Narcissistic behavior seems to be everywhere these days.
And there is little compassion for it. Fair enough, to be on the receiving end of narcissistic behavior is not pleasant and is often abusive.
If we are in a relationship with someone who acts out on their narcissistic traits, it will feel like abuse—because it generally is. But the narcissism itself is acting out of a protective part that has been put in place—unconsciously, by that person—to keep them in a feeling of safety.
Narcissism is a trauma response.
A narcissist, like any other trauma survivor, is in a lot of pain. They loathe to look at it and quickly turn against others because getting in touch with that level of emotional pain—especially they feel shame—is difficult. It might even feel like death itself to them.
We all go through a narcissistic developmental stage during our toddler age. At this age and stage of development, we believe we are the center of the universe, and we need to feel this at that age to get our needs fully met. If we are not guided through this phase by emotionally stable parents—who do not either over or under indulge us and who ensure we understand which behaviors are acceptable and which are not—then a part of us will likely remain stuck in that toddler phase right thought into adulthood.
Once in adulthood, this will play out in any of the narcissistic traits that we know about: grandiosity, gaslighting, using children as accessories or extensions of their own belief systems, self-obsession, lack of empathy, excessive vanity, or self-pity and manipulative victimhood.
We all have a bit of narcissism inside of us. I noticed my own narcissistic part recently. It was a shock when I realized that a part of me was only feeling safe when I felt more competent than someone else. That was my narcissistic side acting up. If we can find our own narcissism, then we can heal it.
If we can see where someone else’s narcissism began, through a lens of love and compassion for the misguided and helpless toddler they were, it could help us to heal and to forgive.
We are not talking about excusing abusive behavior at all—abuse is inexcusable. But if we are tired of the behavior and have moved on, recognizing this abuse as a trauma response might help us to let go.
Only if we can witness that person as the suffering toddler that they were, we might be able to heal some of our own pain.