Grief is a natural part of experiencing human life. Everyone experiences loss. However, how does death affect a narcissist who is more interested in themselves. Moreover, how does loss affect them?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Can People With Narcissistic Personality Disorder Grieve?
- How Does a Person With Narcissistic Personality Disorder Deal With the Death of a Loved One?
- How Can You Help a Person With Narcissistic Personality Disorder Deal With Death?
For most people, grief can manifest in behavioral experiences that create varied responses depending on the relationship with the person who died and other related factors. Some typical reactions may include engaging in grief rituals like funerals and memorial services. Some people may temporarily withdraw from their friends and loved ones until they feel ready to reemerge into society. And some others can take an existential journey within.
If grief is a shared experience, what happens to narcissists when they experience grief? Do they deal with the death of an estranged parent the same as they deal with the death of a loving parent during adulthood?
Can People With Narcissistic Personality Disorder Grieve?
People with narcissistic personality disorder or NPD experience a complicated way of grieving, although they can and do grieve losses in their lives. Many people who suffer from NPD have extreme and valid emotions that accompany their losses. Some may feel an overwhelming mix of emotions that make them feel uncomfortable. They may spend considerable time avoiding these reactions associated with their grief.
For some NPD sufferers, these emotional waves can temper their narcissistic or antagonistic personalities for the time being. They may also experience temporary restraints on any traditional impulses they might otherwise show. At the same time, they may lash out in rage and anger due to their pain.
These grief reactions can stem from the fear of recognizing their vulnerability and humanness. Many selfish people find it incredibly unsettling to experience normal human responses to death and loss. They aren’t able to function like others when trying to cope with their loss. Most of the time, they’d rather live in denial of their emotional experiences and reactions to grief.
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How Does a Person With Narcissistic Personality Disorder Deal With the Death of a Loved One?
How does a narcissist deal with death when others around them are also grieving the same loss? Narcissists tend to have mixed reactions to the passing away of their siblings, parents, and other close family members. On the one hand, they experience a sense of joy and freedom, and on another, they may feel an overwhelming sense of space combined with grief.
In parent/child relationships, a narcissist can also feel lost without their parent and released by the parent's bondage over their life. With these kinds of relationships and others, a self-absorbed person may feel saddened, euphoric, empowered, and drained all at once. They may fluctuate from one emotion to the next until they learn to cope with their feelings. Often, their grief reactions result from the unresolved conflicts, trauma, pain, and fear stemming from their relationship with the deceased.
The following are some ways in which a person with NPD deals with the death of a loved one.
It’s all about them
Narcissists view the death of a loved one from the perspective of a victim mentality or a “what about me?” point of view. A self-absorbed person will still feel the pain of loss but will do so from an entirely different viewpoint in comparison to someone suffering from seemingly normal grief over the death of a loved one. NPD distorts the reality of loss and turns it into something that the narcissist must now learn to adjust to despite the adverse effects on their overall well-being.
For example, a spouse may mourn the death of their partner because now they must live with half the income they once had. A parent who tragically loses their child may view the child’s death as a punishment to them for past wrongdoings.
Grief attaches to financial losses
Many narcissists view the people and relationships in their lives as a means to an end. When they stand to lose more stemming from someone’s death, they grow angry and frustrated in their grief response. When losing someone who adds value to their life or does things for them to maintain their life’s narrative, they experience what’s called instrumental loss. It’s an inconvenience more than a sad event when someone dies that benefitted them while living.
A person with NPD processes grief parallel to others who may be grieving the same loss, such as a spouse or sibling. However, they may be viewing their suffering simply as a loss of material wealth or finances.
Death is a joke on them
A narcissist will perceive their loved one’s death as a form of a cosmic joke being played on them. They generally fail to see death as anything other than a trick the universe is playing on them to punish them in some way.
They feel that as a result, they’re now stuck with the consequences of their loved one’s death even though they didn’t do anything to deserve it. Their behavior tends to ignore the underlying reasons why their loved one died and makes it all about them and what they now have to face due to their loved one dying.
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They experience rage
A narcissist typically goes through anger and rage once they learn of their loved one’s death, especially at the loss of one or both of their parents. They may feel confused over the shame and guilt they feel over the death of their parent for example. Shame comes from being angry at their parents for everything they see wrong with their childhood and how their parents treated them as an adult.
Narcissists can also feel guilt for how happy and relieved they feel now that they’re dead. A narcissist generally experiences a cycle of reverting to being a child before growing up and growing through their grief.
Their grief is superficial
To a selfish person, grief is only part of the act or process of mourning that's expected of them when a close loved one dies. They don't attach themselves to the shared emotional responses commonly felt by others who mourn the loss of a loved one. When they do allow feelings to emerge, an overall theme of abandonment typically appears and overshadows other emotions resulting from their loved one's death.
Some people with NPD may be more sensitive to the dynamic in their relationship with the deceased, which activates feelings of abandonment and profoundly personal grief. Their mourning style may include uncontrollable wailing in front of others with very pronounced bits of rage intermixed with their grief. They won't typically see their loss as it attaches to the person who died, but how the loss affects them individually.
Denial as a strong defense
A narcissistic personality uses denial as a primary defense to grief. Denial is a way to defend against feelings and emotions that may make them seem human to others. A person with NPD may prefer to maintain their grandiose personality and distorted view of life and death to protect their fragile and vulnerable ego.
They resort to denial to shield themselves from the frightening consequences of letting their guard down. NPDs use denial as a protective shield from having to express themselves or their emotions to others. They sometimes make jokes and laugh in the wake of their loss to appear normal and unaffected by tragedy.
How Can You Help a Person With Narcissistic Personality Disorder Deal With Death?
Helping someone who has NPD can be spiritually and emotionally draining and can sometimes feel abusive and unworthwhile. A self-absorbed person may see any attempts of receiving help as antagonistic, causing them to lash out towards anyone wanting to help them cope with their grief. These strong emotional responses can be linked to the sadness and pain a narcissist feels but is unwilling to accept or admit, especially to others.
They may say or do things that are hurtful and offensive to others grieving the same loss, making it even more challenging to help them get through their grief. A narcissist may feel that the death of their loved one is an inconvenience to them and feel burdened by their loved one choosing an “inopportune time” to die.
Here are some things you can do to help someone with NPD deal with the death of a loved one in ways that will help you maintain your sanity.
Send them a condolence gift
Maintaining your distance from a narcissist is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself, especially when you’re trying to cope with loss yourself. Consider sending a simple condolence card, a bouquet, or a fruit arrangement to them as a way of expressing your sorrow for their loss.
In some cases, a narcissist will find fault with whatever condolence gift you choose to send, so try not to overthink it and send what feels right to you. You’ll likely never please them, and you’ll be wasting much of your efforts. Consider skipping the invitation for them to reach out to you for any help. Simply close the letter with your thoughts of sympathy and well wishes.
Recommend some grief-related literature
Research and compile a list of books about grief for them to choose from should they ever find the need to learn about their grief experiences and how they affect them.
Most people with NPD won't find it necessary to resort to reading about others' experiences as they'll feel that their experiences won't compare to others. They're likely to think that they should write the book on suffering and grief timelines to help others because of their superior knowledge or expertise in the area of loss and bereavement.
Grief and the Narcissistic Personality
Narcissists deal with loss and grief just like anyone else. Their emotions and loss responses are sometimes a bit more complex, but suffering still affects them and disrupts their lives and schedules like everyone else's. Prepare yourself for a changing family dynamic after a significant loss, and expect that there'll be contentions and hurt feelings resulting from any confrontations with a selfish person.
A narcissist may grieve quite differently than others, and their reactions can feel quite destabilizing. Expect conflict whenever sharing your personal grief and loss stories with a narcissist. They'll almost always want to win in any situation.