Tag Archives: narcissism

Ghosting and Mental Health

On an infamous episode of Sex and the City, protagonist Carrie is abandoned by her boyfriend who leaves a post-it note stating that he is breaking up with her. Ghosting is a rupture or end of communication between individuals. In clinical psychology, ghosting is the act of terminating a relationship by abruptly ceasing all contact and communication with someone without offering any justification or explanation while also ignoring the ghostee’s attempts to reach out. Ghosting is not just about romantic relationships. Friendships, family interactions, and workplace relationships also experience the painful effects of ghosting.

Medical health:
Physical pain and emotional pain are actually on the same neural pathway and research shows that social rejection can cause the same level of pain that an injury to your body would cause, activated in the same region of the brain. Referring to somebody as having a broken heart is accurate, as large amounts of stress hormones such as cortisol are released into the bloodstream after a severe emotional loss. Notably, one study showed that taking painkillers such as Advil or Tylenol while experiencing emotional pain had some alleviating effects.

Being ghosted is literally painful.

Mental health:
In my couples therapy work, which includes romantic relationships, sibling relationships, and friendship ruptures, I refer to ghosting as the ‘living death’. You are grieving someone who is still physically alive somewhere in the world, perhaps even in your personal landscape, but they are essentially gone. It is bereavement. The health research clearly shows that feeling abandoned leads to lower self-esteem, anxiety, self-blame, and low self-worth. Ghosting can lead to increased feelings of mistrust in future relationships and increased concerns about the possibility of abandonment. Your friend/partner/family member/colleague leaves you behind without valid answers to your questions, and wondering what you did wrong, why it wasn’t enough, and what you could have done to prevent it.

The neuropsychology:
The fact that there was no reason, discussion, explanation; closure wasn’t provided for the ghosting hinders the healing process of the ghostee, not allowing their brain to ponder over the relationship and learn from experience. Our frontal lobes require explanation and meaning and struggle to deal with having no answers. This can lead to long-term mental distress and confusion.

Who ghosts?
Personality Disorders and Ghosting
Those with narcissistic tendencies may be more likely to unexpectedly end contact with a partner. Ghosting itself reflects some classic traits of a narcissist, including low self-esteem, the need to have the upper hand in a relationship, and a lack of empathy for the other person. Someone with this personality disorder forms relationships based on how it may benefit them. If that relationship challenges them or their ideas about their own character or flaws, they may not consider that relationship to be beneficial anymore and simply end it. Ghosting allows them to maintain their position of power by letting them end things on their own terms and preventing potential rejection.

Someone with a higher rating on the Dark Triad traits may be more apt to choose ghosting than other, more direct — and arguably more empathetic — ways to end a relationship. The Dark Triad includes narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy (please see Jones and Paulhus, 2014). Narcissism refers to an inflated sense of self, a grandiosity that tends to correspond with using others for one’s own social status or other benefits. Machiavellianism is a tendency towards manipulation, self-serving calculated social strategies, and game-playing. Psychopathy reflects a lack of impulse control, low frustration tolerance, and overall ‘meanness’ (low empathy or EQ).

Social Anxiety and Ghosting
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by fear and avoidance that interfere with healthy relationships. While the individual may have the drive to seek out connections with others, this disorder can sabotage their efforts by causing them to fear the process of building those connections.

Depression and Ghosting
Similarly, depressive disorders such as major depression and bipolar disorder can sabotage an individual’s efforts to build and maintain relationships. Depression can be a very isolating experience and make it difficult for the individual to motivate themselves to answer phone calls and texts. In some cases, it may simply be easier to cut someone off than communicate with them when struggling with highs and lows. While it may not be personal, it feels personal to the recipient of this behavior.

Overall, ghosting has significant mental health, physical health, and even neural results. We are wired to be connected, and when we feel rejected, it hurts physically and emotionally. Ghosting is not benign.

Life After Gaslighting

Gaslighting refers to when someone tries to overwrite your memories, experiences, or perceptions. Simultaneously, they may convince you that you are wrong if you attempt to question their “edited” version of reality. Over time, the individual being gaslighted starts doubting their own thoughts and memories. Most mental health professionals consider gaslighting to be a form of emotional abuse that’s particularly insidious.

Gaslighting can look like a friend or partner saying you are overreacting, exaggerating, or misunderstanding the situation.

It can be a parent telling a child that they are oversensitive or dramatic.

It can even happen in the context of social justice, with minimization or denial when an individual is upset about sexism, racism, and other forms of injustice.

Life After Gaslighting:
Release and express strong emotions.
Crying easily, feeling angry, doubting feelings of happiness are all common after an extended period of doubting or suppressing emotional expression, or being punished or even ridiculed for emotions.

Learn to See the Positive in Vulnerabilities
Often people end up feeling ashamed of their emotions after having been told they are wrong over and over again. Being vulnerable takes practice. Allowing yourself to be expressive in vulnerable ways can be tried out with trusted friends or professionals.

Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes
Gaslighting erodes your trust in yourself. When you’re constantly hearing that you’re doing something wrong, it’s only natural to begin to question whether you can do anything right. You might find yourself constantly apologizing. Being able to safely make mistakes without being criticized or mocked helps regain your trust in yourself. It also helps you see that you are human, and making a mistake is not a big deal.

Be Gentle With Yourself
Many people turn against themselves when they realize they’ve been gaslighted, blaming themselves for not recognizing or confronting it. Keep in mind that this kind of self-criticism is a common result of gaslighting. Try to let go of self-blame, and be compassionate with yourself.

Surround Yourself With Love
Spend as much time as you can with people who love and appreciate you. Talk with them about the doubts, insecurities, and fears that became a part of your life through the gaslighting relationship. Allow them to validate your reality as you let go of constant self-doubt. Let these connections nourish you.

Create a psychological first-aid kit
What are some healthy things you can do right now to soothe your hurt and treat yourself with TLC? What are the things that give you energy? Create a list of the activities and things that raise you up. I call this a “psychological first-aid kit.” When you are feeling low, turn to it, to practice some good self-care. Some psychological first-aid kits might include going for a walk, calling a trusted friend, painting or coloring, reading, watching a movie, cuddling a companion animal, and meditation.

Forget Closure
If you feel like you need closure to move on, you probably aren’t going to get it from the narcissist/gaslighter. When a “relationship post-mortem” discussion is not possible, the onus of the healing process falls on you. You will likely not hear an apology or explanation. In addition, gaslighters are adept at telling you not to talk to other people about what happened, so often there are very few people to bear witness about what you have experienced.

Reconnect
You may have become isolated from your friends and family. Gaslighters/narcissists work to distance you from others. Reach out to friends and family that are emotionally healthy. Make sure you ask them if they’re emotionally available so you don’t create a burden inadvertently. You’ll know they’re emotionally healthy because when you are around them you feel relatively calm, and most importantly, like you can be yourself without judgment or criticism.

Learn From Your Experience
Learn from your experience, but keep in mind that you may see everyone as a potential gaslighter for a while. The trauma of gaslighting can lead to being emotionally cautious and leery. Give yourself time to process and heal without having to plunge into new relationships.

Also see The Anxiety Toolkit.

Why some people cannot apologize

To be able to admit that we’ve done something wrong requires a certain level of self-esteem or ego strength. People who are deeply insecure can find it challenging to say I’m sorry in part because a single mistake has the power to obliterate their fragile self-worth. The idea that they could make a mistake and still be a valuable and good person is unthinkable for someone whose self-esteem is severely lacking.

A recent study, in the psychology journal, Personality and Individual Differences, April 2018, has found that people who are less willing to apologize also tend to be less self-compassionate. And it’s not a sense of flawlessness that keeps them from saying “sorry,” it’s the very opposite: Unapologetic people may actually be so mired in shame of their wrongdoings or feel so badly about their personal characteristics, that they withdraw from the situation entirely. Apologizing causes a surge of shame and guilt, and is avoided.

Narcissism, a personality variable, is also related to difficulty apologizing.

Narcissists do not believe that they wronged somebody, and do not feel shame about their actions. Also see, What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Self-compassion involves three key component: the ability to extend kindness toward oneself in times of suffering, the understanding that all humans make mistakes, and the ability to notice when suffering arises and observe difficult thoughts and feelings without judgment.

Because people with higher levels of self-compassion are able to step back from the negative emotions that are often triggered by mistakes or failures, they’re more able to lean in to difficult situations rather than withdraw from or avoid them. People with lower levels of self-compassion find it difficult to sit with the discomfort or pain of another. Some reactions might include avoidance, minimizing the other person’s experience, reaction formation (well, you hurt me too), or even mocking emotions/name calling.

Neuropsychologically, we are actually ‘wired’ to need apologies. When people receive apologies, it actually soothes stress hormones and increases attention span. When we feel wronged, it affects our well-being cognitively and emotionally, and an apology can help alleviate that imbalance.

What is narcissistic personality disorder?

I am frequently asked about narcissism, especially by clients who are living or working with a narcissist. Narcissistic Personality Disorder takes its name from a story in Greek mythology. Narcissus was a hunter who was the son of a god, and was very good looking. His good looks meant that many people fell in love with him, but he treated those people with contempt. This caused anguish for many who loved him. In order to exact justice on Narcissus, a goddess by the name of Nemesis lead Narcissus to a pool. On looking into the pool, Narcissus saw his own reflection and immediately fell in love with it. So fixated was he by his reflection that he was unable to leave it, and eventually wilted away.

What is the difference between narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism. They easily feel a deep sense of shame and humiliation and low self-esteem. This used to be known as a “narcissistic injury. “

These are people who do not function well. They alienate friends and family and often end up feeling socially isolated and depressed. This is very difficult for them because they do not want to think anything is wrong. Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are caught between thinking they are superior and feeling miserable, all at the same time.

There are also people who are narcissistic but who do not have a mental illness. They often feel superior to others and see nothing wrong with that. They have little or no empathy with the feelings, conditions, situations or plight of others. They also have no difficult exploiting others in order to get what they want. Importantly, they do not feel like they have a problem and do not experience the shame and pain of an individual with NPD.

What are narcissistic characteristics?
Lacking Empathy
The vast majority of us are able to understand how others are feeling. We will offer comfort or sympathy if others are sad. For the narcissist, though, empathy is alien. Even if you are having a terrible day, the narcissist is unlikely to sympathise, they may not even understand why you are sad at all.

The narcissist is also unlikely to feel bad about any of their own actions that may have caused upset to other people. Instead, they will continue as normal as though nothing has happened.

Lack of Reciprocal Communication or Conversation
Narcissists often want to dominate the conversation, and they value their own opinion above others. The narcissist does not like to be corrected in a conversation. They expect you to agree with them all the time, and they don’t like any suggestion of disagreement. Don’t agree with what they are saying and you can expect to be rebuked, corrected and even ignored.

Self-entitlement
Narcissists tend to feel as though they deserve special treatment. They expect others to treat them as if they are special, but see no reason why they should do the same in return. “My way or the highway,” could be their mantra.

Image Projection
The narcissist feels it is important to always give others the impression that they are highly successful. They feel the need to be seen in expensive cars and will often only consider living in the ‘right neighborhood’. Their clothes have to be brand name designs, they have to go to the best restaurants, and they have to let people know about it. They also try to surround themselves with others who appear successful, in order to enhance their own image.

Rule Breaking
Narcissists tend to think that they are above ‘normal’ people and this includes the rules that others are expected to adhere to.

Manipulation
A narcissist will have little problem in manipulating others’ thoughts and emotions to suit their needs, even people that are close to them. Spouses, siblings, parents and even children can be manipulated for self-serving gains.

Blame
When everything is going well, the narcissist is more than happy to take the plaudits. But they will look to blame what they can, or who they can, when things are not going well. This includes colleagues, family, and friends.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Diagnosis
Clinical psychologists diagnose NPD when you have at least five of the following characteristics:

  • Overinflated sense of self-importance.
  • Constant thoughts about being more successful, powerful, smart, loved or attractive than others.
  • Feelings of superiority and desire to only associate with high-status people.
  • Need for excessive admiration.
  • Sense of entitlement.
  • Willingness to take advantage of others to achieve goals.
  • Lack of understanding and consideration for other people’s feelings and needs.
  • Arrogant or snobby behaviors and attitudes.

Causes
The exact cause of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is unknown. It is probably a mixture of genes, early childhood experiences, and life long psychological factors.

Early childhood risk factors include:

  • insensitive parenting
  • over-praising and excessive pampering – when parents focus intensely on a particular talent or the physical appearance of their child as a result of their own self-esteem issues
  • unpredictable or negligent care
  • excessive criticism
  • abuse
  • trauma
  • extremely high expectations

Treatment
NPD can be treated in psychotherapy. Usually what brings individuals to treatment is estrangement from family, friends, or colleagues. They feel alone. Similarly, they may come for therapy when their partner or family makes it an ultimatum, or when they are experiencing significant difficulties in the workplace.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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