Mommy, Where do Narcissists come From?
Or: Narcissists and Dung Beetles
The dung beetle is a fascinating, but bizarre creature. Its life revolves around a literal ball of shit that it rolls or carries with it everywhere. Most creatures, especially humans, find rather repugnant the idea of carrying around a ball of shit. The notion only becomes more repellent when we learn that the beetle uses it’s ball of animal scat as food, housing and breeding chambers. To the dung beetle, however, that ball of shit is everything!
When I first began to learn about narcissistic personality disorder, the lowly and lonely dung beetle sprang to mind. Narcissists also carry with them a ball of shit that the rest of us would be repelled by. To the narcissist, it is everything. It is precious, and guarded above anything else. Their ball of shit is what motivates them. It’s not made from manure, though. Instead, it’s a filthy ball of envy, shame and lies.
Sometimes, we can smell it. We know something’s off, but with the mind clouded from narcissistic abuse, can’t quite pinpoint it.
These human-shaped dung beetles love their dung but they also want to fit into society, so they undertake great pains to hide their ever-growing balls of shit.
As long as no one truly sees them, they can imagine themselves as something greater than the dung beetle. This is why they wear their masks, adorn themselves with lies and hide their shit with gaslighting and projection.
Probably the more accurate way to look at narcissists is as the scared, hurt and neglected children they were when some awful trauma halted their emotional development. Maura once texted me a picture of Tina as a little girl – maybe 3 or 4 years old. It was about the cutest thing I’d ever seen. She was sitting in a brown paper bag on the floor like her mom had just picked her up at the grocer. She had a shaggy-cropped head of blonde hair and the smile of a kid semi-conscientiously posing for a camera. It was fucking cute.
The conventional theory is that narcissistic personality disorder results from severe early childhood emotional trauma (attachment trauma, abuse and/or neglect) that freezes emotional development – probably right around the age Tina was in that picture.
When I’m not imagining Tina guarding her precious ball of shit, I sometimes see her as that little girl, in a soiled white shift with matted, neglected hair and bare, dirty feet. Scared and alone in the dark, she has to learn to fend for herself. She has to raise herself and eventually pretend to be an adult to survive – but she’s still always that wounded little girl.
When I think about her like that, it makes me sad and I want to curse the world for its cruelty, but I can no longer afford any compassion for my abuser. I did often wonder, though, what untold trauma did Tina in. There was no one thing I was certain of. Maybe she was just born like that. Some theories pointed to a genetic component or a combination of nature and nurture (or lack thereof). I sometimes theorized a connection to Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy might even have been involved.
Then, I happened to read about a newer theory that doesn’t seem well circulated or widely accepted as yet. The newer theory puts the disorder in the physical realm, attributing it to brain damage, either congenital or by injury – even just from being hit on the head. Frontal lobe or prefrontal cortex damage is what’s implicated.* That caught my attention, because Tina said she’d actually suffered numerous concussions and was at one point told that another could kill her. It’s only anecdotal, but it fits terribly well. The reported symptoms of frontal lobe damage are a fair analog to cluster B personality disorders: impaired moral judgement and comprehension of consequences; emotional and behavioral dis-regulation; disorganization; loss of motivation, loss of empathic reasoning (empathy); trouble picking up on social cues, as examples. Each of those symptoms describes a troublesome aspect of Tina’s personality.
I’m not a doctor and I can’t claim to know what made Tina behave as awfully as she did. I wish I did know for certain. All victims of narcissists ask “why?” Some of us might come up with answers enough to satisfy ourselves. We’ll never get the answer from a narcissist, but for me, somewhere in this batch of theories lies something close enough to the truth.
- Brain structure in narcissistic personality disorder: A VBM and DTI pilot study;
- Narcissists’ Lack of Empathy tied to less gray Matter
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