Recently, I ran into this sad passage on Quora:
There are several Narcissists in my family. One person lived in denial to her dying day. ... When she became ill she lost all her power. She even denied she was sick for a while and because of that her cancer got worse. Once diagnosed as terminally ill she cried a lot and showed her anguish. She died in fear. She didn’t cope well in the end. It was sad.
This rang a big loud church bell in the back of my mind. My first wife was a narcissist. While we were together, she developed a lump in her left breast. For something like a year, I insisted she had to go to a doctor—free, in Canada—and get it checked. She wouldn’t do it. I could not understand it. It seemed suicidal. She said it was because she was afraid.
Finally, seeing no other option, I told her I would leave her if she didn’t go and get it looked at.
So she finally went.
It was cancer.
She died of it.
Had she gone sooner, she almost certainly would be alive today.
This reveals the nature of narcissism. It is a fixed habit of refusing to confront any unpleasant reality. It is based on fear. It is an addiction, like alcoholism. A typical alcoholic drinks so he can forget for a time some unpleasantness and disappointment he perceives in his daily life. But a narcissist relies on lies in the same way a lush relies on the bottle—and he lies to himself just as much as to others. He builds up an imaginary world, in which he is king, and tries to live in it. It is an addiction.
A narcissist will therefore deny anything they do not want to be true, to avoid facing it. This most obviously includes bad, immoral things they have done. At least, this is what will be most obvious to others, the victims. They will twist things and twist things in their mind until they can convince themselves it never really happened, it was not their fault, someone else did it. Probably their victim did it himself. This is useful to a narcissist in itself, because it gives him permanent carte blanche to do as he likes without regard to others.
But the lie is the real essence of the condition, and the lie will also and just as likely be about anything else that strikes the narcissist as unpleasant to face. A teen pregnancy; child molestation in the family; a business failure; any personal imperfection. Or a cancerous tumor. Anything they do not want to be true, they will convince themselves is not true.
This spreads immediately to their family, if they are a parent. Nobody else dares say what is going on. Because if anyone does, the narcissist becomes, in effect, hysterical, out of their fear of having to face what they have taken such infinite pains to avoid facing. They will become violently hostile to anyone who seems to shatter their carefully constructed delusions. My first wife, for example, once she learned she had cancer, switched immediately to blaming me for giving it to her. I suppose in her mind I gave it to her because I was the one who made her go to the doctor.
And so you get a dysfunctional family, all living a lie, pretending to lies of all kinds, and all walking on eggshells. Everything is a trigger or a tripwire. Adult Children of Alcoholics speak of “the elephant in the room,” but in most dysfunctional families, over time, there come to be many elephants in the room nobody is supposed to acknowledge.
Now, realizing how this works, I begin to wonder about my mother. She died of cancer too. I wonder if she was herself a martyr to narcissism. Not a narcissist herself, but a key member of a narcissistic, dysfunctional family, in which the denial of any unpleasant realities was standard procedure. The essential enabler.
I have been told that, when she went to see a doctor, the tumor was advanced. The doctor was surprised that she had not come earlier. Usually, he said, by that point the pain is great enough to suggest some urgent action.
Perhaps she did not dare say anything, or do anything, that might imply something as unpleasant as cancer. Perhaps not because she was herself so afraid of the cancer diagnosis, but because she knew the effect it would have on the family. It was an unpleasant reality. That would have been unacceptable.
Perhaps narcissism is the real cancer, and it is killing both bodies and souls around us every day. And making its sufferers, like the woman described in Quora, die in agony.