Survival Mode and an Alternate View of Narcissism

narcissistic abusers
by the light of the truth they will hang themselves

“Although some features of narcissistic personality disorder may seem like having confidence or strong self-esteem, it’s not the same. Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence and self-esteem into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal. In contrast, people who have healthy confidence and self-esteem don’t value themselves more than they value others”. ~ The Mayo Clinic

I would like to add that people who have healthy confidence and self-esteem don’t value themselves LESS than they value others either.

I was not drawn to this quote because it helped me to understand narcissism or narcissistic behaviour but because it reminded me of how much I was willing to see myself as ‘the problem’ when I first began the healing process that I write about here in ‘emerging from broken’.  So many ‘victims’ of dysfunctional family systems or any type of abusive or one sided relationship see themselves as the one who might be the narcissist.  Narcissistic people groom their victims to always look at themselves and make every effort to avoid letting anyone look more closely at them.  They make sure the flashlight of self-examination is always firmly on the victim both from the view of the narcissist, AND from the view of the victim.

And because of this abuse tactic and grooming style, very often it is narcissists who accuse other people of ‘being’ narcissistic. As always there is a way to sort out the truth from the false in this. As you read, keep in mind that narcissistic people or abusers rarely ask themselves if they are the problem.  There are several key differences between victims and abusers. (I am aware that some are both victims AND abusers; victims to the people who are in control of them and abusers to the people that they control but that is a topic for another day.)

It is easy to groom children to regard the adult with reverence. And if that child grows up in the belief system that the child is always the one at fault, it is easy for any other adult to step in and continue inflicting this insistence upon ‘reverence’ on this now grown up child.  Children don’t just reach a certain age and suddenly the blinders fall off. If no one ever empowers the child to realize that their worth is equal to all others, the child (adult child) will never come to realize it. If the false belief remains operating as ‘truth’, then the adult child will continue to believe dysfunctional relationships are ‘normal’.  

This quote highlights the concept of understanding ‘equal value’.  

My survival mode was all about examining my motives and checking to see where I had been at fault, what I could have done better and why the whole problem must have somehow been caused by me. I was willing to believe that I was self-centered when someone called me self-centered and then I was willing to try harder to change that ‘problem’ about myself. I was willing to accept that I was being selfish when I was accused of being selfish and make the necessary adjustment because that is the way I learned to ‘survive’ when I was a kid and I never learned any other way to be.  When I was accused of being ‘narcissistic’ I examined that too. I had come to see ‘everyone’ as having MORE value than I did.  And if ‘they’ were more valuable then they must be right.

I made survival decisions in a world where I believe that the only way that I could ever be safe was to adjust myself to the demands of the adults who were responsible for my food, shelter and clothing. As I got older that belief didn’t change when people who I saw as being more important than me or as having more power than me demanded the same type of compliance from me. When I became an adult I saw and reacted to the world through the same ‘it must be me’ grid that I saw it through in my childhood survival mode and I made survival decisions based on the same understanding that I always had. There was no truth OR equal value when it came to me, in this (false) understanding of how relationship works. 

Finally understanding what equal value is, was the most freeing and important concept that I learned in the process of emotional healing.  I was never treated or regarded with equal value and therefore I had never considered that I actually had it or even that it was an option ‘for me’.  I had to change this false belief. I found out how to repair my self-esteem and take my value back by finding out where and how it got broken and falsely defined as ‘less than,’ in the first place.  I had to see the truth about who the abuser actually was and what false messages that I had been given and that I accepted as the truth.

Looking at how I had come to ‘learn’ to always look at adjusting myself and my behaviour and the way that I related to others and seeing how much of it was about my childhood survival mode helped me to see the truth about equal value and that although I had never been treated as though I had it, that didn’t mean that I didn’t have it.

Everybody has equal value. We are all born with equal value. It is what happens after that that will determine the way we view ourselves.

 “Although some features of narcissistic personality disorder may seem like having confidence or strong self-esteem, it’s not the same. Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence and self-esteem into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal. In contrast, people who have healthy confidence and self-esteem don’t value themselves more than they value others”. ~ The Mayo Clinic

I would like to add that people who have healthy confidence and self-esteem don’t value themselves LESS than they value others either.

The purpose of this website, ‘Emerging from Broken’ is to restore self-esteem and the knowledge of ‘equal value’ by understanding where it went missing, was not communicated or was never set in place in the beginning.

Please share your thoughts about how you put your difficulties through the grid of self-blame, how narcissistic or people in a higher power position than you were made you think it was always ‘you’  or anything else this article caused you to realize or react to. Please feel free to use any name you wish in the comment form. (The URL line is optional and is meant for people who wish to share their own website.)

There is freedom on the other side of broken;

Darlene Ouimet

The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing


For related posts please see highlighted links in bold print throughout the post.

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262 response to "Survival Mode and an Alternate View of Narcissism"

  1. By: Lost without my Child Posted: 27th January

    I am happy that I have found you guys.. My girls’ (13 & 15) step mother is a fanatical narcissist. For years she has made me feel like everything I was doing was wrong. Long story short and fast forward about 10 years, she has my youngest daughter in her care and that daughter won’t talk to me anymore because she (my daughter), now too, believes that I am at fault alll of the time. Their father and I were never married, and subsequently never went through the courts to do the custody thing (biggest mistake of my life) and I have no power over my child. The worst part? My daughter, the one that lives with the step mom(“monster”) seems to be turning into a narcissist as well. I still pay for my daughter’s phone every month (always have) and now it’s not even her phone anymore. The step mom has it most of the time. If I cut it off, then I’ll be “cutting off your only communication with your daughter.” I don’t know what to do. I am so frightened that my daughter will end up positively dysfunctional due to the step mom’s “illness.” For the longest time, I questioned everything I was doing because of that woman… and now my daughter is stuck in it. I have over 10 years of emails and texts … when I read them it takes me back and makes me question myself all over again.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  2. By: Catherine Todd Posted: 15th December

    Oh my goodness. You wrote: “My husband has been very supportive of me, but he also wants to keep helping his friend. I see this guy through very different eyes now and think he is probably a free loader based on his priorities and behaviors.”

    Reading your post, FinallyFree, sounds so much like what I went through for a good eight years, off and on, with my own tormentor / freeloader that my husband insisted on “allowing him to stay” even though it was destroying our home, my own well-being and our financial situation. The freeloader owed my husband money and he thought if he kicked him out he would never get it back. Well, he would have never gotten it back regardless until I took the guy to court! And then he threatened to burn our house down when he was forced by court order to repay his debt! To this day I don’t know why my husband cared so much more about money that he “might” get back despite what was happening to me and our home, but that’s the way it was. I am so glad that this person is finally out of our lives and I did not welcome him back, despite whatever sob story he threw my way. And I refused to allow him back into the house and called the police to make sure he stayed away.

    To this day I can’t figure out how or why I tolerated it… I guess the way I “tolerated” all the abusive things that were done to me all my life, thinking that if I did things differently or responded differently or changed xyz “all would be well.” Well, no they wouldn’t. I finally had to say “I am leaving if things don’t change” and really mean it for my husband and everyone else to finally understand and believe me. I was prepared to leave and I actually did, and that is when things changed. Who was more important? To this day I feel like I was being punished for God knows what but I accepted it and allowed this person to stay, regardless of whether it was my husband saying “let him stay” to get the money back, or me saying “let him stay” due to whatever codependent craziness I had going on. Who knows? I still can’t figure it out.

    But I do know that I still need to learn to recognize abuse when it is happening and that I don’t have to put up with anything that makes me sick, unhappy, miserable, or makes life “not worth living.” Depression is NOT supposed to be something we should have to deal with every single day! I’m so used to it at some points I think it’s almost “normal” for me and it is NOT.

    And when I finally said NO, NO MORE, and put a real stop to it by changing what I was doing… I guess that means CHANGING ME… all I could wonder was “what took me so long?” When I said I was leaving, he left too, and I made sure he left and stayed gone. It was like the devil leaving because he had no more power over me. It was that difficult and that simple.

    I feel like Tina Turner, who FINALLY found the strength to say “NO MORE” to her extremely abusive husband Ike Turner, and left with no money, no security, no nothing. But leave she did.

    I am NOT saying you should leave your husband… I’m just comparing this situation to the similar one I was in about ten years ago. After the bum was gone (drug addiction too) all the conflict and theft went with him, overnight. Peace reigned. And all those years of torment magically disappeared! “Poof” they were gone! And all those years I kept wondering what I was doing wrong, why I couldn’t get through, why no one was listening to me, what could I do differently, and on and on and on… and all it took was for me to say NO and MEAN IT. NO MORE.

    I still can’t cope with conflict very well. When I am attacked verbally I fall to pieces. PTSD kicks in and paralyzes me. I can handle physical threats very well with no retaliation on my part, after growing up being brutalized by a violent parent and protecting my seven siblings… but I can’t handle being called names or lied about or accused or blamed, as my mother did all my life… and I literally hit the “suicide slide.” So I feel like those devils that come are similar to the Carlos Castenada “monsters” in the book who find out our weaknesses and use them to the fullest. So in that sense, we are being trained to handle conflict of any kind. And it takes longer for some than others. I am almost 65 years old and have yet to learn! But there’s plenty of cruel angry people in this world who lash out without hesitation, so there’s plenty of “practice” to be had.

    I almost had to laugh about your “building him a room off the side of the garage” as I bought a small cabin/ shed for my monster to live in, fixed it up really nice even with a TV, and it worked to keep him out of the house part of the time, at least until it got cold. Then it was back in the house until I finally said NO.

    He wasn’t the first freeloader in my life, but hopefully he will be the last. It’s been nine years since I made a promise to learn to take care of ME and stop taking care of the world, and I am doing it to a reasonable extent. Meaning I am on my own list, not on the bottom of the list or even missing from the list (and this is “the list” I write for myself about what my priorities are) and even when it’s scary beyond belief, I make myself do something for myself “once in awhile” and it gets a little bit easier each time. I have been well-trained all my life to be a servant and a slave to everyone else’s needs and give little to no regard for me. I accepted it as “normal and correct” since I was raised this way. So I ended up in relationships that “fit the bill.”

    Finally I am taking steps to take care of myself, and it shouldn’t be hard since I have always been so good at taking care of myself. I just hope I can learn to handle the terrific PTSD that kicks in when I am verbally attacked, as I find myself on the “suicide slide” almost immediately when I try to explain myself or stand up for myself and I am accused, blamed, lied about, scapegoated, attacked from all sides, or whatever else abusers like to do. But this time around I practiced breathing and meditation and even though I went “in and out” of dissociation, it seemed to work. I was able to see the “others” as suffering in their own way and lashing out at the world, or at least at me, and I DID NOT DESERVE IT.

    Any more than you deserve a freeloader in your house! I hope you continue to write about this situation as I’m sure we all have had freeloaders of one sort or another like spiders in the corners that need to be swept out. I’m so glad to read that your husband “didn’t abandon you emotionally like he would have earlier in your marriage.” I know that feeling all too well, and now that it’s going on thirty years for me, my husband is finally there for me too. But we all have so far to go! Three steps forward but only one step back at times. That’s what I look for and that keeps me going some / most of the time, and I hope it does for you too. Sounds like you are coping fairly well and I’m so glad you wrote about what was going on.

    Please, let us know what ends up happening. You and your family’s peace of mind come FIRST. And the devil always finds a way in and like a vampire, can’t come in unless we let them, and leaves when we finally say GO.

    Love to you and yours, and I’m glad to read anything you write anytime at all. Gracias, amiga… you have contributed so much to so many here. I’m glad you are still here!

  3. By: Catherine Todd Posted: 14th December

    FinallyFree, I am so glad to find you here! I just asked “where you had gone” on the original “hurt mother” post, and then I saw a “recent comment” made by you, so I was able to come here. I have re-read all your comments on the original post (hurt mother) that made so much of an impression on me (positive and negative comments by others, but ultimately positive) and appreciated then and appreciate now your giving me so much support “when I needed it most.”

    Now I’m going to read your comment right before I made mine, as I am so thrilled to see you here. I hate confrontation too and avoid it at *almost* all cost, and it took me a long, long time to come back to this website but I’m glad I did.

    I hope you – and everyone here – finds a way to have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday! I’m making plans to do something interesting for myself, as I’ve been no contact for years now and I am determined not to let it “get me down.” I will live in the Present instead of wishing for a different past, and that will be my Present to me!

    Looking forward to reading more… and thanks to you and everyone here for commenting all the while.

    “The winds of grace blow all the time; all we need do is set our sails.”

    Dear God please show us The Way.

  4. By: FinallyFree Posted: 14th December

    I feel like I have taken a hit on my self-esteem the last few months and am fighting for it again. It isn’t in every area, but I always slip in the self-care area of my life. I lost quite a bit of weight after getting free…and have actually kept it all off, which is a total first, and to me it emphasizes that I am healed from the eating disorders…..BUT….ever since my husbands friend moved in 3 months ago to help him get back on his feet, I have been emotionally on a roller coaster. I had no idea how many issues this guy had…issues that mirror members of my bio family I have cut off …for very similar reasons. I never would have agreed to him living with us had I known. I have had to daily work with myself to sort through all of the emotions. It has been through tears and searching myself and allowing myself to feel my feelings, even the ugly, mean ones. I have also had to confront and put up extreme boundaries in order to keep myself and my family first priority in our own home….which has been exhausting. Things are much much better for everyone because we had a room built for him off the garage so he isn’t in the house very often anymore….thank goodness! He isnt allowed in the house unless my husband is home, so that also helps tremendously.However, I now feel beat up emotionally from all the head games and passive aggressive behaviors and obnoxious attitudes from the prior months. I thought it might help if I wrote out my feelings here. My husband has been very supportive of me, but he also wants to keep helping his friend. I see this guy through very different eyes now and think he is probably a free loader based on his priorities and behaviors. I think on one hand this situation has made me stronger in some ways…I hate confronting, but will and can do it when necessary…I have been able to cope without eating disorders, and my husband and I have been able to stand together…he didn’t abandon me emotionally like he would have earlier in our marriage. I do, however, feel very vulnerable and anxious at times…even depressed at others…because of all the chaos and even though it is calmer now, I am not able to fully shake it this time. I think I might need to concentrate on myself more than I have been in terms of having more fun and physical activities or something. Ugh…I hate feeling this way, especially when I was feeling for the first time in my life so great and happy!

  5. By: pixie Posted: 15th November

    When I married my husband, I came up against the biggest obstacle of my life.. my in-laws. It started on our wedding day, my sister in-law ran off the night before.. Her dad wanted my husband to go looking for her right after the festivities. 2 kids later, he was practically raising my kids, while basically telling everyone I couldn’t do it. The day of my daughter’s birth, they practically dragged my mother in-law out of the hospital room screaming.. Because she didn’t like the name I chose, I almost changed it. Everything came to a head when she swatted my 2 wk. old daughter’s butt, when she embarrassed her because she wouldn’t stop crying. I didn’t handle it well, I told her to f off in a scared quiet voice so no one would hear, (we had taken her out for her birthday). It ended in her screaming at my husband, I hate her she’s a no class bitch. Why can’t you find someone anybody else? & various other insults. Interestingly, they never said these things to me always through my husband, when I was in the other room to hear, of course. These types of incidents went on through about 13 yrs of our marriage, when I FINALLY realized they were not only doing this to me but to my kids too. We were going hungry, dressing poorly, & basically barely meeting our needs, because we were meeting theirs. When I finally put an end to this, my mother in-law quit visiting us for years. My father & sister in-law waited a while, but when they did come around & start trash talking they were met with a united front. My husband was happy with it, he had always told me not let them get to me, that we were important not them, & they would never change. I still put up with insults & put downs, but now I’m not so quick to believe it. It is harder to stop thinking about other’s needs & how they’ll react. During my lifetime, I have dealt with rape, stalkers, verbal & physical abuse.. Those didn’t SEEM to compare to the damage they did. It was like they fed upon those fears & instinctively know what to say/do to amplify it. I don’t know if that’s narcissistic or not. I do know that for a long time I believed myself unimportant, & that I HAD to think of them first. My life is easier without them in it, but I can handle it when they come around. I even love them, I just CAN’T let them have ANY power or they’ll start it all over again.

  6. By: Candace Posted: 14th November

    So relate to this! I have been sexually abused by my grandfather who was known for his ways and still put under the care of this man and my parents “so surprised” when my sister and I finally told them we were molested. My mother was physically and emotionally abusive towards me only so I grew up thinking I was always bad and believed them when they said I was such a horrible child. What you said I so related to I was always even as an adult, “I had come to see everyone as having more value than I did. And everyone was right because they were more valuable.”
    When I had my own children deep inside I felt that I didn’t want to make the same mistake my parents did and tried to limit contact with them and not leave them in their care. Because of this I was ostracized and bullied more and became even more the family scapegoat. I am now in counseling and find that even there I am constantly saying it was my fault and now I think the counsellor thinks I am at fault too. Not sure what to do..I have no support and am constantly alone and nobody believing me now that I’m sharing my story.

  7. By: Raven Posted: 13th November

    I was often called narcissistic by both my mum and sisters. (It was me who introduced ‘Why is it always about you’ by Nancy Hodgekiss. My therapist said that I needed to read this, in order to understand what was going on within my FOO) My stepfather accused me of trying to make him feel sorry for me. Even when I was in pain, due to my accident. I was told that I was selfish and narcissistic so many times, that I actually went in the complete opposite direction. I became so non selfish, that I ended up actually seemingly ‘volunteering’ to be used and so open that really, anyone could take advantage of me. I have spent a life time of ALWAYS thinking of others, so much so, that I have lost sight of myself.
    The worst thing in the world isn’t being poor, hungry, it’s being Narcissistic like my FOO, I’d rather die than be like them, because if I was ever like them, then all the things they have ever said about me must be true. I’m so bloody non-narcissistic that without understanding it or knowing it, I’ve given too much of myself away, given my things away, even put myself in harm’s way. I felt/feel like that I didn’t/don’t have any value. I meant nothing. It’s still hard for me to value me. I try really hard, and struggle with god forbid, being called or mistaken for a NARC.

  8. By: Susa Posted: 13th November

    Yes, my dad was a narcissist, and everything revolved around him. I finally was able to see that, but there are still remnants of a lack of self worth especially since a sibling is still trying to put me in that place of “being less than”, and not mattering unless I can be of some use to them. We always just tried harder to please when we were thrown away. I have had enough.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 13th November

      I had enough too. And the farther away from it I am, the more clarity I have! We are not valuable for what we can do, we are valuable for who we ARE. I learn this more every day and I grow in freedom every day too! Being ‘less than’ serves their low self esteem. uggg
      Hugs, Darlene

  9. By: DXS Posted: 29th October

    Meanwhile, I’m still wondering if my almost constant thinking about my awful family is excessive. I left when I was 17, have been NC for 13 years and am now 58.

    I’m not a psychologist, but I don’t think it’s excessive. If you are still thinking about it then something isn’t “closed.” You have something left “unfinished.” That’s what I have been dealing with, issues that happened in my childhood and “why can’t I put them behind me, etc. etc. etc……”

    I can’t put them behind me because I want an admission of being wrong and a sincere (not just say the words) apology. I think I’m asking for too much.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 29th October

      The admission will not set you free. When I realized that what I KNEW that they were wrong, I was able to begin to take my life back. The apology (if one ever came) would be like a band aid and although it would be really awesome, the damage would still have been done, and it is the damage that we need to heal from. I rarely think of my old family anymore; I am free. (and I do this work with others every single day, I talk about it every day, and yet I am free)
      Hugs, Darlene

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