favor.
What this did was allow our Seattle Commissioners to "get to know him". Each time we came back to court, they punished him for his repeated behavior.
I fight for my daughter's right to have a peaceful life. In my fight, I have learned that peace comes when holding the bigger stick! That is the way of the mindset of one who needs fear to cooperate. God Bless you all who are on this path because I think it is the most painful experience a divorced parent could endure not to mention what this is doing to our children.

Anonymous said...

I am in the middle of dealing with a narcissist how threatened to kill me, got arrested for "terroristic threats". Case was remanded to lower court as harassment charge. Determined to see he finally got a record I went to court Only to be threatened again that an assault charge would be brought against me if I did not agree to dismiss the charges. (highly intoxicated he pushed me, I pushed back, he stumbled, fell hit his head, slight mark, which was noted when the jail processed him for the above arrest). Have civil restraint with no contact. Working with CARA (citizens against rape and abuse) they have convinced me to walk away, move on. don't bother with final restraining order. Court has ordered evaluations and treatment of which the latter he does not, he thinks he does not need it.
Meanwhile he just drove by my house twice tonight. Cannot tell you how many professionals have said they are there if I need anything yet they do nothing.
I have learned a lot about the services that have been set up to help, but truly they either can't or won't. The division of youth and family services even say they don't care what the courts say, they know he is an abuser, alcoholic and narcissist. Yet even they cannot make him get treatment or do jail time.
I fear something will only be done once he kills me. Then maybe someone will listen.

Anonymous said...

Will this never end? Bullies run everything. They are charming and willing to lie. I am trying to find a way to maintain a relationship with my 3&5 year old grandchildren, but this makes it sound hopeless. The courts only go by what they see and they only see the surface. I was raised by a narcissist and found a little peace after 10+ years of therapy with 8 to 10 different therapists only to have to watch these perfectly healthy normal children that i love with all my heart be destroyed.

Unknown said...

How do we handle a President of the USA with this disorder.

Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. said...

Thanks for asking. We can't in-elect him, but we can continue to discuss the election and policy differences with each other and with our representatives in civil terms. Using logic, as you may have discovered, with an ardent supporter of a political candidate may fail and simply escalate the argument. It's usually more successful to ask questions about their standpoint instead of pushing our own. There are a lot of answers, so this is very basic. We published a book about this, Trump Bubbles, that goes more in depth. If your main trouble is discussing it with other folks, then you may want to also brush up on your BIFF Response skills and/or EAR technique. There is info on all these at The link to the Trump book is:

Sandy said...

With a narcissist you must leave immediately and never look back. They aren't needy. They enjoy feeling superior and if it means they have to destroy you, they will not hesitate. They don't need empathy, attention and they want it, but it does no good, it just feeds their narcissism. You have to call them on everything they do until they decide they can't manipulate you any longer, and usually they will go away (unless they can ruin you with impunity). Good luck!