19 Apr Can you cure a narcissist?
It is a commonly held belief that someone suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder cannot be helped.
When I met Russian conjoined twins Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova, they were in their thirties and I’d never heard of narcissism – neither, of course, had they. In fact, such was the bubble of ignorance they’d been kept in during their institutionalised lives in Moscow, that they hadn’t even heard of the word ‘conjoined’. This explains why the title of my novel, based on the true story of their lives, is: ‘The Less you Know, The Sounder You Sleep,’ – a popular Russian platitude.
I came to know them intimately in the following fifteen years, and was outraged by Masha’s cruel, domineering and often violent treatment of her submissive sister.
At the time, I didn’t understand that because of the toxic abuse the twins both suffered in their childhood, Masha had developed psychopathic tendencies and Dasha had become her willing victim – or indeed, The Perfect Storm, because she could never escape.
Insecure love is what makes us echoists or narcissists: victims and perpetrators.
Enmeshment is a term used in psychology to describe an unhealthy dependence on another person, something that happens between all perpetrators and their victims. Masha and Dasha were enmeshed in body as well as soul.
It took a savagely malicious expose on them in the tabloid press, ten years after I met them, for the tide to finally turn. Masha had given a drunken ‘interview’ to a journalist (who had posed as a doctor,) slamming her sister for being an alcoholic slut, and painting herself in the light of the wronged angel. A typically narcissistic act. The narcissists’ False Self rationalises that all wrongs are the fault of others, they take no blame for their own behaviour but shamelessly blame others.
The sense of shame the partner feels can be paralyzing.
But this betrayal turned out to be the point at which Dasha knew she couldn’t go on like this and remain sane.
In most cases, victims fight or take flight. They freeze like a rabbit in the headlights. I was in an abusive relationship with my husband and I froze and then fawned.
Over the weeks, months and years that followed the publication of that tabloid article, I watched in awe as Dasha slowly but surely regained her power and achieved a healthy balance in the relationship. Something that I never managed with my husband despite our many therapy sessions.
A narcissists’ victim will leave when they reach rock bottom and the pain becomes too much to endure. Either that, or they develop a substance addiction or a stress related illness which may well kill them. Or they commit suicide.
But leaving wasn’t an option for Dasha with Masha watching her all the time, knowing that if Dasha ended her life she would die too.
I couldn’t ask Dasha how she achieved this, but I could see, every time we were together that she had taken on the role of reparenting a hurt and angry child.
Dasha stopped being the victim and became the victor. Masha began calling her by her name, instead of referring to her as ‘my sheep,’ ‘my slave’ and ‘my shipwreck’. She began listening to her advice and following it. She was still childlike, but now she was a happier child with parental boundaries instead of a screaming toddler throwing terrible, uncontrolled tantrums.
Ironically, I believe Dasha achieved this balance because she never had the option to walk out, so she forced herself to stop fearing and validating her sister and began respecting and validating herself. We victims know we can leave but we often don’t because of the toxic bond with our tormentor – as popularised with the #whyIstayed movement. And we chose to fall in love with our partners whereas Dasha had no choice with her sibling.
Some readers of ‘The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep,’ have asked me how to emulate Dasha’s success in taming her narcissistic sister and achieving a loving relationship. They are almost always referring to their partners, and my advice is to leave. If Dasha could have left she would have been off like a rabbit. As Masha always said, if they’d been surgically separated, she wouldn’t have seen Dasha for dust!
But happily, we possess a self-awareness that they are completely devoid of. That’s why we are the ones who can eventually stop all contact with them and heal. We don’t have to heal them. We are not conjoined.