Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Behind the Mask

Jeff posed this interesting question, so thought I'd post it for discussion:

Regarding the alignment in several comments here of NPD with sociopathy, I wondered what anyone might think about the possibility that their N relative's apparent lack of empathy and need to lay on guilt trips was both a mask for and projection of an underlying and intolerable burden of guilt?

Funny you ask this, Jeff, because I was just discussing my dad's particular brand of narcissism with my husband. My husband said he's always been struck by my father's total lack of empathy...and total lack of self-awareness in general. In the case of my parent, I suspect he didn't feel guilty. He felt incredibly victimized and conducted his life as an angry victim...demanding compensation for what he did not receive as a child.

However, I wouldn't classify him in the malignant narcissist category...even though he left a long trail of destruction! I've been shocked by some of the stories shared here and elsewhere where narcissism is bound up with intentionally malicious actions.

If you are better qualified to take a stab at Jeff's question, please do!


Mulderfan said...

I don't see either of my parents as having any underlying guilt.

My dad was born a twin in 1919 and his mother (after having two more children and again pregnant) committed suicide when he was four years old. My father now insists she died in an accident. Shortly after, his father married a woman who had five children of her own and treated the seventeen children in my father's family so well that it wasn't until he was a teenager my dad found out she was his step-mother.

The survival of twins was such a marvel in 1919 that my dad and uncle were the centre of attention wherever they went and catered to by not only their parents but their siblings as well. Oddly, my dad's late twin (who married my mum's sister) was a sweet, gentle man.

My mother, born in 1922, was the child of the village drunk and a woman who had three previous illegitimate children by three different men! Very much frowned upon in the 1920s! When my maternal grandfather died his "real" wife showed up at the funeral...turned out he was a bigamist!

By this time my parents were married and my older brother had been born. When we were children, my mother used to proudly tell the story that my father declared he loved her even though she was a "bastard". A story she now denies.

These two met in England during the war, which I think had a profound effect on them. I also recognize that they both experienced unusual situations growing up, but I don't see any basis for guilt.

Having blabbed all that, I think my baby brother and I grew up in a pretty damn screwed up environment, that included emotional and physical abuse with a bit of incest tossed in (by our older brother). Why did we survive to become loving, productive human beings while our brother descended into severe mental illness and heaped both emotional and physical abuse on his wife and children?

What made one twin a mean narcissist and the other a kind, gentle soul will always remain one of life's mysteries for me.

enilina said...

As a mask for underlying burden of guilt? Even if they do feel guilt, why dump on little children 24/7?! If they do feel guilty and they continually turn children into receptacles anyway, that’s even worse and no justification can be good enough. A normal person who feels guilt over a mistake on their part will want to own up to it. I’ve never seen that happen in sociopaths; especially those who are incarcerated, their apology letters to their victims are full of me-me-me. They truly believe their victims should feel sorry for them.

As for my parents, they always look like they were having way too much fun at everybody else’s expense. As a kid the only time I felt less anxious around my dad was when he was talking about the misfortune of person A, B, and C, because then he was happy and therefore less inclined to have unpredictable explosive rages and temper tantrums.

My mom may say the right things when she talks about the misfortune of others, expect she can’t hide the self-satisfactory glints in her eyes or the happy lilt in her voice.

My parents have the honest-to-God look of relief on their faces when they are dishing out verbal, emotional, and physical abuses; Mom would barely do without her daily 3 hour lectures that carefully explained why I was so stupid. She couldn’t do that anymore when I ran away to college (that I was supposed to be too stupid for). When she lived with me for 6 years she was going through serious withdrawal until I finally caved one day and sat dutifully to listen to her lecture (I was 35 years old). Let me tell you that Mom’s face shined with relief and happiness that she finally gets to dish it out at me. And it lasted 30 seconds; the moment I pulled out a notebook to write down everything she says her face fell and her eyes widen with desperation. She even said, “Don’t write down anything I say, don’t hold me responsible for what I say!”

So my mom knew what she has done was wrong, but she has no intension of changing because there is no guilt to drive that.

Pisces6 said...

It doesn't surprise me if a lack of empathy and the need to lay guilt trips is a sign of holding a large amount of guilt. However, if a narcissist does feel guilty about something, he should not be thrusting the guilt on someone else. It is perverted to be upset or feel guilty about something and then make another person miserable just because they are a convenient target. The narcissist should be working on how to make up for that guilt he caused. I guess this would be a Bad Idea since it means the narcissist is no longer Always Right.

This assumes that the narcissist actually feels the guilt. My parents can feel guilty, however, they like to shift the guilt onto someone else. Why take full responsibility of your actions when someone else (the victim) 'forced' you to do it? Why take full responsibility when it can be 'shared'. (Aka, make the victim do all the work of fixing the situation while the perpetrator does nothing.) Some narcissists skip the sharing part and simply dump the full responsibility (and guilt) onto the victim claiming the victim made them do something bad.

It doesn't matter if the narcissist feels guilty. He usually decides to heap the blame on someone else rather than taking responsibility for what he's done. Doing that will ensure he has plenty of guilt to distribute for his entire lifetime.

By the way, I'm using 'he' as a neutral pronoun. Male or female, narcissism isn't limited by gender.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susie said...

Narcissists have lots of feelings FOR THEMSELVES. They may have feelings of guilt, but inappropriately express these feelings. I've noticed that my parents feel guilt when they're not living up to the image of the perfect person that they have tried to create/believed they are. When they get a glimmer of their insecure/imperfect selves, they can express a lot of feelings, but it is always done so inappropriately, i.e.: projection.

Katgrrl said...

I totally disagree that my Narcissistic Parent has any feelings of guilt.

In fact, isn't the whole problem of sociopaths with Personality Disorders like NPD is that they lack basic human emotions, responseslike empathy, guilt and innate knowledge of the differences between wrong and right?

My father doesn't think he ever does wrong, he is always right, the rest of the world is out to get him which makes him self-righteous in his anger and behavior. Guilt would denote that he felt he was doing something wrong and thus masking it...sociopaths don't do wrong in their mind.

I think my own parent has extreme feelings of inferiority that he makes up by making everyone else around him part of his make-believe kingdom. I have yet to isolate why he went so wrong in his formative years...but something clearly didn't "switch" on in his head that gives him humanistic genuine qualities.

If my father was NOT NPD or had any semblances of normalcy - he would most certainly hold a lot of guilt or he would never have done half the things he has has done.

Or at the very least apologize...just once. Something he literally has never done with me - a simple apology.

Good thing I am not holding my breath waiting for that apology for I am certain it will never come.

Sorry if this comes across as angry, but at least in my case, there is no easy answer or rational reasoning...sometimes people just have mental illness whether inherited or acquired...NPD after is just that, a mental disease with no cure.

Nina said...


It's really quite astonishing to think of someone going through their entire life...without once apologizing to someone as significant as a child.

To me, this is one way to tell if you have a truly narcissistic parent...and not just one who's kinda, sorta, sometimes self-centered.

Knowing that we deserve a simple apology...and knowing we'll never get it...can be infuriating!

Alexis said...

They feel guilty for abusing their kids so they abuse them more? Look at what you make me do to you.

My N-C of a mother doesn't feel guilty, she feels bad about some things, nothing to do with me. More how her little brother was teased as a kid and she did nothing to stop it. Or course he died when he was 50 and that's when the regret set in. Not a word about it before that.

Anonymous said...

I am unsure of the answer to this question. I think what appear to be guilt in the narcissist is self-pity. In my opinion, the narcissist not only has no compassion for others, but no compassion for themselves. They loathe themselves, but instead of being able to address this essential self-loathing, they blame others.

This is a horrible example, but my brother attempted suicide at our father's house. He wrote his suicide note on my father's wall. My father did not clean it up. He lived with the evidence of his toxic influence on his son every day for years. One would think this is evidence of feeling guilt, and I once did, but I've come to have second thoughts about this.

I'll tell you folks the rest of this story, so people who haven't known any people with NPD can get it. One can't make this horrible stuff up! My brother was depressed, and fearful of his suicidal thoughts. He called his father for help, and when he arrived, my father said he was late, and it was time for him to leave to spend the night at his girlfriend's house. My brother was left alone, in a nearly psychotic state. Add to that the rage of being abandoned by someone he sadly believed would be supportive, he attempted suicide as a gesture of rage towards our father. I know this is pretty sick in itself, but this is the kind of tragedy that NPD parents create. My brother has brain damage because of this suicide attempt, and our father has never felt a shred of guilt about his lack of help. Yes, he's felt badly, but it takes no form that even slightly "normal" people can wrap their heads around.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story!! My friend put me on to your blog. Im in my 30's, and I KNOW my parents guilt trip me into believing I am responsible for their happiness but moreso misery! However, they have mastered the way of getting me to FEEL guilt.In answer to your question, I thinks its a projection of their guilt.