Why Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder So Little Known?
By: Beth McHugh 2009
This is a question that clients often ask me. Having suffered for decades under the regime of a narcissistic parent, they discover, sometimes almost halfway through their lifetime, that their parent has had narcissist personality disorder (NPD) all along.
With the realization that the parent has NPD comes relief, shock, rage and sorrow. It is never easy to learn that one's mother or father has the condition. This is especially true when the parent is the mother, as the mother is characteristically seen as the principal source of love and nurturing.
Of course, there is no true love and nurture when one's mother is a narcissist. Quite the opposite. And no-one comes away from experiencing life with a narcissistic parent without an array of emotional wounds and scars. This is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
These scars are laid down in early childhood but it possible for a person with such a parent to not realize just how emotionally damaged they are until they reach adulthood and try to establish some independence from the NPD parent. This is one of the times when trouble starts between narcissistic parent and adult child.
Anther common time is when adult children of narcissistic parents become parents themselves. Watching how their own parents relate (or fail to relate adequately) to the new infant can often bring back poignant memories of one's own emotionally impoverished childhood. Again, this is a time when realization occurs and arguments break out between the narcissist and his or her adult children.
So why does it take so long for the victims of narcissists to work out what is wrong? I must emphasize that it is not the fault of the adult child of the NPD parent. It is possible for a person to live out their entire lifetime (and many have) without realizing that there is something profoundly wrong with their parent. What happens is that the parent convinces the child, and later the adult child, that there is something profoundly wrong with them. This is how narcissists operate and they are very successful at what they do, often convincing their children that they are at fault for everything that goes wrong in the parent's life, that they are no good and that no matter what they do they can never please the parent or even "get it right".
There is a twofold reason why it can take so long for victims of narcissism to discover the true cause of their distress:
- Mental illness of any sort is still largely a topic of taboo
despite numerous campaigns to de-stigmatize conditions that take up
more hospital beds than physical ailments. So, as a society we fight
the very existence of mental illness to a large extent. This makes
it hard for the sufferers of mental illness to talk freely about their
condition and receive empathy and help. But it also has the devastating
effect of making the lives of family members, particularly young children,
In a sense, we are all victims of our reluctance to talk about mental illness because, despite the outward appearance and behavior of many of the general public, a huge proportion are affected by mental illness in some way, either personally or indirectly through friends and family members. And yet, as a society, we largely continue to pretend that it does not exist.
- The other reason why NPD is so little known is peculiar to this disorder in itself. It is simply not that common, affecting less than 5 % of the population. However, although few are affected, the effect of the few on the families concerned can be devastating.
Having a NPD mother can result in a child who suffers chronic depression, low self esteem, generalized rage at the world, chronic anxiety and a failure to fulfill their potential.
A very common feeling is a sense that they are always serving two masters and this latter feeling often appears after marriage or the commencement of a serious long-term relationship. Because the adult child is not allowed to have a normal relationship with the NPD parent and therefore feel free to give themselves completely to their love partner, there is always inner tension and turmoil as the person strives to be both perfect child and perfect partner. Clearly this is not achievable and this alone sets up internal conflict, not to mention potential marriage difficulties.
Yet the victim of the narcissist struggles on until such time as they
go into therapy for their own emotional difficulties. Unfortunately,
the therapist consulted often fails to locate one of the principal sources
of their pain a narcissistic parent. In coming articles, we will
look at this phenomenon and how misdiagnosis can lead to further feelings
of self doubt.