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Why This Key Malignant Narcissist Trait Can Fool Scapegoat Survivors

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Adult Survivors of Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) who are also Empath-types can be particularly vulnerable to the manipulative tactics of the malignant narcissist. In today’s article, I share a key trait that a malignant narcissist exhibits that can draw vulnerable FSA adult survivors into their deadly web – a trait that defies commonly held beliefs about narcissism.


Click here if you prefer to listen to this discussion on YouTube


Every now and then someone enters my FSA Recovering Coaching practice and as I’m getting to know about their experiences in their family and understanding their family dynamics, stories will come out that suggest the cruel and sadistic nature of the abuse these clients endured in their family-of-origin.

Such heartbreaking stories let me know that we’re more than likely dealing with a family member who is a malignant narcissist. To compound this tragedy, the malignant narcissist can present so well to others in and outside the family that if the child or adult child survivor attempts to tell someone about the abuse they are experiencing, they’re typically not going to be believed. This is yet another way that the scapegoated child or adult child experiences traumatic invalidation (as discussed in a recent video).

To further complicate matters, if an adult survivor of child abuse (including scapegoating abuse) has experienced trauma bonding with their covert or overt malignant narcissist parent, they are at high risk of getting involved with a malignant narcissist when seeking a romantic partner. This is because, unconsciously, we “go to what we know,” which keeps us attached in pathological ways to those who abused us early on in life. Meaning, adult survivors of family scapegoating abuse (FSA) may go out and unconsciously and unknowingly and unintentionally recreate the abusive dynamics that they grew up with, despite their best intentions to not end up with someone who is like their abusive parent.

This Malignant Narcissist Trait Can Fool Survivors

So how can adult survivors of FSA learn to recognize malignant narcissists – someone who might be very charming in the beginning and very cruel at the end? And what exactly is a malignant narcissist, and what makes them so dangerous?

The term malignant narcissism was coined in 1964 by the well-known psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. Fromm described it as a “severe mental sickness” which embodied “the quintessence of evil.” Fromm described the condition as “the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity.” For simplicity’s sake, I suggest my clients think of malignant narcissism as a fusion of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), as doing so will give them a good sense of what I’m talking about when discussing malignant narcissism

I read a lot of discussions about malignant narcissism and something I don’t see emphasized enough is the fact that a malignant narcissist can be very skilled at feigning empathy, and they can be equally skilled at feigning vulnerability. They also can be highly skilled at mirroring and reflecting the person they are engaging with (and preying upon). Because FSA adult survivors are often (understandably) desperate to feel mirrored and positively reflected by others due to having been so profoundly ‘rejected, shamed, and blamed‘ by their scapegoating family members, this can make them particularly vulnerable to the false empathetic presentation of the malignant narcissist.

To make matters worse, the malignant narcissist seems to have the uncanny ability to seek out, find, and destroy Empath-types like a heat-seeking missile. If you’re an Empath-type who has studied the criteria for NPD, you need to know that malignant narcissists are capable of presenting as anything but narcissistic at the beginning of a relationship.

Malignant Narcissists: Early Warning Signs

If a client in my practice has a stereotypical idea of what someone with narcissism is like, i.e., that they’re going to be grandiose and match most of the criteria for NPD in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) so they just need to avoid people exhibiting those traits, I let them know that this is simply not the case when it comes to a malignant narcissist.

I therefore must remind these clients that a narcissist does not always present like they walked right out of the DSM. In fact, they can present quite humanely. They can look like they’re very deep, feeling, sensitive people, even as they surreptitiously search for clues from you on how to be what you need so they can exploit you later.

The sad fact is, there are people in this world who know how to find, and exploit, the vulnerable adult survivor of child abuse; people who are incredibly vulnerable in their interpersonal relationships as a result of being abused, bullied, and preyed upon in their original family system.

So what are some of the early warning signs that you might be dealing with a malignant narcissist? One of the first things I tell my clients is to be on the alert if you feel a strong sense of familiarity and connection when you first meet someone (whether this is a romantic interest, a work colleague, or social connection). If you experience a near-immediate sense that you can trust this new person that you just met, and/or you feel a sense that you are safe with this person and you can immediately be emotionally vulnerable with them, you may want to take a moment to stop, step back, and slow down before going further.

Remember, if you have been scapegoated in your family – especially since early childhood – you may be unconsciously seeking a repair experience whereby you are trying to get the love, care, mirroring, and positive reflection and attunement that you should have ideally received in your childhood as a developing ‘self’. Therefore, if someone is feeling familiar to you during your first encounter, it may be because they are like the person or people in your family who abused you who you may still be unconsciously emotionally attached to via trauma bonding dynamics.

Given this, if you’re someone who may over-trust new people in your life, you would do well to recognize that this is emanating from a very vulnerable part of you that you need to consciously take care of to ensure you’re not putting your most precious aspects of self in the hands of a predator.

Beware of the ‘Instant Connection’

I’ve had clients who (before they began working with me) have met these types of malignant narcissists and there’s absolutely nothing that would make you think that there was any trouble ahead (although certainly there’s some subtle signs that they missed, which I’m going to cover in an upcoming video and article).

These clients just wanted their ‘happy ending’ after surviving what in some cases were genuinely horrific childhoods, and who can blame them for that? But when some of these clients actually married these malignant narcissist types, it didn’t take a month or six months or a year for the behavior to change: The behavior changed the minute they said their “I do’s.”

Next time you meet someone you feel you have an instant connection with, you might ask yourself if you’re getting too intimate too fast. Is this person mirroring your affect; your empathetic nature; your gestures? If you’re paying attention and not getting swept up in the thrill of feeling “seen” (perhaps for the first time in your life), you may begin to notice a hollowness in this person’s presentation, almost as if they are a hologram, versus human.

Even the most sophisticated malignant narcissist can’t play their “perfect lover” (or friend) role forever. At some point there’s going to be cracks in the presentation and you’ll start to notice emotionally vacant or invalidating behaviors, such as a look of boredom when you’re talking about something deeply important to you. Some impatience might start to reveal itself as you continue to take the relationship slow. They might begin to exhibit anger when they’re not getting what they want when they want it.

They are angry because they aren’t getting their narcissistic supply – the energy they require to exist – from you.

If you slow down in your new relationships, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to see who someone really is. In the end, you’re ultimately responsible for recognizing that you may need to develop some new behaviors when engaging with new people in order to protect yourself from possible predators; behaviors that may feel very uncomfortable initially when you’re longing to feel seen, heard, valued, and loved. But over time, as you begin to develop the ability to set appropriate boundaries so as to take care of your most vulnerable and precious ‘parts’, you’ll find it is easier than you think – and more than worth any internal and/or interpersonal discomfort you may experience along the way.

8 thoughts on “Why This Key Malignant Narcissist Trait Can Fool Scapegoat Survivors”

  1. Kasturi

    This is exactly what happened to me when I was sixteen – I felt like I knew him so well, and he seemed so vulnerable and sweet, and I thought I could help him and we could support each other – we’d clearly both been ‘beaten up’ by our families/communities. But the relationship progressed just as you describe. I feel lucky to have gotten out of this relationship at nineteen – especially when I saw what it did to his ‘next one’ when I met her years later. These words of yours brought up en emotional response in me: ‘These clients just wanted their ‘happy ending’ after surviving what were, in many cases, horrific childhoods, and who can blame them for that?’ Yes, that’s what I thought it was all about, romantic that I was – and I was ‘seeking a repair experience’. I felt so humiliated when I finally realized how deluded I had been, my sense of reality took a very hard knock, and I’m sure no one really understood why this was so difficult for me. When I revisited the relationship years later, and realized that underneath the trauma of that relationship (for me) was the whole history of the abuse I suffered at home as a child, I felt so ashamed, and almost ‘shocked.’ I’d always had low self-esteem, and now I know why. Your book and website are helping me to see I’m not alone in this experience, and are also giving me many more nuanced insights, while at the same time bringing up new questions. Thank you so much, Rebecca, and community.

  2. Elodea

    “the thrill of being ‘seen’ (possibly for the first time in your life)” hit me like a sledgehammer. I never knew anyone before that has ever acknowledged that concept.

  3. Anonymous

    Love your blog and research, first and foremost. I am a victim of FSA, but was then trapped with a malignant narcissist boss. I would see red flags, but my body would just feel connected to this person. It almost ended my career, because we got so entwined in a codependent/narcissist relationship that in the end I would have done anything to get away. I was a shell of a person, but was trapped with a family to take care of and a career I had fought so hard for after being abused the majority of my life. When I was the golden child with this boss at the beginning, I felt like maybe this one time I would be the star. He would do this to many other people. I used to stay away from people I had a lot of chemistry with in the dating scene. I felt equally as trapped as when I was a child. I now know I had different choices, but it was still hard. I still have PTSD at work when/if I see scapegoating happening and just do not have the same drive for my career. I had to do a lot of healing after that burnout. It is interesting that the boss told ME that I struggled with relationships, amongst other criticisms. I am planning to start my own company so I don’t ever have to be put in that situation again. It is interesting how we try to relive our childhood in different situations.

  4. Rae S

    This is so validating for me, also. I recall past experiences of sudden, subtle, but disturbing changes inconsistent with the person whom I thought I met–not listening, wandering off when I spoke, dismissing my concerns, rudeness, casually breaking promises, then making promises to make it up to me–also not kept, etc. These relationships were long before I understood the abuse of being the family scapegoat.

    Fortunately, these relationships were not long lasting. I invariably broke it off. The line in the sand was my self-respect. I actually said to myself, “Can I respect the person (me) who lets someone treat her like this?” (Of course, if I had to ask . . . .) It has served me well throughout my life. (Besides, they reminded me too much of my mother– “The best mother in the whole world!” by popular vote– who often went on about how I didn’t respect her. lol!)

  5. Lisa H

    This is so validating for me to read today. I’ve dealt with a relative and a couple of “so called ” friends. Very painful experiences

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