This article is a bit of a PSA. Please note I am not a licensed therapist.
(Update 11/20: Edited the title to include the full name of the disorder instead of just the acronyms NPD)
After a couple of years of experiencing some very painful interactions with people in my life-including family members – I began to pick up on certain similarities in these peoples’ behavior and was moved to do some research. In the search engine, I put in a few words that came to mind in describing their actions and character traits. Eventually, I learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). According to a report I read, NPD is actually highest among Black men, Black women and Hispanic women.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18557663). That stopped me dead in my tracks. I had never heard that before ever in my life. Now I am fully aware of this racist ass world we live in and I know of the racist history of the medical profession (Tuskegee Airmen, Henrietta Lacks) so I take any and all medical reports about Black people with a tablet of salt. Not a grain of salt but a tablet of salt, especially negative reports because this society thrives on, enjoys and feeds upon any negativity surrounding Black people, particularly when we start to embrace and love ourselves unapologetically. That being said however, I found the information on NPD to be applicable to my situation and really helpful in understanding these particular people in my life. And since I don’t exist in a vacuum, I know there are other Black people who might have experienced trying to love and be with a narcissist who may find this information helpful.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is much more than being self-absorbed or a little egotistical. We are all a bit self-absorbed and have “I’m the Shit!” moments. That keeps us motivated, healthy, and confident. To be clear, being a bit narcissistic at times is different from having NPD. And before I go on, here is a disclaimer: No! A well-dressed Black woman in red bottoms and a perfectly styled mane is NOT proof that she has NPD. No! A Black man who always keeps a well-trimmed beard and maintains a six pack is NOT proof that he has NPD. And No! The #blackgirlmagic hashtag is not an example of Black women’s narcissism. Ugh, I can’t even start with that…My point is, please do RESEARCH and READ and apply CRITICAL THINKING on this topic before assuming someone may have NPD. This post is not an invitation to mindlessly diagnose people who may rub us the wrong way.
Moving right along…Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an insidious disorder that wreaks complete emotional havoc on families or other intimate relationships because the person is consumed by their own self-importance, they must be at the center of attention at all times and is absolutely unable to feel any empathy for other people, not even family members. People with NPD are emotionally vapid and at best, they can only mimic (or parrot) appropriate emotional responses in order to avoid detection of their extreme narcissism. They never develop a full and complete sense of self that embraces their flaws and their strengths. Instead, people with NPD create a very surface image of themselves, a “false-self”, as being better than and above all others. And protecting that illusion of self is their main priority. Because of that, their egos are very easily bruised, making developing deep and meaningful connections with other people next to impossible. Those with NPD sometimes have other issues, such as anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder and in some cases even psychopathy or sociopathy.
Probably the two most universal traits of a person with NPD is their impressive ability to deny any and all personal responsibility in a given situation and their compulsive lying and compulsive fact twisting. Getting the truth from them about anything is difficult and torturous, whether it’s as simple as asking them “Have you seen my keys?” or something more involved like “Where did you first meet your spouse?”. They can be extremely manipulative, petty- and not in the comical way that pettiness has been embraced lately but in a very hurtful, antagonizing, childish and extremely counter-productive manner and very divisive, often pitting people against each other, including family members.
I can’t say what is the cause for the higher rates of NPD in the Black community. We like to think of ourselves as a very communal people and that is mostly true throughout our history. The idea of having higher rates of people who are extremely self-consumed and lacking in empathy for others strikes me as odd. Was NPD (or similar disorders) around prior to European/non-Black contact and conquest and we just called it something different? Maybe having our own cultural mechanisms for dealing with it? Or is it some kind of genetic response to centuries of oppression, marginalization and abuse? Generally speaking, NPD tends to be higher in men than in women so I wonder what role patriarchy has played in NPD developing in men, since patriarchy discourages any empathy and emotional awareness in everyone but particularly in men. Regardless of the reasons, I think it is important for us to be aware of the various emotional and mental disorders plaguing us, our families, and our relationships, especially now that Black people are working more closely to build up our communities. Only then can we get a clearer picture of certain situations. For example, some men who are willfully neglecting and abandoning child after child and always making excuses for it may not simply be products of their environment or mimicking patterns from slavery but they might be men with a narcissistic personality, and therefore cannot empathize with their own children and refuse to be constrained by social rules and expectations. Or the so-called “fuckboys” may not just be products of a misogynist environment or immature jerks who simply “aren’t ready to settle down yet” but they might be men with NPD, which would explain why they have such a visceral disdain for intimacy and go above and beyond to sabotage closeness with women and shame and humiliate women why try to get close. Or the Black men who mercilessly and endlessly bash Black women and constantly compare us to other non-Black women, despite our continual pleas to get them to stop? Is that behavior a result of slavery & self-hate caused by living under a White supremacist society? Or is it because of extreme narcissism in their character that 1) prevents them from empathizing with Black women and 2) that compels them to attack someone more marginalized and more vulnerable than they are in order to garner attention and to prop themselves to feed their egos/maintain their “false-self” image of being better than others, in this case Black women? Or what about the woman relative or female associate who is always forcing you to “suck it up”, “stop being so sensitive” and telling you to be a “strong Black woman” without ever taking a genuine interest in what you’re going through and how you’re feeling? Is she merely a little insensitive, though well-meaning? Is she buying into and perpetuating racist and sexist stereotypes about Black womanhood that she has been conditioned to believe? Or is she hiding behind her own narcissism which prevents her from being able to empathize with someone else which is why she immediately reacts to your slightest display of emotions with some hostility? What about the Black woman who simply cannot get along with other women and is always at the heart of drama and seems to bask in and enjoy the chaos surrounding her? A product of internalized misogyny/some Black woman self-hate and maybe poor upbringing? Or is there a narcissism there that is pushing her to constantly manipulate situations and pit other women against each other and prevents her from empathizing with them as fellow people/sisters? I think these are questions worth asking.
Right now there is no way to “cure” NPD, unfortunately though treatment options are available. But because of the very makeup of a person with NPD, it is very unlikely that they would ever even admit they have a problem in the first place so it’s not likely they would seek (and commit to) counseling. From my own experience and from the advice I have read, the best thing to do is to get away from them and keep interactions with them to an absolute minimum. Save yourself. Love them if you must but love them from a distance. Since their sole motivation is to protect their egos and delusions of grandeur and be the center of attention, they will do anything and say anything to anyone to do that. Their ultimate loyalties are to their egos and preserving their false-self and anyone can get thrown under the bus, including children, grandchildren, siblings, or parents, to maintain their illusion. Absolutely anyone can get it.
Again, no relationship is perfect and this is not meant to encourage people to label any and everyone they don’t like as having Narcissist Personality Disorder (and of course, only a trained professional can officially diagnose but for the reasons stated above, that’s not likely to happen). But the fact is, there are people within our community who truly do not have the capacity to empathize with other people- not even their own people- and will emotionally abuse you for even trying to get close to them. That is dangerous and poisonous to the health of any family and community.
Besides the above link, there are a number of blogs dedicated to helping people identify and better understand the disorder and help in healing from familial & other intimate relationships with people with NPD. One of the more helpful ones I have found is http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/dsm-iv.html. Also see http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20025568 for a basic explanation of NPD.
So, research, read, reflect. Then act accordingly. And remember that your peace of mind self-respect are priceless and should be fiercely protected.