Guest Post: Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

Voices of NPD spotlights guest posters with Narcissistic Personality Disorder to share their stories of what it is like to live with NPD, becoming self-aware and personal growth. 

By Lauren Bennett, Down the Rabbit Hole

I’m honored to write this guest post, because I think the owner of this blog has done something very courageous in starting this blog.  She, like myself, has realized that NPD and narcissistic abuse is not an us vs. them issue, as most of the narc-hating blogs would have you believe. There’s a lot of overlap and grey areas.

Often, those of us who identify as abuse victims with “fleas” actually even have narcissism or even NPD. We aren’t all that different — whether we have NPD or C-PTSD or are codependent to a narcissist, all of that has its roots in having been the victim of something we had no control over: usually, not having had parents who were able to love us unconditionally and give us the early mirroring we needed so badly.

Pete Walker, who wrote the very readable and helpful “C-PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving,” even acknowledges that narcissism is one of the four responses (“the four F’s”) of C-PTSD.  Narcissism is the “Fight” response. On other words, narcissism — even NPD — is a manifestation of C-PTSD.

“Going down the rabbit hole” is an apt description of what it feels like when you finally realize that you — a person who believed you were merely an innocent victim of narcissistic abuse — are actually a narcissist yourself. It’s very surreal, to say the least. But I’ll get to that later.

I’m only a victim!

The trajectory I took to self-awareness has been a strange one. I began my first blog, Lucky Otters Haven, as a blog for people like me, who had been raised by narcissists or had had close relationships with abusive narcissists and were trying to navigate the world on our own and tend to our wounded, fragile psyches after going “no contact”. I started that blog four months after going “no contact” with my very malignant sociopathic ex-husband.

I spent several months as a narc-hater. I wrote scathing posts about how all “narcs” (a word I am trying to avoid now) are evil, have no souls, and are incurable. I posted on other blogs that regarded them much the same way I did. In fact, most narc-abuse blogs take this attitude, and to be fair, rage and even hatred is a normal reaction when you are going “no contact”.

Anger overrides fear, and we can’t make our break and get away if we remain stuck in fear and codependency. Anger can give us the motivation and courage to get away and begin to pick up the pieces of our broken lives. So it has its place. The problem is when you can’t let go of it. Once the danger has passed, and you are safely “no contact”, that anger has nowhere else to go.

Many narc abuse victims remain stuck in their hatred and victim mentality, and begin to see narcissism behind every lamppost and under every bed. They see narcissism in normal human behavior and become paranoid and hypervigilant.  They can even become narcissistic themselves.  Only they are so consumed by hatred they can’t see it. They can’t get better or be happy, because they refuse to take any responsibility for their own healing beyond ousting all the narcissists from their lives. No, what happened to us wasn’t fair, but I realized I would never heal until I began to look inside myself, instead of at what everyone else was doing to me (or what I imagined they were doing).

Beginning to question

At some point I began to tire of the constant narc-bashing. Hatred was no longer doing it for me. I began to want to understand what made narcissists tick, and why they behaved the way they did.  That didn’t mean I wanted to be in contact with them, I just wanted to understand.

I already knew they were broken people who developed an elaborate defense mechanism to avoid ever being hurt again. They were people who were so sensitive or were so badly hurt in childhood they dared never feel vulnerable again. So their true, vulnerable self was sent into exile, and a “false self” of invulnerability was constructed over it. I began to read and post on a forum where both NPDs and “nons” posted, and was surprised how little drama there was.

I began to think more deeply about narcissism and the idea that just because one hates “narcs” doesn’t mean you can’t be one yourself.  I began to look at myself too. Was it possible that I was a narcissist?

Both groups seemed to want to understand each other, and many of the NPDs (both diagnosed and self-diagnosed) on the board wanted to change! Several were even in therapy. I began to entertain the idea that narcissists COULD change, and not all of them were incurable, and most of them weren’t evil either. They didn’t choose their disorder; their disorder chose them.

I wrote a couple of posts describing what I’d learned — that not all “narcs” were evil or incurable. That it’s a spectrum disorder and there are shades of grey. That it’s a disorder caused by trauma — the same as their C-PTSD! To the haters, this was blasphemy.

Suddenly I was being mobbed.  A narc-hater I had thought was a friend began to gaslight, project onto me, and tell vicious lies about me in her blogs. Her flying monkeys (other narc hating bloggers who were her friends) came flying out of the woodwork to destroy my reputation. They were like pit vipers. I was so traumatized by this that I almost took my blog down. I was shocked! These narc haters were acting like exactly what they despised. I felt like I was in some crazy house of mirrors.

Could I be one of “them”? 

I began to think more deeply about narcissism and the idea that just because one hates “narcs” doesn’t mean you can’t be one yourself.  I began to look at myself too. Was it possible that I was a narcissist?  Although I didn’t fit the DSM criteria for NPD that well, I had been reading up about covert or vulnerable narcissism and realized that I fit the profile for that perfectly. I took an online test and got a very high score.  At first, this was extremely disorienting, even devastating. I fell into a depression and cried and felt dissociated for several days. I felt as if my perspective on everything was backwards — up was down, left was right, everything I had believed was the truth was a lie, and everything I had believed was a lie was the truth.  I felt like I had fallen asleep and woken up in another, nightmarish dimension.  So now I was on the other side — I was one of “them.” I had fallen down the rabbit hole.

I started my second blog, Down the Rabbit Hole, as an attempt to process this new knowledge about myself and figure out what I could do about it. I didn’t want to be a narcissist!  Narcissists were bad!  Although I had stopped demonizing them, I didn’t want to be one! The stigma was unbearable. Thinking I couldn’t afford therapy, I set about on a slightly nutty self-healing regimen, combining aspects of DBT (I have a BPD diagnosis I received in 1996 and still had Marsha Linehan’s wonderful DBT workbook), meditation, hot baths, prayer, self-talk, music therapy (to elicit emotional catharsis), and other things to heal myself of both my BPD and what I believed was my covert NPD.

My journey in therapy

I talked about all this on my new blog, but my friends (my real ones, who didn’t abandon me just because I thought I was a narcissist) kept saying there was no way I could be a narc, it was in my head, it was just “fleas,” I was too nice, I had too much empathy. I entered therapy in November 2015, and my therapist told me he didn’t think I had NPD and probably not even BPD (he thought I’d either recovered or was misdiagnosed in the first place).  But my therapist also told me he didn’t believe in labels and only treated symptoms, so he never gave me a new diagnosis.

Over time, I began to show more of my narcissism in my sessions. In early sessions I tried hard to impress him and make him like me. Of course, I was making no progress while doing this but I took pride in my ability to make him laugh and think I was a nice person. But over time, my narcissistic traits –envy, faked empathy, secretly believing I was better than others (while at the same time being insecure and thinking I deserved nothing), inability to take criticism well, a tendency to devalue those who didn’t think highly of me — began to come to the surface.

I felt as if my perspective on everything was backwards — up was down, left was right, everything I had believed was the truth was a lie, and everything I had believed was a lie was the truth.  I felt like I had fallen asleep and woken up in another, nightmarish dimension.  So now I was on the other side — I was one of “them.” I had fallen down the rabbit hole.

It was around this time I began to feel unpleasant emotions in therapy and despite a temptation to run away from feeling them, I made myself explore those dark emotions anyway, no matter how much it hurt.  At first it was impossible to cry in therapy (I only cried alone in those days) but eventually I learned to trust him enough to cry in front of him. This was a huge win for me. We talked about my core of inner emptiness and this awful feeling of something missing inside, and the dissociation I sometimes felt.

I realized with a shock how fake I was.  That fakeness is exhausting for me, and makes me avoid social situations because I feel like I always have to “rehearse” what I’m going to say to be seen in the best possible light. I’m always worrying about what everyone else thinks of me, at the expense of caring about others.

It’s not that I lack empathy. I actually do have quite a bit of it.  But the effort involved in always thinking of how I will appear and having to rehearse how I’m going to act or what I’m going to say makes it hard for me to really hear what others are saying. For over a decade I thought I had Asperger’s or high functioning autism. But now I know differently.

When I was a child, I was very sensitive and often bullied.  I felt everything too much, and in my family, showing emotions other than fake happiness (even though we were all miserable) wasn’t acceptable and I was punished or shamed for showing my feelings.  In school, I was made fun of and ostracized.  By adolescence, I learned to cover my sadness and sensitivity (which I had become ashamed of) with anger and frequent, uncontrollable rages, leading to a BPD diagnosis in 1996. But as I entered adulthood, this sort of behavior doesn’t get you very far or make people like you much. Unconsciously, I began to cover my inability to regulate my emotions with a thin false self, which eventually led to a narcissistic personality (albeit not a malignant or sociopathic one).  I never wanted to hurt anyone, but unwittingly I did anyway, in my attempt to avoid being seen as the vulnerable, hurt, victimized person I knew in my heart I still was.

Now that my therapist has been seeing me for a year, I think he has a better idea of what is really wrong with me. At first he didn’t think I was a narcissist, because I was too “nice” to him and didn’t let him see those traits. He still hates diagnoses, because of how stigmatizing they are.  But last night, he let the truth slip out.

Getting my NPD diagnosis

I studied psychology and know a bit about the different techniques used on people with NPD and recognized that my therapist was using some of those techniques on me.  We do a lot of “chair work” and inner child work, which has been very powerful (and often painful).  Last night, I brought up again my suspicions that I had NPD.  He asked me why it was so important to me to have a label and I explained it was because it would be a confirmation of what I already suspected and would help make things clearer to me about why I did the things I did. It would bring me some closure.  I guess that made him decide to finally spill the beans.  Although he didn’t come out and say “you have NPD,” he let it “slip.”

My therapist let it “slip”.  I looked up at him, feeling shocked.  “Are you saying I have NPD?” I asked, incredulous. He looked slightly uncomfortable, “How does that make you feel?”  “It explains everything…”

What happened was we were doing some “chair work” and I was speaking as my 8 year old self. Lately I’ve gotten good at slipping into my younger self and even speaking as a child would. I always get emotional when we do this kind of work, sometimes even crying. He asked me what she (the little girl) wanted and I said I just wanted my daddy to hold me and stop confusing me. He talked to me in a “dad” voice. I started to cry then. I just wanted to be loved unconditionally.

He was quiet while this was going on, then he said this: “Most narcissists aren’t as good at accessing their younger self as you have become. You have made so much progress. I’m proud of you.” I looked up at him, feeling shocked.

“I just meant–” he started to say. He looked embarrassed. “No, wait. Are you saying I have NPD?” I asked, incredulous. He looked slightly uncomfortable. “Well, yes. I hesitated to tell you because it’s such a stigmatizing label. But you needed to know. You were ready. How does that make you feel?”  “It explains everything and validates what I already knew.”

I thanked him for telling me and laughed about him letting it slip out like that. It’s not that I want to have NPD, but it felt good because now I can stop spinning my wheels and driving myself nuts wondering if I really have it and always trying to speculate that it might really be “something else.” It’s a sort of closure and now I feel like we can really get some work done, so I am very grateful.

Moving forward

I agree with the owner of this blog that many, if not most of us, who suffered narcissistic abuse (and might have once identified only as victims suffering from C-PTSD, or in my case, comorbid BPD) actually have NPD ourselves, or at least are on the N spectrum.

I agree that the concept of “fleas” is actually low level narcissism, only most narcissistic abuse victims and bloggers can’t bring themselves to admit this, because to do so would cause too much cognitive dissonance and put them in the same camp with the “enemy.”  As long as some victims continue to think in their rigid, us-versus-them, black and white way, they will never be able to see their own narcissism because they must continue to be seen as blameless “empaths” and stay trapped in their victim mentality.

Narcissists or victims, we are all broken people. We are all victims of abuse. And none of us (except probably malignant or sociopathic narcissists who are too far gone) are hopeless or incurable.  I am so grateful to have found this blog and be able to write this post for it.

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