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What causes unhealthy Narcissism?

The cause of developing the traits of unhealthy narcissism is not known exactly, it is likely to be a number of things and be complex, nothing will be black or white other than the narcissists thinking mode.   Research suggests parenting styles (or whoever gives care to the child) are mismatched to the child's needs or parents who indulge their child's every whim or create the 'special' child or the opposite and parenting styles which neglected, harsh treated, criticise or ignored.  The child built skills in order to survive in childhood.  Most articles I have read on the causes of narcissism seems to have a common thread which leans towards a bio-psychosocial causality; nature equally to nurture.   What makes one child susceptible to gaining a personality disorder when another child under the same circumstances will develop depth empathy for others is unknown. 

Within the Humanistic school of thought Maslow would advocate for  needs are not being fulfilled, haven't been fulfilled in childhood and the child has fixated at the age when trauma happened.  The adult child is more than likely suffering with Complex Post Traumatic Stress  (CPTSD).  Rogers would advocate the self-concept didn't developed healthily in childhood see here for Rogers 19 dispositions of the development of personality.  Transactional Analysis would advocate that the individual has been shaped by their environment especially in childhood and ego states are contaminated and childhood scripts need re-decisions thus as an adult we have the potential to create scripts which work for us to reach our full potent.  Gestalt would advocate that people have substituted their ‘fluidity’ for ‘character’ that which has adapted to expectations and requirements of the external world.  Thought to be a self-concept who the person believes he or she is; seeing a healthy self as always forming, changing and creatively adjusting.  A unhealthy self as stale, ridged and frozen.   



There are a few theories  who have focused on the cause of unhealthy narcissism one being James Masterson who pioneered research and gave understanding into the cause of this personality type.


Masterson (1993) suggests two categories for pathological narcissism in his book "Search for The Real Self".  He proposed "exhibitionist" and "closet" narcissist.  In his thought both fail to adequately develop an age and phase  appropriate self because of defects in the quality of psychological nurturing provided by the primary caregivers. 

It is the closet narcissist who is more likely to be seen to behave with a  deflated, inadequate self perception and greater awareness of emptiness in their inner world.  This personality type would be seeking approval from others and at the same time needing to please them;  Masterson thought this type would be similar to a borderline personality.


The exhibitionist narcissist would be seen as having a more inflated, grandiose self perception with little or no conscious awareness of the emptiness within. Such a person would assume his or her  condition was normal and that others were just like them and would be seen to seek lots of admirations from others with an insatiable thirst.


Otto Kernberg states that

"there are three types of narcissism: normal adult narcissism, normal infantile narcissism, and pathological narcissism. Pathological narcissism, defined as the libidinal investment in a pathological structure of the self, is further divided into three types (regression to the regulation of the infantile self-esteem, narcissistic choice of object, narcissistic personality disorder) with narcissistic personality disorder being the most severe of all".  Source 

 Alexander Lowen, M.D in his book "Narcissism Denial of The True Self "states:


"Clearly in my opinion, the basic disturbance in the narcissistic personality is denial of feeling.  I would define the narcissist as a person whose behaviour is not motived by feeling". (Lowen, 1997, P8)


Lowen' theory  of  the experience of  the unfeeling world of the Narcissist and the inconsistencies they present self  i.e. the image is bigger than the core inner self and it is the image which is being driven to uphold at the detriment of others. Because  a person who is motivated by feeling has empathy for others and would understand how it feels to be hurt and wouldn't want to cause hurt and pain for another.  


Which ever way you look at the cause of Narcissism  all are valid since the process of narcissism is complex and no one can know 100% because it just that theory; and its more than likely a mixture of all the theorist concepts.


 What I can talk about are the impacts of loving,  living and working amongst others who would be seen as using this type of unhealthy behaviours as part of their  personality type! 


Because whatever the cause the affects of a unhealthy behavioural  process for  victims will remain the same .... the person considered or labelled a Narcissist is the first victim in this traumatic way of living.

Confusing, cruel and devastating, my hope is the information containing in these pages will open readers to explore further readings and theorists research and thought to bring some kind of clarity from the chaos of living and loving a person who would be considered to offer an unhealthy process of behaviour.

Who are Narcissist?  You, me your neighbour, teachers, therapists, mums, dads, siblings, doctors, nurses, lawyers, dustmen, bus drivers, friends, colleagues in short anyone because healthy narcissism is just that healthy.  In all likelihood though if you are asking yourself the question do I have an unhealthy narcissistic process or am I a narcissist?  The answer will more than likely be no since by all accounts those people deploying the harsh traits which can be considered unhealthy narcissism inflicting others with devastation do not ever develop the insight or personal awareness into their true selves, therefore would never contemplate that question in the first place and are not seeking to change only to find new ways to gain supply.  Although in my experience they do know they are not like others, they don't class themselves equal to others and they usually underestimate their self-esteem when talking with other. They do not want to change their behaviour why would they when they can have what they want when they want;  they are very skilled at getting their own way at the expense of others.  Unhealthy narcissism is a personality disorder the traits this person  deploys is to protect their own self and can be thought of as their defence mechanism's, they are protecting self from annihilation.   So you can begin to understand their behaviour as actually nothing to do with you personally  and everything to do with them, just them and it is very sad apart from the fact they, hurt and break other people.

Who are victims? - Victim can be anyone full stop.  The person utilising  this unhealthy process will have chosen them for a number of reasons, for example, the victim may already have been a victim in the past they may have suffered trauma and betrayal of some  kind in their own childhood including abuse from others with unhealthy behavioral process.   You may have known the person for some years before they choose you through work or friends or family.  So they will already know your background or some if it or you will have met them randomly and they looked at you through the eyes of excitement as a new source of energy  because you were nice to them and they need you to be nice to them because they are not nice to anyone.   You are not thought of as a person  in your own right you are solely there to feed their ego and as such they see you as a supply for that in narcissist  speak, you are known as a 'narcissistic supply'.  As such we are depersonalised as a human being, attributed a place in the stock room where you are supply on demand.  Brought out when they want your particular energy for their self or wants something from you not when you want, need anything from them, in fact when you do they will withhold what you want.  

Don't be hard on yourself  - Because the person  only lets you see what s/he wanted you to see and know all  the good qualities they project of course are yours not one of them will bel the person displaying the unhealthy behaviour. S/he will have mirrored all those wonderful values,  beliefs and positive traits of yours in order to 'suck' you in like a hoover!  They may also be your father, mother, siblings or any relative as such if as a child you needed that person to survive then you will have grown up around someone who deploys unhealthy behavioral; needs  and never knew it! In adulthood by the time the manipulation is recognised a victim will already be heavy invested emotionally in the relationship with this person;  because s/he makes sure you are before hitting you with their true colours.  By invested I mean you will have spent  lots of time, socially and personally, you may be invested by creating a family together and invested by creating a home together as such all your finances will be directed towards the 'family'.  You will have invested psychological energy and more than likely the whole of your emotional world into the relationship.  There's no better way to bond to another then through sex, you will also have invested emotionally  and spiritually.  Since you trust, love and adore him or her and you will be so in love you will believe and feel this person is your Soul mate.  If the person with these traits was a parent or close relative you spent lots of time with as a child then by nature you will have had every thing about your life invested in them to survive!

BUT and there's always a but ... this is the illusion the unhealthy self-concept  has lead you to believe.  None of it is true!  Because remember these people seem to be only out for themselves even if they have children with you they will sadly be seen by them as an extension of their own ego and as such in need of being controlled as you are!  In the eyes of the unhealthy of course because if s/he can't control you then their needs are not fulfilled and also know their needs cannot ever be fulfilled because they are insatiable.  Hence the constant affairs and the need for newness in the latest fashions, the latest and most up-to-date technology the best holidays, the best car, the best children, the best wife or husband the best of everything and anything which can be perceived by the outside world as "here I am and I am a success" the opposite of how it really is.  With an unhealthy process nothing is what it seems and to a person with unhealthy narcissism their image is everything to them, their ego needs constant stroking by everything external because their internal world amounts to a big fat zero, nothingness it is empty and void!  They are the dark destroyer in the night, in the day 24/7.

The fact the Narcissist - has little healthy substance and knowing that fact can sadden us and make us even more compassionate towards them as a person.   Also know these facts - a unhealthy prosses seems to be thoroughly unfeeling person who will not even bat an eye or look back at the devastation they have caused.  We are out of mind until they want something from us.  Hit by the unhealthy  venom we will be left with all their negative feelings; thinking they belong to us, wondering what the hell we did wrong and what the hell just happened! 


If you reflect back to how you felt and thought at the beginning of the relationship with this person  you may find you sometimes thought "that's a bit odd" or "that's a total overreaction" or felt a little icky sometimes but let those thoughts and feeling go not thinking anything was wrong in particular or putting it down to "everyone has a bad days, which has some truth to it that is why its believable. But at the time not being able to put your finger on it or get past all the lovey dovey stuff to really take notice for long anyhow.  


Now though somewhere along the marital relationship, the partnership or friendship you may be experiencing a nervous breakdown, depression, psychotic episodes or turning to alcohol, drugs or food for comfort.  Your self-esteem and confidence not as grounded as it was or you may be feeling guilt and/or shame the majority of the time.  You may be desperately unhappy and feel trapped or be on edge all the time you may be suffering panic attacks or be constantly ill or 'off it' a lot or any combination of negative consequences which you may attribute to 'how I am!  Walking on egg shells or in fear of saying something which might up set the other person.

If you are having an affair with someone who also has a spouse or in a long term relationship they will be saying things like "you knew the score" and remind you knew I was married" or "this is how it is".  They will have set you up to fail from the beginning because they will never leave their spouse they never had that intention because the spouse or long-term partner serves them well in the image stakes of being seen as successful, balanced and normal!  But really it's  just a smoke screen because they will be using you both to be pitted against each other in comparison and competition known as triangulation, what it means in real terms of behaviour is when the unhealthy person  is upset with you they will use the wife to make you jealous and vice versa.  In the case of the wife it will be subtler and when they are getting ready to discard you they will pit the new source against you as well as the wife.  ​​


The fact is YOU are ALL just pawns in the same game the unhealthy person has created.  


At each devaluing and discard will leave you suffering all the effects of grief and loss a breaking, cracking heart, be turned upside down, inside out without any sense of how you got here or what the hell to do from here.   All these things serve the unhealthy self-concept to cover and veil the real dynamics for your personal behaviour; you will be far too busy with your own real and genuine feelings to have time to 'see' anything else that might be going on and furthermore they will actually be sabotaging any effort you put in to get well, gain information or leave because they don't want you to change because the more you suffer  the more pleasure they derive from your suffering!  You will in the eyes of the unhealthy  only leave when they decide, when they have inflicted as much pain, hurt and destruction as possible.  That is how they get their kicks in life out of others pain. 

It is very sad


They don't care, the more confusion, chaos, drama they can created the more they relishes in your pain and suffering!  If you are married or live with them, or just plain ole love one then they will on the surface of things look like they are supporting you but there will be a price to pay if not now somewhere in the future when you've totally forgotten their act of kindness and support or taken it as part of an equal relationship.  Because that's what loving partners, husbands and wives think and do, they support each other, this is not so with an unhealthy self-concept you will have to pay it back, however long it takes, but it won't be in kindness, gentleness or doing something constructive to help  them because he/she doesn't need anyone's help or support, least of all yours.  You will pay it back with an argument an angry silence, or with violence as they turn into a raging bull in acting out a 'Narcissistic rage'. or even a smear campaign against you in order to turn others against you and to collude with them.  All this will have been evoked by you of course in their eyes since you didn't stroke their ego how they wanted it stroking when they wanted, or you will have outlived your use since they will have got tired of you and say something like "I'm tired of you having an answer for or knowing everything" or if you've been having an affair they may say "I love my wife/husband" or they will see you are on to them and make a quick exist and stonewall you. However, it is, however they behave it will and always will be your doing.  It rarely has anything to do with you it's all about them always both positive and negative, they know this and they also know we will take thing personally because of our empathic natures.

Only the person with the  unhealthy Self-concept - will know what you are paying them back for, they won't enlighten you so you can reflect upon yourself and change if change is needed.  You are paying back something you didn't create at a time that will cause you the most pain and hurt.  For example, you might have a very heavy cold and in need of TLC and rest, they will always go one better and he will have flu and need you to look after them even though they are an adult who can look after themselves.  They will lay on the settee watching you run around after them, their needs will always come before yours and they will relish in the fact that they can see you getting more and more unwell, more and more run ragged by your care, attention and love for them.  You will get more and more run down as you attend to them and some of the time they won't even be ill at all just another pretence so you can pay them back for some minute transgression from last year perhaps or a word you said that they took to mean something it didn't.  Whatever you will be to blame and they will ensure you pay them back.  Or you will find yourself in the middle of an argument with them without you even knowing what, why, where or how this argument began as the rage takes hold.  Its all smoke and mirrors 'see' so they can justify themselves with their entitlement.


Whilst you have become a person you don't even recognise anymore with a broken spirit the unhealthy person  is patting their self on their own back for a job well done; whilst moving onto their next target who they have already been grooming and now sat in prime position to take over from where you left off.  You are more than likely in the middle of a stonewalling, a silent treatment or a discarding temporary or permanent; whilst they  can't be left without a supply ever so he/she usually has several secret liaison going on  at any one time.


If they were to be left without a supply who they mirror and suck all the positive constructive feelings, thoughts, values and belief they would be left to face the pit of their nothingness which is not an option because that is intolerable for them ...... so the waves of idealize, devalue and discards begins again with another unsuspecting victim.   As they replace and hoover you and others in their games., so you may still be in the picture just in case they can 'use' you again in the future offering you their crumbs now using tactic such as dosing, hovering and offering you just enough contact when it suits them to keep you hooked.   If you are married or living with your partner they will keep you continually hooked so their image of successful relationships is seen by the outside world so their image remains in tact to the outsiders looking in. But their marriages and all relationships are false built on lies, lies by omissions and false truths; since anyone attached to them is seen as an extension to them especially spouses and their children. 


They appear to have Ostridge view of themselves and their behaviours

Beware the mask they wear

Beware the wolf in sheep's clothing

This person almost burns your love because they can't feel it for themselves.  They know what love is because they can mirror it but they can't feel it.  So envy and jealousy takes over and they try to destroy what others  have.

Be aware - Whilst you are not perfect because no one is of course, but know this fact YOU did nothing wrong this is all about the other whose life script consists of ME, ME, ME and only ME and who's to blame when things go wrong is you, you, you and only you since nothing will be owned by the person behaving badly. They take no responsibility and are never accountable for what they do, in their own eyes they are entitled to have and so they take take take, take until we have nothing left for them or our self.


What we need to understand - Perhaps in our deepest being is the love WE feel, the love WE have, the affection, empathy and compassion we offer others is not the love they have  to offer you or anyone else and not themselves at this time..  What s/he does and absolutely with precision is adapt and highly skilled at mirroring all those feelings of ours, s/he is akin to a cuckoo stealing our inner sanctum and pretending it is their own.  Its not its ours!  What they offer is smoke and mirrors turning the smoke into fog and smog to create a veil over what is really going on.  They can even tells lies when the truth is a certainty but know the truth is logical and they do not think, feel or behave logically.


As an empathic and loving person - it may be  difficult to understand anyone is incapable of any real love, affection, kindness, empathy and compassion towards a fellow human being; this disordered person  only ever 'behaves' in favour of themselves, everything they  say, any behaviour, is about and for their self.   The unhealthy Narcissist  perhaps 'believes' they are fundamentally flawed in that they do not and cannot think, feel or behave as would be expected of a loving caring compassionate human being would behave.  For us who do feel and feel deeply it is difficult to even imagine,  we can't,  the task is perhaps impossible because we can't rid ourselves of our feelings ......  we feel and thank god we do because our feelings guide us in what we do, how we behave and how we are within the world, how we connect to others and our world and our inner self.  But remember this is only a persons 'perception' of their way of being which is possibly frozen in a time past and perhaps needs thawing.  It will take effort on this persons part but it is possible they can replace the unhealthy behaviours for more healthy.  

An example of a famous Narcissist here in the UK is Jimmy Savile.


On the face of it he was an upstanding citizen everyone adored or at least liked, 'good ole Jimmy' he was well-known, famous, a celebrity who engaged in charity work, raised thousands and thousands of pound and was seen as a socialable human being, charming, charismatic, thoughtful and as it seemed on the face of it, a caring, loving and compassionate man.


However, underneath this mask lay the real man who was the exact opposite of his public persona never did anything for others only for himself.  He sexually abused everywhere he went.  The people he claimed to help with his charity work he helped himself to them.  These people were vulnerable, lost or young and impressionable.  He didn't care he just took what he wanted when he wanted without a thought for his victims.  He was able to fool many in his lifetime.  He deployed totally unacceptable and inappropriate behaviours. 

The unhealthy  can  bare the fruits you want in the beginning until the golden period is over and they devalue you over and over again until they finally discard you like an old sock.  They look like the fruit of a mature tree and for a while they taste like the sweetest, juiciest and freshest fruit we have ever tasted or seen. This is what they want you to see and taste but sadly they are the most barren tree which bears no fruit of its own.


They are excellent at the skill of mirroring, they don't think, feel, sense for themselves and have no emotional empathy for others. What we are seeing is all your qualities and gifts the person has mirrored and temporally  taken for him/her self.   


Eric Burn

Gestalt Institute

Carl Rogers Client Centred Therapy

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