© 2013 Rhonda Freeman, PhD | All Rights Reserved
Are you thinking of confronting, educating, or ‘enlightening’ an individual with pathological narcissism or psychopathy about their disorder? Well, the chances are high that this could lead to more problems and in some cases (depending on the disordered partner) place you in a dangerous position.
People with narcissistic personality disorder work very hard to maintain a mask and present a false self to the world. And yes, if they have been with you for any significant amount of time, that mask has certainly dropped. You’ve witnessed and been at the receiving end of cruelty, pettiness, and moral poverty. But even if they know you know who they are, they still want to control the narrative that you believe in. Even if reality screams that something is very wrong with them – they want you to believe in who they tell you they are and not your experience of them.
They often need to be fed how important, or beautiful, smart, clever, witty, charming, unique, helpful, or amazing they are. How could you possibly work on feeding all those needs if you think they are broken? Therefore, to hear that you view them as disordered or sick can deliver a painful blow to an extremely fragile, hypersensitive ego.
Now, it is possible that long before they met you they either figured out they were emotionally different (disordered) or were told they are a narcissist or psychopath. This is particularly true of psychopaths, as many have an awareness that they have to watch what others look like when they are emoting in order to imitate those emotions later.
For those who already know they have an emotional disorder, they’ve had an opportunity to process that information before you ever came into the picture. That means they also had the chance to completely re-frame that information into a positive … a strength (some can do this re-framing/ re-appraisal instantly on the spot, others need more time). This small group may view their narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathy as a badge of honor and something that they have that makes them special and better than you. Some may truly owe their career success and power status in life to those personality traits.
However, for many with these conditions, they lack insight into their predictable patterns of dysfunctional behaviors. They lack awareness that they have severe emotional deficiencies that cause them to hurt the very people that love them.
Would taking a gentle, scientific approach be the better way to tell them they have a disorder that is destroying their relationships?
One might think that giving information regarding neuroscience would be a better approach. However, attempting to explain that you suspect they have problems with certain regions of their brain is still risky. Even though you may say this from a place of concern and hope that seeking medical care could help them; it is doubtful it will be received in that manner. Again, these people usually need to feel superior to you. To point out that they demonstrate problems that must be related to faulty brain functions does not match their agenda. And recall, their agenda tends to be along the lines of, “I am amazing and you are completely convinced that I am amazing and will do anything you can to please me, supply me, listen to me, and serve me.”
Most importantly making such statements (“I think you have a problem with your brain”) to a partner with possible psychopathy could place your safety at risk and potentially launch the disordered person into a retaliation/ punitive mode. A smear campaign could be launched to try to destroy you.
Psychopaths and pathological narcissists have conditions that are very resistant to change. Your love or caring concern does not give them the ability to generate oxytocin, simmer down an overactive reward system, heal a disordered amygdala, strengthen the frontal lobes, or form neuroconnections between their prefrontal cortex and limbic/ reward systems. And that is only a partial list of what would be needed to change them into responsible, empathic, safe partners capable of caring about you.
Love is powerful, but it is not a miracle worker. It is not the ‘treatment’ that works to heal disorders associated with lacking those emotion and regulation related neurological abilities.
Although you may have good intentions and may even hope that by telling them you are leading them toward a healthier life and might even be able to salvage the relationship. The risk to your emotional (and possibly physical) safety is high. And giving this information is not the impetus to change. Some will actually set out to prove they are healthy and you are the one that is sick and ramp up the abuse.
Diagnosing and presenting information regarding psychopathy or pathological narcissism to someone with the condition should be done by a licensed, trained specialist that has no personal connection to the disordered person. This likely means the individual with psychopathy sought out those appointments (or was legally forced), therefore hearing a diagnosis from a doctor regarding their personality would be expected under such circumstances.
Most domestic violence advocates and organizations strongly advise survivors, victims, and targets, against such actions (e.g., confrontation/ educating the disordered person).
Rhonda Freeman, PhD
Wishing you the best in your healing journey.
Rhonda Freeman, PhD | Neuroinstincts