For example, Mahler wrote that if a child’s caretaker is abusive, this can result in a defense mechanism in their psychology called “splitting,” which could help explain why some people grow up with a lack of object constancy — and then become narcissists with the inability to have empathy for others.
In this situation, the child needs to feel cared for, even though their parent isn’t supplying them with that, and so they repress the negative aspects of the “object,” the mother, so they can hold onto the positive ones. In the child’s mind, the idea of the mother is being preserved and destroyed at the same time.
According to psychiatrist Perry Branson in a blog post on Psychology Today, this can result in dissociation from the situation. This can happen in adulthood when the narcissist is under stress, such as being in an argument with their significant other. They dissociate from the positive feelings while they are experiencing negative ones and vice versa, seeing the other person as all good or all bad. It’s similar to how a toddler has a temper tantrum.
Therapist Perpetua Neo told Business Insider that the behaviour of narcissists in abusive relationships is so insidious that the victims stop respecting themselves. Narcissists can never change, she said, and the best thing survivors can do is run far away from them as fast as they can.
“You want to make sure you reclaim your life in a different way. When you’re with a narcissist, you stop doing things for yourself because they don’t like you doing things for yourself,” Neo said. “Be really clear in your head that this person is a narcissist and really nothing can be done about it. The only thing you can do about it is to take care of yourself.”