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.

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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.


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  • amanda thompson

    I really like your analogy about the dung beetle. I just found your blog and haven’t read much about your personal experience, but your insights are great. I will keep reading and learning and try my best to give up wanting an answer from my narcissistic.

    In the case of my ex, I don’t know about one specific incident or many details except for what I can put together after getting to know his family. His mom is the most extreme case of combination Cluster B I have ever met. I can only imagine how she was (or rather was not) a parent. I never met her until we had divorced and reconciled many years later. He has told me about some of the physical abuse by his mom, sexual abuse by cousins and I learned from his sister that he was conceived in a federal forensic hospital where his mom and birth father were inmates. He kept that from me for fifteen years.

    I spend four years feeling badly for him and that was one of the reasons I stayed, even after he became physically abusive. He was a master at hoovering and even went into inpatient psychiatric care to supposedly prove how he would do anything to be with me. He got out and within a couple days ran over my leg with my car after I jumped out when he hit me and broke a tooth. After another few ICU stays for untreated diabetes he showed up at my door asking for a sandwich and never left.

    It took me a long time and some therapy to realize that abuse is never okay no matter what the cause ( childhood abuse and neglect, mental illness, substance abuse, etc.). For a long time I was willing to sacrifice my safety because of the empathy I had for him. I’m now four years out and he is in prison for aggravated kidnapping (of me).

    I’m slowly recovering from c-PTSD and no longer able to work. I also have agoraphobia and am isolated, mainly by choice, from everyone except my parents. I live alone in peace with my pets and enjoy having a peaceful, drama free life. Part of me still wants answers that I will never get.

  • Larissa

    Hi my partner abuses me on a daily I’m getting tired of it I want to leave but I’m scared I have no where to go I feel lost and confused
    He told me I have nobody but him and that’s the way it feels but I do have my parents but we don’t get along sometimes.. I need help I need help understanding the differences between family abuse and domestic abuse

    • Dan

      I don’t know if there is a difference between domestic and family abuse. First of all, I’d just say that abuse is abuse. Abusers are unlikely to stop so your best course is ultimately going to be to get away from it as soon as practical.

  • Sandos Ahmed

    they come from parents who never held a child accountable for his/her actions, to the contrary they teach their kids that they are entitled to everything. Narcissts exist mainly in male-dominated cultures such as the Arab world (where I come from) the predatory nature of men plays part in this too. Wither you accept it or not almost all men look at women as preys. They only difference is that they get to decide who is the long-term prey and who is the short-term hunt. It is very true that humans are mainly 2 types (hunters and preys) the third minority are those who live their entire life not being used by anyone because they were careful enough to avoid that.

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