Narcissistic Rage and the Failure of Empathy: ‘Citizen Kane’

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A number of visitors to this site took issue with my earlier post and video about The Social Network — they felt that the fictional Mark Zuckerberg actually suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome instead of narcissistic personality disorder. In my view, those two labels from the DSM-IV actually represent two artificially distinct entities; they share a number of features and in truth exist along a spectrum. In this post, instead of trying to demonstrate the features of any particular label, I’d like to discuss two psychological traits that show up in a number of apparently distinct diagnostic entities, and I’ll use the main character from that classic film, Citizen Kane, to demonstrate them. The first of these features — a lack of empathy — is a diagnostic criterion of both narcissistic personality disorder and various disorders that feature autism symptoms. The second, narcissistic rage, features in both borderline and narcissistic personality disorders.

So … Charles Foster Kane, heir to a Colorado mining fortune — he grows up as the ward of a wealthy financier and when he comes of age, he decides to run a newspaper because it would be “fun”. His paper crusades on behalf of the underprivileged and Charlie views himself as their champion, using his generosity toward “the poor” as a kind of narcissistic feed. Charlie exemplifies the kind of narcissism you often see in people who make displays of their compassion and altruism, where the person wants to feel good about himself rather than having true empathy for others.

In a similar vein, when Charlie falls in love, he chooses a woman who reflects well upon him and feeds his own idealized self-image. Emily Norton is the niece of a president and an important socialite. Charlie adores her … that is, until her perfect admiration for him begins to wane. In a brilliant montage of scenes over the breakfast table, we see their mutual idealization slowly transform into alienation and contempt.

Charlie never truly cared about Emily or her feelings, any more than he cares about his second wife, Susan Alexander. In the scene when he first meets Susie, he seems most concerned with the fact that she “likes” him. Later, when he tries to make her an opera star against her own wishes – again as a narcissistic feed for his grandiose view of himself — he cares nothing about her feelings and proves himself incapable of empathy. She finally attempts suicide in order to escape his relentless narcissistic drive. Charlie experiences Susan’s failure to win over the public as both personal shame and narcissistic injury; he blames “the people” rather than himself, but he can’t empathize at all with his wife’s feelings.

In order to bolster his narcissistic view of himself, he then builds a monument to Charles Foster Kane — Xanadu, a grandiose castle and the largest private home ever built in America. He fills it with treasures and art works collected over a lifetime; he and Susie live imprisoned in this castle with little human contact, a perfect symbol for the beautiful false self the narcissist often erects to disguise the shame he feels about his internal “ugliness”. Trapped inside this gilded cage, Susie is miserable. She complains with growing shrillness about her unhappiness, and the fact that Charlie never gives her anything she actually wants or needs. It’s clear that Charlie is enraged by her remarks, experiencing her very accurate criticism as a narcissistic wound. When Susie walks out on him, he explodes with narcissistic rage and destroys her room.

As an old man, Jed gives the best summation of Charlie’s character, and one of the most insightful descriptions of the narcissistic personality you’ll ever find:

“I guess he had some private sort of greatness but he kept it to himself. He never gave himself away. He never gave anything away, he just left you a tip. He had a generous mind. I don’t suppose anybody ever had so many opinions! But he never believed in anything except Charlie Kane; he never had a conviction except Charlie Kane and his life. I suppose he died without one. Must have been pretty unpleasant.”

Charles Foster Kane believed in nothing but himself and his self-image; he spent a lifetime craving the narcissistic feed that would give him an inner sense of meaning and value, but in the end, he died a lonely, isolated man. Such is the ultimate fate of all narcissists, because they lack the ability to feel authentic love or empathy and thereby to form meaningful relationships. Most of what they do is geared toward earning praise and adoration, and when they fail to get it, they may erupt in rage. When he dies, Charlie’s final words –Rose Bud — imply that nothing has mattered in his life since he was a small child. He developed no personal relationships of any depth; he accomplished nothing that gave him a sense of meaning or purpose, and he dies dreaming wistfully of the sled he owned as a boy.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. Hi Joseph,
    You have given a fabulous example of a great film to watch which displays narcissistic behaviour. I wonder how many people have watched it and recognised themselves, if their own self awareness allows. Thanks for this…..Elaine (UK)

    1. You’re welcome, Elaine. I fist saw this film when I was in my late teens and I have loved it ever since. It’s a truly insightful psychological portrait.

    2. I will be trying to get hold of this film for sure. I am in a distance relationship and suspect that my boyfriend may have NPD. There have been a number of incidents that make me think this. For example: he is always referring to other womens’ beauty, intelligence, lovely personality etc, etc.I only get a compliment if I he has tested my emotional temperature and thinks he should keep on my good side. The latest incident is a cracker: I visited him over Christmas however, I took an acute allergic reaction to his cat which then involved a visit to GP. I was commenced on steroids and an inhaler so I was not best pleased. Anyway, hoping and expecting the cat would be removed/ rehoused or whatever, I was amazed to find how cold and unfeeling he was about the whole situation. He was very matter of fact when I informed him that I could not visit him anymore if the cat was there etc. Anyway, the crunch came when the cat poohed on the settee and he announced that the cat would need to go as he could not abide a dirty animal in the house and he had got rid of two cats previously for the same reason! Hello! do I mean anything to this man? It is all very strange as there is a lot a like about this man but I need to be loved too and I just feel that it is all about him. Do these kind of people tend to be emotionally unavailable?
      I find all this very interesting and helpful. Thank you.

      1. Yes, they do tend to be emotionally unavailable because they can’t really empathize with what other people actually feel, even if they are adept at manipulating their feelings. I think your instincts are already telling you that this guy isn’t real relationship material.

        1. Jo, thankyou for answering. So, tell me, does the NPD individual appear to have a warped sense of humour and then try to get out of it when challenged? I find that this man says/ does hurtful things to me and later makes out that the comments/actions were said/done in jest or because he ‘feels comfortable’ to share with me. I am listening to my instincts but why is he so …addictive? It is weird…or is it? Lorna

          1. I’m not sure about the sense of humor issue, but the hurtfulness of the jests should definitely concern you. As for the addictive quality — narcissists are often very attractive because they set about making us feel “good” in order to manipulate us. I don’t think it’s true empathy that allows them to do this; rather, it’s an understanding of narcissistic needs and how to feed someone’s ego. It feels really good when someone does that. When I was younger, I was repeatedly drawn in by this type of person and I often find them very seductive to this day. I just know now to steer clear.

            1. Thanks again for your comments Jo. I feel guilty for thinking bad of this man but I am standing back now and becoming more distant. Not sure if you know of the UK series known as Doc Martin acted by Martin Clunes. I am Scottish but this series portrays an English GP in his practice and his personal life. I think you would find his personality fits the NPD description. I think you may be able to Google the series if you are interested – it is a ‘dry’ comedy but I can identify with many aspects of it.
              So how did you learn to steer clear of this type of individual then?
              I should have said before that my work colleague has Aspergers Syndrome. She has to be the most insensitive person I have ever come across in my life so I feel a bit hemmed in these days.

              1. At your recommendation, I found ‘Doc Martin’ available on Netflix streaming video and watched the first episode. Not sure yet about NPD, but he definitely has some empathy issues! As for how I learned to steer clear of this kind of person, partly it had to do with learning from experience; it also had to do with coming better to understand my own not-so-healthy reasons for being attracted to narcissists. Took me years to get a handle on that one.

                1. Hi,
                  well what do you know? After sending my last response to you I went to the supermarket. Directly facing me was a DVD stand with the original, Citizen Kane DVD for sale. Yes, very insightful Jo and yes, I see where you are coming from. This has helped me to understand the ‘rage’ side of NPD.
                  The next phase of my relationship should be interesting as my boyfriend is supposed to be visiting me this weekend but he is totally absorbed in setting up a small business that I have my doubts if he will appear. I still hear the cat purring whilst I am on the telephone to him! Last week was very, stressful at work and when on the telephone to him he asked how my office mate was? not me! I just don’t get it. TBC

                2. There is a very powerful episode of Doc Martin when his Mother coldly puts the blame on all the things that have ever gone wrong in her life on Doc Martin. She is the NPD and he is the victim child of one.

              2. I think Doc marten would be an ASPIE. He does have a lack of empathy as many on the autistic spectrum do. His mother, as portrayed in the show, I would characterize as subtlety covert malignant narcissist or psychopath.

            2. Thank you for your article, AND for this response. I’ve been thinking about the “love-bombing” in the beginning of my relationship with a narcissist. Participating on an on-line forum with other “survivors” I’m noticing that people do not want to acknowledge their own narcissistic (small n) wounds. You’ve said it plainly. He got to me because he stroked my ego. Can you recommend literature that speaks to how to heal one’s own wounds instead of blaming the narcissist 100%?

              Thank you.

              1. It’s a minor theme in my new book, coming out next Fall (THE NARCISSIST YOU KNOW). Sandy Hotchkiss has a book I think is good. I believe it’s called WHY IS IT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU?

  2. These are all interesting comparisons in many ways. I can only say that from my experience that lack of empathy and expression of anger on the part of a person with Asperger’s is very different from that of a person with NPD. The Asperger’s person’s ability to empathize is limited, and seemingly robotic –although attempted in unusual ways. The narcissist has no ability to empathize whatsoever, but acts as if s/he does, as if on cue to the experienced observer.
    Anger expression is also different between a narcissist and a person with Asperger’s. A narcissist basically reacts to ego blows with various forms of rage that will prove most hurtful to their out-of-favor supplier, while a person with asperger’s exhibits immature, irritable outbursts over minor inconveniences to their daily routine from random sources and nuisances, i.e. electronic equipment, children, animals, weather, and not typically from interpersonal narcissist/supplier kinds of relationships. Ego is not involved with the Asperger’s person, although it may appear so, while the narcissist is all about defending ego –once others realize this unfortunate state for what it is.

    1. Interesting. I think it has to do with the difference between narcissistic and autistic defenses. Because the autistic defense is meant to ward off a much more catastrophic early trauma — something like utter annihilation or disintegration of the self — it’s more extensive. Shell-like defenses, experiences of encapsulation and rejection of the outer world make it look as if there’s no “ego” involved when there actually is. ( I mean that in the sense of self, not in the sense of egotistical.) The autistic defense shuts everything out in order to preserve the self from destruction. The narcissistic defense protects an ego that is much less fragile, where other people aren’t shut out but rather used as a place to evacuate shame and other unbearable emotions. But these are types of defense mechanisms, not distinct diagnostic categories. I have seen them mixed together in various ways, in different people, all along a spectrum. If you believe that there is no “ego” involved in Asperger’s Syndrome (I mean that now in the sense of egotistical), visit some of the sites geared toward people who believe they have that diagnosis; you’ll often find a not-so-subtle superiority and sense of pride in their diagnosis.

      1. Thanks for that. It is definitely on a spectrum and mixed. But from my limited case experience, I see overcontrolling, autistic reactions are mainly due to brain wiring, while undercontrolling, narcissistic reactions are more developmental and combined with low conscientiousness. Ego/self preservation is not the main reason that seemingly superior, often pedantic Asperger’s persons react defensively, but rather due to an undeveloped, immature ability to express themselves and relate or connect as mature humans. Their ‘rage’ is short lived and immediate, and not the main reason for their actions as is the case with narcissists. I see both types of personalities as emotionally challenged for different reasons.
        Did the MZ in The Social Network have both Asperger’s and NPD? I saw both stereotypes.
        How can either of these conditions be helped in therapy? Narcissists are thought to be hopeless and not the kind of people who ask for help. Does it take a while to figure out if/when you have a narcissist as a client?
        -Thank you Dr. Burgo

        1. I know it’s the accepted way of viewing autism, but I’ve never bought the brain-wiring theory, at least not in the sense that children are born with mis-wired brains and are therefore autistic. I think their brains develop abnormally, in the way I discussed in my series of posts on attachment theory, as a result of very early psychic trauma of a catastrophic nature, but significant real growth is possible, especially if there’s even a very small part of the person that can recognize goodness and hold onto it.

          To answer your question, I don’t think the fictional MZ had either Asperger’s or NPD; he was somewhere in the middle along a spectrum, a unique person using his particular set of defensive maneuvers to cope with shame and an underlying sense of damage — at least that’s how I’d understand him if he were a real person. I look for particular types of defensive strategies and then try to understand what’s behind them, rather than thinking about diagnosis.

    2. I have decades of experience living with a person with Asperger’s. This scientist needs to feel intellectually superior to everyone, and rages if he feels insulted as a person.
      I have read message boards for people with Asperger’s, and you can cut the icy cold superior attitude in there with a knife.

  3. These videos are very useful. The Bipolar one was insightful. And I say this not as John Foster Kane telling his wife how beautiful she is. Having you as a doctor is how i imagine a good one being.

      1. I was confusing “After Psychotherapy” with “Beyond Psycholtherapy” You’ve got a bit of the French mime look working for you today. Looks good. Is speculation definitive? Are you certain about your diagnosis, or have you been wrong?

        1. As you’ve probably gathered, I don’t see much value in diagnosis per se, nor do I think there’s any point in deciding that Charlie Kane “has” Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But he surely goes into a major narcissistic rage when Susie leaves him, and demonstrates a major lack of empathy throughout the film. And yes, believe it or not, sometimes I actually am wrong!

      1. You want comments that validate your theories, making for a cohesive package. We don’t want things slipping into the sliding scale payment territory.

  4. That is another way of looking at autism that I had forgotten about along with environmental chemicals, but what about children who develop autism in spite of having had healthy emotional attachment experiences?
    Sorry to be a pest here. I am trying to consider autism as a defense mechanism.
    Thank you Dr. Burgo.

    1. Have you read Frances Tustin’s work? In her view, the early trauma doesn’t necessarily have to do with faulty parenting but can result from a sudden and precocious awareness of separation, before the infant is psychically ready for it. The experience can be so traumatic that the child develops shell-like defenses (one type of autistic defense) that are an effort to seal-out the threatening world and its impingements. Again, this is an extreme form; I’ve seen these type of autistic defense in many, many people, and I feel as if so much of the online gaming world and video games can easily function in this way, for kids who wouldn’t necessarily come across as having an autistic spectrum disorder.

      And you are not being a pest. Our exchange has really helped me clarify my thoughts. I would repeat what I said earlier: I think in terms of defensive maneuvers and try to understand what is the unbearable experience being warded off. I find this much more useful than putting diagnostic labels on people. In my experience, each person uses a different and unique combination of defensive maneuvers; some of them are autistic maneuvers, some narcissistic, other evacuatory and projectile. By thinking about the defensive maneuver instead of the label, it helps you know what to address in your work with clients.

      1. Thank you. I can better understand what you are saying about different reasons for autistic behavior developing. I’ll read Tustin.
        I would like to hear more about video games and their role here, unless there’s not much more to it than what you’ve stated. I also see this and wonder about how they come into play for the autistic person at any age, as I see autistic adults who play them at a level a youth would. I’ll think there’s life to live, that’s what you might do when there’s nothing to do, and would they be reading if they were born when there were no computers?
        I also think your approach about defenses sounds like a direct and customized way to best help your clients.
        Thanks again.

  5. Thanks for this insightful post. Somehow I have made it to my mid-30s without seeing Citizen Kane. Now it’s going to be my next rental.

    A more recent film that, to me, seems like a similarly in-depth study of narcissism is “Synecdoche, New York” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. “Synecdoche” is a dark movie that’s not for everyone and can be interpreted many ways, but I love it. And after seeing it several times, I think it can best be described as a thorough look at life through the eyes of a profoundly self-absorbed man.

    For now, at least, you can watch “Synecdoche” free on youtube:

  6. I’ve been perusing your articles for the better part of the morning and I’m impressed with your ideas. I’m a therapist myself, still new and still figuring out which framework appeals the most out of psychodynamic, IFS, Gestalt, etc. Some days I feel like I know what I’m doing, and some days I haven’t a clue! With luck, that won’t change, as I think too much confidence interferes with growth.

    I also was raised by a narcissist, and I fluctuate between borderline sides and narcissistic sides. I see in myself very difficult insights. More and more I’m reining in the unconscious impulse to compete for attention, act out when ignored, and project my inner contempt onto others, go into shame spirals when criticized, overpersonalize, etc..

    I’ve done lots of googling, and sadly haven’t found much to help the self-aware narcissist to overcome these tendencies. If these patterns are due to unmet needs and defenses, how can you heal? I don’t want to be this way. You can imagine how painful it is to really look at these tendencies for someone with narcissistic patterns. I don’t want to unconsciously say inconsiderate things because someone ignored me. (Well, I do or it wouldn’t happen, but I’m frustrated at the desire to react that way. You’ll be reassured to know this is limited to personal exchanges mostly, rather than professional as I strive to play that part well.)

    I guess I’m just grasping for a path to healing. If I’m an attention-seeker because my childhood was a tool for my parent to feed her false self, then it’s hard to figure out how to feel satisfied in myself without repeating those patterns. But I want so much to stop. I want so much to be the most effective therapist I can be, and I can tell I have lots of room to improve due to these deficits. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    1. I think the only realistic way is to engage in long-term therapy of some kind. Of course I have a prejudice in favor of the psychodynamic perspective, but the important thing is to stick with it and dig deep. I admire your honesty — very few people with these types of narcissistic issues are able to see them without a lot of help. But I still think long-term therapy with someone who could help you face them is what you need, especially since you’re a therapist. As I’ve said before, my own personal therapy is where I learned most of what I know about how to be a therapist.

      1. Thank you, Dr. Burgo. I’m seeing a therapist currently. It’s slow going but every time I go in with my wounded side showing consciously is a time where I make some progress.

        In the meantime, fear not. I also compartmentalize, which keeps the bulk of this from impacting my clients. If you’re aware of any additional techniques I could use to work with the toxic shame I would love to hear.

        1. I’m not a therapist but do wonder if you really can compartmentalize enough to take it out of your professional setting and impacting your clients? As is for the patient, the way one relates in the normal course of one’s life outside the office eventually does come out within therapy. Doesn’t that apply to the therapist as well? Of course with in limits, but I doubt that a therapist that hasn’t done his/her own work can be as effective nor can escape having some aspects his/her wounds not come thru even when dealing professionally.

          1. I agree — having lengthy personal psychotherapy is absolutely essential for doing the work as a therapist.

      2. Are narcissits really that unaware of their character??? I see that long term therapy and some sort of systematic self-examination are needed & helpful, but it seems to me that at some level, they must be aware of the ugliness of their character. For example, as much as they seem to easily doll out criticisim they can’t seem to tolerate even a fraction of it. Are they really that unaware of that? Do they really lack asking what seems to me a basic, how would that make me feel question, in their own actions?

        1. It’s difficult for a normally sensitive person to believe, but no, they really do not ask themselves, how would that make me feel? They lack the capacity to empathize and imagine how someone else would feel, although I do agree with you that, on some level, they are aware of their internal “ugliness”. But it’s a deeply unconscious level and they are well-defended against it becoming conscious. It’s when the awareness does, briefly, break through that they may erupt in rage because they can’t bear it.

    2. Sir,
      Is this something like what you’re looking for?

      “Accepting Awareness (Insights & Guidance Part III) Toward Healing Narcissism” on YouTube

  7. P.S. I’m primarily involved in group therapy on the professional side, which makes it easier to facilitate in spite of the deficits I’m working through myself. …And thank you for sharing your understanding, insight and experience with the rest of us 🙂

  8. Thankyou. Most interesting, there are similarities in aspergers and narcissism, material attachment, using persons as to liking them, judging others in mirroring /relation to perfect self. Aspergers egocentrically reach in, narcisstics reach out with ego. A narcisstic could also have aspergers?
    Interesting that some vit d3 studies (j connell md ?) have improved autism symptoms. The sun, the father… western society is breeding egotist now, not just royalty. (hehe) i like the approach fops took in history.


  9. Hi Jo,
    me again…I was reading through some of the threads and saw sight of ‘material attachment’ in NPD. Can you elaborate on that please? Thank you

      1. Jo, material attachment came up by Annette on January 15, 2012 at 11:55 pm (second line)
        I think there may be some truth in this as I have noticed a great reluctance to part with anything material and also a strong sense of entitlement in terms of belongings and from society.

        1. Yes, now I see what you mean. I found that original comment a little confusing, partly because “attachment” is a word we use to talk about bonding and emotional connection; Annette means it in the sense of caring deeply about material objects and treating other people as if they were things or possessions. Charlie Kane (like many other narcissists) tried to make up for the feeling of internal emptiness by accumulating objects; because the real need was never satisfied, he kept accumulating more and more and more. Many people confuse emotional need with desire of physical possessions; often you see the sense of entitlement in people with emotionally impoverished backgrounds, demanding to be taken care of and given things they want when what they really need is emotional connection.

          1. Once again, thank you. Your response has given me much to think about. You have so answered my question.

  10. Dr. Burgo,

    For several years we have come to understand my father as a narcissist. He exhibits almost all the behaviors. Recently I have taken note of a number of Asberger’s traits that he shows, such as complete ineptness with social cues, inappropriate comments, lack of awareness of surroundings, no sense of a joke or sarcasm, clumsiness with his hands and mildly obsessive behavior related to dates, numbers, and collecting things. My sister, a retired mental health professional, is also looking into this. He does like social interaction, despite his inadequacies in the social cues department, and gets a lot of what appears to be narcissistic supply from conversations, where he talks a lot and turns the conversation back to himself when it gets away from him. We are now wondering if we are seeing a combination NPD/Asperger’s here. I see that you shy away from the focus on diagnosis, but even when looked at from a set of defensive strategies, he appears to employ both. I have often said of him that you could have an elephant on a leash next to you and he would probably not notice. So he is both profoundly unaware of the world and at least periodically needy of the social contact that allows him to display his opinions and accomplishments. We know that as a high school student he was still “painfully shy,” a trait we often wish he still had. So do we have someone who began with an Asperger’s arsenal of defenses, and during young adulthood discovered his abilities (champion in track, civil rights crusader, writer) and fed a hungry ego? He is now 96 and his late wife and us four children have suffered through many hells. The mystery is profound.

    1. The important thing is that you seem to have a good handle on his defenses and his character; you don’t need a label, or a combination of labels, to confirm your insights. I’d be wondering: what kind of pain is he warding off and where is his shame (such narcissism always relates to shame).

  11. I left the father of my child a little over a year ago. He financially ruined me, a nickel at a time. He would suggest we go to dinner, order whatever he wanted, and I would have to pay the bill. He would complain about the food, the service, the atmosphere, the wait time. If I called him on his cell & asked what he was up to today, he would tell me that I’m nosy, and when I argued that it was a pretty standard question, he would say “it’s not the question but how you ask it”. If he said he had an appointment and I asked what for, he would tell me that it wasn’t something that concerned me. He doesn’t work, but attends school. While I worked, he briefly stayed with our child. If he ran out of milk, or wipes, or anything for that matter, he would call me at work and expected me to bring him whatever he needed, immediately. There were even some instances when he would insist I leave work & stay home with the child because he was crying that particular day. He also basically forced me to write each and every one of his papers, and do his homework. If I didn’t do it, he wouldn’t stay with our child while I worked. I was in my sister’s out of town wedding, and in order to go away for 4 days without our child, I had to pay him. My son is eligible for SS auxiliary benefits as a result of his father’s disability, and he told me that if I didn’t transfer that money to him, our son would grow up without a father.
    At the same time, he maintains to everyone else that he was good to me, and an excellent father. I was never so neglected & mistreated in my life.

    I eventually told him that I would no longer be helping him with his schoolwork. He refused to stay with our child, and I left & filed for support. He called me up one day and told me that for only $300/month, he would babysit our child for me. At the support hearing, he begged me to drop the case, and repeatedly told the court officer that the only reason I was doing this is because he doesn’t want to be with me anymore. I agreed to drop the support if he would stay with our child 2 days a week, with one overnight, reducing my childcare cost by 40%. He maintained that schedule for a year.
    We had an argument in early November about our child. It was a significant disagreement, and I was beyond frustrated with his selfishness. I was at work, and the sheriff’s department showed up to serve me with a PFA on behalf of him & our child. He followed that with a custody petition for sole custody of our child based on my “instability & inability to properly care for our child”. He stated that I’m crazy, very violent, and he doesn’t have a problem with me seeing the child if I’m on psychotic meds.

    I began therapy in 4/10. The goal of my therapy was to leave him. It took a while, but I slowly disconnected from him using a few different escape hatches. It wasn’t very graceful, but truly, I am ok with that.

    I told him once that he treats me like a hammer. When he needs me, he takes me out, hammers, and puts me away, and doesn’t give me another thought until he needs me again.

    I am financially strapped because of the custody dispute which is scheduled for trial at this point. I have a tremendous amount of concern that he could possibly win the custody case. I have doubts that even standard, every other week visitation is even healthy for our child. However, I am happier now than I have been in years. I had become so isolated, anxious, and hyper-alert to not making him angry that happiness wasn’t even on the menu, it was pure survival every day. I still have moments when I, shockingly, miss him, but most of the time I am thankful for what I have.

    I am still going to therapy, although infrequently because while I truly believe that I still need it, it’s a huge expense. I engage in a tremendous amount of self-care because it’s basically free (exercise, getting enough sleep, taking time to myself when able), and it helps.

    What are your thoughts on children of NPDs? What can I do to counteract the impact it will have on our child, depending on the amount of custody that he will be granted?

    1. I wish I had some good advice for you. I don’t need to tell you that the impact will be very negative. Other than limiting their contact, my only advice would be to steer clear of judging or commenting on your ex in a negative way, at least when your child is present. Just be loving and supportive, but don’t try to help your child “see” the father for who he is. In time, your child will come to see it for him- or herself.


    Speaking of rage.

    A young boy, just past his 14th birth (Daniel Bartlam) killed his mother with a claw hammer. He then set her, and the house, alight to cover up the murder.
    He has just been sentenced to sixteen years.

    I have been listening to the interviews on T.V. His mother’s partner remarked that the boy was not “mad” but “bad”. Even the police officer who interviewed the boy after the fire said he was so convincing in covering up what he had done.
    Was he mad, AND bad? Is there such a thing?
    Such huge rage….where did it come from.
    He said that he had a quarrel with his mother about here she had put his trainers, in the course of which quarrel he attacked and killed her with seven hammer blows.


    1. Sorry — I’m not following that case, so I don’t have any insights. I guess there are “bad seeds” in this world, but I’m not used to thinking about people in those terms.

  13. I don’t believe anyone is born “bad”.
    It is just so hard to understand such an extreme of rage, in anyone (leaving aside this particular case), and in particular in one so young.
    We all get frustrated, and exasperated now and then, for incidents big and small, but heavens, we do not lay into the person with a hammer. Or, are we all susceptible to such behaviour, and if not, what distinguishes us from those who commit an act of this kind.
    Maybe there are no answers.


    1. I believe everyone feels rage and a whole range of not-so-pretty emotions; those people who don’t have repressed their awareness of those feelings and have erected a kind of false “nice” self in denial of those feelings. Such a defense severely limits one’s ability to empathize with other people, since we can’t identify with those difficult feelings without ourselves.

  14. Indeed, yes, I am sure everyone feels rage now and then, for example rage over injustice, or the sight of someone being mis-treated.
    However, rage has to be controlled, or we would all be doing a hammer job on our nearest and dearest and others, like the individual I described. I think what I was asking is how is that some actually kill another person in a fit of rage, and most do not kill, even if they do feel rageful at a particular time or due to a particular circumstance.


    1. That kind of rage is the “justified” kind of rage, with a feeling of superiority and moral authority behind it; I’m talking about everyday rage.

  15. Dr Burgo,

    I came to your site after watching your Social Network video. I have my own set of videos on Youtube as well, known as DelusionDispeller. When I read your explanation about how you came to be involved in psychodynamic therapy, a concern immediately came to mind. Do you believe that you may have NPD due to your own upbringing by a narcissistic parent? I found your reasoning behind becoming a therapist rather alarming and disturbing. I know that when I start practicing as a therapist, my motive will sincerely be about helping others. I am not offering condemnation if yours is different, because my tendency is toward caretaking, which bodes no better than self-gratification of helping clients. I am simply wondering if you think you might have picked up your parent’s NPD traits that are showing in your written expression. ~DD

    1. These are issues I frequently discuss on my site. You might want to look at some of the other posts I’ve written under the shame/narcissism category heading; my post on everyday narcissism in particular discusses some of the questions you raise.

  16. There certainly was a catastrophic failure of empathy in the case of Anders Breivik.

    “The second pair of forensic psychiatrists, Agnar Aspaas and Terje Tørrissen, state that Breivik is not insane but rather is an extreme narcissist, as should be evident to all those who have heard or read his comments, regardless or whether they think he is insane. Aspaas and Tørrissen suggest that he suffers from a dysfunctional personality disorder that resembles psychopathy, with a total disregard for the well-being of other people around him. They dispute, however, the assertion that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia or was psychotic when he carried out his attacks, which the first pair of forensic psychiatrists Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim had concluded in their report from late 2011.”

  17. I am an attorney acting for a woman who married a narcissist born into a very wealthy family.He was the youngest sibling and mom likely an alcoholic – father mean and absent. While married, my client’s husband only “worked” a little for his father, and all of the support for the family came from the husband’s dividends. My client was traditionally raised and very dependent personality, who was a homemaker and who lived to give support to him and her 2 daughters. Things were fine in the early years when wife and daughters obeyed him, but as the daughters became teens and asserted themselves, my client was caught in the middle, wanting to support her daughters and support their developing indepndence. It led to the husband’s rage, and leaving them. Since that time, he has lied in Court proceedings, tried to disguise and hide his means of support, breached Court Orders and has claimed the money is running out. Because of arrangements made by his wealthy family, the other side claims that they have no obligation to disclose anything about the corporations which would show whether in truth the money is running out. I believe that I am dealing with a narcissist wound, rage, revenge etc. I sense that the only way forward is to use the Courts. Is there any way to motivate a narcissist to be reasonable??? Any other tips for handling this?

    1. Sadly, this kind of narcissist is fairly immune to persuasion. You can do little to influence him.

  18. Dr. Burgo, would you kindly say more about “reasons for being attracted to narcissists”? Not the details of your own experience, of course, but in general. What are those reasons, typically? Are children of narcissistic parents more likely to be unconsciously attracted to narcissistic friends and partners in adulthood? If so, is that because those relationships feel “familiar” (as is true of abused children being drawn to abusive partners in adulthood)? Or is there some secondary gain or gratification involved?

    I’m curious about this comment of yours above (at 1:26 to Lorna) because I’ve begun to see that many of my friendships and relationships are/have been with narcissistic people (mostly “everyday narcissists,” I think) and I’m wondering if this is because I grew up with a narcissistic parents, including a father who, I would be willing to bet, is clinically NPD. (This is a new revelation for me, and has explained volumes about why I’ve felt invisible all my life.) Out of great fear of being as self-centered as my parents (who were very “loving”), I’ve bent over backwards to be generous, selfless, and “other”-oriented in my adult relationships and, unsurprisingly, often feel taken advantage of, patronized, or ignored until something is needed of me. I’m starting to be more assertive in, or extract myself from, current relationships in which I feel constantly run over by the narcissist Other, but these changes are going to leave me without friends for a while! Thoughts on why I (as a relatively intelligent adult) might get so attracted to narcissists would be most welcome. Thank you.

    1. I think it’s because we’re used to a certain kind of relationship with a narcissistic Other based on how we we were reared. Because we’ve grown up having to tend to the emotional needs of a narcissistic parent, we’ve been “groomed” to fill the same role in other people’s lives.

      1. Thank you, Dr. Burgo. Once the light-bulb lights up over the head, providing perspective on our whole narcissistic landscape (personally speaking), that makes a lot of sense. Very difficult to get out of these relationships now…it’s so easy to fall back into unquestioning compliance and knee-jerk going-along-with the current-day narcissists’ control. When you’ve been second-guessing yourself your whole life, it’s hard to get a consistent handle on what’s true/false and Self/Other.

        Thanks again for the reply.

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