Acquired Traumatic & Traumatised Narcissism

Adults who experienced domestic abuse when they were children have more potential to suffer from long-term health impacts such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. They might also experience mental health problems which involve low levels of resilience, and higher levels of anxiety and depression, among other health complications. Those who endured severe physical violence as children at times carry their injuries into adulthood in the form of disabilities; intellectual, social, and emotional difficulties can arise, and individuals might perform poorly occupationally as a result of the abuse they’ve been through. Furthermore, their perceptions of a ‘normal’ relationship can also be affected (e.g. women who cannot differentiate between affection and a sexual advance), and the traumas can also lead to shallow object relations, where those who survived are unable to form a meaningful connection with others. Yet, the most concerning aspect of childhood domestic abuse is that in some cases these children can grow to imitate the behaviour of their perpetrators and subjugate others. This is what acquired narcissism is, a relational system where the person exposed to domestic abuse goes on to introject such patterns of behaviours and to abuse other innocent victims, displacing the trauma. This article will focus on this potential consequence of domestic abuse, and what happens when a victim becomes a perpetrator drawing from Shaw (2014).

Some narcissists are born with this predisposition (e.g. psychopaths), whilst others acquire the predisposition through trauma (e.g. sociopaths), getting absorbed in a generational and social cycle of abuse. This is how acquired narcissism works. That is, the individual is not born with it, but rather he acquires it through adverse experiences. Shaw (2014) defined traumatic narcissism as ‘the action of subjugation. In the traumatizing narcissist’s relational system, the narcissist fortifies himself by diminishing the other. The other is then conquered, controlled, or enslaved at worst—and exploited’. In other words, traumatic narcissism can be described as the narcissism that can consciously traumatise other people through behaviours. Similarly, traumatised narcissism happens when someone who has already been narcissistically abused, unconsciously behaves in ways that resemble their perpetrator. Traumatised narcissism— which is also traumatising— can be acquired in adulthood, is often temporary, and recovery depends on the individual’s ability to heal trauma; whereas traumatic narcissism as described by Shaw (2014) is acquired through childhood trauma, is often long-term and constitutes a pathology that is consistent with an individual’s personality and trajectory. Moreover, in some cases victims of narcissistic abuse go on to become traumatised narcissists. In rare cases, adults go on to become traumatic narcissists; especially when they are subjected to adverse epigenetic changes or traumatic brain injury resulting from their circumstances.

For those with acquired traumatic narcissism, narcissistic trauma is often relational or developmental, and relational trauma happens when there is a constant disruption of a child’s sense of feeling loved and safe (Monroe, 2017). There might be a form of physical or emotional neglect and abandonment, a violation of boundaries, and/or abuse. In other words, relational trauma happens when a child’s needs are not met by their caregivers, and where the child ends up feeling betrayed by their parents. All this can affect a child epigenetically, and alter their biological make-up in the long-term. For instance, Shaw (2014, pp. 7-8) states: ‘these people typically experience significant depressive symptoms, which are actually post-traumatic symptoms of cumulative developmental, or relational, trauma—symptoms that are often expressed in the form of painful lifelong longing for love that can never be requited. In development, to be recognized primarily as object—in other words, to be rigidly objectified—is to be cumulatively traumatized in one’s efforts to consolidate the sense of subjectivity’. 

Furthermore, the American Psychological Association (n.d.) defines subjectivity as ‘the tendency to interpret data or make judgements in the light of personal feelings, beliefs, or experiences’. Stripping someone off their subjective can lead to problems with intersubjectivity, which Oxford Reference (n.d.) describes as ‘the mutual construction of relationships through shared subjectivity’. Indeed, those with acquired narcissism struggle to maintain stable relationships with others precisely because of their many relational traumas. According to Shaw (2014, p. xv) ‘the traumatizing narcissist seeks to abolish intersubjectivity, and to freeze a complementary dynamic in the relationship, allowing recognition in one direction only—toward himself’.

This is why narcissists are extremely talented at hiding and protecting their vulnerabilities always wary of the world around them, a world that betrayed their trust. They seek to impress others through what seems like a normal demeanour. Yet, covertly, a narcissist will display the following behaviours: 

  1. Passive aggression: they may say things that are not directly offensive but that are still hurtful. 
  2. Introversion: they might be more reclusive but still need narcissistic supply from others. 
  3. Sulky behaviours: they may act in sullen ways when they do not get their way. 
  4. Constant dissatisfaction: they chronically blame the world for their circumstances, and constantly complain. 
  5. Grandiosity: they secretly think they are superior to others, and will only associate with those they deem to be superior. 
  6. Sense of entitlement: they always want to take what they desire, often crossing boundaries. 
  7. Playing as the victim: they always say that the world is doing something to them, and do not take responsibility for the harm they cause. 
  8. Hypersensitivity to criticism: they might rage if criticised and might feel hurt at the slightest comment. 

Morever, Shaw (2014, p. 13) states that ‘the heightened sadistic tendencies of the traumatizing narcissist may be masked in some cases by charisma and seductive charm. She has successfully dissociated the need to depend on idealized others by achieving a complete super-idealization of herself. She is overt in her need for superiority and domination, successful in seducing others into dependence on her, and cruel and exploitative as she arranges to keep the other in a subjugated position’. A common misconception is to think that the narcissist’s grandiose overcompensation is somewhat rooted in high self-esteem. I would argue it is more rooted in egocentrism. The truth is that narcissists are hypersensitive to their own impression management. That is, the facade they show to the world is their vulnerability because deep down they do not love who they are. Overtly, the malignant narcissist will exhibit the following behaviours:

  1. Pathological jealousy: they may experience feelings of envy and anger at the slightest disadvantage.
  2. Psychopathic behaviours: callous, cold-blooded, and instrumental harmful actions.
  3. Persecutory delusions: excessive paranoia based on false beliefs that the world is out to get them.
  4. Cruelty: having no remorse for engaging in sadistic behaviours.
  5. Coercive control: manipulating, threatening or controlling the victim.
  6. Pathological lying: not being able to tell the truth.
  7. Distress-based responses: things that hurt his self-esteem or self-image might trigger his dangerous behaviours.
  8. Sexual promiscuity: having more than one sexual partner.
  9. Hypersensitivity to criticism: always on guard for real or imagined criticism.
  10. Aggression: an inability for self-restraint when raging.

The individual with acquired narcissism is essentially looking for the love that he or she did not receive in childhood. According to Shaw (2014, p. 10) ‘patients described as pathologically narcissistic are often those whose self-esteem is terribly fragile; who easily feel insulted, attacked, and humiliated […] someone who in development has suffered severe damage to their self-esteem system, and whose self-esteem regulation is therefore inconsistent and precarious, subject to the internal persecution of the split-off protector self’. Furthermore, according to Mahendran (2015, p. 179) there are five main cognitive biases used by narcissists in order to maintain their self-esteem: (1) misremembering, which is a particular way in which people tend to remember past events in ways that are self-serving; (2) self-serving attribution, which consists in attributing blame to external events for failures, and attributing credit to the self for successes; (3) false consensus effect, which consists in assuming that other people will make the same choices one does, and behave in similar ways to one; (4) sour grapes effect, which consists in devaluing unattainable goals and rewards; and (5) unrealistic optimism which consists in attributing a positive expectation or outcome to something, even if the evidence and standards contradict it. 

In conclusion, acquired narcissism can be severely detrimental and is often a result of domestic abuse. Acquired narcissism can be conscious or unconscious, temporary (traumatised narcissism) or long-term (traumatic narcissism), and has many biases reinforcing an unstable sense of image.

References

American Psychological Association (n.d.) ‘Subjectivity’, APA Dictionary of Psychology [Online]. Available at https://dictionary.apa.org/subjectivity (accessed 17 December 2021). 

Mahendran, K. (2015) ‘Self-esteem’, in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P. (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University. 

Monroe, H. S. (2017) ‘How Relational Trauma Affects Teen Mental Health, Relationships, and Self-Esteem’, Newport Academy, 1 September [Online]. Available at https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/relational-trauma/ (accessed 16 December 2021). 

Oxford Reference (n.d.) ‘Intersubjectivity’ [Online]. Available at https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100008603 (accessed 16 December 2021). 

Shaw, D. (2014), Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation, New York, Routledge [Online]. Available at https://www.routledge.com/Traumatic-Narcissism-Relational-Systems-of-Subjugation/Shaw/p/book/9780415510257# (accessed 16 December, 2021). 

Categories
Opinion

The Contexts of Everyday Sadism

Sadism can be described as the psychological need to inflict harm on another human being, and it often manifests in the form of cruel actions. It is a subclinical form of malignant narcissism (Buckels et al., 2013). Many people have sadistic thoughts, and indeed, anger can at times elicit such thoughts; yet, sadists are not satisfied with having fantasies or thoughts where they indulge in the idea of harming others, they actually take actions where they consciously inflict such harm on other human beings. There are telltale signatures that can help you spot a sadistic offender. According to Reale et al.  (2017, p. 4) ‘the most important indicators of sadism are (a) that the offender is sexually aroused by sadistic acts, (b) the offender exercises power/control/domination over the victim, (c) the offender humiliates and/or degrades the victim, (d) the offender tortures the victim or engages in acts of cruelty, and (e) the offender mutilates sexual parts of the victim’s body’. Nevertheless, more subtle forms of sadism occur in everyday life and these do not always involve physical violence. Pfattheicher et al. (2017, p. 338) state that ‘the very essence of sadism is that sadists are motivated to dominate and to control other individuals by harming them because they experience pleasure through their cruelty […], for instance when killing bugs or harming an innocent person’. 

Some researchers believe that the tenet of sadism is disempowering and controlling the victim, rather than the infliction of pain per se. Either way, sadism is harmful and those who engage in it tend to get a boost out of the harm and helplessness they are causing. For instance, Debardeleben in Hazelwood and Michaud (2001, p. 88) cited and quoted in Luyn  (2007, p. 21) state: the wish to inflict pain on others is not the essence of sadism. The central impulse is to have complete mastery over another person, to make him or her a helpless object of our will. . . . And the most radical aim is to make her suffer. Since there is no greater power over another person than that of inflicting pain on her. To force her to undergo suffering without her being able to defend herself. The pleasure in the complete domination over another person is the very essence of the sadistic drive’. Sadism can happen in multidisciplinary settings, from politics to healthcare, and education; as well as in personal life. Sadism can happen through actions, policies, decisions, and narratives; and it can be pervasive, problematic and persistent. Sadism can be internalised by the superego (Freud, 1923) quo when it is culturally hypernormalised and exhibited by authority figures.  Now, one might wonder, is sadism de facto or is it de jure? That is, does sadism encompass actions which violate the law of a jurisdiction (de facto), or does it also involve actions that are perfectly legal (de jure)? The answer is: both. Do people in general struggle to understand sadism because of the same reasons they struggle to understand the definition of what constitutes torture? Nowadays, someone can correctly feel like they are being tortured, but de facto sadists will argue “Oh, it is not torture!”. Well, if it involves the infliction of mental, emotional, psychological, or physical harm on another human being; then yes, it is legally correct to say that it is torture. Moreover, psychologically speaking, it is also correct to say that if someone consciously and deliberately inflicts harm on another human being, then indeed it is sadistic cruelty. Whether consciously or unconsciously, intentional or unintentional, everyday sadism can harm anyone, so it is important to have awareness about how to protect yourself in these unprecedented times. 

But how can we clarify intent? Well, de jure sadism occurs when the state creates regulations which are harmful to people and does not fulfil its substantive and procedural obligations to prevent harm. For instance, people who suffer from pituitary brain tumours often develop a very low stress tolerance (i.e. a high propensity for adrenal fatigue). If the jurisdiction creates and designs institutional mechanisms which are based on the induction of stress contingencies, then it can be said that the jurisdiction has indeed created a sadistic environment that induces medico-legal injury on these people. This happens with many different types of minority groups. The point that is most concerning about all this is that in the institutional bias of ‘some people need to be stressed out in order to develop X or Y ability’ or ‘stress can be positive and productive’ is ultimately where the sadistic factor is really found. I always think: ‘Do women need rape?’ The answer of course, quickly becomes: ‘No, women do not need rape!’; so the next question is: ‘Do people need obstacles, adrenal fatigue, degradation, and all other forms of inhumane treatment in order to learn?’, the answer should equally be: ‘No, because that is a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it is sadistically cruel’. But, why is it so difficult for de jure decision-makers to understand this basic principle? De jure sadism also occurs when de facto sadism is not investigated adequately, nor processed through the legal system, or when there are no substantive and procedural mechanisms for its prevention.


No wonder there is a lot of de facto sadism. If a human being’s conscience is in a way partially constructed by the social and legislative norms of the world around them, and if such a status quo has sadistic protocols; then it can be expected that people in general will also develop attitudes, and show manifestations of such sadistic tendencies which are of course internalised and culturally inherited. Now, the worst type of experienced sadism is when someone has both, de jure and de facto sadists around them and against them. This happens to minority groups of all types, not just to people with pituitary adenomas. The Hostile Environment Policies 2014-2016 were a great example of state-led cultural and attitudinal sadism. Webber (2019, p. 77) states: In the UK, these policies are collectively known as the “hostile environment”, policies which have the avowed aim of making life impossible for migrants and refugees who do not have permission to live in the UK, and which remove such migrants from the rights to housing, health, livelihood and a decent standard of living, liberty, freedom of assembly and association, family and private life, physical and moral integrity, freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment, and in the final analysis the right to human dignity and to life’. Indeed, the UK revealed at that point in time that it was culturally acceptable to hate immigrants; and in the legal industry you and I both know that justice is about what is correct or incorrect according to the principles which guide morals, behaviours, and so on. So it is clear that the UK does not want all those immigrants walking in the streets. It is clear that the world is filled with inequalities which create all types of problems forcing people to escape their homes and visit their international neighbours asking for first aid. So what can be done in order to balance all this? Abusing, torturing, and humiliating the disadvantaged is not the answer though. Furthermore, having our prime minister incorrectly call the legal human right of claiming asylum ‘illegal’ (Grierson and Sabbagh, 2020) is an attack against truth, and an offence against the international community. There is no such a thing as an illegal asylum seeker. I suppose the UK might have to create an asylum office in every country so people can apply for asylum without having to risk their lives crossing the channels. That would be a procedural solution to the concern of the contingencies of asylum travel. An asylum embassy, consulate, or something of the sort. Does it exist? No, because visas—  like democracy—  are business.  Asylum, however,  is the state of the global human condition; so what, Elon Musk can’t invade Mars fast enough?

References

Buckels, E. E., Jones, D. N. and Paulhus, D. L. (2013) ‘Behavioral Confirmation of Everyday Sadism’, Psychological Science, Los Angeles, SAGE Publications, 24(11), pp. 2201–2209 [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/13ueeno/TN_cdi_crossref_primary_10_1177_0956797613490749 (Accessed 11 August 2020).

Freud, S. (1923) ‘The Ego and the Id’ [Online]. Available at https://www.sigmundfreud.net/the-ego-and-the-id-pdf-ebook.jsp (accessed 14 November 2021). 

Grierson, J. and Sabbagh, D. (2020) ‘Boris Johnson accused of scapegoating migrants over Channel comments’, The Guardian, 10 August [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/aug/10/boris-johnson-hints-at-law-change-to-deport-migrants-who-cross-channel (Accessed 11 August 2020). 

Luyn, J. B., Akhtar, S. and Livesley, W. J. (2007) Severe personality disorders, Cambridge, New York, Cambridge University Press [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/h21g24/44OPN_ALMA_DS5189773850002316 (Accessed 28 July 2019). 

Pfattheicher, S., Keller, J. and Knezevic, G. (2017) ‘Sadism, the Intuitive System, and Antisocial Punishment in the Public Goods Game’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications, 43(3), pp. 337–346 [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/gvehrt/TN_sage_s10_1177_0146167216684134 (Accessed 26 July 2019). 


Reale, K., Beauregard, E. and Martineau, M. (2017) ‘Is Investigative Awareness a Distinctive Feature of Sexual Sadism?’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, pp. 1-18 [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/gvehrt/TN_medline29294688 (Accessed 26 July 2019).