We all know the term Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but it doesn’t take long witnessing someone with it to wonder if it is truly a disorder. The word “disorder” implies their behavior is beyond their control, such as in the case of someone with schizophrenia.
This term also makes victims of narcissistic abuse feel as if they can’t do anything to protect themselves or even be angry about what is done to them, because the narcissist’s behavior is beyond their control.
None of this really sits right with most victims, because we have seen the narcissist in our lives go from screaming lunatic to nice person when the “right” person came along. I witnessed it with my mother growing up. She could be screaming at me, telling me how worthless I was, until the phone rang. She was normal on the phone, then after she hung up, could resume screaming at me. Although she no longer screams at me, she still controls her behavior just as well. She can say something incredibly hurtful to me then smile at the person who enters the room a moment later as if nothing happened.
Calling behavior like this, so clearly controlled & planned, a disorder always left a bad taste in my mouth. It was great to finally have a name for what was being done to me, but disorder?
Thankfully I found an answer a while back in reading Dr. Karyl McBride’s facebook page. (In case you don’t know, she wrote an incredible book on narcissistic mothers entitled, “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?” I highly recommend it- it’s chock full of wisdom!) She said that personality disorders are different than other mental disorders in that they describe a means of behavior rather than an actual physical illness. For example, someone with PTSD has brain damage caused by trauma whereas someone with NPD is behaving in a dysfunctional way. This means people with personality disorders can change their behavior if they desire to do so & learn healthier ways to behave, whereas someone with PTSD can’t change their behavior so easily (if at all) because their brains is physically damaged.
In a way, I found this information to be very freeing. It means that my narcissistic mother’s behavior isn’t beyond her control & I really do have every right to set & enforce healthy boundaries. It was also a bit discouraging learning that she could change if she wanted to, but she doesn’t want to.
The best way I have found to deal with this knowledge & the conflicting feelings that follow is this: I am grateful that the awful behavior has a name, because it means it isn’t my fault! I didn’t make my mother abuse me, as she claimed. I also didn’t force my ex husband to punch walls when he got mad at me. These people have issues, & that isn’t my fault! As for knowing they can change but refuse? Well, that is their right. Everyone has the right to live as they see fit, & some people make very bad choices in how they live. Having that boundary in place will help you accept the fact that your narcissist may never change, while still hoping for it. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, as the saying goes. Certainly pray they change & hope for it, as it does happen (albeit very rarely), while accepting the fact it may not.
And, never forget- you also have the right to protect yourself from abusive behavior however you believe is right for you to do. Just as someone has the right to be abusive, you have the right to protect yourself.