Healing from a narcissistic relationship

How To Stop Being A Narcissist

By JH Simon

As most people today tend to agree, the short answer as to whether you can stop being a narcissist and heal your narcissistic wound is no. The long answer, however, is more complicated.

Healing is always possible, but there are numerous factors at play. The first question to ask is: Do you exhibit covert or overt narcissism? This is crucial to know, because the road to stop being a narcissist will vary depending on the kind of narcissism you have.

Overt Narcissism

The overt narcissist will have difficulty healing their narcissism because they are addicted to the high. They have a firm belief in their specialness, and a lifetime reinforcement of narcissistic supply, both of which are extremely difficult to let go of. Why be normal when you can be powerful?

Overt narcissists usually function within a social hierarchy that reinforces their narcissism. Think of the spiritual leader, or the golden child of the family. There are external forces at play reinforcing their specialness. Narcissistic parents can always sharpen their skills on their children, and feel a sense of superiority by the mere fact that they created the child. Children are also conditioned to see their parents as special and more powerful than them. This dynamic can be intoxicating to the parent. Golden children also have their parent’s reinforcement in turn. Together, the narcissistic parent and golden children reinforce each other’s narcissism. Even lone wolves tend to have a steady supply of unsuspecting targets to draw from. As long as the stream of narcissistic supply can be maintained, why stop?

Let’s say that the overt narcissist runs out of supply, or falls out of their position in their hierarchy of dominance. What then? Awaiting them is the karma of a lifetime of denying their True Self. Toxic shame, anger, panic and emptiness await them. Will they go through the dark night of the soul, undergo treacherous suffering and transformation, so they can come out on the other side….. normal?

Yes, healing from narcissism leads to nothing special. That is the whole point. You are not special because you have decided in your mind. You are a living, breathing human being tasked with actualising and contributing your gifts to the world. Being real brings real rewards, but it also brings challenges and accountability. There is no magical escape. For that, you need cooperation and humility. Empathy. Patience. Power sharing. Responsibility.

Being a healthy human being is hard, and it is uncomfortable. But what about the other side of the coin? Can you stop being a narcissist if you have covert narcissism?

Covert Narcissism

The covert narcissist has a different challenge when trying to stop being a narcissist. Where the overt narcissist has consistent reinforcement from the outside, the covert narcissist has nothing. By all measures, they seem to be normal. Flat even. There is nothing special about them to the eye. Yet their ‘specialness’ lies out of sight. In the recesses of their inner shadow, lurking, looking to exert itself when the ‘time is ripe.’

Covert narcissists can be the spouses of overt narcissists. Covert narcissism can even infect the lost children and scapegoats of a narcissistic family. Covert narcissists are the forgotten ones, hiding in plain sight. They are the ones who were wounded repeatedly by narcissism — without the perks of being special. They were shamed and traumatised so viciously, that they split off from their environment. To survive with their sanity intact, they created a ‘special’ version of their Self. This is much like the overt narcissist, except the covert narcissist does not have their false Self reinforced from the outside. Most of the time they feel shame, but self-soothe by imagining themselves to be special.

In the last couple of years, while writing multiple books on narcissism and narcissistic abuse, I came to discover my own covert narcissism. It is so insidious, so difficult to see, that even someone who spent years contemplating the topic missed it for a time. The covert narcissist believes they are fair, loving and even victimised. Where is the narcissism in that?

Covert narcissism is a topic all on its own, but the main characteristic is the shadowy way it operates. Even if someone does not have NPD, they may exhibit narcissistic behaviours that even they cannot see are fuelled by narcissistic injury. It becomes obscured by their shadow, and overt narcissists hijack it for their own purpose to the extent that nobody knows it exists. Even one snide remark or tiny act, carefully targetted, can cause an explosion in the other person and bring narcissistic satisfaction. On the surface it seems harmless, but beneath the surface, the narcissistic iceberg is enormous indeed. This is the most terrifying aspect of covert narcissism.

So the covert narcissist will likely have little incenstive to stop being a narcissist, because for one, they cannot see the problem. Furthermore, they are in so much pain, and dealing with so much shame and trauma, that they cannot find a way to even contemplate looking at themselves. Looking within is so painful that most would probably never even dare. There is no external reinforcement keeping their narcissism at bay, but there is internal pain getting in the way.

No Way Out

Narcissism manifests in ways we can’t imagine. We can all lean on narcissistic coping mechanisms when the integrity of our Self is threatened. Covert and overt narcissists often end up in relationships together, which reinforces each other’s narcissism, and distracts both parties from seeing their own truth. Pain keeps us stuck. Denial keeps us stuck. Conditioning keeps us stuck. Anger keeps us stuck. Shame keeps us stuck. Trauma keeps us stuck. Outer reinforcement keeps us stuck. Seeing, accepting, and working toward healing narcissism is no easy task.

We humans are doomed to fall short. That is why we need outside help to stop being a narcissist when we slip forward on the spectrum. A community of people, a moral code, and a God to love and guide us during times of pain and despair.

Finding A Higher Power

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Navigating narcissism is difficult. In every relationship, and in every social group, power struggles and hierarchy are impossible to avoid.

Relationships by design mean establishing and navigating power, with the best outcome being a power balance. Mutual needs are lovingly met, and faults are communicated and worked through. Nobody is perfect, but love heals and guides the relationship enough for it to work.

In other cases, dysfunction can get so out of hand, it can sometimes be difficult to determine who is being more narcissistic. The abuse is blatant and obvious to everyone except the abused person. There is even a tinge of narcissism in codependent behaviour, which a person channelling their God-complex by thinking they can save another person. It is a murky landscape.

Also, getting your needs met in the world means that some amount of narcissism is necessary. You need to regard yourself as special enough for people to take you seriously and support your growth. Narcissism is not bad. It only becomes bad when it corrupts.

But why does it corrupt?

I would argue that our grandiosity is kept in check by the morality of our tribe. Everyone carries potential for infinite power. Yet actualising that power depends on the society we live in. Having people to both empower us but also keep us in check is crucial. We need to know what is allowed and what is not. What is righteous, and what is wrong. What is moral. Even when we have a set of morals and principles, sticking to them is hard work. We need to feel there is good reason for it. Straying is so simple when we are not help accountable. Why not manipulate and dominate your way to control? It can often be the path of least resistance. This is especially true for urban culture, where people live in cities full of anonymous faces. Yet families isolated from an outer tribe can also corrupt in the same way.

Humans need something meaningful and righteous to pursue, which is fuelled by love for those in our tribe or community. Humans thrive when they have a purpose, when they are aligned with God as they understand God. A man may be filled with a sense of mission and courage when he falls in love with a good woman and looks into the eyes of their first child. A woman might feel connected and empowered through sisterhood and brotherhood, having members of her community who care for her and hold her to a righteous moral code. She is empowered not by unhinged grandiosity, but by shared humanity and purpose. She prays to her God as she understands God, and her needs are fulfilled. Why pursue anything more? She has everything she needs.

Trauma can cause a rupture in this harmonious process. War. Famine. Poverty. Exile. Many families lose their way when they lose their heritage. Often the matriarch or patriarch of that family broke away or was torn from their family of origin. This left them isolated in a world which would not include them. Their woundedness made them grandiose and bitter, and they developed a narcissistic Self to compensate. They found a partner to enable their narcissism, and had children. The narcissistic family was born, and narcissism spread. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. With no Higher Power to keep the head narcissist in check, narcissism runs rampant.

Richard Grannon said that without a Higher Power, narcissism becomes your God. So if anyone is to heal from their narcissism, they will need to understand this, and ask: What is my God? Will they need to pursue a spiritual practice in their search for God? Will they enter into a community with humility and openness, ready to serve rather than imagine themselves as the divine leader?

I believe that love, acceptance and shared shame can heal narcissism. It has healed mine, although I am an extremely motivated person who values truth above all. I still have plenty of work to do, but there has been an enormous shift in my self-esteem and morality. I know how to defend the integrity of myself viciously while also making concessions. I empower myself first and foremost, but then aim to empower and love the people in my life as best I can. I fail often. I have hurt many people with my unconscious narcissism and flawed morality. My core wounds still cause damage in my relationships, but I always aim to get back on the horse, learn a lesson, and become a better-integrated human being.

However, none of this would have been possible without my spiritual awakening.

A Gap In Consciousness

When I was twenty-six, I had a fight with my significant other and was ready to absolutely burst. Turn violent even. This terrified me so much that I busted out of our house and bolted down the street, driven not only by furious energy, but a desire to get away from the dysfunctional shit show I had co-created over a seven-year relationship. Then I reached the end of the street. My fists were clenched, my breathing was rapid and shallow, my jaw and shoulders were tense, and I was at my wit’s ends. What more could I possibly do? I was ready to blow…

And I did. It was the most peaceful, wonderful and meaningful experience of my entire life. My hands relaxed, my breathing calmed, and my jaw and shoulders softened. I felt like I was standing on a beach on a calm spring day. I knew. What did I know? That God’s finger had touched me, and like a lightning bolt I was struck with consciousness. I was conscious for the first time in my life. The hypnosis of unconsciousness had been broken.

But not shattered. It was only a crack. But it was enough. A line was drawn in my history, and I set off on an entirely different trajectory. I made many mistakes since then, and struggled immensely to work it all out, but step by step it came slowly together. I had to shed many layers and tears, come to countless realisations, and experience so much to grow into the person I have become. But none of it would have been possible without that gap in consciousness. Without that tiny crack that appeared in my hard ego shell from the lightning bolt that hit me that day.

Can a person stop being a narcissist without consciousness? I have some doubt. When the True Self finds a gap, I believe that truth will visit you whether you like it or not. I believe it is this which targets of narcissistic abuse hope for. That the narcissist will one day be struck by lightning and see the error of their ways.

I believe not everybody awakens. Some move through life with unconsciousness and leave this life unconscious, maybe seeing the truth for the first time as they cross through those golden gates. Who knows? It is not your responsibility to ‘wake them up.’ Your mission here is to work toward your own awakening, and through shining your light brightly, hopefully inspire and awaken others through your being. Nothing more, nothing less.

And if during your journey you need to contend with your own narcissism, then I hope this article will help you gain some perspective, and inspire you toward becoming a more integrated, actualised, powerful yet loving human being.

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Further reading