TikTok taught me that I’m a narcissist enabler

IMAGE VIA @degoey_planet/INSTAGRAM

“The realisation that this behaviour very much applies to me was both painful and necessary.”

Last month, I had fallen into my nightly pre-slumber TikTok hole (don’t judge me) when, among the usual trending sounds and styling videos, I was confronted with a three minute TikTok by creator @concreteslab5 featuring the hashtags #narcissist #traumatok and #enable.

My breathing turned shallow only ten seconds into the clip and as my hand gripped my phone a little too tightly, the familiar feeling of uneasy relatability surfaced. The deep kind. The kind I can only associate with the moment I recognise my trauma living inside someone else. 

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Having now garnered over 2.7 million likes, the TikTok video deep dives into the connection between parental narcissistic abuse and the concept of narcissist enabling. I watched the video five times. I texted it to my sister. I repeated it another five times, each playback cementing a definitive “ah huh” in the back of my throat; a lightbulb moment in its purest form.

This was the first time I’d ever heard of the term narcissist enabler and the realisation that this behaviour very much applies to me was both painful and necessary. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have an inflated sense of self-importance, usually displaying self-centred, arrogant thinking, a lack of empathy and a strong tendency towards exploitive, manipulative relationships.

Having suffered narcissistic abuse from a parent for my entire 26 years of life, I’ve always been acutely aware that what I experienced growing up holds the potential to intensely impact other areas of my life. However, throughout my years of therapy and healing work, I never considered the fact that the behaviour I’ve been emulating almost subconsciously as a narcissist enabler, could land me in a pattern of enabling similar abuse. 

My reasoning for this was simple; because I had lived with a narcissist growing up, I would obviously be the first person to recognise similar traits in others, thus being literally the last person on earth to make excuses for those traits. But, boy, was I wrong. As a child, I experienced consistent manipulation, emotional coercion and a level of gaslighting that would make even the greatest beanie-wearing-no-bed-frame-owning-Tinder-hopping soft boy cry out in envy.

@concreteslab5y’all liked the last one so I thought I’d share more. cheers to healing my friends 🙂 #narcissist #traumatok #fy #ptsd #bpd #fyp #enable #endthecycle♬ original sound – ur moms chest hair

Instead of straying from this abuse masquerading as love, shortly after I moved out of home, I found myself returning to it in the form of a romantic relationship. As @concreteslab5 so painfully sums it up, our internal compass doesn’t point toward love, it “points toward home”. Ouch. 

It wasn’t until I was a few years out of this relationship that I was able to recognise my own patterns of enabling once more, realising that therein lies the problem. Victims of parental narcissistic abuse often learn not to expect reciprocity in relationships, commonly feeling at fault or responsible for the abuse they experience/d. Plainly put? We accept the love we think we deserve, and as a victim of narcissistic abuse, I believed I didn’t deserve much. Double ouch. 

As gut-wrenching as this was to realise, it’s also been quite literally the only way I’ve been able to develop self-awareness around my trauma. Individuals with NPD often play the victim card, while the genuine victims find themselves apologising and placating to their abuser’s needs.

Having experienced this firsthand in a parent/child dynamic, I can attest to the difficulty that comes with attempting to unlearn these roles as a young adult. This is why @concreteslab5’s video struck such a chord. If I could attribute my behaviour to a psychological pattern, then maybe I would have a better chance of unlearning it. 

To garner a better understanding of this, I spoke to North Fitzroy based psychotherapist, Amanda Robins. Amanda helps her clients recover from emotional abuse, specialising in overcoming trauma and parental narcissistic abuse.

My chat with Amanda helped me realise that I’ve already done what some may consider the hardest part: I’ve recognised my behaviour. This recognition has simultaneously further developed my self-awareness, igniting the separation of my authentic self from my abused self. 

Narcissist enabler. Four weeks ago I’d never heard of this term and now here I am, already well on my way to unlearning the deep-rooted parts of it that pertain to me. Although this will surely require continued internal work (but in 2021, what doesn’t?!) I take solace knowing that I’m already on my way. 

How would you describe the term ‘narcissist enabling’? 

My understanding is that this term is used to describe someone (or a group of people) who in some way are collaborating or allowing a narcissist to operate and succeed in their endeavours. There is a difference between enabling and being a victim of narcissism. 

So, what is the difference between providing help to a narcissist and enabling them? 

There might not be any difference as it can look exactly the same. There are instances where someone who is more covertly narcissistic genuinely needs help. Narcissists who present as more grandiose are unlikely to seek or admit to the need for help. There might be situations where a narcissistic person is helped or supported without the supporter understanding the full ramifications of the behaviour or the narcissist’s intent. Over time the motives and intent of the narcissist may become clearer and that may be when help and support become enabling.

How can people who display this behaviour (of narcissist enabling) unlearn it? And why is it important that they do? 

Those who are attracted to narcissists are generally people with a depleted sense of self. Generally, people who remain in a relationship to narcissists are for some reason unable to activate their authentic self or stay grounded in a relationship. They prefer to hide and gain a sense of agency through the projected grandiosity of the narcissist. This stance allows them to avoid the work of becoming themselves. In order to grow and change they would need to develop self-awareness and grounding in therapy.

To learn more about narcissist enabling, try this.

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