Dear Ludger [Hofmann-Engl],

My name is Doug (home page: I write a bit of folk ... nice melodies ... simple emotive words, the odd bit of fun. The emotive words come from a heart, shaped by 30 years living with a lady who is bipolar and pretty much NPD. Her brother is very much the Narcissistic Personality Disorder to the absolute end. The wife on the other hand has been challenged by my relentless never give up attitude to just about everything. She has been forced to experience the normal approach to some issues because of my fight. She has been forced to face the issues of this disorder, helped largely by the observation of her brother's relentless drive to disaster.

I have been helped by your post on the net associated with my search on "what makes a Narcissist Tick". My search on the net started pretty much 12 odd years ago. Then I was unaware of the causes of the twist in the relationship at home that was screwing my mind and making my life unhappy. The wife is diagnosed Bi polar and takes lithium. She is stable and the mood disorder is under control. There have been no psychotic episodes while on lithium for more then 20 years, just a couple of flutters when the meds went wrong. What was it that made me so unhappy? I had no idea.

You indicated to me and I agree, that the information out there is complex, the observations of people near to us are pretty much useless, professionals are pretty much out of their depth with this, if indeed not in danger themselves. The marriage guidance people we used were just way out of their depth, absolutely.

I studied it all on the net, in the books, went to psychiatrists and checked out my own head. I watched my brother in law, my mother in law and I looked into my own heart. I challenged my wife constantly.

A lot of understanding came through observation of my brother in law's family. It is easier to see from outside the circle. They were totally unaware of the nightmare that consumed them. This was not a violent Narcissist. This was not a colourful Narcissist. These two are what I call stealth narcissists, so was the mum and they are the genius manipulators and impossible to see for outside people, or relatively close contacts and relatives. Someone like you could see them for what they are, but no way friends and relatives.

You talk about the way we end up simplifying the explanations, putting ideas together. In the end like Einstein, I come up with the "unifying theory of Narcissism".

It doesn't matter what breed of Narcissist you have. He/she may be the one created by neglect like my wife. She was ridiculed every day and made ashamed and forced to hide what was real about herself.

Her brother was given total freedom and everything he wanted. He was taught to ignore all that is real about him self. Perhaps it is more that he was taught to ignore all the real things and pretend what ever he liked. All his weaknesses in his teens were not dealt with but explained away as the traits of someone destined for greatness, like a monk or a modern day Peter the Rock. Indeed he was sent to become a priest, with inadequate language skills or any of the substance required. He was soon asked to leave that vocation.

He was rewarded where his sister was punished. There is a difference but in the end the Narcissistic mother raised two of her own, with different methods of what is now called abuse, but only a slightly different result.

The unifying principle is that Narcissistic Personality Disorder prevents, by way of subconscious intervention, the Narcissist from ever internalising any thoughts about the real self. This brings them all together. This understanding made logical for me, things previously too weird to begin to understand.

Perhaps the most striking problem faced when living with or working with a Narcissist is their lack of empathy. The lack of empathy is absolute because this is about looking at your self in another person's shoes and internalising from that perspective. It doesn't matter where the self locates, they are not going to look at it. All the abnormal things that happen are for the same reason. The thing that elevates the stress and abnormal response is the likelihood of them having to catch a glimpse of that dreaded self and the craziness is the technique they use to avoid ever facing it.

This explains two things that bother anyone who ever had a Narcissistic spouse. The people who don't get too close are treated to a grand display of wonderful jovial personality and have a fondness and pleasant memory of this person. Anyone with a need to get close, or cause the Narcissist to see the self, is treated harshly and the closer they are the more crazy and worse it becomes. For the spouse, it is a nightmare.

That explains the reason their chosen friends are people who stay away from the true self and are easily lead away from it. That explains why they are awful parents. The questions kids ask, usually require a look into the heart for the right answer. So the answers they give are designed to stop/distort the questions. This is just such a bad aspect of this thing. This puts them apart from normal people who behave a bit Narcissistic in life. We can look into our hearts and recognise the cause and effect of our actions. We can accept forgiveness and issue it. We can apologise and repent. We can recognise the needs. It's healthy to be a bit Narcissistic as long as you know it. In this way our kids see us in life, learn and grow. When they look at a Narcissistic parent, they are confused and discouraged. It s a dangerous place for a child in the care of a Narcissist.


Perhaps the Narcissistic wife left the baby in the car in the heat. Perhaps the toddler was run over. Maybe the 2 year old almost drowned at the pool. Maybe the elderly mother's fingers are jammed in the car door and jammed there again because of the blindness of the Narcissistic carer. The Narcissist is a terrible baby sitter. They remain unaware of danger that may threaten the children. Awareness of danger is a function of empathy. We feel the danger, as it would be for us and we feel it from within the child, just as we exercise empathy for any other reason. The Narcissist can feel nothing of this danger. They virtually have to see the accident or the event happen to become aware. As for injury to the heart or the spirit of a child, they just never see it before after or during.

Tower of Strength

These characters are often described as "a tower of strength" by those who do not have to live with them. They make this observation when they see their apparent calmness and composure in family crisis. The truth is, they are calm and composed, because even as the event and the tragedy unfold, there is no empathy or shouldering of the stress and the pain. They are not at all bothered by the suffering of those near. They feel nothing because again, they are never going to empathise/internalise.

In this calm unaffected condition, they remain aware of other issues that the caring family members have long since dropped sight of because of the crisis. They focus on these things vigorously because it takes them away from their own heart and the hearts of the family around them. They are able to attend to things mundane and to maintain a routine. They talk to doctors in an informed language. They put on a show for the nurses and visitors. It all looks caring and so well composed. All the while the injured or seriously ill family member feels no emotional or spiritual support what so ever. Then when there is no one looking, the Narcissist will disappear or fall off their game, perhaps do something extremely dangerous and careless. In the quiet moment when there is a need to touch a heart and tower of Strengthhere is no audience, things get weird. The admiring public never see this side.

It's Not All About Appearance

What used to puzzle me was how the brother in law could do such outrageous things and be such an embarrassment and clearly look like an idiot. He would drive 3 km into town and buy one stubby of beer. He would drink it, then drive back and buy another and another, one at a time. How could that be if Narcissism is all about looking good and pretending to be great and longing to be admired?

Well it is not primarily about appearances at all. It may seem that way because of the techniques used to avoid the self at all cost, can lead to actions that make it appear to be all about the image. Some do look good and shine like a star on stage. But this is coincidental in their main aim of preventing their own contact with the self. In the case of my brother in law, he always looks like a crazy sick man, because his technique for avoiding the self is primarily in reckless behaviour and compulsive behaviour. It's just true that he will never know what others might think about his actions. He would have to exercise empathy to know what they might think.

Quantity and Quality

The beer thing is interesting for a number of reasons. There is a tendency to buy the highest quality and at times to be selective and judgemental about brands. But rarely will he purchase the right quantity.

It is possible to ponder over quality and make judgements based on totally external factors. Often beer brand is chosen based on what someone else likes, or what is trendy. But the question of quantity requires one to look internally and this just isn't going to happen.

So the question of how much of something is never dealt with and if the right amount is acquired, it is an accident or the result of a shopping list.

One weekend my brother in law arrived at my place and in two days drank a hundred dollars worth of lager from my fridge. The beer belonged to my son who had planned a party. My son complained to him and asked him to replace it. He drove down town and purchased one bottle of exotic ale and placed it in the fridge. My son was stunned and too amazed to understand this to any level. I see it as proof of the absolute blocking of internal scrutiny that NPD causes. The brother in law was asked to replace beer with beer and that is what he did. If you want to get the quantity right, you just have to write it down.


This avoidance of self, fear of the self, is the reason they split everything into the extremes. You talk of anger and fear, superiority and inferiority. Yes indeed these are the only choices, because the middle ground is where the self is exposed. One can bury in fear and anger or up on the high horse with the head in the clouds or depressed in a feeling of inferiority. One can not hide where we chew the fat, where lovers ask the loving questions where apologies and forgiveness are handed out.

For me though the behaviour that is described as "splitting" isn't what it appears to be. I don't believe the Narcissist is making conscious decisions or judgements that lead to fear, anger, grandiosity or inferiority. I see that it appears that way. But I believe the Narcissist reacts purely to maintain distance from the true self. If behaving in a grand manner puts the most distance between awareness and the self, then they will be grand. Splitting just about everything into the extremes of distance from this self, just happens to make it appear as though there are decisions and judgements being made.

The Forgiveness Apology Circle

This brings me to the forgiveness/apology circle. In a normal relationship, mistakes are made every day. People hurt each other a little. There are apologies and forgiveness signals exchanged many times a day. The body language of the couples does this constantly and things need not be verbalise. But the self is looked into, the faults are recognised, there is repentance and forgiveness all happening as the hearts bring closure to every issue. The relationship strengthens each moment this happens. Not so if one is a Narcissist. Narcissists read forgiveness as an apology. They don't make apologies and they never look inward and recognise fault.

If your subconscious has been wired to prevent any internal scrutiny, at a time when you should really be giving an apology, the answer for this process would be to expect an apology yourself. On the other hand if a loved one is offering you forgiveness you won't be able to recognise it. It will be a mystery to you and you will behave totally indifferent.

Here is the origin of most of the pain of living with these characters.. While in a normal relationship, the apology forgiveness circle takes a load from each partner every exchange. With the Narcissist, this opportunity is denied every time. It happens in both directions. Your need to forgive is rejected. Your need to apologise is rejected. Each moment loads you up and each moment depletes you every single day. Each event increases guilt and reduces esteem.

Look at a Narcissist, if they are one close to you. Ask a deep question or make a statement that lays bare the tiniest need to self reflect. This will bring in the subconscious interlocks. My wife, brother in law and Mother in law, all change colour slightly when this happens. The mouth changes shape just a little. They laugh when tears are in order. They ridicule and attack the heart and the things that are important. They project their worst manner onto you, they accuse and make unbelievable statements. It leaves you shocked. Then in minutes they don't remember the discussion if you relate it to them.


Funerals bring us close to our own heart. We are thinking about issues where the deceased was involved with us. Narcisists get a reputation for strength. They are admired for a fake spiritual strength. Their own father could die and they behave at the funeral in a seemingly joyful manner. It seems in some genuine joyful unselfish celebration of a life. People who are upset at funerals are ridiculed by them and deemed to be selfish. Even I was conned by this and spoke of their superior faith. I felt they were from some level higher then me in terms of their spirituality. It is just a child like avoidance of their own heart. The fact that they never visit their heart means for me, that they never talk to their God. For me it means they have absolutely no spirituality, for our spirituality, is essentially ones connection with God through our own heart. Be a little less dramatic and call it all one's beliefs. The fact is you have to visit your own heart to find it.

The Movies

Another not so obvious example of the subconscious interlocking of the heart comes through at the movies. When we watch a movie we get inside the hero and live the film and do so with empathy for the hero and all that happens. This explains the tears at times. We cry and it is good because a movie affects the heart and the tears give us permission to go in and become normal and ourselves again. Narcissists have a totally different experience at a movie. They don't empathise with the hero. They can't. They find importance in things we don't. They have a totally different experience to us. After a movie, the in laws would talk about the movie and things in details I had never seen. I used to think they were somehow culturally superior to me. They allow that thought to grow as well. They encourage it. They believe it. I would talk of things in Forrest Gump that touched me deeply and they would look at me totally unaware of what I was talking about, but clever enough to make me think that such mundane things will not move the great minds. I got the feeling I was being accepted as an overly emotional person lacking any depth of understanding of the arts.

In the Car

Anyone who has lived closely to a Narcissist knows well the nightmare a car journey is with one aboard. They can have you so angry in a short while. Here's the challenge. Next time you are a passenger or driving a car, see how far you can go without thinking about yourself at all. See how far you get without internalising anything. It won't be far. Same pressure is on the Narcissist and they will play up merry hell to create a diversion for them selves to avoid looking there. In fact why not see how far you can get through a day without thinking about yourself. You will soon be in danger of thinking about your feelings and you will have to jump in and do something to stop it happening. Maybe a bit of compulsive disorder will be necessary. Oh hang on, just give your partner a few insults and watch her cry and complain. That will work too.


My wife works in a job where she doesn't have to chew the fat with anyone. She is never scrutinised. There are rules that must be followed. There are no decisions to make. Her whole life is one big routine. She gets up and the shoes are there to greet her feet. When the kids were little she never talked to them in a way that put her close to herself. I did all of that stuff. It is funny now to listen to the kids reflect on it all. Now in their early 20s they have seen me in pain and seen my anguish. They have been in relationships. They can see what I have missed.

This order and balance revolves around routines and the automation of events that eliminate her need to internalise anything. It requires me to know my lines and to fit into the synergy. Unfortunately joy requires a rocking of the boat, a healthy apology forgiveness circle, the ability to cry, the ability to see inside her heart. That is both of us. To this day neither of us have been allowed, in all the 30 years and I doubt we ever will.


Narcissistic Personality Disorder prevents the mind from performing any level of self scrutiny. This makes crying, apologising, forgiving, saying I love you, having empathy, sensing danger, thanking, mentoring, caring, grieving, comforting, decision making, parenting improvising and countless other essential human skills impossible. These things are not possible without looking into our heart.

If your Narcissistic partner apologises to you, beware it is fake and it is done to manipulate you. If she/he shows any of the above skills, rest assured it is fake. These things may look normal when performed and they may do things based on a good knowledge of what may be expected. But they will do nothing based on how they feel.

It is very rare that they will fake these things without an audience because they just don't ever feel the need. From my many years in contact with this problem I have learnt to understand why they do the weirdest things. My understanding did not make me happy. But it shows me where to put the boundaries. It shows me that my heart is good. It has lifted a lot of guilt and confusion.

Cheers and respect and thanks for your insiteful writings on this amazing subject

Doug Payne

If you wish to listen to Doug's songs and in paeticular his song on npd (What makes a narcissist tick) on YouTube, click here.

Copyright 2007