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Were You Raised by a White Hat Narcissist?

Who Would Have Thought It. Not Even You.

Narcissism is a complex and not completely understood disorder. Identifying the narcissists in your life can be tricky. Determining that you were brought up by a White Hat Narcissist is even trickier.

One of the Good Guys

Like white hat hackers, who hack into systems so that the institution will benefit from the knowledge of how it was achieved, White Hat Narcissists are convinced they are on the good side.

The Three Main Types of Narcissists

By now, we can all identify the grandiose (overt) narcissist. The exhibitionism and grandiosity are out front-and-center for all to see. Self-aggrandizement, status, and self-centeredness take front stage, while humility and empathy are nowhere to be found.

In addition, many prominent psychologists also refer to vulnerable (covert) narcissism. These are people who are self-effacing and unobtrusive, as well as seemingly empathetic and often generous with their time and effort in aiding others. (Note that appearing empathetic due to an understanding of how someone feels -- cognitive empathy -- and feeling true empathy --emotional empathy -- are not the same things.) It is behind closed doors that their narcissism presents, including anger in the form of passive-aggressive behaviors, though they can become aggressive at times.

And we may have heard the appalling stories of malignant (toxic) narcissists, who attack others without provocation and with a sadistic glee that reveals their anti-social bent, and who will not hesitate to launch a scorched earth attack when they decide the object of their ire deserves it.

But many of us don’t realize that our well-meaning family members, friends, and religious leaders can be narcissists. And as such, we don’t recognize the damage they can do to our mental health and well-being.

Two things to understand:

First off, narcissists don’t know they are narcissists, and are unable, by definition, to seriously entertain that possibility. Cluster B personality disorders are egosyntonic, meaning that a person’s thinking and behaviors are in sync with their values. Unlike, for example, someone with OCD, whose distress at their compulsive behaviors leads them to seek help, personality-disordered people don’t think there’s anything wrong with themselves.

Their astounding lack of introspection and unwillingness to change means that, like chronic halitosis, it is those surrounding the afflicted that suffer the ongoing negative impact.

Secondly, for all the talk of predatory narcissists who can be cruelly abusive as soon as their partner stops making them shine, many people on the milder end of the narcissism spectrum are genuinely nice people, the better to attract the Narcissistic Supply they need in order to maintain positive self-esteem. That is, until the point that their ego takes enough of a hit that you experience blow back.

[Why narcissists are so reactive: The Narcissist's Alternate Reality]

So, the White Hat Narcissist doesn’t know they are a narcissist, and likely neither do you.


But by White Hat Narcissism, I’m not just referring to the mostly nice narcissists in your life.

I‘m talking more specifically about people who are committed to Doing the Right Thing or Doing Things the Right Way, whether they be religious leaders, community activists, bosses, parents, or others who seek to dominate those around them in seemingly innocuous ways.


Their self-centered self-righteousness is camouflaged by values many can agree with, but with a stunning lack of perspective-taking and empathy for those whose behavior doesn’t conform to the their exacting requirements.

Omnipotent Control

Their need for control demands not just concurrence but outright subservience. They dictate not only how you should act, but how you should think.

By co-opting all that is good, they take on a psychological omnipotence that is difficult to challenge. And when challenged, they may turn to extreme and even sadistic control tactics to keep others toeing the line. Pretty quickly, their family members or adherents have learned not to challenge, lest they be branded the black sheep.

Victim Blindness

If you were raised by a White Hat Narcissist, you are unlikely to realize the toxic nature of your childhood environment, and that your underlying depression or anxiety, fear of abandonment or of engulfment, feelings of unworthiness or of being stuck, are all a result of the childhood trauma you’ve sustained as a result of being brought up by “one of the good guys.”


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