glossary of terminology
This acronym stands for "adult children of narcissists" it is commonly used by those work with narcissism survivors.
This stands for complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition common in narcissistic abuse victims. C-ptsd includes a wide range of symptoms including
- Generalised anxiety
- difficulty trusting
Because of their emotionally primitive perfect-or-worthless thinking (stuck at the developmental level of a young child) and their insistence on unattainable perfection, narcissists in relationships (with partners, family members, or friends) nearly inevitably become disillusioned. And because they lack a moral compass (again, like the stunted children they are), they do not hesitate to express their disappointment in a range of devaluing hostile behaviours, including judgement, belittlement, and rage, if not outright abandonment.
Divide and Conquer
This is a primary strategy narcissists use to assert control, particularly within their family, to create divisions among individuals. This weakens and isolates family members, making it easier for the narcissist to manipulate and dominate. The narcissist sets up an environment of competition and terror in which individuals are trying to avoid attack, often at one another’s expense. He favors some and scapegoats others, breeding mistrust and resentment among siblings or between his spouse and children. Such dynamics also can play out in a work setting, where a boss uses the same kinds of tactics to control and manipulate his employees.
Usually a partner/spouse of the narcissist, enablers “normalise” and even perpetuate the narcissist’s grandiose persona, extreme sense of entitlement, and haughty attitude and behaviour toward others by absorbing the abuse and acting as an apologist for it. Enablers are always avoiding conflict and attack while often also seeking rewards such as affection, praise, power, gifts, or money. Enablers may be under the delusion that they are the only ones who can truly understand the narcissist and oftentimes sacrifice or scapegoat their children to placate the narcissist.
Because narcissists refuse accountability and believe they are always right, they rarely if ever genuinely apologise. Instead they may toss out a false apology, or faux-pology, meant to deflect, induce guilt, or antagonise. Examples: “I’m sorry you think I’m such a disappointment as a mother,” “I’m sorry you interpreted something so innocent as unfair,” “I’m sorry you are so sensitive,” “I’m sorry you can’t understand how others feel,” or “I’m sorry you are so angry.”
Like the flying monkeys who served the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, flying monkeys in the narcissistic family are enablers who help with the narcissist’s dirty work, often to avoid being targeted themselves and/or to benefit from a certain level of bestowed privilege. The most manipulable types make the best flying monkeys. They may be children or other relatives.
This is a form of psychological abuse in which narcissists systematically undermine other people’s mental state by leading them to question their perceptions of reality. Narcissists use lies and false information to erode their victims’ belief in their own judgement and, ultimately, their sanity. Common gas-lighting techniques come in the form of denying and projecting: After an abusive incident, narcissists refuse responsibility, blame the abused, or outright deny that the abuse took place. They may say things like, “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re crazy,” “That’s not what happened,” “Why can’t you let anything go,” or “You made me do it.” The term gas-lighting comes from the 1944 Hollywood film Gaslight, a classic depiction of this kind of brainwashing.
Since narcissists are by nature pathologically self-centred and often stunningly cruel, they ultimately make those around them unhappy, if not miserable, and eventually drive many people away. If people pull away or try to go no contact, narcissists may attempt to hoover (as in vacuum suck) them back within their realm of control. They try to hoover through a variety of means, from promising to reform their behaviour, to acting unusually solicitous, to dangling carrots such as gifts or money. However, if they find replacement sources of supply they may simply walk away from old ones.
To cope with a chaotic and often psychologically and physically abusive environment, people close to narcissists adapt by becoming hyper vigilant to threat or attack. They are always on guard, seeking to anticipate and potentially avoid being in the line of fire. Hyper-vigilance is emotionally and physiologically debilitating because it drains the body’s natural defence system by constantly overloading it. Hyper-vigilance often leads to Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and illness. Narcissists themselves are hyper-vigilant to anything that might trigger their narcissistic injury.
This is a child who draws little attention, positive or negative, by staying under the radar and making few demands.
This child plays the cute or funny “jester” role, diffusing family tensions without making demands.
Narcissistic personalities often react with rage if their narcissist injury is triggered. They take even the smallest slight, which most people would easily brush off, as intense humiliation and/or rejection. When this happens, their fabricated “perfect” self and overblown feelings of entitlement are threatened, setting off a wild rage response. Narcissistic rage is terrifying, sometimes physically violent, and far beyond normal anger. It is emotionally and physically traumatising for those on the receiving end, particularly children, who naturally blame themselves for adults’ reactions.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder depend emotionally on others to sustain their sense of identity and regulate their self-esteem. They get their narcissistic supply either by idealising and emulating others or by devaluing and asserting their superiority over them. Anyone they can manipulate—a partner, child, friend, or colleague—is a potential source of supply. Without suppliers, narcissists are empty husks. If a source of supply pulls away, they may attempt to hoover them back and/or look for other sources.
People who have been abused by a narcissist may choose to cut ties altogether with that person. Typically people who end up going no contact have had their boundaries violated in traumatic ways that eventually push them to shut down all communication with the narcissist. For adult children of narcissists, going no contact is typically a deeply ambivalent and painful choice that feels like a matter of survival in order to break the cycle of hurt and to attempt to heal. Going no contact, especially from a parent, is difficult to explain to people who don’t understand narcissism and its devastating effects, further isolating victims.
This is the acronym for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
This is a role reversal whereby a parent inappropriately looks to a child, usually the oldest or most capable, to take on parental roles and responsibilities in the family. Narcissists often parentify a child to meet their emotional, physical, and/or sexual needs. Parentification is an extreme violation of children’s boundaries, burdening them with adult responsibilities. A parentified child may be expected to play the role of confidante, therapist, or surrogate spouse, as well as perform adult duties, such as caring for younger siblings, cooking, cleaning, managing finances, or earning money for the family.
Simply put, projection is attributing one’s own feelings, actions, or traits onto someone else. Through projection, narcissists blame the victim and deny accountability. If they lie, you are the liar; if they are childish, you are immature; if they insult you, you are critical; if they demand reassurance, you are insecure. Projection is especially traumatic for children, who internalize the belief that they are like their abuser or hurting the person who is actually abusing them. Narcissists also may project their ideal beliefs about themselves onto others, such as their golden child or someone they admire. Narcissists project both consciously and unconsciously.
This is a child (or children) singled out unfairly for disfavored treatment in the narcissistic family. Scapegoats are typically blamed for family problems, disciplined or punished disproportionately, burdened with excessive chores and responsibilities, and subjected to unmerited negative treatment.
Narcissists engage in smear campaigns to discredit others within their family or social sphere. Narcissists may smear another person because that person sees through their mask, they are trying to conceal preemptively their own abuse of that person, or they are taking revenge because the person offended or rejected them. Narcissists may conduct a smear campaign for lesser reasons, such as jealousy or resentment. Narcissists can be quite calculating in their process of discrediting and socially isolating their target, using innuendo, gossip, and outright lies to family, friends, neighbors, and community members. Narcissists won’t hesitate to smear an ex to their children, a scapegoated child to friends and relatives, or a colleague to other colleagues. The smear campaign usually happens behind the victim’s back, often with the assistance of the narcissist’s enablers/flying monkeys.