How being labeled as a narcissist triggers me

I said that reading/thinking about Narcissistic Personality Disorder triggers me. I will try to dwell on that today.

I guess I can say that NPD is one of the diagnoses which to receive would upset me most. And this knowledge sets off an alarm inside of me. I must have the deeply entrenched belief that if something is said about you and it hurts you or upsets you or, worst of all, makes you really angry – then it must be true. Not that this belief is uncommon in any way. I don´t want to argue in favor or against that belief right now. What´s more important is the conclusion I seem to draw: If the diagnosis would not upset me, then I don´t have it.

This conclusion leads to several consequences. 1) If I read about a disorder being diagnosed with would not upset me too much, like Dissociative Identity Disorder or Schizotypal PD, I am skeptical if I really have it, even if I seem to have a lot of the symptoms. The prospect of having this disorder does not evoke shame, terror, rage and angry denial, after all. 2) If I read about a disorder being diagnosed with would greatly upset me, like NPD, or Histrionic Personality Disorder, or Münchhausen, there is immediately shame; and angry denial that any of it could apply to me – followed by a cruel, nagging voice triumphantly whispering to me that the fact it upsets me so much means that I must have the disorder in question.

I could argue that my shame, and my belief that it is an indicator of truth and accuracy of statements about me obviously causes me to be extremely biased towards believing unfavorable things about myself.  But this applies only to a certain extent. I also believe many great things about myself. These are the good moments in my life. I am torn between adoring and despising myself, to say it dramatically. Besides, telling myself that my shame makes me biased towards believing bad things about myself, true as it might be, is a way of relieving that shame. It seems to say: “You are not really as bad as you fear you are! Your shame just distorts your view!” This, however, serves as a defense mechanism against my shame and my fear of being inherently flawed.

I honor my defense mechanisms. They are there for a reason, even if I don´t fully understand it, if at all. Besides, the thoughts I use as a defense might still be true. But right now the cruel voices in my head are thankfully asleep *touch wood*; it is just me and this computer screen, and I would like to try to investigate this shame and this fear. For that purpose, let us try to disable these mechanisms for a moment. What is the shame telling me? Why do I fear a diagnosis of NPD so much?

First of all, NPD is not just a diagnosis, that is: A statement about where my problems lie, or which parts of me need treatment. It is a label that sticks to everything about me. If I have NPD, then everything I do is about fulfilling pathological narcissistic needs. And that means – that everything I do is worthless. Because when you do something just to feel like a cool, awesome person, then your action loses its value straight away. The reason for this is that this action only makes a person an awesome person if the action is genuine, that is: based on an honest interest in the action itself, without secondary interests like how it would shape that person´s self-image. This sentence is a bit complicated, but the thought behind it is quite simple: If you give a beggar some money because you feel genuinely sympathetic towards him, then you are a compassionate person. If you give him money because it will make you feel like a compassionate person, then you are a fake.

Of course this is a very perfectionist point of view, and on a conscious, rational level I doubt it is applicable. It also gets me into an internal conflict, though: I know that many other people have not such extreme standards. They don´t expect that much of themselves, or at least it seems so to me. But what shall I do with that thought? It is not nice to think like that of other people. A really good person doesn´t do that, she must be blind towards other peoples´ faults (here is another strange belief of mine). So if I feel superior to them, I am not a good person, which means I´m a horrible person, which means everything I fear is true. I could say that other people don´t have to be perfect, it´s just me who has to be perfect. In a way, this is precisely how I feel about things, which is definitely something worth investigating. But this, too, does not resolve the conflict. If only I have to be such a super-good person, then I still feel like I´m better than everybody else, and that makes me a bad person. In a way, this is even worse than ordinary moral snobbery, because now above all I am also an absolutely special person to whom very special standards apply.

But I no longer want to dwell on moral conflicts. That´s not even what bothers me most. On some level I´m very indifferent towards the question if I´m a moral person or not, even though I am much too susceptible to feelings of guilt. An action could also be a hobby. Or writing this blog entry. And such actions, too, would be worthless and not genuine if I had NPD, because then I would not do it because I really enjoy it, but in order to show off what an awesome, interesting, active person I am. And then I feel the emptiness in this. And maybe this goes to the core of what I fear about NPD. It means that I never really experience anything. I only ever watch myself.

This experiential numbness or even deadness makes me feel like a boring, shallow person. Someone who just lives on the surface of her mind. Someone who is out of touch with life, real emotions or just anything that is important to other people. It would be okay if I could see myself as a psychopath like Dexter who just has no emotions other than, maybe, his sick, sadistic urges. It is a self-image I could live with. But the most painful – and shameful – thing is what matters to me and what makes me feel good: I feel good whenever I have reason to believe that I´m actually not that boring, shallow person, but a different kind of person. Maybe someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Or a psychopath. Or a future star. Just some kind of identity around which I can center my life and my self-image and the way I explain myself to me and others. Yeah. This is what makes me happy. Watching an image of myself and believing it is real.

And I guess this gets to the inner core of my fear of being labeled as a narcissist. It means that what makes me happy is not real. It means that all my happy moments are based on illusions.

This sounds precisely like what a depressive person would say. I can see how dysthymia and narcissism might be related. But there also seems to be a difference. It´s not like there are real things that really make me happy, but due to some affective disorder I cannot see that anymore and don´t believe in happiness anymore. It´s rather that I fear that everybody else who is less obsessed with his self-image has actual experiences and real happiness, whereas I only feel happy when I have another great illusion about myself. The outcome is that I feel deeply ashamed, and completely inferior to everybody else. I also feel extreme rage because it seems so unfair! “What did I do to deserve this?! It´s not fair that everybody else is happier than me – and superior to me!” Well. Apparently I´m really a complete piece of shit., I think with some kind of grim satisfaction. Here goes my masochism again.

But really – don´t you lead the most senseless of lives when all happiness and pride you ever experience is based on a narcissistic illusion? I cannot bear the thought of leading such a pointless, dead, empty life. I am so scared of waking up one day realizing that I have failed at life big time. I am way too aware of how short life is. Time seems to be slipping through my fingers, and yet I know nothing to do with it. I´m in my mid-twenties and I already feel old. One day I will realize I´m an old lady and my dreams and illusions will be so unrealistic that even I cannot believe them anymore. But then it will be too late to lead a proper life. These thoughts get me into some kind of panic. They make me feel like I need to do something, fast, but I have no idea what. I feel completely stuck, and it´s not a nice place to be stuck in.

But how does one learn to experience things, as opposed to being proud of having done them (because they prove you are alive inside, after all)? I am way too scared of therapists to try psychotherapy again. During all of my previous attempts, my shame and my rage were triggered almost constantly. I don´t want to experience that again. I know they need to be addressed – but not triggered!

Therapists seem so harsh to me. Merciless. I feel like they get some mischievous pleasure out of triggering feelings in me which threaten to destroy me, under the guise of helping me or morally reforming manipulative, uncaring, narcissistic me.  From reading the article I mentioned in my last entry, I know that I am not the only one to experience her therapist as sadistic. I might come back to that in another entry, though, this one is getting too long already.

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