Understanding the root cause can help you be free.
I’ve had a fairly large mental health YouTube channel for a while now. As someone who has been through trauma myself, I try to give advice on how to recover based on my experience. I get a lot of people requesting that I do videos or articles on narcissistic abuse, but I don’t, and it’s for a few reasons. Even though I’ve been negatively affected by narcissists, my views don’t follow the herd mentality when it comes to the subject.
We’ve all been hurt by someone in our lives. Whether it was a friend, a family member, an ex or a boss. One of the easiest things we can do is label them as a narcissist and move on our way. Something happened in recent years where there are a massive amount of people who are quick to slap a narcissist label on anyone who treated them poorly. This has become an overused catch-all label that I’m not a fan of.
The next reason is that although there are many people who have been harmed by actual narcissists, this is a low-hanging fruit. You can find videos on YouTube with hundreds of thousands of views about narcissists, and there is a laundry list of books out there about narcissists. Those affected by actual narcissists are few and far between, but this is an easy cash grab that allows people to not take responsibility for a relationship that went poorly.
Finally, I don’t make videos about narcissists because I feel bad for them, and this is not something people want to hear in the current “us vs. them” climate. Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental illness like any other, and I don’t believe that those of us who claim to care about mental illness should be picking and choosing which mental health issues we care about and show compassion towards. The reality is that narcissists are hurting too, and by the end of this piece, we’ll discuss why this isn’t an excuse for them to treat you poorly, but we do need some more compassion.
Drug Addicts Aren’t Bad People
There’s a massive stigma around drug addiction, and as someone who spent almost a decade addicted to drugs and alcohol, I understand why. Those of us who are in active addiction only care about how we can get the next drink or drug. When that’s our top priority, we hurt everyone we come in contact with. Some of us even turn to crime.
The biggest misconception about addiction is that it’s a moral failing and people who are addicts are just bad people. When I hear people who lack compassion for addicts, they say that even if they agree that addiction is a disease, the person should have never picked up a drink or drug in the first place.
This ignorant because unless you’ve never had a sip of alcohol or experimented with drugs, you have no room to talk. The part that really breaks my heart is that working with addicts for the last seven years has really opened my eyes. When I hear stories of men and women who have become addicted, they’ve been through absolute hell. So many people have turned to drugs or alcohol to deal with the trauma they’ve endured in the past.
I’ve met people who were repeatedly verbally, physically or sexually abused as children. I’ve met people who were prostituted by their own parents from a young age. I can’t even count how many people I’ve met who have stories that you and I can’t even imagine enduring. When I hear these stories, all I can think is, “No wonder you turned to drugs and alcohol to cope”.
It’s easy for us to simply look at the surface and think addicts are these awful people, but when we understand that many addicts just developed an unhealthy coping skill for their trauma, depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, we can treat them with more compassion and help them recover.
Borderlines Aren’t Bad People
Personally, I’ve never seen a mental health disorder as stigmatized as borderline personality disorder. Although people tend to hate narcissists, borderlines have it worse. Far more people struggle with BPD than NPD, and in my opinion, people with BPD are treated worse because it’s so difficult to have any type of relationship with them. One minute they love you and treat you like you’re their world, and the next minute they hate you.
I really saw how bad this stigma was when I was facilitating groups at a rehab for a few years in a peer specialist role. Many people with BPD become addicted to drugs or alcohol, so you get a lot of them in treatment. From the time I started working there, I saw how many of the therapists that I worked with refuse to treat people with BPD because they were too difficult.
I’m a vegetarian who does my best to not stand on some moral soapbox, but I feel this analogy is appropriate. Something many of us non-meat eaters think about is how interesting it is that people care more about some animals than others. If a dog or cat is abused, people will freak out, but pigs, cows and chickens are being slaughtered by the millions.
Why do we show compassion to some animals but not others? And why do we show compassion towards some mental illnesses and not others?
Much like addiction, there’s a root cause for BPD. While there are minor genetic components that factor into BPD, you’ll find that the majority of people with this disorder were traumatized or neglected as children. Those who score high on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) test are at high risk of developing BPD.
Why is their trauma different than someone else’s?
We have no problem showing compassion to trauma survivors as long as it doesn’t affect us in a negative way. But since people with BPD can make life a bit more challenging, they don’t receive the same respect from friends, family or professionals? That doesn’t seem right to me.
Now, let’s get back to the narcissist.
We’ve now established that people with an addiction or borderline personality disorder have an explanation as to why they are the way they are. More clearly, some of the risk factors for both include genetics, history of trauma, other forms of mental illness, environment, and poverty can even play a role.
So what about the narcissist?
Narcissists have an excessive need for admiration and disregard the feelings of others. They can also become enraged when criticized, and they have a sense of entitlement.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably guessed that these people didn’t wake up one day and decide to be a narcissist.
Most narcissists suffer from the same causes as people with other mental illnesses. From my experience, many narcissists had a troubled childhood filled with neglect. As children, we crave attention, and when we don’t get it, we act out. Unfortunately, for narcissists, this turns into a personality disorder. Due to a lack of intervention and healthy coping skills, they become extremely self-centered and everything is about their wants and needs.
Much like addicts and borderlines, people get caught in the crossfire.
What to Do About It
Some of you are now thinking, “Chris, so you’re just giving them an excuse for their behavior?!” Absolutely not.
We need to set up boundaries, and nobody can set boundaries for us. When we don’t set up boundaries, we enable the behavior. Personally, my addiction was enabled for years. It took me losing everything, including the ability to see my son, in order to get help. Up until that point, I had no reason to stop. I still had a job, my family, friends and son. Once I was given an ultimatum to either get better or be left with nothing, I chose to get better.
The problem is that most of us suck at setting up boundaries. We let people hurt us repeatedly and make every excuse in the world as to why we can’t set up boundaries. So, we stay in close contact with these people through various types of relationships. We can do this for months or even years of our lives until we reach the point where we say the other person ruined our life. Remember, if we don’t set up boundaries, all we’re doing is enabling their behavior with positive reinforcement.
Every day and every moment we’re making choices. We choose who we keep in our lives and who we remove.
Although we need to ensure that we protect our own mental and emotional well-being, we all need a bit more compassion. Many of us are quick to label people as “bad people” when oftentimes, the other person has been through hell and unfortunately, it developed into a disorder that hurts others. Feel bad for them, but don’t hate them.
Speaking for myself, I wanted to change, but I didn’t have the courage for a long time. I absolutely hated the way I was. I’ve met many people with borderline personality disorder who felt this same way, and I’m sure narcissists aren’t that happy either.
If feel like you need therapy in order to recover from a relationship with a narcissist, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have an awesome therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By (affiliate link) clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.