One of the narcissistic traits that still shocks me is the violent self-abandonment narcissistic people engage in. Growing up in a family dotted with this extreme personality type, I saw the pattern repeat over and over again. Parts of themselves were deemed “unworthy” and quickly squirreled away in a deep dark, secret cave.
Outwardly, that self-abandonment manifested as emotional violence inflicted on the people closest to them. They punished everyone around them for the flaws they saw in themselves and forced their families to take on the burden of their failures.
The narcissists in my family would refuse to take medication that helped manage their tempestuous moods and emotional disorders. Their refusal to medicate (despite repeated orders from doctors), led to cyclic breakdowns in their mental health that created volatile and dangerous environments.
Children and partners were regularly screamed at, threatened, belittled, and sometimes harmed physically. Living in fear, each of us learned to creep around on eggshells. We would run and hide when we heard their keys in the door, and begin “locking down” the house when we knew it was time for them to come from work.
Occasionally, those of us around the narcissists got so desperate that we went as far as to grind up their medicine and put it in their food when things got too terrible to bear.
This is the kind of world I was raised in, and I watched these toxic personalities weaponize their perceived failures and heap them on those who were unlucky enough to love them.
Narcissists choose to abandon those parts of themselves they can’t love, and that has deadly consequences for those attached to them. No one is safe when the narcissist is miserable or forced to encounter the parts of themselves they would rather abandon entirely.
A narcissist’s self-abandonment is a dangerous thing.
There was a narcissist in my family who was a master of self-abandonment. Craving a bright spot in the public spotlight, this narcissist boiled themselves down, whittled themselves away, adopted accents, and changed their personality over and over again trying to achieve the prestige of the community they lived in.
On the outside, for those living beyond the bounds of the home, they saw an act. To them, this narcissist was a high-achieving superstar. Smart, accomplished, connected. They didn’t realize that, behind closed doors, this narcissist was squeezing themselves into boxes that didn’t fit.
Eventually, this narcissist ran into serious mental health issues. After repeated blow-ups, they were pressured into going to the doctor.
“You’ve got bipolar disorder. Bipolar I. You’ll need to be on medicine for the rest of your life, but the good news is that you can live a normal life.”
It might as well have been a death sentence for the narcissist in my family.
The car ride home was a violent reaction to the news. “I’m not bipolar! She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I’m not taking that medicine. I’m not even going to get it filled. What a quack! That doctor is an idiot.”
The narcissist in my family could not accept that there was an imbalance in their brain. To them, this was an insult of the highest order. They spit on the advice, spit on the treatment, and went on to have more and more extreme bouts of mania, paranoia, and moody explosions.
This narcissist, of course, didn’t bear the brunt of that punishment. The family around them did. Screaming. Name-calling. Cowering in fear while they ranted and raved through the house like a crazy person, breaking toys, windows, and cars. Pulling baseball bats on people. It was chaos. And it was everyone else’s fault…
Because these narcissists couldn’t reconcile with their mental health, because they saw it as a shortcoming, it became a means to torture and punish others. When this narcissist’s child was labeled with a cognitive disorder, it also became a means to abandon that child’s needs.
“They’ll grow out of it. I’m not sending them to some quack therapist who is just going to twist their minds around. They’re a kid. They’ll grow out of it.”
This narcissist wasn’t a unique figure in my family. My mother, too, had a penchant for abandoning parts of herself and punishing everyone else for it.
A child of trauma, my mother grew up from a young age learning to hate herself. Where some people would take that as a catalyst to change from within, however, she weaponized her pain and projected it outwardly on everyone in her environment — especially her children.
Her abandoned hopes and dreams became demands on her children. She wanted us to build glittering careers she could brag about. She demanded, always, that we were the best-looking, the smartest, and the most accomplished in the room.
But she also couldn’t allow that either…
Any time one of us (especially me, the only girl) got too close to achieving a dream, we were shot down. She would blow up, shame us, make fun of the things we were passionate about, and become a living nightmare any time we succeeded in something that was near and dear to her heart (like writing). Nothing we wanted was taken particularly seriously unless it was a feather in her cap.
The egos of both of these narcissists were impossible to counter or break. They couldn’t see beyond it to the harm they were projecting on their loved ones. To them, their suffering was in the hands of others. To them, any future joy had to come from controlling, manipulating, and shaping others through their own projected flaws and shortcomings.
The real reasons behind a narcissist’s self-abandonment.
Had my mother, or the other narcissist in the family, done the work of loving themselves, and accommodating their needs, life would have turned out much differently for everyone. Instead, they shut down and hid away the parts of themselves they despised, and leaned into the delusions that shaped their warped realities.
When you see the pattern, it becomes easier to understand. Narcissists are people who are outwardly directed. With no true internal sense of self, they look to those behind them to handle everything from their lives to their emotions. It’s a dangerous game and one that costs survivors everything.
Inability to self-soothe
Much of this comes down to the narcissist’s inability (and unwillingness) to self-soothe. Whether raised in a neglectful environment or one that spoils them rotten, narcissistic people learn to project their emotions on others. Any big, uncomfortable feeling that comes along is discharged through others. If the narcissist is mad, you’re going to feel it for them. The same applies to envy, spite, insecurity, fear, and a host of other emotions.
There are two ways in which narcissistic “self-soote”. On an internal level, they outwardly project their emotions onto others, creating conflict. On an external level, it’s a little different.
Externally, narcissists use their relationships as a means of controlling their realities and affirming their delusions. When it comes to self-abandonment, they use these relationships to hide from the truth and to punish those parts of themselves they despise.
Rather than working on those parts of themselves, they don’t like, they project them onto others and punish those they see reflecting these parts back to them. In a long, roundabout way. they punish themselves by punishing others for what they fear.
Outward sense of self
What really leads to this cycle of violent self-abandonment is the narcissist’s outwardly directed sense of self. Although it may not seem like it, true narcissists have no authentic internal sense of self. Instead, they build their “sense of self” on the desires of others. What do other people want to achieve? What do other people want to see me achieve?
This is why you see so many narcissists lacking in true desires, hobbies, and interests in the home — away from the public eye/. Their sense of self is a performance, a mask they wear to coerce and manipulate others.
Because their sense of self is outwardly projected, the narcissist is forced to self-abandon. They care more about the perceptions of others than fulfillment or joy. They become a fade of a real person, in a way. If a narcissistic person perceives that some part of them is “undesirable” to those they wish to impress, they will abandon that part of themselves and punish anyone else deemed to have that trait.
More than anything else, the narcissist is a person enslaved to their ego. It defines them and decides the entire course of their lives. It’s such a big part of them, that denial of it (even in the smallest way) can lead to narcissistic rage, injury, and (eventually) collapse. This collapse is no small thing.
Think of the Death Star collapsing in on itself, only to create a violent interstellar explosion. That is much what narcissistic collapse is like.
Outed for their greatest insecurities, a narcissist that has been exposed for what they are goes into a super-destructive and catatonic state. Narcissistic collapse involves depression, anxiety, and complete emotional shutdown. They’re no longer in control of the narrative at this point, and that destroys their ego to the core.
Most narcissists, who (remember) are unable to self-soothe. would do anything to avoid this collapse. They don’t have the tools for it, and after decades of emotionally torturing those around them, most don’t have the support systems to navigate it.
It is an ego death of the highest order and requires the narcissist to accept themselves whole in order to escape. It’s a barrel bottom a lot of narcissists never reach, and it’s a rock bottom that some never escape.
It’s a tragic cycle to witness, especially when you have been exposed to those good parts of the narcissist they often abandon. You know they are smart, that they can show kindness when it suits. But they won’t extend that kindness to themselves or the people closest to them. In their delusion, they would rather stay stuck.
They would rather remain scared and insecure because that is what is familiar to them. Doing anything else would be to expose the truth — that they are human.
Have you seen this pattern in your family? Have you seen this pattern in the people closest to you? What about yourself? Have you started to abandon those parts of yourself that hold the most meaning? Are you reaching out, lashing out, as you try to find them again?
The narcissist’s pattern doesn’t have to become our pattern. We are free to make different choices and to live a human life full of ups, downs, failures, and triumphs. We don’t have to punish those who love us,. we can become people that we genuinely love from the inside out.
This is your chance to do that, for you, your family, and the future life you desire.
© E.B. Johnson 2024