From the Narcissists’ Perspective: Why Don’t People Like Me?
I thought I knew everything about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I considered myself somewhat of an expert having read innumerable books, blogs, web lit, having watched YouTube videos ad nauseum and through active participation in multiple online forums for children of narcissists. I grew up with a narcissistic mother who scapegoated me from my earliest memories, and a father I later realized is a sociopath.
Early on, my focus was on healing from narcissist abuse, like learning to manage the narcissists in my life, establishing boundaries, and navigating going no contact. I was the victim.
At my core, I knew I was a good person, but I could never understand why people seemed not to like me — why every relationship I had seemed to go wrong. This lifelong pattern of rejection coupled with the emotional abuse of my family of origin pointed to one answer – I am un-likeable and un-loveable.
It’s not a thought that was at the constant forefront of my mind. It was buried deep enough to inform all aspects of my life and behavior in ways I didn’t understand, but after an emotional injury it would bubble to the surface causing bouts of depression and crippling loneliness.
A Narcissist is Made
I told myself I was strong – stronger than others because I’d been through hell and I was still here. Still succeeding at school and work. Still adding value to the world. And through all that, I’ve done it alone with no help from the world which treated me like garbage. I learned not to need or rely on anyone else. I resolved to know my own value and not let the world tell me I was worthless. If no one else liked me, I resolved to like myself.
I developed a hard shell. Growing up my mother scapegoated me, and in order to successfully do that she smeared me to anyone who would listen—making herself the victim. In turn, people disliked me before they ever met me. I didn’t realize that until years later. Instead from a very young age, I internalized the messages I got from the world and assumed people wouldn’t like me. At the first sign someone didn’t, I wouldn’t hesitate to confront them, in an explosive rage if need be. My thoughts were, who are you to tell me I’m worthless? I’m smart, I have value, I won’t let you tell me I don’t – in fact I’m probably better than you in a lot of ways.
I strived for perfection in order to prove that value—to the world and to myself. I refused to show weakness or to fail. And to make sure people understood that I was actually a good/fun/worthwhile/smart person, I would let them know and remind them how amazing I was. There’s no way they couldn’t like me if they understood how special I was inside, so I made sure to put all my best qualities on display and draw others’ attention to it.
Having not grown up with it, I craved approval. I would become obsessed with understanding others’ opinions of me and trying to change their minds if it seemed they didn’t like me. I experienced anger when I couldn’t understand why I was so disliked. When someone showed me positive attention—when someone liked me—I liked them back hard and we formed fast and furious relationships that always seemed to fall apart within months for reasons I could not understand.
There was so much I didn’t realize. So many years lost. It’s painful how un-self-aware I was for so long. At 34 I fell into a deep depression and sought therapy. We spent almost a year working through my feelings of inadequacy, the pain of my childhood, putting into perspective the times I felt truly hurt or abandoned. Many of my painful experiences of abandonment or rejection stemmed from encounters with other Cluster B personalities — mostly other narcissists and sociopaths. Why was I drawn to these people throughout my life and why were they drawn to me? How was I so easily manipulated by them? Why had I allowed myself to be victimized all these years?
It never occurred to me that I was my own biggest problem. At least not on the level I needed to, to understand it. There were so many layers of self-protection. Every time a relationship went wrong, I obsessed over why. But there was one thing I never considered: how my behavior made other people feel. I had very low empathy for others.
I couldn’t see past my own pain and emotions. Furthermore, I hadn’t grown up with empathy. No one had ever cared about my feelings. Really, no one in my household cared about anyone other than themselves. So in addition to never having experienced it, I had never seen it practiced, or learned how to be empathetic. I didn’t even realize I was missing empathy. In fact, I thought I was an extremely empathetic person, never realizing I was confusing sympathy for empathy. How can you miss color if you’ve only ever seen black and white?
At 35 I was diagnosed with NPD. At first I didn’t even believe my therapist because I’d always read narcissists are incapable of seeing their own faults and behaviors and they certainly cannot change. Yes, I act like my mother sometimes, and I admit I may have “fleas”, but I don’t have the disorder, I thought. I don’t knowingly manipulate others or conduct smear campaigns, etc. My mom is that way, but I’m not. I was changing and growing. I was looking at my own behaviors – where they stemmed from, what my triggers were, taking responsibility for my actions– and I was making better choices about how to be there for others, most importantly, learning to practice empathy.
But when I went back and looked at all those same books, websites, and forums – through the lens of how others may see my behavior, as opposed to the lens of the abuse survivor, it started to make sense. When I reread the DSM thinking of myself, instead of my mother, I was hit like a ton of bricks.
Learning to Change
I went in search of tools to help me heal myself, to be a better person. I searched for others like me who realized they have the disorder and want to grow. But there was nothing. The vast majority of material is aimed at dealing with narcissists – but almost nothing for the narcissist who has become self-aware and wants to do better.
Articles and books with titles like “How to get revenge on a narcissist” hit particularly hard now that I was on the other side of it, because I never knowingly or intentionally hurt others – in my mind I was a misunderstood, hurt little girl, discarded and rejected by the world, who was only protecting and standing up for myself because no one else ever did.
But seeing that others saw my behavior as abusive and toxic, my lifetime of failed relationships suddenly made sense. I realized I was the person people were going “no contact” with. Furthermore, I was now the narcissistic parent. It stung.
I thought about reaching out to other narcissistic abuse survivors on forums, for support, realizing this must be somewhat common (What had they tried? What worked? What advice could they give for getting over this?). After all, research shows two-thirds of children with a narcissistic parent have NPD. But sadly, now that I realized I was a narcissist, the rules on the support forums and boards were clear – no narcissists allowed.
Ironically, once I understood how NPD looks and feels from the other side, it became immediately and painfully obvious that a large slice of the people on these forums are narcissists themselves. They are painfully unaware but know that something is “off” with them emotionally, recognize they are different from others but don’t understand exactly how, struggle through bouts of depression, question why all their relationships seem to fall apart, want desperately to recover from their childhood abuse — to finally be happy and feel love — but have no idea that they themselves have the disorder. That’s why I created this site.
It’s a myth that narcissist can never seek help, gain self awareness, or that we cannot change or grow. It is a spectrum disorder, so there are people like my mother for whom that’s true. I believe she is too far gone and will never be able to face any other reality than her own. But there are also people like me, who are simply unaware of our personality disorder—deeply hurt, sad, lonely people who desperately want to change when we learn what has been causing this immense pain and turmoil our entire lives.
We are out there. And there are more of us than we may realize given the statistics. I suspect many of my fellow narcissistic abuse survivors are in the same boat as me without realizing it. If you think you have “fleas”, you may be one of these people.
We too deserve love, the support of others who understand and insight from those who’ve been where we are. I hope my experience helps others on similar journeys.