Author: Claudia M. Elsig, MD
In 2017, #MeToo woke up the world.
A simple hashtag opened a Pandora’s box of sexual and emotional abuse stories and shone a bright light into a murky space. #MeToo gave a voice to thousands of abuse survivors and brought the many issues of abuse into the public discourse.
The #MeToo era marks a truly pivotal time in history.
This blog explores how #MeToo has exposed a once untouchable world of narcissistic behaviour amongst the rich and powerful.
How #MeToo began
#MeToo went viral on social media on 15 October 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted to encourage women – and men – who had been sexually abused to share their experiences along with the MeToo hashtag. Her aim was to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual harassment.
It worked. In a matter of weeks, #MeToo was retweeted 23 million times in 85 countries!
The game was up. Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul and renowned sexual predator, wasn’t the first to be exposed, but his case was perhaps the one that took the world by storm, will be remembered and still drives the #MeToo movement forward. Thirty-five months after #MeToo went viral, Harvey Weinstein was the first high-profile man to be legally punished for his actions because of that movement.
Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, had declined to bring charges against Weinstein for years, despite mounting evidence of the producer’s misconduct. But #MeToo stepped up the pressure.
Weinstein was subsequently convicted of two sex crimes, including third-degree rape, and sentenced to 23 years in prison. This milestone case served as a warning of the potential consequences of illegal, unethical and abusive behaviour, especially to the previously untouchable rich and powerful.
The ‘me too’ movement actually began long before the famous tweet. “Me too” was originated by activist Tarana Burke in 2006. 1 As a youth worker, Burke encountered a girl who shared her story of sexual violence and abuse. She soon heard dozens more.
As a survivor of sexual abuse herself, Burke identified with these experiences. She understood that many girls from marginalised communities were suffering and surviving abuse without any access to the resources, safe spaces and support they needed to heal. Inspired, she got to work building a community of advocates determined to interrupt sexual violence and help victims.
#MeToo took that movement from grassroots work to a global organisation.
How has #MeToo exposed narcissism?
In short, the #MeToo movement empowered women and gave them the courage to speak out. The Weinstein case emboldened others to share experiences. Stories of abusive relationships with high-profile men in positions of power exploded on social media.
#MeToo has caused a narrowing in social acceptance for egregious, oppressive, and dominating behaviour. The once untouchable world of narcissism has been exposed.
The outpouring of apologies by perpetrators as details of abuses poured into the public domain served only to reaffirm that narcissism is rife. One reporter wrote, “That these men were so entitled that they thought they could behave as they wished was always the problem. These apologies are self-indulgent me-pologies: all about the perpetrator, not about the victims.”2
So, what is narcissism and why did it take #MeToo to expose it?
When you understand narcissism, you will also understand why it is so difficult for people to speak out against it.
Sam Vaknin, Professor of psychology, expert on narcissism, and author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, describes narcissists as “manipulative, exploitative, dangerous, subtle, and pernicious.”3 Narcissists are domineering, dictatorial, belittling, uncaring, dismissive. They are abusive emotionally and, in some cases, also sexually.
This behaviour isn’t apparent at the beginning of a relationship. Vaknin reminds us that narcissists are not blood-stained killers and can appear on the exterior as completely normal – especially in the early days of a relationship.
However, as Vaknin notes, a persistent claim by the victims of narcissistic abuse is that they lose all sense of themselves. “They lose voluntary control of their actions, choices and decisions.” The narcissist starts by brainwashing and grooming or as Vaknin describes it “love-bombing”.4 Then “the narcissist engenders in his victim a dissociative state, akin to a hypnotic trance.”
According to Vaknin, the victims of narcissistic abuse present a clinical picture substantially different to victims of other, more pinpointed and goal-oriented types of abuse. “They are more depressed and anxious, disoriented, aggressive (defiant reactance), dissociative, and trapped or hopeless.”
With this understanding, it is easy to see how victims of narcissistic abuse become incapable of reporting abuse, or enacting fight or flight.
The barriers to leaving a narcissistic relationship
There are many barriers that stand in the way of a victim leaving an abusive relationship – be it psychological, emotional, financial or physical threats. The person may feel fearful, isolated and worn down by the abuse. They may feel ashamed or emotionally unstable. Over a period, victims of narcissistic abuse suffer cognitive, behavioural, and emotional symptoms. They can’t assess their own situation and may even become confused.
A narcissist is an expert in the breaking of confidence and self-esteem. In her book, Stalking the Soul, Dr Marie France Hirigoyen, speaks of the erosion of identity that victims suffer because of emotional abuse. Putting emotional abuse on a par with physical abuse, Hirigoyen describes it as a “virtual murder of the soul.”5
Breaking free of such a vicious hold can feel almost impossible, and is especially difficult for those with a high profile, public-facing aspect to their life.
Why is narcissism so prevalent in circles of wealth and power?
Several studies demonstrate that wealth and higher social class is associated with increased entitlement and narcissism.6
Following years of research, Psychologist Paul K. Piff, who earned his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley and now Assistant Professor of Psychology & Social Behaviour at UC Irvine, established a direct link between social class and deep-seated aspects of personality.
Piff and his colleagues looked at the effects of wealth on social behaviour.7 Their findings show that wealthy people of high social class are more likely to behave unethically and less likely to donate to charities. Pfiff explains: “The more money you have, the higher in status you are, the less threatening the world is to you.”
Narcissism and entitlement are more prevalent in people of high socioeconomic standing.
#MeToo and narcissistic abuse
Statistics regarding victims of narcissistic abuse are significantly under-reported. The fact is people don’t report emotional abuse as often as they do physical abuse, and people who are mentally abused often blame themselves.
#MeToo has created new noise. The movement offers hope and a sense of solidarity to victims of abuse and has given new credence to the idea that change is possible.
No matter how long you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist, whether that be a boss, friend, or partner, the first step is acknowledging that there is a problem and that you aren’t to blame.
Getting the right help is the next step, starting with an exit plan. It is critical that you distance yourself from your abuser and create space to do the work to heal. Enlist the help of trusted friends and family to support you while you do this.
Seeking therapy is advisable as it will help you to process what has happened and recover from the trauma. It is recommended that you choose a therapy clinic/therapist who is experienced in treating victims of narcissistic abuse as the trauma is deep and complex.
The CALDA Clinic
The CALDA Clinic is a private Swiss institution specializing in rehabilitation programs for VIPs, UHNWIs and prominent figures who have experienced narcissistic abuse and other mental health issues. The unique CALDA Concept offers one-to-one premium support, including individual counselling and state-of-the-art psychiatry administered by a highly qualified team and network of experts.
If you would like to know more about the CALDA Concept, please contact us personally. Absolute discretion takes top priority at CALDA. All CALDA clients are self-payers, so we guarantee absolute secrecy.
- Me too. website @2021
- Emma Jacobs, 18 Dec 2017, The Irish Times, The common thread of sexual harassers’ apologies is narcissism
- Sam Vaknin, YouTube, 21 Jan 2014, Narcissists, Psychopaths, Abuse
- Sam Vaknin, YouTube, 3 Oct 2020, Narcissist Entrains Co-dependent, Borderline: Brainwash, Regulate, Repeat
- Marie-France Hirigoyen, 1998, Stalking the Soul
- Paul K Piff, 20 Aug 2013, Wealth and the Inflated Self: Class, Entitlement, and Narcissism
- Paul K Piff, 1 Apr 2015, Are the Wealthy More Narcissistic?