One way of looking at the narcissism spectrum is to imagine there are a few levels. It ties in, too, to the different forms of abuse that Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers can experience. Bear in mind as you read this that this is my interpretation of the spectrum. I find it a useful model to describe real experiences.
As I see it, there are four stages in the narcissism spectrum:
- Healthy, normal, natural narcissism
- Narcissistic traits in otherwise normal people
- Fully blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- Malignant Narcissism
Healthy Normal Natural Narcissism
We all need a certain amount of normal natural narcissism, otherwise we'd just be jellyfish. This healthy narcissism is what causes us to look after ourselves, to stand up for ourselves. It's what makes us love ourselves.
Ironically, this is often missing, to a greater or lesser extent, in daughters of narcissistic mothers. Our mothers had too much; we have too little. It's not surprising - people learn healthy narcissism from being treated right as babies and children - and we DOMNs did not experience that. It's why we struggle so much with loving ourselves and with appropriate self-care. It's why we often loathe ourselves and have such low self-esteem.
One of the major goals of this website is to help DOMNs learn to love themselves, esteem themselves, and care for themselves. See Your Recovery And Healing for more about how we go about achieving that goal.
Narcissistic traits in otherwise normal people
Many people can pick up narcissistic traits, e.g. talking too much, dominating conversations and so on. The difference between them and genuine NPDs is that they will try to change if they are challenged on it; they won't be totally defensive about it as a narcissist would. They may not like it, but they won't go into full narcissistic rage about it, and they accept your right to question them. These narcissistic traits are often known as fleas.
Again ironically, daughters of narcissistic mothers can often have some narcissistic traits, or fleas. It's not surprising; after all, we learned how to relate from our parents, same as everybody else. It's just that we learned narcissistic and dysfunctional ways.
However, those who merely have fleas rather than being genuinely narcissistic will be able to recognise that this behaviour is wrong, have the desire to change it, and the ability to change it. (There is a lot more information on fleas, and what to do about them, in my book You're Not Crazy - It's Your Mother, which is also available as part of the Mega DONM Resource Bundle.)
Fully blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder
This is where the person has all the genuine narcissism traits described in its own section. This person is a full-blown Narcissist.
However, unlike the Malignant Narcissist below, this person will not deliberately go out of her way to hurt you.
Once this type of Narcissist is getting all the Narcissistic Supply she needs, and is the centre of attention, and you're giving her enough deference, and not challenging her at all - well, she'll be calm and even quite pleasant to be around.
You're always only one step from it all going wrong though. So you can never relax.
It can be likened to walking along a very, very, narrow path on a cliff-side. The meadow on the clifftop might be pretty, with bright wiildflowers, and the day might be sunny and warm - but no matter. You are still always on a cliff-edge, and one false step ends in disaster. And in the same way that walking along that narrow cliff-path would require endless, exhausting, vigilance and concentration, being with this Narcissist is the same. You're one wrong word or incorrect opinion away from her rage or tears or whatever her ploy is.
This category can be a tough one to deal with because it's so subtle. If you're actively being mistreated, as in Malignant Narcissism below, then at least you know it. But this category can be a very crazy-making, head-wrecking one, as shared in the section on Daughters With Narcissistic Mothers.
Malignant Narcissism is where Narcissism gets vicious. It's where the Narcissistic Mother does proactively cruel and vicious things such as abuse you, or facilitate others abusing you. It's where she gets rid of your beloved pet just to see you cry. In Malignant Narcissism, she's actively feeding off your pain. It's being an emotional vampire to the max.
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