Guest Post: Reaching through the looking glass

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 Marie Nelson

I’m grateful to get to share my story here at Healing from NPD. When I learned I had Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and went online for answers and advice for people with my disorder, I felt extremely marginalized. Most blogs are for “victims”, and many are very harsh. This type of website is important because it presents a nuanced picture of people with NPD and gives hope of recovery to people like me.

This summer, at 36 years old, I was diagnosed with NPD. I had hit rock bottom and stayed there for a year, experiencing a major midlife crisis that cost me both my job and self-esteem. Finally, after being hopeless for a long time, I sought out therapy.

The NPD diagnosis hit me very hard. I know it must sound weird, but I would never have imagined myself to be a person with NPD. I’ve thought of myself as a dependent person with lots of empathy and compassion. How odd that must sound now. Therapy revealed many unpleasant truths about me, but also about my family and childhood. It was like I had to see everything, especially myself, in a different light after becoming diagnosed.

If I were to describe my characteristic symptoms of NPD it would be these: I can be very self-absorbed and forget that other people are struggling in their lives too. I see myself as either very capable or very much a loser—there are no in-betweens. I need other people to provide me with some sense of self-esteem.  I have a lot of hidden anger that causes dysphoria and rumination. I often have unrealistic fantasies about the future. I have a hard time being a grown-up and on some level I resist responsibility.

The past
Before going to therapy I didn’t question my childhood, because I don’t really remember much. The memories are elusive, they consist mostly of moods and feelings of helplessness. I was a quiet child, who craved the attention of adults and got it through my role as the “weak” kid. I have many unanswered questions about my upbringing, and about how my brother and I were raised, or maybe mostly left to ourselves. But I don’t know how to get the answers for the moment being.

In my early adult life everything was about escaping the inner emptiness. I used all kinds of stimulants like travelling, shopping and drinking, and I couldn’t stand to be alone with my thoughts. When I had to take on responsibility I would find some ways to avoid it. For that reason I have a lot of self-inflicted chaos in my life. I didn’t finish college and it was difficult for me to keep jobs for a longer time. I blamed my social anxiety, a faithful companion through all the years, but never understood that there was something else behind it.

I always had trouble with relationships both with family, as well as friends and partners. I’ve often felt lonesome, even in the company of other people, and had a great wish to belong to a group or a community. Recently I’ve realized that I always withdraw from groups, also my own family, because I expect to be pushed out. On some level I always expect to be rejected. And that’s what I believe to be my core challenge: to not withdraw from people in my life.

Sometimes I wonder if I were better off before therapy, when I were still oblivious to the real me. But on the other hand, when I hopefully at some point, get through this period of feeling raw and being vulnerable, I’ll be a much wiser person. Not only because I understand who I really am, but also because I’ll be more aware of other people’s motives, struggles and feelings.

The shame and anger that came up in therapy is difficult to cope with.  But the dysphoria periods are shorter now, and I find some comfort in knowing that becoming aware is painful, no matter what the disorder. For the first time I’m choosing to feel the pain instead of running away from it.

I believe part of the recipe for healing is turning the look-out on to other people. After starting to understand ourselves and our defense mechanisms, we need to really see other people. It’s a way for us to gain empathy and to beat the defensiveness that keeps us lonesome. It’s difficult, especially if you’re projecting a lot, but I’ve been told it’s possible.

I recently started up in group therapy with other people with different personality disorders. It’s a challenge because of my withdrawing habits, but I’ve promised myself to stay in it. For example, if I start feeling pushed out, which I definitely will at some point, I’ll need to address it in therapy. I will have to assert my feelings in a group and not just run away like I normally do. It’s a way to actually choose a behavior, and not just react automatically based on some firmly grown childhood pattern.

I believe we can learn to manage our defense mechanisms and change the behavioral patterns. Maybe I’ll always have to be pretty aware of my own thoughts and do a lot of reality checking, but that’s a small price to pay for development and better relationships.

Finally, we should also bear in mind that we are not just our disorder. I have a disorder, but I’m much more than NPD.

Interested in sharing your story? Contact Healing from NPD.

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