Temporary Narcissism?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

A question that came up lately in a discussion: Can times of trauma, confusion, or other stress lead to narcissistic characteristics in a way that the person would not have been considered a narcissist prior to the stress and may return to normal life when the stress is alleviated? 

The most obvious answer is, “Of course!”  However, that leads to other questions and considerations.  First, why did this person handle the stress in that way?  Has he been a covert narcissist who simply was exposed while under pressure?  Some narcissists are bound by their upbringing or other social restrictions to keep their perspective to themselves.  Others are smart enough to understand that a covert service of their image will be more effective and desirable.  Is it possible that the stress has revealed a way of looking at the world which was not obvious before?  If this is the case, the person may not have been considered a narcissist before the stress and, when the stress is relieved, may return to an apparently normal life. 

Another thought: knowing how narcissists so habitually blame others for any negative in their lives, what would stop a diagnosed narcissist from saying that the narcissism was only the consequence of the stress of a bad marriage, a bad job, or something else?  In that case, the narcissist would assure you that, when the stress is relieved, he would return to his normal perspective. 

Interestingly, the victim of a narcissist may present as narcissistic when he or she has reached the breaking point.  At that time, the victim may say things like, “What about me?  I’m important, too.”  She may decide to do things her way and for her own sake, even though she was submissive and giving before the break.  Many writers have noted the rage experienced by the victims of narcissists.  Often that rage fuels a narcissistic perspective.  The victim may say, “He has had everything he wanted; now it’s my turn.” 

I would suggest that it is quite possible for a person under stress to exhibit narcissistic characteristics, even to quite advanced degrees.  Narcissism is fundamentally a coping mechanism, a way of and desire to control the world that causes pain.  The classic narcissist learns to cope in this way when very young and refines his art through the years.  The person under sudden or cumulative stress may find a narcissistic perspective to be a way of hiding from or judging the source of that stress.  It may be helpful to seek to understand why the person chose that particular way of coping, but it may not be appropriate to consider such a person a narcissist.



Filed under Narcissism

15 responses to “Temporary Narcissism?

  1. Pingback: Surviving The Break Up Of A Narcissistic Relationship | Narcissistic Relationship

  2. Margie Williams

    I think defensiveness to the extreme and a temporary lack of compassion toward the other can happen in an acutely stressful crisis. But with narcissists the “crisis” can be almost undetectable to the normally-functioning partner. The “crisis” could be such a mild slight as to go unnoticed, being of course misinterpreted as a slight by the narcissist. Also, the “malignance” comes in when the narcissist resorts to lies an defamation about the other, particularly a partner or family member. Lies are their hallmark. The damage is severe to any trusting relationship and they do not realize how they ruin things.
    Yes, we can all act selfishly and in a petty way at times, but most of us – except people who are at core narcissists all along – react so severely to perceived “slights” turning them into “crises” and resorting to malicious lies and defamation. That is the difference.

    • Yes, I was concerned as I wrote the post that some narcissists would say, See I am just like everyone else. Not so! But occasionally a normal person can see narcissism in himself or herself. Times of stress or loss can bring that about. I just wanted the non-narcissistic people to see that it isn’t so much the actions that define as the pattern.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. A narcissist

    I am quite relieved to realized that someone in this world is actually familiar with what I feel. Quite recently, I realized I possess several characteristics of true narcissism. I started viewing myself with shame and negativity until I began to see that I do not behave like a true narcissist because I lack a few essential characteristics (e.g., being an opportunist). However, I noticed that at some points of my life, during the peak of my teenage, I behaved like an extreme clinical narcissist possessing the very characteristics I currently lack. However, at the time, I sort of lacked the characteristics I currently have. After some thinking and after reading your very useful article, I realized I am actually a covert narcissist that changes constantly to adapt to the environment around him. I did not change for my sake, not necessarily, but in fact, I realized that I have been using my conscious to redirect my goals in life into a perspective that considers other people’s emotions and the consequences it may have on them. I realized I am a very extreme narcissist deep inside, and that the only way to change, was to want to. Thank you so much for your article.

  4. Joy

    I have wondered if I was a narcissist as I tried to break free from my ex husband….I was obsessed with the breakdown of our marriage and the way he treated me. But when I look back, I can see that up until the breaking point, I’d been all about trying to do my best with him, raising our kids…it was not all about me except during that very stressful time. But I have to say, during that time, it was all I could think or talk about. I spent a lot of time alone just to give my support system a break. It was a breakdown of all I held dear as I left my marriage, he continued to go to our church, and quietly influence our kids and friends against me. As time goes on, I’m finding I still think about it too much, but it’s getting less and less.

    • You will heal, but you will not forget. The grief will come in spurts and sometimes when you don’t expect it. But trust that you have done the right thing and that you are loved and accepted and valued. In spite of how you sometimes see yourself, there is much love around you. It only seems like he will win because he is so persistent and so strong. But, in the end, narcissists ruin their own lives. Now you won’t be taken down with him.

    • Missy

      OMG! Me too! Listening my breaking point was just a few days ago….narcississm to me a very new concept and I don’t/didn’t think it fear to not look at the whole picture to see if maybe I was a N. Oddly enough it has been my realization of how my empathy I have and on the flipside my spoue’s lack thereof that helps me to see….I’m really not the one with the problems….as stated before these forums help survivors life me ….thanks for having them.

  5. Joy

    Thank you for the reply. There is a reason for me just reading it today, I think. I’ve been struggling lately with having to deal with him more since our daughter is getting married soon. It’s hard and I feel like I’m ………going backwards. That’s depressing.

  6. Alabaster

    After 11 yrs Married to a ‘Golden Child’ son of a Covert Narcissist Mother, my search for answers leads me here.
    After years of torment perpetuated by both my Husband and his Mother, I am in observation mode to try and evaluate these players and their roles, responses, behavior etc etc… The witch has sold her house, moved interstate and once again is in our area….. And thus the horror story continues….
    Her stealthy sabotage of my marriage, my life, friends, mental health professionals and false accusations to authorities got me involuntarily committed to psych hospitals and with no where or no one to turn to. (I’m a foreigner) I further isolated myself from the outside world by self medicating with alcohol and deteriorated rapidly.. Failing physical health and ensuing alcohol induced psychosis followed…
    And just when I get my life back on track (3yrs) with my young children and husband, here she is in all her wicked glory…with the inverted Narc husband (Father in law) in toe… I’ve done the work, I know myself completely and thoroughly, I have to in order stay on track.
    A series of events and her behaviors set off alarm bells and resulted in many many hours of research into her psychological state.. And now I know..
    Finally, I know…. My Mother in Australia gets a daily inventory of patterns of behavior by all players and careful self introspection of my motives and attitude check… My psychiatrist is aware of the situation and is very concerned about my psychological safety after many consistent years of stability….Anyway, thank you so much for a faith based perspective into Narcissism and this post particularly..
    I’m setting boundaries and upsetting the Apple Cart….. I’m hyper vigelant and on my game but it’s exhausting….
    My point to all this is, by setting these boundaries and sticking to it kinda makes me look like the ‘Narc’ your post about victims of N abuse and resulting temporary narcissism is SO reassuring and your blog, a real Blessing… Oh Boy, I’m in the middle of a war and the Lord Is my Refuge and Strength, my ever present help in time of need..

  7. Repol

    I agree completely with the paragraph about the victim.
    When I first discovered NPD, I immediately saw those characteristics in myself. I saw NPD and reactive attachment disorder. But I know those don’t define who I was before the abuse or who I really am at heart now. It was just mere survival instinct kicking in, and I was > < this close to dying from it, from the loneliness, the loss of ideals, the mental games, the grief.
    A tiny bit of narcissism exists in all of us, and in this dog-eat-dog world, we have to have a little bit or we would all be consumed. But I do think for most victims, it is temporary, especially if they can get out or get real, valid, lasting support and probably counseling in most cases.

    I wonder about someone traumatized in the formative years of childhood though. Is there the same kind of temporary possibility for that person too, even if that person is now a young adult? Oh, I hope so.

  8. Cecilia K

    My ex-boyfriend was in an ugly custody battle with his ex-wife all during our relationship, and on top of it, he was enduring a related unfortunate circumstance that was very hard on him. After reading this, I just remembered how his mother tried to assure me a couple of times that once he was out from under the cloud of the very arduous tribulation, things would be better. I had never talked to her about my frustrations with her son (I no doubt would have received a wicked tongue lashing from him if I had), but I think she saw my frustration sometimes when he and I would go visit them. She was always very sweet, and her reassurance implied to me that she knows how difficult he can be. I wonder if she had hoped that I would be the one who would be strong enough to stay the course with him.

    Maybe she was right. Maybe he was a different, kinder person before all his troubles started. On the other hand, though, I wonder/suspect that perhaps he is more responsible for his situation than he thinks he is. If he treated his ex-wife the way he treated me (true to form, he indicated that their problems and ultimate demise as a couple were all her fault), then I can’t blame her for divorcing him and wanting to deal with him as little as possible. But on the chance that his IS a temporary narcissism brought on by stress, then it is EXTREMELY tragic and unfortunate, and I wish I could have gotten past his behavior and been his support until the end of his suffering, but when someone makes a demand of you that you don’t agree with, you don’t have a lot of choice but to say no and accept the consequences.

  9. This was really comforting to read, honestly. My husband and I are BOTH children of N’s. We each struggle with the rebound feeling, “But what about me?!?” We each have to figure out how to treat another human with love and gentleness and dignity. We each have to balance the realization that a) it’s not about us all the time, with b) it NEEDS to be about us PART of the time, and what the heck does that even look like?
    I’ve honestly been terrified recently that I was truly a narcissist, and was just deceiving myself. However, the truth is that I just recovered from a long illness, & actually *needed* the extra attention that was given me. I’m just used to being told that I *don’t* need it. Or deserve it. Thanks for the very informative blog!

    • UnForsaken

      Good point, taylorjoyyoung . I also have a N parent and find my struggles change, but the one that remains is knowing the right amount of space/time I personally need. Yeah, and what Does that look like?! 🙂

      Everything is confusing enough about Ns without an illness on top of it. I’m So glad you’re feeling better!

  10. Mark Mathers

    You are correct in your assumption.
    I am not a classic/constant narcissist. I am empathetic and emotional. I can love. I don’t take myself so seriously and am quick to accept accountability for things. I was married for many years and have never strayed to bars. I never abused or belittled my partner.
    Yet, when a mountain of financial stress built (bad decisions I made, and felt guilty for, and could not escape), I sought an affair for SOME reason I didn’t know at the time. It wasn’t that I had narcissistic justifications in my mind- I was just able to coldly compartmentalize and separate it. “if it’s only rarely,” I thought, “I can get something from that, rarely, quietly, it may actually help me STAY HERE and be a good person, and not want more.”
    Narcissism is never as simple as it’s reported to be, nor does it need to be a constant functioning component of a person’s personality. It can in fact be sporadic and/or stress induced.
    Take that from someone who knows, and hates that part of himself, and is working (thru faith and self-examination) to correct himself. I know this effort is real, because my marriage is destroyed now and there is no reason to do this (e.g. “look honey I’m being good!”) other than to be a good, whole person for my future and for any future person I meet and relate to.
    I gutted MYSELF when I hurt my wife, and destroyed my marriage- because I cared about her, and about the marriage. It makes no sense what I did.
    Your article is important because it introduces some necessary complexity to the discussion of the a**hole narcissist who walks around victimizing people and not caring about the effects. I’m sure those people exist, and I sure as hell had those symptoms, but they are not me.

  11. sassafrass

    Temporary narcissism is a plausible an innate reaction to years of being mentally abused and controlled by a narcissist. I can attest to this mind set. My narcissist is my older husband, who has NEVER protected me or his five children. He’d rather throw us under the bus then stick up for his immediate family. For 29 years he has “choosen” his extended family (five brothers) at the risk of setting a tone of an unhealthy marriage. “My” children, whom I’ve reared, are all grown and out of the house with the exception of one child, who has made and still makes “bad” chooses. My husband doesn’t call or text her because he is “waiting”for her to call or text him. He’s the parent right? Five years ago, after learning of two possible affairs, I consciously decided to stay in the marriage, try to forgive, and not make waves even though I never got an admission to the indescretion (s). I’m still waiting for an apology from my narcissist. So the tides have changed….it’s my turn to do as I please with no regards to his feelings. A bit narcissistic? Yes, but I know deep inside this is not the compassionate, empathic person I am. I could not live with myself, defiling my soul…for what? Revenge? I know now that I must make a secure live for myself and continue being there for my adult children and grandchildren. I call this temporary narcissism temporary insanity.

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