Beware the altruistic narcissist: “Accept my help…or else!”
Narcissism comes in many forms. I suppose the one common denominator is that those around the narcissist either feel ‘less-than’ or face harsh repudiation. I want to focus on the altruistic narcissist because her cloak of kindness can confuse her victims. Such narcissists go way out of their way to curate the image of a selfless caregiver. This image is insincere. It is there to combat an inner sense of worthlessness rather than to genuinely care about and protect others.
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In this post, I will explain how narcissists can use surface-level altruism as an antidote to their core sense of worthlessness. This antidotal altruism requires tremendous inward self-absoprtion and self-conceit. Two features that do not align with the concept of altruism. As a result, such narcissists must work extra hard to ‘see’ their hyper self-focus (or ‘selfishness’) in others rather than themselves. I will then describe the signs of an altruistic narcissist, followed by a case description of a client’s* mother who abused him to be a prop for her altruistic ‘act’.
A review of the narcissist’s psychology
All narcissists suffer a core sense of deep worthlessness that they cannot bear to acknowledge. In order to keep this dreadful feeling out of awareness they inflate their sense of importance and specialness. This is also known as developing a grandiose sense of self. Grandiosity alone, however, does not sufficiently battle the sense of worthlessness. They also need others to comply with this inflated view of who they are. To this end, they will exert coercive influence on the people around them to mirror back what they want to see…or else! Their expectations for others to comply with their exaggerated expectations is called a ‘sense of entitlement’.
Entitlement and grandiosity are ‘antidotes’ the narcissist uses to solve their inner sense of worthlessness. Psychological antidotes usually do not work because they are not grounded in connection to another person. Psychological suffering compounds when treated in isolation. It is only through the sincere reaching out to others and receiving what is needed that suffering gets effectively relieved. A narcissist often does not believe it is possible to confide in others about how bad they feel inside. The shame they feel is too intense. As a result they way the deal with others is inherently insincere. Others are used as props for the management of their very fragile self-esteem but there is never any real connection.
The narcissist’s antidotes leave them psychologically alone. This fact can evoke understandable sympathy. At the same time, the way such people go about coping with their inner worthlessness does tremendous damage to others. One thing I have come to appreciate in this profession is the varying capacity of people to bear the burdens of life. Most of the survivors of narcissistic abuse show great such capacity. Narcissists, I believe, have a very low capacity to bear adversity. Instead, they foist the responsibility for what they cannot bear onto those around them. And typically those getting burdened are more capable of bearing it.
Leveraging altruism for the narcissist’s purposes
Some narcissists are pretty transparent in their grandiosity. Others are less so. Altruistic narcissists view themselves as supreme caregivers. They base their inflated self-concept on this supposed ‘ability’. Then they expect others to react to them as though they are the caring, generous, people they want to seem like. As a result, it can sometimes take a little longer to identify this kind of narcissist.
Parenthood can seem very appealing to the altruistic narcissist. They get to demonstrate their – supposed – superior caregiving abilities to a child whom they may assume will be nothing but appreciative. What a rude awakening when the child comes into this world as a bundle of joy – and needs! Children by design require an adult who is ready to give a lot more than they receive from the child. That is not what the child of an altruistic narcissist gets.
The altruistic narcissist can maintain her fragile self-esteem so long as her grandiose sense of self and entitlement to others’ reflections of that self go uninterrupted. Her primary occupation in life is to keep thinking this way about herself. She is utterly incapable of lasting and sincere loving feelings towards another person. As appealing as parenthood may have seemed, the reality of a child looking up at her with the expectation of being met with genuine love and affection can actually feel terrible for this type of parent. The altruistic narcissist is faced with the fact that she does not really want to provide care to her own child. Her identity as a ‘nurturer’ is a sham and her inability to feel love for her child proves it. If she admits this to herself, then her inflated self-concept crumbles and she would be left with her dreaded worthlessness.
On top of the unflattering realization of her lack of genuine care for others, parenthood poses constant interruptions to her antidotal grandiosity and entitlement. Such interruptions can lead to the parent feeling their dreaded worthlessness. A child’s rightful and persistent needs for care, feeding, attention and love are about the child – not the parent. For most parents, this is not a problem. For a narcissistic parent, the volume and intensity of the child’s needs requires her to interrupt her focus on herself. Unless she can feel appreciated by the baby or others are witnessing how ‘well’ she is parenting, the narcissistic parent will see little motivation to offer care. Doing so, does not reinforce her inflated sense of being a caregiver because she cannot get her child to comply with it.
Some clients who were raised by a narcissistic parent have a feeling that in order to receive care from another they must find a way to make it in that person’s self-interest. That is, they can expect care so long as it benefits the other person somehow. They may feel a mandate to show immense gratitude or flattery at an act of kindness towards them. These feelings were come by honestly because that is exactly what their narcissistic parent required from them. Therapy often allows them to see this pattern as a reflection of their ability to adapt to and survive a very awful and one-sided relationship.
Sarah’s mother saw herself as a nurturing woman. She worked as a psychologist. In therapy, Sarah recalled her mother flying into rages whenever she left any toys out as a young child. As Sarah grew, her mother reacted to her as though all of her needs were ‘too much’. She insisted that Sarah always watch herself from taking ‘needed’ attention away from ‘those that needed it’ – like her younger brother. In one of the most searingly painful moments of Sarah’s childhood, Sarah was asking for her mother’s attention to a drawing she had made and her mother pulled her aside and contemptuously said, “You know Sarah, the world does NOT revolve around you!”.
Sarah’s mother is a good example of a caregiving narcissist. She curated an image as maternal provider yet consistently met her daughter’s real needs with contempt, exasperation and blame.
The altruistic narcissist must hide her selfishness at all costs
All of the narcissist’s efforts to prop herself up are to stave off the core feeling of worthlessness. The keystone of the altruistic narcissist’s propping involve her persona as a ‘selfless’ provider to others. However the strategies of inflating her sense of importance and expecting others to comply are inherently self-absorbed aims. The altruistic narcissist must fiercely deny this fact because it could unravel what is staving off her worthlessness.
Her own self-absorption gets denied by unconsciously relocating this quality in others and reacting to them as though they are the selfish ones. This relocation is best done in relationships where the narcissist has more authority. The child of an altruistic narcissist offers a convenient target. The child’s existence and expectation for love reminds the narcissistic parent of how little she can care about anyone but herself. In order to combat this reminder, she will work to see her child as defective to excuse her inability to love him. Part of this accused defectiveness may include perceiving and reacting to him as though he is the selfish one. When a kid is told by his mother that asking for a piece of candy means that all he cares about is himself and he is incredibly selfish, he tends to believe her. The narcissistic mother in this case can more readily claim that she remains selfless and altruistic but had the rotten luck of giving birth to the world’s most selfish child. Quite a ruse but not uncommon in households with a narcissistic parent.
4 Signs of an altruistic narcissist
In my personal and professional experience I have identified the following features of many altruistic narcissists.
Very low patience
When an altruistic narcissist “gives” something to another person, they are doing it – solely – to get a reflection of their grandiose “caring” self. If the other person requires more than a quick symbolic gesture, the narcissist may quickly grow impatient and show frustration with the recipient.
John had an altruistically narcissistic mother. She would scream at and berate him when he ‘misbehaved’ (which seemed to be three times per day at least) then act as if she had done nothing wrong. After yelling at him in shrieking and murderous tones the night before for not taking the trash out, she came into his room in a stark contrast sweetly said she could take him to school the next day. When John awoke, his morning routine made him a few minutes late to be ready to get in the car with her. The entire car ride was filled with her yelling at him for his ‘inconsiderateness’ and ‘ selfishness’ that she was now going to be made late for getting to work.
Children like John of an altruistic narcissistic parent learn to make it easy for others to care for them. They intuitively knew their parent did not have much in the tank for them so they best not test the parent’s willingness show care to them.
Constantly expect gratitude
An altruistic narcissist not only expects to have to expend very little real effort to help someone else but they also require shows of gratitude.
John recalled how much he hated opening presents on Christmas mornings. He had to train himself to show wide-eyed surprise, delight, and demonstrations of appreciation whenever he opened a gift from his mother. He knew that if he did not do that and walk across the room to hug her, that she would grow angry and abusive towards him.
Such people will vary in how explicitly they convey this expectation. If they have power or authority over someone, then they may brazenly show they expect gratitude. Insisting that the other says “thank you” right away, for instance. If they are not in a position of power and the other person does not meet their standard of gratitude then the narcissist may just seethe and speak ill of that person when they can.
Like to enforce rules
Rules are a means to an end for the altruistic narcissist. They find ways to be on the side of enforcing rules and take satisfaction in catching and punishing the rule breakers. It gives them an opportunity to see someone else as ‘worthless’ and deserving of punishment. As discussed above, seeing others as worthless offers an antidotal relief from their own sense of worthlessness.
John’s mother would set up rules around their household that centered around him doing certain chores. Everytime she screamed and verbally abused him it was on the premise that he had broken one of these rules. She felt justified in her treatment of him because he was so ‘defiant’ and ‘disobedient’. John knew that she seemed to sadistically enjoy catching him breaking these rules and the ensuing punishments she then got to administer to him.
Take on ‘lost cause’ friends and partners
A lot of times an altruistic narcissist will presume to know what is best for a friend or partner better than that person does. The narcissist will then target this person as the ‘defective’ one who needs the narcissist to fix him or her. She may talk about this person as though they are a ‘lost cause’ and just can’t seem to make the ‘right’ choices. They may grow frustrated and angry with this person for not following their advice and prescriptions. They see such people as having a deficit and this helps the narcissist again relocate their own sense of worthlessness.
‘Everyone’s best friend’: The case of an altruistically narcissistic mother
Nancy was born to two alcoholic parents. Her mother was concerned with appearances in public and modeled chronic deceitful and mean-spirited behavior in private. Her father was an accomplished soldier but recused himself from taking an active role in the family. She identified with her mother’s contemptuous attitude towards her brother and father. The attention paid to Nancy was as a trophy: her parents would bring her and her brother out to their drunken parties and show off how ‘well-behaved’ their kids were. Nancy would repeatedly try to be the adult and admonish her parents for drinking.
She learned that she did not really matter in this world except for the purposes she could serve for others. She hated this predicament to her core and could not stand to know how worthless she felt. From an early age, she carried a reservoir of rage that she would find opportunities to release when she could get away with it. On the one hand she had to act like a ‘well-behaved’ caring young woman but on the other she wanted to make others pay for how excruciating life felt for her. Thus began her life of profound self-deception – on the surface acting saintly while privately being wicked.
Nancy adorned herself with trappings of altruism to keep her rage at bay. She studied education in college and became a teacher for students labelled as “Socially and Emotionally Disturbed’. By teaching a group of students who were marginalized already by the school system, she was afforded extra cover for when she grew overly punitive at a pupil. She would typically identify one male student in her class as a ‘behavior problem’ – usually the most strong-willed of the group. She could then blame her cold and punitive ways on the student. “I’m trying to be a good teacher, but I just cannot get through a lesson without ________ acting up.” Such statements to her colleagues served as justification for her hateful and sharp ways of speaking to the student. She would also devise special ways to antagonize him so that she could have an excuse to take her rage out on him. Creating an arbitrary reason why he could not go to recess – at the minute all the kids were headed out the door – was one of her favorite tacts. The boy would often cry out in exasperated fury – which would justify her holding him back in the classroom and terrorizing him with threats of expulsion or suspension for the duration of the recess.
She married a man who was very pliable and deferent towards her. When she gave birth to her first child – a son – she assumed imperious authority over how he should be raised. Her husband readily stood out of her way or colluded with her when she blamed her son for her inability to love him. She curated an image amongst her friends as a doting mother. Once she was alone with her son, however, she had no patience for him.
Most parents experience an internal wealth of love from which to meet their child’s needs and demands. It gives them meaning and joy to do so. Nancy, in contrast, did not have this wealth to rely upon. She would muster energy to care for her son if others were around. Behind closed doors she could quickly grow weary of him. She would exclaim “What?!” if he called to her in such moments. Her tone carried a combination of threat and exasperation.
She could not bear to know that when she saw what made most people fill with love and joy – say her son playing with blocks – she felt nothing. But it was worse than ‘nothing’ she would grow angry at him for reminding her of how vacant she was. She always preferred to be filled with rage instead of emptiness in such moments. Her rage could be directed away from herself and towards the boy. Maybe he was not obeying her instructions. That’s why he deserved her wrath. There was nothing wrong with her for feeling nothing for her child. If he were less rotten she could certainly be filled with the motherly love she must possess…right?
She found that she could only feel like the good mother she wanted to be when watched by others. So, she made sure to get out into public as often as possible with her son. Just as her own parents paraded her to her friends, she paraded her son to reinforce the wished-for claim that she was good on the inside.
For Nancy, everyone in her life became bit players with the sole function to hide how empty and cruel-hearted she felt. It seemed that as long as she could secretively target someone as the source of her inability to love, she could function well in the world. She gave birth to a daughter three years after her son. This child was much closer in character to Nancy. She did not stand up to her the way her son often would. Her daughter was a much more willing co-conspirator in Nancy’s efforts to blame someone else for her cruel intentions. As her son grew and became more and more the target for her rage, she would often act proportionately kind to her daughter. It was as if she could blame her internal bitterness on her son and used her daughter to promote the wished-for truth that she could be sincerely kind and good. However, it was all an act and she knew it. She had to divorce her husband after 14 years of marriage because he had grown weary of her rage fits and had left her for another woman. She received custody of her children and this gave her free reign to continue splitting up her children psychologically with impunity.
She died from brain cancer ate age 50. Her son had taken to caring for her while she met her end. At one point while he was helping carry her back to the bed, she said, “You’ve always been my true strength”. This statement made no sense to him at the time. He had always thought of himself as a bad person. Why else would she have treated him so wickedly? Years later in therapy he grew to understand that she was crediting him with bearing the truth she could not. He knew firsthand how little genuine care, love, or empathy she could hold towards him – or anybody. And he bore all that she saddled him with and did not break. For someone whose psychological life depended on a lie, having a son she could hate instead of herself really did mean ‘being her true strength’.
At Nancy’s funeral service, the pastor and attendees liked to say that she was ‘everyone’s best friend’. Everyone extolled the virtues she worked so hard to curate: her care for those less fortunate, her willingness to listen to others, and her nurturing ways. Even the son who knew the other side of her joined this chorus. He gave a eulogy that portrayed as she insisted on being seen – at the time it was not psychologically safe enough for him to speak the truth of who she was. Years later as her influence wane, he would gain clarity on who she actually was and how he was never the horrible things she claimed he was.
The altruistic narcissist may seem caring but closer examination shows that this is all a ruse. Therapy can help victims recover the sense of goodness that comes under assault by an altruistic narcissist.
Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). If you are considering therapy to recover from narcissistic abuse please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.
I just recently found your blog, and I have to say that I’m simply amazed by your ability to write about the effects of narcissistic abuse so eloquently and accurately. Oftentimes it feels like you’re literally describing my personal experiences as a family scapegoat! I really look forward to seeing more content like this and hope you write a book one day.
Thank you very much. I very much appreciate your encouraging words and am very happy to know that the posts resonate with you.
I also second the praise. It’s very rare to find someone who is so well-versed in the multitude of ways narcissism impacts families. My mom is this sort of narcissist and I long ago gave up trying to tell people what she really is.
When I tell my in-laws about how my mother acted toward me behind closed doors versus in public they hardly believe me. My mom cultivated the ultimate loving mommy persona when around others, always buying me gifts, telling others how much she loved me – but alone she gleefully chased me around with a leather belt that she whipped me with for minor reasons and had a cruel streak as wide as the Grand Canyon. Punitive doesn’t begin to describe her sadism to me from even a very young age.
She even had a ritual where she made me pick the belt from her closet she would whip me with. As a young child, my poor mind didn’t understand so once I made the mistake of picking the thin patent leather one, thinking smaller might hurt less. The pain was excruciating and cuts burned on my thighs for weeks. My mother always made sure I wore leggings and told everyone how I was a “willful child”.
After that unpleasant lesson, my 6 year old self matured and learned that the thick leather western style belt was a better choice for these torture sessions at the hands of my mother because it hurt less, although she would still get so crazed and carried away beating me that I often go hit repeatedly with metal buckle too, which hurt pretty bad as well.
This evil woman, who made a ritual out of her enjoyment of viciously beating my six year old self with belts till I bled – was loved by the community, ran numerous things at church and was given awards for altruism, and would often make me go live with relatives so she could host some more deserving “child in need” in my room that she would treat very well
I first learned of covert narcissism about ten years ago and it started my journey of recovery and no contact, but this article adds even new dimension . It’s a tricky beast to deal with.
However, these days when I feel confused or feel guilty for hating my mother (she is still of course getting kudos for saving the world and claims she loves me and attributes our estrangement to mental illness and makes herself out to be the long suffering mother victim of my abuse)
– now I just remember the belt sessions and see her for what she really is. Anyone who would do that to a six year old is ….not a good person and not someone I even want to associate with. So in some ways some of my hurt was healed by realizing that as an adult
that she really was a vicious child abuser and not a flawed but loving mom like everyone wants me to believe.
So I really appreciate how good you are at explaining these confusing interpersonal dynamics between altruistic narcissistic parents and their children . These dynamics often get misinterpreted by even experienced therapists. This information is life saving for many of us. Thank you!
This sounds so familiar.
The religious covert NM’s are the worst. Your experience was similar to mine but she had NF do most of the dirty work so she could keep the actual blood off her hands and the beatings were not limited to belt whippings.
There were different rituals, extremely sick practices that would have shocked their fellow church members.
She was the driving force behind the abuse and sabotage.
I started trying to run away when I was 9 but could never get away.
She too, got lots of sympathy from her fellow church goers by portraying herself as a victim of me. Funny how I was always the one with the injuries.
I tried to tell people as a young teenager but nobody believed this “sweet christian lady” was capable of the crimes she committed. I did have a cop approach me years ago in a restaurant and apologize. He had been regularly called to our house and he told,me he was sorry for not taking action to protect me. He said all the cops basically knew I was being abused but they were friends of the NF and did not want to cross him. Many people knew and did nothing. My grandparents and aunt would stand outside the door during the beatings,crying and begging them to stop but never took any action beyond that. They were all grown adults afraid of the NF’s rage yet gave no thought to the tiny little girl that bore the brunt of it. I ignored all the apologies and walked away. There is no excuse for their failure to report.
My greatest regret in life was giving my N family access to my children. I did so out of the absolute necessity in order for us to survive.
These “things” that masquerade as people need to be separated from actual humans and sterilized upon diagnosis. They cause immeasurable pain suffering and damage. I feel I could have contributed something good had I been allowed to develop normally. These monsters have no right to steal our gifts from the world to assuage their own fragile egos. We need to find a way to expose these monsters and prevent them from having children to use and abuse.
This was the BEST EXPLANATION of what a true “sometimes very “caring” narcissist” is that I’ve EVER come across!!!!! I’ve been dealing with my “altruistic narcisstic” (now) ex-husband of 19 years) for 49 years!!!!! Married to him for 30 years, 2 children (now very screwed-up adults). I’ve been studying his behavior ever since I married him 49 years ago & thought I had him all figured out. But, the ONE THING I couldn’t reconcile is the fact that, at times, he could seem very caring & helpful towards me & the kids, & that caused me to “excuse” the horrific behavior at other times, because I attributed it to his abusive (Hitler) father when he was growing up. Guess I felt sorry for him & tried to be “understanding & forgiving). Even tried telling our kids that he’s mentally ill & can’t help it. My Christian “beliefs” at the time didn’t allow for hate, revenge, or divorce. MAN, WAS I BLIND!!!!!! Have since come to my senses, but too late for my kids, who’s lives have been ruined by this monster. I’ve hated him forever, but felt guilty sometimes cuz he “couldn’t help it”. By the way, ON TOP OF THAT, he was also an alcoholic & ex- drill sergeant!!!! 😝😝
My dad is a lot like your ex. He was a cop for 30 years and his spells of “kindness” can be so confusing and have led me to excuse a lot of his behaviour over the years.
Wow girl, that is so f’n much.! May your life be blessed and your healing continue. Love, peace, healing and joy surround you,!
Hello Jay, I just recently came across your website and it has been such a relief. I was raised by a single mother until the age of 6, times were tough but always had great memories of how much she loved me and provided for me the best she could. Long story short she met this man and from that moment on my life was turned upside down. He was controlling, abusive both verbally and physically and was so jealous of our relationship that he would do anything to make sure we were unable to have that bond ever again. I’m now 43 and just recently came out to the family about this abuse from him both physically and mentally and because of my past with drugs they don’t believe me and turn a blind eye. My mother is the enabler parent who stayed out of her better judgement because of material possessions. They are now divorced but even after me telling her about the abuse she continues to have him around and says it’s because of the children. My wife and I are having issues now because I just recently let my mother know that I can no longer be around her if she is going to continue to enable that man but my wife still consoles in her and it is making me resent her as well, please help me figure out what to do. Thanks for your time.
I love your article and i was trying to see if grandiose and altruistic npd could coincide to some degree as i rly think its very liekly and rational for hoth to coexist in characteristic of personas. In reality why love, why fake intimacy, why tell someone they just want them to be happy, they just want them to feel good, don’t worry about if i had an orgasm.. i just want to serve you… why play and act a fake character early on to years in.. that is not actually ehat u are ad a person, well im sure grandiose narcs do this as well. Meaning giving you something, making you feel its about who you are unconditionally and without clear payment.. that is both mixing together in NPD. I guess the ignorant part of myself and many others is we likely have zero education and effective possibilities to be able to understand what that means in real world people. We all think humans share our natural automatic fundamentals of what feelings do and how they work in the base of certain things. Especially with ppl we bring into our life. Its the innocent human condition to think norma for you is normal for your friends beside you. And that right they’re is the problem. Well when u are involved with a npd friend.
I subscribed to your emails a good while ago and found the underlying message you are sending and the subject behind the examples very true to my experience. In this article it was my father rather than my mother and I would have liked to have seen a bit more balance here to try and fill my “gap” – purely selfish of course!
The title is a perfect frame for my father – he spent a lot of money on dong bits on my house whilst I was single – always helped me when I was single or in favour but as soon as someone else who could “help” came onto the scene, he clearly felt a loss of control and life became unbearable. Now it’s a case of “all the things I’ve done for you and paid out to help you and you repay me like this?” (I’ve been no contact since November 2019) – so he was helping me as a means of control or for me to repay him somehow. What sort of father does this? Mother also only sees his giving – taking it as his way of caring. What B.S. – hard to come to terms with.
My dad is so much like that too. He’s hated my husband for 15 years for no valid reason and holds a few instances of financial help over our heads.
Im just shaking my head. Im 62 years old and only for the last 3 years looking for answers. I have a twin sister 6 min older. All my life I thought we were best friends until my mom died and she wouldnt come to the hospital. Both my parents were alcoholics. Im just finding out there is not one thing normal in our family. Is it possible my twin could be this person? How likely I wonder? It sure describes her. Im going for that 15 min. Ive been in so much pain and despair. Thank you for this article.
Hi Jay, I discovered your articles a couple of days ago and have since avidly read most of them. I have been on a recovery journey from parental narcissistic abuse for years and read a colossal amount on the subject. Your resources have an incredible clarity and force that still manage to bring something new to my recovery, even after all my reading. For that, I thank you.
One point I have not been able to find much about is the specific effect of narcissistic abuse on one’s sexuality. Have you got any insights on that? As with any other form of happiness and connection to self, sexuality can be targeted as a “proof of evil” in the victim, supported by prudish culture and misogyny, and I suffered particularly badly from this. An article on the subject would be most welcome.
All the best to you and yours.
Thank you very much for the feedback and I am very glad that you have found them useful.
What a great point and question about the effects on one’s sexuality in Narcissistic Abuse! I think you put it very well that since sexuality involves a strong and happy connection to oneself then that could become another target for the abuser. I will definitely give this some more thought.
Take good care,
Once the narcissist reaches a certain level of mastery could these also be signs of thinly veiled superiority? Which would then cause even more self-hatred, guilt and curated inferiority as well as curated altruism? In other words, could an expert level narcissist also carry deep shame for their inability to lower down their ego because at that point it has become a game to them and now they carry guilt from getting away with this for so long? Speaking from experience. She can’t go back anymore and I wonder where that will leave us.
The role of women in society during past decades must have created a lot of pressure for a woman, incapable of love, to hide her defect and try to appear nurturing. Nowadays it is a little more acceptable for a woman to choose not to have children. Isn’t it a more responsible thing to do if you are aware of your own wounding? Women during that time did not have as much empowerment or resources as we do today. It allows us to focus on our own healing rather than try to hide it from ourselves and cause others even more suffering. Just some thoughts.
Wow. I hope it is more acceptable to not have children nowadays in America. I specifically chose not to so I could break the cycle. I have foster children and teach children with sincere energy, empathy and love. But that is all I can afford to do. I would be too afraid I would be overly compensating and that is not good for a child or be abusive. And there’s too many unwanted children that need to be adopted or fostered but also I have a chronic childhood disease that would have been very difficult to conceive.
But I appreciate you pointing out that women that choose not to procreate are being rational! Family and xfriends I was seen as a loser…
I never knew what “altruistic narcissism” “narcissistic rage” was until I came across your page. This explains my childhood to a tee (some of these examples are uncanny). So many things about my personally make more sense and I seem have a greater understanding of who I am as a result of having a narcissistic parents. Thank you for everything you do
Wow, this blog was so on point with everything. This is exactly the confusion that makes all us who have suffered confused since the entire world thinks they are so genuine and you see who they really are. You end up thinking there must be something wrong with you since they can’t possibly be wrong. Thank you for this!
Thank you so so much for writing this, and for giving us a chance to see the N’s perspective. I have been searching and searching for an explanation of the inner life that my abuser has to bear- that is the only thing that could explain their treatment of me and others.
Thank you. I am so glad I was fortunate to receive a rich inner life. I hope N treatment will eventually make it to the point where they can learn to cultivate an inner life of their own.
(This all sounds very altruistic but to be honest, I am seething with anger- I guess I know what it’s like to feel nothing at all/agonizing pain having dealt with depression so it is very sad to see someone go through the same but for life)
Oh and, is it possible that victims of abuse start to wonder if they also have N traits? This thing really gets to me and keeps me awake at night. Thanks! 🙂
Hi Lizzie! I’m an adult child of narcissists and I worry about this all the time. My therapist says we all fall on a spectrum between codependent and narcissist, but a healthy person is right in the middle. So to move from one you must move towards the opposite which can feel so scary! She also says that narcissists don’t worry about it they are narcissists or not, so I’d say it’s a good sign that you aren’t one. Hope that helps!
Thank you for your writing on this subject. May I ask have you ever come across the “ignoring narcissist”parent.? These parents are not obviously grandiose, nor are they altruistic. They are capable of verbal abuse and rages – though in my experience most of this started after I was 15. Instead, the defining feature is self-absorption by ignoring the child. Physically absent if possible (work, socialising). But otherwise just having no interest in their child. Never reading to them, playing with them, taking them anywhere, advising them, zero. It’s almost as if they are left to raise themselves. Also kicking them out young. Not knowing even what college they went to or what they studied. Not caring if they were sick or unwell. Just totally disengaged, apart from a couple of superficialities. And not forgetting the narcissistic rages and abuse.
Anyway, it seems very different from the engulfing parent, grandiose or altruistic seeming narcissist, but some of the underlying factors and seem similar to me, just expressed slightly differently. So is harder to identify?
That is my FIL to a tee. He was never around, and when he was, he was abusive and cruel.
This might be my boyfriend, who wants me to move across the county with my 12-year old daughter…
…we can’t seem to focus on her needs, or mine unless it is an easy monetary fix, which requires much thanks and no other expectations, as you described. I grew up in an abusive home, some I get caught feeling cared for and can’t break the cycle when the punishing starts.
have you ever heard of a altruisitic narcsissist that steals money and then donates the stolen money to charities in there name to get the reconition , attention etc. I have seen this .They had access to money that wasnt theres and they were giving it away! They dont donate there own money they use somone elses, .
These articles are all on point, at least they seem to line up with my experiences. I am curious is anyone has found a way to deal with the anger, and desire for accountability that comes with C-PTSD.
Also curious why there is no real societal movement to prevent/end NPD monsters from having children and how that could be achieved. The damage they do is beyond devastating.
I’m an artist so I’ve always channeled my anger into creating. I don’t think the anger ever goes away and it’s good in a way? It gives you a reason to push through and remain alive out of spite even when feelings of worthlessness start creeping up.
Look at how many Americans, at least, love narcissistic leaders.
I can’t believe how ACCURATE this is.
I thought I was too difficult and too crazy for so long and the truth was there all along.
Altruistic narcissistic types cover their tracks so well, though. Especially christian ones. They hide behind the Bible to properly torture their children. No one outside of their home suspects a thing. They pride themselves in being pious and sin-free.
They’re so good at lying to people and themselves.
Hi Jay, I would like to second the comments here about how brilliantly and insightfully you describe the many ( and often subtle) angles of narcissistic abuse and the victim’s experience in the family . The case above describing Nancy and her children closely mirrors my own as the scapegoat ( and my brother the golden child). Especially the confusing on \ off behaviour of the parent : vicious one moment, sweet the next then vicious again .
It feels deeply affirming to have this recognition : it is hard, a lifelong struggle( now in my 60s) not to feel one is the bad person ,defensive and alone. I would be interested in any comments you might have on the narcissist who was spoilt as a child, as was the case with my own parent, and how that plays out in relationship to their children. Thank you so much for your great posts.
Thank you so very much for your blogs and YouTube videos. I haven’t been able to find a therapist who will help me. I was the scapegoat who went no contact 7 years ago. I am now 41 and just two years ago was diagnosed with Asperger’s. So my abuse was enforced by society as well. It was easy to say I over reacted and was just being dramatic to the bright lights, the harsh smells, and the piercing sounds. According to my “loving and caring” mother, it was because I was being manipulative and wanted attention. I didn’t think like anyone around me and believed it was because I was the village idiot. I literally thought I was stupid, only to later learn I actually have an IQ higher than 98% of the population. Of course, my siblings abandoned me and blamed me for ruining the family. The smear campaign against me was so bad, I had to quit my career and move out of state for a time. Thanks to you and Tony Attwood (the world’s leading expert on Asperger’s), I have been able to piece things together and am taking the much needed time to heal and rest. I am now grateful and feel humbled to know I have a brain wired like Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Mary Shelley, Carl Jung, and Mark Twain. I just wanted to truly thank you for your work, it has been such a blessing and healing for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
I just discovered your blog after a long, long time spent accepting that my mother is a narcissist. I had come to grips with the fact that she is an alcoholic and addict (and in serious denial of either), and that she is also untreated bipolar. I had, of course, heard the term “narcissist” come up in relation to my mother on many occasions over the years; however, I never assimilated its meaning beyond a sort of nebulous self-absorption (that might have been experienced by anyone at any point.)
I reached a breaking point in the summer of this year as her behaviors have worsened (I’m guessing in relation to the fact that she’s aging and her health is declining due to the perpetual alcohol and drug abuse.) I’ve been in therapy off and on throughout my life, but have never specifically unpacked the box that is my mom. Currently, I’ve been with my present therapist for about two years, and she explained to me that narcissism goes deeper than just a run-of-the-mill, can-happen-to-anyone self-absorption. After a discussion on the subject with my therapist, I took it upon myself, then, to research it. My research became much more specific and motivated when my mother sent me a vicious series of texts not long thereafter that blew the lid off a deep-seated, long-repressed vat of anger.
I’ve learned a lot–and I mean a LOT–doing this research, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard the term “altruistic narcissist,” and it is my mother to a T. The things she did that made me hesitate at moments to fully come to understand her as a narcissist were all explicated here–at last undeniably vindicating the 100% score factor she’s achieved on every symptom checker I’ve located and compared her behaviors against, both online and with my therapist.
It’s not quite closure, but something akin to it to read about my mother’s personality disorder in such specificity–confirmation, maybe, and certainly a greater understanding. I cannot express enough gratitude to you for posting this article and helping me to flesh out a better comprehension of my mother and the NPD she suffers, along with how it affects me and all those around her (and equally how her mind is working under it all. I’ve always known she had a horrendous childhood and for as angry as I get, there’s sorrow for her, too. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes, and reading this opens my mind and heart to this even more, and in a way that I don’t kneejerk contrarian against under the burden of years of suppressed anger and hurt.)
Thank you so much for this resource and information. Prayers this message finds you well. Much love to all reading.
My husband is the type that expects thanks from others. He is also the type that goes around being “helpful” but I’ve learned to see it for what it is.
Not as a genuine expression of caring for others, but one of controlling them and also to impress them.
The gratitude thing bothers me because I believe that doing kind things is not about expecting anything in return.
The other day he bought me something (which I didn’t ask for) and then complained because I didn’t thank him in a timely manner.
It’s coercive and makes people feel ungrateful, which is the opposite of altruistic. I believe you either give from the heart or not at all…and you don’t force people into displays of gratitude. You don’t manipulate others into showing gratitude, making them feel guilty if they don’t show it in the “right” way.
My mom can also be viewed as somewhat of an “altruistic narcissist”. She is there for other people, always there to lend a helping hand, or sympathy.
But her only child (me) often saw another side to her. If I was hurt or sad, she was dismissive of my pain, or verbally abusive.
I learned not to share my feelings or problems with her. And then she would insist that I open up to her more, but this was impossible.
My family are not the type of people I feel safe opening up to. I also had an aunt who could be considered an altruistic narcissist.
She would appear to be “everyone’s best friend”…a pillar of the community. Behind the scenes, she was an abusive racist who played favorites in the family and scapegoated certain children. I was her main scapegoat and she often singled me out for physical and verbal abuse, especially in my teens. It was mostly based on my looks (she thought I was ugly) and because she had issues with my mom (her sister) and because of who my father was (I’ve never completely understood this, but my family views me as an “accident” that shouldn’t have happened).
Altruistic narcissists fly under the radar because of their ability to fool people. They hide behind seemingly “good deeds” and friendly smiles, while hurting those close to them or plotting somebody’s downfall.
This exactly describes a few people I work with in child protection. I’m thinking of one particularly abrasive person who is in many ways really good at her job with families and kids and can appear genuinely empathetic in her role. However her incapacity for real empathy is exposed in dealing with colleagues and other agencies. She constantly big notes herself, has no time for anyone else’s point of view and is immediately bored if the focus shifts from herself. She never wants to gain any professional insight or consider new ideas or resources as she is so convinced she has nothing at all to learn. No one challenges her, because she will make you pay forever if you do. The martyrdom you describe is also exactly on point. She is scathing of colleagues who have not, in her view, sacrificed themselves for the work as she has. For her this has included at times months away from her own kids, who were left to be cared for by her parents so she could go and get her fix of worthy work. She has said at times how boring she finds it being a mother. In fact seems bored immediately the conversation veers away from herself.
I’m looking for other work because I can’t deal with her anymore. Thanks for this well written article, and all the comments and feedback it has generated.
I just came across your blog. I’ve recently learned that my father is a clinical covert narcissist. This realization comes long after the bulk of my healing from his abuse. I’ve dealt with his abuse since childhood and have done a LOT of work to heal. My goal in all of this was to get to a point of emotional health so that I wouldn’t be repeating the cycle of abuse in the family I built. I didn’t want to marry a man who was like my father. I’m very proud to say that I was able to marry an incredibly emotionally healthy and stable man, and that we’re now raising our children together and giving them a life I didn’t have. They have the father I never did. I have to thank you for what you wrote in the fifth paragraph of this post, that those who are burdened with the adversity the narcissist doesn’t have the capacity to bear are more capable of bearing it–it’s 100% true. It helps me to hear this in my journey of continued healing. I hope the people who need to hear that do hear it and that they know they can believe it. Thank you for the work you do and for your eloquent writing on narcissism and its effects. All the best to you.
Brilliant…. Exactly what happens with a narcissist!!
Thanks Jay… Spot on!!! Just like to make one point that I observed. Narcissists tend to shop obsessively in order to feel pleasure for themselves. I have witnessed one narcissist mother of disabled child constantly shopping to the point of hoarding disorder.
This post blew my mind. I knew my dad had narc tendencies but wasn’t sure how else to describe him–this is him 100%. He is BIG on performative “fun grandpa” stuff with my kids but he has singled out my husband as the person who is a “lost cause” and he’s convinced himself he needs to rescue me and the kids from my husband–who has never been anything other than loving, gentle, honest, and supportive in the 15+ years I’ve known him. Whereas my dad has made me feel like shit in one way or another my whole life. It’s a trip to realize all this.
Wow, this is really insightful, thank you for sharing. I have known for years my mother is a narcissist, but this particular flavor of narcissism fits her pretty well. If I had a dollar for every time she told me the world didn’t revolve around me I’d be living on my own compound somewhere. Altruistic narcissism also explains why she would willingly and regularly take in sick or down-on-their-luck relatives and treat them like garbage. She would also routinely raid my room and take a bunch of my stuffed animals to give them to children “less fortunate.” (I now wonder if it was a lie she made up to just get rid of my stuff, since she loved throwing “old” [i.e., now useless in her mind] things out and lied constantly about so many off-the-wall matters.) She wouldn’t ask which ones I’d be willing to part with — she’d just start taking them. Stuffed animals were my only source of comfort in that den of hell, which meant I’d start crying, at which point she’d scream at me how selfish I was. So many heartbreaking comments here too that serve as cold comfort — stories of regularly being beaten by a belt hit close to home. Family friends and teachers at school, etc., never said anything if they had ever bothered to notice something amiss. There was one piano teacher I remember who made mention of my mother holding me back or somesuch, to which my mother flew into a rage and cut me off from getting lessons anymore. And another childhood friend witnessed my mother bloodying my lip, but her saying something to her own mother amounted to nothing. I finally accepted that with few exceptions people see what they want to see and can’t be bothered with your hellish home life, but anyway… I am also wondering if other folks experienced their narc parent switching up the golden child/scapegoat roles at times. In my house, my older brother was the golden child at first. Made sick sense since I’ve known since a young age I was an accidental pregnancy. But my brother consistently rebelled from a young age and thus rejected my mother’s attempts to make him her puppet, which meant love-starved me got to shake off the scapegoat role and don the golden child hand-me-downs. Both roles were horrible, but I sometimes think it’s better to be the scapegoat, especially in the long run. Bro is long gone and talks to no one but at least he kept his soul intact, whereas I am low contact with my mom after finally realizing that the trauma chickens had come home to roost as I now struggle through my late 40s with flashbacks and other troubling symptoms of anxiety and depression. In therapy now and asked my counselor why now? Why is this trauma gripping me now? She said we can go a long time in our lives just pushing it down, but eventually the pain, the disastrous effects the abuse has had on our lives finally bubbles up to the surface for account. In recent years, thanks to social media, I’ve become aware of other peers my age coming from a secretly abusive home. I sometimes think I grew up in an era where image was given way too much significance, which allowed abusive parents to get away forever with their crimes. One good thing has come out of all of this: I’ve learned over the years how to spot a would-be abuser — in my line of work, in my personal life etc., — and have often been able to cut them off at the start. What’s surprising though is the number of people around me who either don’t see a problem with the abuser, or who make excuses for them. These people have way too much power in the world, as well as in the home of their children.