by Evelyn Ryan
Parasitism is just a nifty natural adaptive but potentially harmful behavior that allows living things to benefit without have to work that hard. It is nothing more than a survival tool that allows a needy living thing to sustain itself at the expense of another. Parasites can exist between different as well as the same species and between different and the same sexes. Living things naturally and innately go through parasitic stages during development when they are dependent on others, such as their parents, to survive. In short, parasitism is just a normal part of life.
One of the most fascinating types of parasitism is “brood parasitism.” Brood parasites depend on other capable yet unaware living things to raise their young. The brood parasite manipulates the unknowing host, using camouflage such as by laying eggs that resemble the host’s in the host’s nest. I will never forget in my early animal behavior studies, the image of the cuckoo bird fledgling (whose parent lays eggs in a Eurasian Weed Warbler’s nest) being fed by its unaware host mother that is about a third of its size! The baby cuckoo actually tosses the Warbler’s eggs out of nest.
The parasite-host relationship, as the experts point out, while beneficial to the parasite damages the host since the host now uses its energy and effort to unknowingly benefit someone “unworthy” that pretends to be what it is not. Sound familiar? It should because it is exactly what pathological narcissists do to survive. The vampire stories of parasitic humans who feast on other humans preempted modern psychology that identified what are now commonly referred to as Cluster B personality disorders where malignant narcissism lies. So we now know, while the vampire stories were anecdotal, they were founded in fact. We now call them pathological narcissists and they, like vampires, are parasites, and more specifically brood parasites.
Why Are Narcissists Parasites?
In short, because they have to be and want to be. Can narcissists have redeeming character traits? Intelligence? Of course they can. But they permanently lack the qualities we as humans need to build and sustain integrity of character and meaningful healthy relationships, and most importantly compassion. At some point in their early development, they permanently lose these capabilities. Their thinking, as a result, becomes warped and disordered.
Consequently, narcissists adapt to their disorder and like the cuckoo (no pun intended), become brood parasites in order to survive. They provide an illusion of normalcy while they stealthily manipulate others to, among other things, raise their young. It is a narcissist’s distorted method created in their disordered minds to appear “fit” and “caring” when they really are very far from it. And like all brood parasites, it relieves them from having to rear their own children and frees them undetected to spend their energy as they want and on what they believe they are entitled to – to benefit none other than themselves. This is likely part of the basis for their relentless aggressive efforts to not pay child support. Don’t forget. While, they lack compassion, the parts of their brains that plot, plan, scheme and strategize work perfectly fine. And like all parasites, they lack compassion otherwise they would not be able to do what they do because their consciences would prevent them from doing so.
Pathological Narcissists Use Mimicry and Camouflage to Dupe their Hosts
Pathological narcissists like all parasites use mimicry and camouflage specifically charm, love, and manipulation tactics to covertly target and aggressively pursue their hosts. Essentially, it is a way for their deleterious motives to go undetected. Parasites would not be very successful if they announced their true intent or, in fact, killed their host, would they? So they become very adept at not only identifying vulnerable resourceful targets but also blending in and “looking normal” so they can “feast” undetected for long periods of time. They create illusions of normalcy and use what is familiar and appealing to most including love and marriage to exploit others, mask their true intent and benefit themselves without putting in the effort to earn them. Whom do they target? Like all brood parasites, they intentionally home in on the ones most vulnerable and unaware whom they can manipulate the easiest and benefit from the most – the overly compassionate, children, trophy husbands and wives, the dedicated, the conscientious, the best life has to offer who will provide the best supply for the longest period of time.
And while the narcissists benefit, they, of course, inflict inordinate damage to their unaware targets. If detected, like the cuckoo, they just move on to the next target (e.g. nest). They know exactly what they are doing. And like all parasites, they simply do not care.
What Can We Do?
First, we must heal and learn about narcissism, narcissists and their tactics. We must learn, in our healing, how to effectively identify and raise empathetic children and teach them to use their compassion responsibly and how to recognize narcissists so they will not be vulnerable to them. If we raise narcissists (that is out of our control since compassion and lack of it are genetically coded), we have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our children and others from their parasitic tentacles. How?
By healing and managing boundaries and loving them “wisely” and reinforcing the characteristics of integrity including:
- Compassion and Empathy;
- Respect for self and others;
- Obligation and responsibility towards self, others, and community;
- Diligence; and
- Morals- and ethics-based principles to guide our decisions.
Since compassion falls on a spectrum, the best we can expect is that our narcissistic children will not turn out that “bad” and have some redeeming character qualities. And our kind empathetic children will heal through us and like us, be emotionally healthy, have mutually respectful healthy relationships, not be vulnerable to the emotional predators including their own parents and siblings, and thrive.