There are many symptoms that contribute to the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). One of those symptoms is defined on the Mayo Clinic1 website as follows:
React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior.
This is the symptom that has profoundly affected my life as it was the most prevalent growing up. It is directly related to the reason that I have lived most of my life in a perpetual state of survivor mode and why I have had to fight for every victory. I have also had to overcome serious emotional deficits because of the violent rages I was exposed to as a child. As I explained in Nini, living in a violent and abusive home is like walking on eggshells. You never feel at peace; you never feel secure; and you never know what will happen next. The rage from an abuser can happen at any time for any reason. None of it makes any sense and you can’t avoid it no matter how hard you try. One minute everything is seemingly fine and the next minute, with no warning, you are in the middle of a rage storm. To better explain what this looks like, here is a snapshot of how a simple task can turn into a violent outburst.
I was about 11 years old, and I was drying the dishes with one of my brothers when we accidentally bumped into each other. He got angry and punched me in the shoulder. If you have read any of my personal story blogs, you would know that I was not going to tolerate this without the proper recourse. I balled up my fist, pulled my arm back as far as I could and punched him back as hard as I could! Within seconds of landing that punch, I felt a hand grab my shoulder and violently whip me around. Before I could gain any bearing to figure out what was happening, I saw my dad’s fist coming right at me. I vividly remember seeing the gold ring he always wore on his finger as his fist landed a solid punch in my face. I was stunned and disoriented as I stumbled into the counter. My dad yelled, “Don’t you ever touch my son like that again.” Then he turned around and walked out of the kitchen as quickly as he had walked in. As my luck would have it, just as I was retaliating, my dad had walked around the corner and saw me punching my brother. I had a bruised face, a bruised heart, and a bruised soul. I was so angry because it didn’t matter to him that I was the one who was punched first.
This is the kind of situation that produced two outcomes in me. The first was that my sense of injustice grew with each incident like this. I hated that my dad never asked questions but made violent decisions based on whatever it was he thought in his head. His opinion was all that mattered and no one else was allowed to challenge him. As I got older, I did begin to challenge him but, despite my nerve, it never went well for me. It didn’t stop me from trying though. After all, as I wrote in Nini, it was he who said, “Well, either you did something wrong, or you are going to. Either way, you need to be punished for it.” Therefore, my ‘need for justice’ mindset became, well, if I am going to get beat anyway, I might as well speak my mind as I go down.
The second outcome is that it puts a victim like me in a constant state of paranoia, nervousness, and desperate awareness; this is how I would describe survivor mode. Being in this mindset leaves no room for processing because there is no time to look back when you are in a constant fight going forward. For instance, I couldn’t take the time to worry about the beating I got on Thursday, because I was too occupied worrying about how not to get a beating on Friday. Sadly, if my dad wasn’t around, I was super independent, bold, and very brave and did a lot of crazy stuff when I was young; everyone knew I was the kid who would take on any dare. However, as soon as my dad was present, I shrunk into a meek, scared, and nervous little girl who was paranoid about making a mistake that would cause him to go into a rage.
I cannot say for sure that my father had NPD because I don’t have the qualifications to diagnose him; and I am not sure that was even a medical term back then. As I shared in, The Breaking Begins, he came from a violent home, and he was an alcoholic. Having said that, I cannot attribute his violent behavior solely to his drinking because he would knock us around sober as much as he would when he was drunk. His fits of rage and violence put us in a constant state of fear and it was all we could do to survive each day. The mental and emotional toll this takes is indescribable and requires some serious therapy to overcome. I was not aware of how invaluable counseling would have been to my healing process and would encourage everyone coming out of an abusive relationship to seek it out.
Once I escaped from the abuse, nothing changed for me emotionally. Survival mode had become a way of life and I didn’t know any differently. The thing about being in this mode is that you miss a lot! I had a serious emotional deficit for most of my life and, even to this day, struggle to connect with people on an emotional level. It’s hard to explain because I care very deeply about my children, my family, and my friends. However, I can totally hurt someone’s feelings and be completely unaware of it. The best way to describe it is that, for the most part, I think with very factual thoughts. I know that I care but I don’t necessarily feel the feeling of love.
Going through a divorce will pull out any hidden emotions and this stood true for myself. My first year alone was 2020 when Covid first hit its peak and talk about loneliness! I think I felt every feeling that I had never felt before. The emotional floodgates had opened and I thought I would drown in them! It was the first time that I felt emotions so overwhelming that I was lost on how to deal with them. Through a lot of prayer and self-reflection, I finally gained a sense of balance emotionally. I am more in touch with my emotions today than I have been my entire life. Having said that, I still remain on the lower side of the feeling spectrum.
In survival mode, you are so focused on getting through right now, that you miss what is happening all around you. This is far from intentional and, simply put, a person who has come from an abusive situation does not know what they do not know. Recently, I had a relationally groundbreaking conversation with two people who are very dear to me and voiced that I had been hurting their feelings. We talked for a very long time and, although I felt like I had an emotional hangover afterwards, it ended up being a very valuable conversation that has brought us closer together. It wasn’t easy hearing that I was hurting them, however, I do better with facts and was so grateful that they had the courage to talk to me.
If you are in a friendship or relationship with someone who has come from an abusive relationship, there is a lot of grace and understanding that will be necessary. I would highly encourage you to have intentional conversations that are honest and raw. They most likely have no idea how you are feeling and would welcome conversations that will help them to be more aware. I stand firm on the belief that being honest and real is the only way to nurture healthy relationships. Don’t be quick to give up on someone who may need extra attention; rather, be the loving person who helps them to grow out of their survivor mindsets.
Until next time, be gracious and stay safe!
NCADV (USA) https://ncadv.org/learn-more
Willow Domestic Violence Center (NY) https://willowcenterny.org/