The Narcissism Virus: How Toxic Behaviors Can Spread To Victims And Beyond

Before you begin reading this article, it’s worth making it very clear from the outset that what follows does not apply to all victims of narcissistic abuse.

Just like any virus, some people will have a natural immunity, while others will not.

If you have fallen prey to a narcissist, please do not assume that this article is about you.

What’s described is merely a possibility; it is not meant to be some blanket statement about all victims.

With this in mind, let’s get started…

When a person experiences the destructive behavior of a narcissist, you might think that it would leave them incapable of ever inflicting the same misery on others.

Yet, it is sometimes the case that a victim of abuse will eventually take on the role of the abuser.

Whether they ever develop full-blown narcissistic personality disorder is a matter of debate, but it is certainly possible for them to exhibit many traits that one would associate with a narcissist.

How this happens is not a straightforward matter, but some of the key factors that lead to the spread of this contagion are discussed below.

When Victimhood Becomes A Crutch

When someone suffers at the hands of a narcissistic abuser, it is normal for them to identify as a victim.

This recognition that you were treated badly is not, by itself, a problem.

What does become a problem is when a victim starts making this status their primary identity.

If they become unable to see themselves as anything other than the injured party, their need for attention and approval can grow to unhealthy levels.

Attention and approval are two aspects of narcissistic supply (the others being admiration and adoration) and someone who adopts the victim as their main guise will inevitably seek these two things in abundance.

They will be so unsure of their true worth that will need regular reassurance; to be told that they are a good person, worthy of love and happiness.

This need for approval will often manifest itself in attention-seeking behavior where they play on their victimhood in order to be seen and to elicit sympathy.

When the attention and approval are not forthcoming, they may unconsciously lash out at others in order to bring about situations in which they become the center of attention.

They can then once more demonstrate the pain and suffering they have endured in order to gain the compassion, and thus approval, of others.

The Numbing Of Feelings

During a sustained period of narcissistic abuse, the victim may resort to numbing their feelings and suppressing their emotions.

This is a coping mechanism employed to prevent the kind of severe hurt that an abuser can inflict.

Unfortunately, even after they have escaped the clutches of the perpetrator, some victims may find it difficult to turn up those feelings that were previously muted.

This can be especially relevant to what’s known as ‘theory of mind’ or the ability to understand that other people have different points of view.

How this translates is essentially a dulling of the victim’s ability to empathize with others and when this happens, they are more tolerant or indifferent to their own displays of abusive behavior.

What starts as fighting back against an abuser can spill over into their charged interactions with other people – long after the person who caused this change has been purged from their life.

Abusive Relationships Distort “Norms”

Having experienced abuse at the hands of a narcissist, a victim can adopt an altogether different world view from the one they previously held.

Whether this is seeing confrontation as inevitable, criticism as healthy, or sarcasm as universally appropriate, it can lead to a shift in a person’s behavior.

Moreover, during the period of their abuse, they may well have been manipulated into acting as a proxy for the narcissist.

They might have carried out hurtful actions of their own towards third parties because they were coerced into doing so.

When acting as a puppet, they will override their own morals to allow them to do things they would never have imagined doing before.

Unfortunately, the more they perform such acts, the less they are able to perceive the wrongdoing; they essentially habitualize vindictive behavior.

As their minds become more accepting of this new normal, the victim can unknowingly slip into the role of abuser.

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Injustice Breeds Contempt

It is quite natural to feel a sense of injustice when suffering at the hands of a narcissist, but for some, this grows into something much more.

It can cause resentment towards those who the victim perceives as culpable by their inaction – a belief that someone should have put a stop to the abuse before it went too far.

Likewise, a general feeling of contempt towards other people can grow until the victim is unable to let their guard down in case they get hurt again.

They cease to trust, to sympathize, and even to feel love towards others because it risks hurt of their own.

The bitterness they feel serves to isolate them physically and emotionally which fuels further contempt and animosity.

Eventually, they reach a point where they have no misgivings about their poor treatment of others.

The Resurgent Ego

Upon freeing themselves from an abusive relationship, the victim’s ego is likely to have been decimated.

They may seek to rebuild this part of themselves in order to regain some semblance of self-confidence, but there is risk attached to this.

What ego they had before the abuse started is not what they regain; instead the influence of the narcissist may remain and cause an entirely unrecognizable ego to reform.

If they are not careful, this resurgent ego may overpower their character and begin to dominate proceedings.

When this ego retains echoes of the narcissist that came before, it can cause a wholesale change in a victim’s personality.

They can become self-centered, self-serving, and dismissive of the views and wants of others.

Children Are Especially Vulnerable

A child’s developing mind is still very plastic, meaning that it is quicker to adapt than its adult equivalent.

This makes children especially impressionable when it comes to narcissistic abuse.

They are far more likely to absorb the influence of the narcissist in their life (often a parent) and formulate their own world views based on what they experience.

All of the points above can apply to children, only they are likely to occur far more often and to a far greater extent.

This is part of the reason why narcissistic parents often raise children with narcissistic traits or full blown narcissistic personality disorder.

The Incubation Of Society

When the narcissism virus first begins to replicate within an individual, the end result is not inevitable.

The mind’s defenses can fight back and prevent a full blown infection – many victims who do not go on to become abusers probably experience this.

Unfortunately, the direction society is heading in makes incubation of the virus more likely.

The rise of social media, reality TV, and wealth as a symbol of success, means people are now, more than ever, seeking to compare themselves to others.

To gain the status they desire, people are turning towards self-serving behaviors and these can evolve into narcissism.

It is highly likely that instances of narcissistic personality disorder will continue to increase as long as society deems money, power, physical beauty, and likeability to be markers of a successful life.

The Distant Influences

Not all narcissistic behaviors have roots in direct exposure to abuse; they can be promoted by many other means.

Politicians, celebrities, and even marketing agencies have to take some responsibility for the proliferation of narcissistic traits.

Their actions don’t necessarily lead to narcissism by themselves, but the messages being broadcast by these and others do have some influence over the higher-level group dynamics of a society.

They can cause polarization of views and conflict between parties – even if this is not their aim.

This can lead to the self-serving actions of whole groups of people if it is not addressed.

Ending On A Positive Note

It’s worth mentioning again that victims do not have to become abusers.

It is not an inevitable path that every person who experiences such an ordeal must take.

Indeed, it is a path that is probably taken by a minority of victims.

Furthermore, even when victims do demonstrate some of the negative characteristics of narcissism, it might not be too late for them to change for the better.

It may take time and it may involve therapy, but undesirable traits that have accumulated during and after abuse do not have to become permanent.

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