Composed by Shunda Wallace Music Therapist
The Etiology of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the defining psychological injury that occurs during early childhood typically after some emotions have developed but before regulation of the emotion empathy is learned.
Etiology is the cause, set of causes, or manner of causation of a disease, condition or disorder (not to be confused with Eytmology).
Most individuals diagnosed and undiagnosed with the disorder are the by-product of at least one emotionally unavailable family member or parent incapable of expressing empathy. It is also not uncommon that at least one of the parents has gone undiagnosed with the NPD. The best way to think about empathy is that it is a learned behavior that is not intrinsic to a child’s core characteristics so if empathy is not imprinted properly by the caregivers the child will begin to develop maladaptive and dysfunctional ego strength incapable of displaying empathy in a healthy manner. This child grows up to become a developmentally arrested adult, chronologically of age but empathically deficient. Translation an individual with NPD could be seventy years of age, but emotionally five years of age. The subsequent manifestation is an adult-child that has learned to hyperfocus on their own emotional needs and ego self-defense at the expense of others. Considering that one of the central characteristics of NPD in the adult state is to provoke attention and reaction (Narcissistic Supply) from others Narcissists utilize strategies devoid of rationale and logic to skillfully obtain attention supply. Clinically these strategies are referred to as defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological mechanisms to ward off unpleasant feelings. Some examples of defense mechanisms displayed by adults with NPD include but are not limited to: gas lighting, intimidation, anger, projection, idealization/devaluation, denial and reaction formation. Below I have provided some excerpt examples of defense mechanisms projection, gas lighting and idealization/devaluation. These are all behaviors that are childlike in nature.
In the beginning Suzy perceives Jane as her best friend
An example of projection:
Jane gossips to mutual acquaintances of hers and Suzy’s that Suzy is an alcoholic (when Jane is actually the alcoholic). The mutual acquaintances feel sorry for Suzy unaware that it is actually Jane that they should be pitying (or empathizing with).
An example of gas lighting:
When Suzy finds out and tries to explain to everyone that it is actually Jane that is the alcoholic, mutual acquaintances questions Suzy’s sanity (Jane is aware that this is how it would play out)
Example two of projection:
Jane gossips to mutual friends of hers and Suzy’s that Suzy has low self-esteem so Jane asks all of their mutual friends and acquaintances to support Suzy by telling Suzy that they love her, (when Jane expressed to Suzy privately her insecurities, self-esteem issues and weight struggles).
Example three of projection:
Jane gossips to mutual friends and acquaintances of hers and Suzy’s that Suzy is ashamed of her career, when it is Jane that never left home to pursue her dreams in entertainment. Jane lives at home with her mother at age 40 singing at her local church.
An example of idealization/devaluation:
Jane idealizes Suzy’s talents and puts Suzy on a pedestal for the beginning years of their friendship. People begin to inquire about Suzy’s success Jane devalues Suzy and tell mutual acquaintances that Suzy makes up stories about her achievements (although Jane has been to many of Suzy’s performances).
There are many reasons for Jane’s illogical tactics. One of the reasons for Jane’s tactics is to create a reward cycle for herself from the only childlike perspective that she has learned. Remember some parents utilize their children to make themselves look good by treating the child nicely only in front of others. Another reason is to maintain environmental control, favor and popularity over Suzy (similar to that of Barack and Trump). The third is for Jane to self-soothe negative ruminating thoughts about her own insecurities by projecting them onto someone else (the person that is a constant reminder of all of her failures-Suzy). All of these tactics demonstrate a dangerous lack of empathy at the expense of someone else’s credibility reputation and emotional stability. This is the most insidious form of mental abuse projected onto someone by someone else. From Jane’s childlike perspective her irrational and illogical feelings/fears are more important than the emotional damage and destruction that she leaves in Suzy’s way to clean up. It is important to remember that Jane is very popular, charming and well-liked (the way Hitler was before the end of his reign) because of these very tactics not in spite of them.
I would like to end this particular discussion on Narcissism by edifying that Narcissism is a subject dear to my heart for reasons too numerous to address in this blog. My blogs on the disorder are dedicated to those whose lives have been profoundly affected and changed by friends, family members, lovers and or co-workers with the disorder.
Ms. Wallace joined the faculty at Michigan State University as Guest Lecturer in 2004-2005 while being considered for the Doctorate of Musical Arts in Western Composition Program (later learning there was no Doctoral Program in Jazz Composition). Ms. Wallace holds a Bachelors of Music in Music Management from William Paterson University a Masters Degree in Jazz Arranging and Orchestration from William Paterson University in addition to an Advanced Level Board Certification in Music Therapy from Montclair State University.