Marriage to A High Level Narcissist Re-Activates Childhood Toxic Shame


Growing up in a highly pathological family you experienced a deep shaming of the self since you were a very small child. You remember the feeling, so intolerable that  came over you when your narcissistic mother stared you down, pinched your tiny arm, screamed in her high pitched nasty voice that you were “worthless, despicable, a mistake of nature.” These moments are etched in every bodily system and each corner of your psyche. This shame has defined much of your identity as a person who has always felt like a fraud.

You wanted to hide and never return to this house. You made plans in your mind countless times. You conjured countless intricate plots: how you would leave, what time, how to go out unnoticed, what excuses to make that were believable. Even very little children are thinking of their escape plans only to realize that they are just to small to do this on their own. I remember one person who shared a memory at age three of looking down her street from a window, then following the plan in her mind only to realize that she was trapped and could not escape and was physically too little to manage her own rescue. With tears in her eyes she brought up this poignant memory.

Psychoanalyst Alice Miller identifies these children as Prisoners of Childhood. In a sense we are all captives of our parents. When we are very young we are vulnerable and at the mercy of our mother and father: their temperaments and dispositions, psychological and emotional stability, hidden and overt psychopathology. Children who grow up in these homes often feel deep shame about themselves.

Adult children of narcissists carry toxic shame into their marriages and partner ships especially if they are partnered with high level narcissistic personalities.  High level narcissists are shameless and without conscience. Don’t be fooled by their charming personas, their dynamism, magnetic qualities.

It doesn’t take long to recognize that you are married to a chameleon who can switch to any persona he or she chooses. It doesn’t take long for the narcissist to show his shadow side, that part of him or her that is single mindedly determined to control and manipulate you at every turn.

When you don’t comply and show independent of thought and action you are criticized, humiliated and shamed.  Narcissists are not insightful but they are cunning and can “read” your vulnerabilities.  They instinctively know that one of your weaker points is your residue of shame that you carry.  The high level uses this ruse to re-activate the feelings of insecurity and shame that you felt as a child.  They gain power over you as did your parents by pressing these tender psychological buttons that cause you to weaken and capitulate to those negative feelings about yourself.

After a number of years you finally recognize that you can no longer continue along this pathway. You spend time doing research about the true nature of the high level narcissist, a personality disorder that is not inclined to change. You begin to appreciate who you are as an authentic true self that is entitled to pursue your independence, unique creative gifts, a sense of inner peace, the fulness of your individuality. You learn to take very good care of yourself and to establish relationships of respect, trust, an exchange of ideas and personal transformation. Accessing the parasympathetic nervous system through many avenues: basic yoga poses, diaphragmatic breathing, listening to beautiful music, getting the sleep and rest that you deserve, being with Nature, the great healer, nourishing food, good hydration, exercise that strengthens and gives you a sense of vitality and well being, building a spiritual practice the way that you define it.

Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D.