As I have discussed before on this forum, many people who are raised by narcissists become co-dependent. Another way of talking about the narcissistic co-dependent is to use the term “counter narcissist”. This term helps us see how survivors of narcissists often become the exact opposite of the narcissist. They over function, over compensate and over empathize. So how is it that in my practice so many of my clients worry about being narcissistic themselves. While this is not impossible by any means, most who come to therapy for help are not narcissists. Like I’ve told hundreds of people, nobody comes to therapy and says “help me, I’m a narc”. If they do, they most likely aren’t.
But many clients who are survivors, report extreme reactive anger and this worries them. This is because anger can look like a narcissistic response. I get reports of anger reactions to the slightest of provocations. Fury over minute slights or misinterpretations are not uncommon. Why is this so?
I believe that the anger reaction is caused by the experience of perceived abandonment and dismissal. The narcissistic parent constantly abandons his or her child because their own self involvement and self interest gets in the way. A child doesn’t understand this cognitively. It just feels bad. For many survivors, it was death by a thousand cuts. All parents occasionally misunderstand their children, criticize or dismiss them. This is human. Raising kids is hard and often frustrating. The difference with the narcissistic parent is that this misunderstanding, inability to empathize or dismissal of the child is pervasive and frequent and more often than not, intentionally mean. When that child grows up, it’s not uncommon for them to be over sensitized to perceived dismissals or misinterpretations. One response to this is the one that we have already spoken of on this forum; to become even more accommodating, apologetic and to try even harder to be the “perfect” wife, friend, mother etc. But another response to this is to become angry. I am speaking here of inappropriate anger, clear over reactions to what has actually taken place. Needless to say, that in the normal course of life, sometimes anger is appropriate. But let me give you an example of what I mean. I consider myself to be a good cook. Ironically, I learned to be a good cook from my narcissistic mom. I remember an occasion when my husband and I were making artichokes for dinner. I asked him to cut the top off the choke and trim the leaves before he put it in the pot. He smiled and said he didn’t think that was necessary. I GOT FURIOUS. Crazy, right? We are talking about cooking artichokes here! What triggered me was the dismissal and the non-recognition that I actually knew about cooking and he, well, not so much. My sweet husband almost always “sees” me and gives me my due. This was not about him. It was about one of those thousand cuts that happened during my childhood where I was never good enough and never given credit for knowing what I was doing.
So how do we heal and change these inappropriate anger reactions? First, we recognize when our anger is inappropriate and when it is legitimately called for. Hint: artichoke anger is almost never appropriate. Secondly, and more complicated, is to stop dismissing ourselves. If you constantly do that, reactiveness to minor or imagined slights gets worse. I had internalized my mother’s dismissals of me to the point that I felt reactive to perceived dismissals because they matched my perception of myself. If we really think ourselves good enough, we don’t need the constant agreement by others that we are. Like most things, it gets back to self-love and acceptance.