Andrea attended her first group therapy session at an inpatient female rehab facility. She expected there to be other strung out, burnt out woman like herself who were stressed from the conflicting demands of home and work life. But what she didn’t expect was a perfectly put together woman who seemed to have everything perfectly figured out.
When the woman entered the room, everyone couldn’t help but stare. She was immaculately and fashionably dressed, with her makeup done and every hair in place – a look that was in direct opposition to the other group members. She strutted when she walked, trying hard to scan the room without being noticed. She made eye contact with one of the group members and smiled as if they had been friends their whole life. She had an air of importance, intimidation, control, and superiority.
Leave it to narcissists to appear superior even in the midst of bottoming out from their addiction. One of the hardest types of people to deal with is a narcissist in the middle of suffering through a severe addiction. The experience can be utterly exhausting. The combined selfishness of narcissism with addictive behavior is overpowering, relentless, callous, and frequently abusive. Often devastating consequences can arise from the destructive blend of arrogant thinking in which a narcissist believes that they are always right with the idea that they do not have a problem.
There are many parts to the addicted narcissist and their road to recovery. The point of this article is to recognize the injurious behavior so more reasonable expectations can be established during the rehabilitation process and for the family.
Origins. In both addicts and narcissists, shame is the common denominator. Stage two of Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development which occurs between 18 months and three years old has shame as the adverse outcome. Not all narcissists or addicts have trauma during these years, but it can be an excellent place to begin. Because there is a strong concurrence, about 50% of narcissists are addicts of some sort. Some studies suggest that fetal alcohol syndrome in a child is a sign of a female narcissist.
Enablers. There are frequently two enablers. One bolsters the ego of the narcissist and one unknowingly encourages the addiction. The narcissistic enabler minimizes all signs of addiction and fosters feelings of superiority over others. The addiction enabler is likewise blind to symptoms of addiction, therefore, justifying financially supporting it. Both are needed to maintain the self-image of the narcissist.
Sometimes, the victim of narcissistic abuse is the sole enabler. This person naively empowers both behaviors to continue. They have been told that the addiction is in their minds and they are the one to blame for it continuing. Saying like these are common. “No one else sees what you are seeing, you are the crazy one.” “If only you would do…, then I won’t have to…”
The Cycle. The addiction cycle is comingled with the narcissistic abuse cycle. It begins when the narcissist feels threatened. They become angry and take out their frustration on a victim. Sensing resistance from the victim, they retreat to their addiction. The drug of choice reinforces their idealistic fantasies, the perception of omnipotence, and extravagant schemes. However, this results in the enablers retreating from the narcissist. Now confused, the narcissistic ego feels threatened and the cycle repeats.
Step One. The most challenging step is to get a narcissist to admit to their addiction. This is the first mandatory step of all addictive recovery which is particularly problematic for a person who believes they are above others. Not only are they reluctant to admit there is a problem, but they refuse to allow someone inferior to point it out. This is why confronting a narcissist about their addiction usually results in substantial rage.
Rehab. The only rehab a narcissist willingly attends is an elite facility. Even there, they expect special treatment and believe the rules are for others. During group counseling sessions, they are bored and view it as trivial. Sometimes they become intolerant and even abusive towards staff members. Instead of taking the time to heal, they look for loopholes in the system, complain about inefficiencies, become single-minded about insurance/costs, and blame others for having to be at rehab.
Recovery. A narcissist is unwilling to wait the prescribed period to see if the recovery is effective. Instead, they expect immediate results and others to comply fully with their miraculous healing in a very short time. Unfortunately, because the narcissist has grandiose beliefs about self, they rarely learn during treatment thus making their prognosis poor.
Relapse. It is not impossible for a narcissist to recover from an addiction. In fact, when they see it as damaging to their image, they can eliminate the addiction almost instantly and without emotional consequences. However, they do return to the addictive behavior later as a way to demonstrate they ultimately have power and control over the drug of choice.
Just because the narcissist feeds off illusions of grandeur, doesn’t mean the family support system needs to strengthen that belief. A family can be supportive while having reasonable expectations for the narcissist’s prognosis. It is far more loving to accept someone within their own limitations than to insist they become someone they are not.