Narc Traits and the Breslov Antidote – #1 – Criticism

I feel like I’ve been waiting a decade to really starting writing these posts.

BH, they are finally getting done!

OK, so what I thought is that we will examine each key ‘narc’ trait, as described by Light’s House (see the archived version HERE) – and then we’ll break it down, and see what Rebbe Nachman says about it, and what his antidote is.

All of Rabbenu’s practical etzot are actually ‘the antidote’ to remove the ‘dusting of narc’ that coats so many of us, in this twisted world we currently live in.


Before we dive in to topic number one: CRITICISM, I just wanted to mention that I’m not writing these posts for dyed-in-the-wool narcs who think they are totally perfect.

And, I’m also not writing these posts with the aim of ‘giving advice’ to non-narcs for how to get narcs to change.

We can only change ourselves.

But the good news – the great news! – is that once you start to uproot your own ‘dusting of narc’, and once you unlearn how to think, talk, act and react ‘like a narc’, the narcs will no longer be able to hurt and manipulate you in quite the same way.

So with that intro, let’s dive into the topic of CRITICISM.


Let’s bring a bit of what Light’s House says, to get the ball rolling.

This is from the page called ‘ADULT CHILDREN OF NARCISSISTS’:

Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents grow up disempowered and disconnected from their authentic selves.

They fear retribution, punishment and condemnation, and are their own harshest critics.

Until they resolve the issues resulting from their upbringing, they struggle with a deep sense of inferiority and fear of rejection. ACONs are often either overachievers or underachievers.


[Skipping quite a bit, until we get to this paragraph:]

Adult Children of Narcissists suffer from a vague feeling that they are always on the verge of “getting into trouble” unjustifiably.

They fear that individuals and organizations with power will use it to abuse them. Constantly invalidated as children, ACONs consistently doubt themselves and worry about being told they’re wrong and getting mistreated or penalized severely. Most are very uncomfortable taking risks, and may try to present as invisible in an effort to protect themselves.


[Skipping again, until we get to the conclusion:]

Among the objectives for ACONs to achieve are freedom from crippling guilt, developing a sense of mattering, mastering self-acceptance and realizing their self-worth.

Assertiveness, self-care, and demanding equanimity and reciprocity in relationships by raising their low expectations of others and lowering the impossibly high standards they set for themselves are key issues.

Discovering, accepting, valuing, nurturing and protecting their true selves without guilt or fear is central to their healing.


My experience of Light’s House – as with so much of this stuff in the non-Jewish world – is that she did a fantastic job of setting out the problem, in a real, graspable way.

But when it came to actually dealing with a real solution – that didn’t just boil down to ‘cut every narc out of your life and never speak to them ever again’ – that’s where the rubber really didn’t hit the road.

At all.

Especially when you are dealing with extended family members.

BH, Rabbenu and the Rav’s advice filled the gap, but it took me a very long time, and a huge amount of heartache, before that part of the puzzle slotted into place.


So, let’s start by unpacking how CRITICISM fits into all this.

The first thing to say, is that it’s classic ‘narc behavior’ to criticise THE PERSON, instead of criticising THE ACTION.

When a parent or educator does this, routinely, they end up with children who:

[F]ear retribution, punishment and condemnation, and are their own harshest critics.


Part of the reason the poor children who spend a lot of time with NARCs get stuffed like this is because NARCs operate out of a paradigm of trying to portray themselves as ‘perfect’, and never at fault, and incapable of making mistakes or doing anything ‘wrong’.

NARCS lack the self-awareness that would otherwise tell them:

Don’t be so hard on the other person! You also make mistakes, and get it wrong, or get overwhelmed by your yetzers, sometimes!

Because that self-awareness is missing – the NARC will go for the jugular. And when that’s a description of how your parent or teacher or ‘significant other’ interacts with you – you are in big trouble, emotionally.

Because NARCS won’t just criticise the specific problem / mistake / error / wrongdoing – they’ll tear the person who made the mistake to pieces.


Let’s give an example, using teens, as teens do a ton of stuff that IS very annoying, very selfish, very thoughtless etc etc etc.

Say, you have a teen that said they were going to be home at 10pm, but now, it’s already 12:45 am and their phone is off – and you have no idea where they are.

When that teen finally shows up, it’s a very natural thing to start criticising them.

Before you continue reading, take a moment to picture this scene, and think about what would you say to a teen, in this situation?

If you’re taking this seriously, maybe even write it down, before you continue.


Now, let’s trip over to another page on the Light’s House site, which is called:


I’m just going to bring a few of them here, and ask the question: how many of these statements would show up in your imaginary ‘conversation’ with the thoughtless teen?

  1. You always/You never…”
  2. “You’re not smart enough to do that/you’ll never amount to anything/you’re an idiot.”
  3. “Why can’t you be more like so-and-so?”
  4.  “I told you so.”


It’s so, so easy to fall into situations where we start telling our teens they are ALWAYS unreliable and selfish, or NEVER on time and thoughtful.

Even the best non-narc parents can get pulled into these types of statements, because that is the narc-shaped world we live in.

But they simply aren’t true, and when we tell someone else ALWAYS or NEVER – we are extinguishing and ignoring that point, or many points, of ‘good’ where the bad behavior, or trait, isn’t the case.

And we all know, that what you notice, is what you get more of.


Statement number 2 in the above is just flat-out bad middot, and insulting another person with no positive aim attached to it.

Statement number 3 is also negating the whole person – and totally invalidates the person being told this, because they can’t be more like so-and-so because THEY ARE NOT SO-AND-SO.

And statement number 4 is the best way to stop your teen from trying ever again to explain to you the difficulties and challenges they experienced, that made it hard for them to live up to the expectation you have of them – and probably, also the expectation they had of themselves.

(Is your phone always charged, and never runs out of juice at awkward moments? Are you never late and always on time for everything? You never forget to do what you promised to do for someone else? Really?)


I will do a whole seperate post on teens, and how to deal with them in a non-NARC way, BH.

Long story short, if you keep reminding your teen (and yourself….) that they are fundamentally good, amazing people, who are just dealing with some occasionally out-of-control yetzers (like we all are….) sooner or later, they will prove you right.


In the meantime, let’s pull it back around specifically to CRITICISM.

Let’s restate the obvious:

All of us sometimes gets it wrong, makes a mistake, or gets overtaken by a yetzer.

And when that happens to us, we really want the person we’ve hurt or inconvenienced to keep perspective, and not to blow everything up into global statements of how ‘totally bad’ we are.

Once a non-NARC understands this, they will at the very least WANT to change-up how they deal with other people’s mistakes and errors, and move to the ‘critique the action, not the person’ mode.

(With the full understanding that it takes time and perseverance and prayer, to break our bad habits, even when we have very good intentions.)


True NARCs, however, still have no idea what I’m talking about.

Even when they are routinely super-critical of others, personally, put people down and make others feel worthless – they will never own up to doing that.

Because that would mean they have to accept they are doing something ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’.

And a true NARC just can’t do that.

(Being routinely criticised personally, btw, is the basis of the phenomenon of ‘toxic shame’. We’ll come back to that in another post, BH.)


So, if you want to stop acting and speaking and thinking like a NARC, a very big part of that is to STOP CRITICISING OTHER PEOPLE.

(This also applies to ourselves, and ties in directly to the AZAMRA lesson we’ll take a closer look at in the next post.)


If something is ‘wrong’, talk about the action, not the person.

And if you can do that without criticising at all, then even better!

Like this, going back to our late teen example:

I got really worried about you, when you didn’t come home at the time we agreed.

I felt upset, that we agreed a time and you didn’t stick to that time.

I started to get so panicked someone had kidnapped you, I almost called the police…

(In case you are wondering, my ‘go to response’ when I had my teens was usually number three…. Not pashut at all.)


We are allowed to honestly state how something is making us feel, or react, without criticising the other person.

Then, leave some space, some silence, for ‘the teen’, the other person, to explain what actually happened.

There is usually a reason, even if it’s just ‘I forgot what the time was and my phone ran out of battery, and I’m so sorry, Ima.’

If you give the other person the feeling that you understand where they are coming from, and that  you are ‘on their side’ – even when they’re acting like a twit, and you are justifiably upset – they will sense that, and explain more about what really happened.


Once you hear the reason, you can decide if it’s reasonable, or unreasonable.

But the point is, even when the other person is objectively doing something wrong, and their behavior is totally unreasonable, you still talk about the ACTION being bad and not the PERSON.


Now, if you don’t do this with all the million random people who cross your path and upset you, OK.

Doing this all the time, with everyone, is a ‘Tzaddik’ level of middot development, and if we get there by the time we 120, dayenu.

But the people where we absolutely have to make our full, best effort to put this into action with as much as possible are:

  • Our spouses
  • Our kids
  • Ourselves


Here’s what Rabbenu teaches about criticism (from Likutey Moharan 2:8)

Though rebuke is of great import, and all Jews are obliged to rebuke each other when seeing that the other is not behaving properly….nevertheless, not everyone is capable of rebuking.

As Rabbi Akiva said: “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who is capable of rebuking.”

And if Rabbi Akiva said this about his own generation, how much more so is it so in our generations?!


When the rebuker is not capable of rebuking, then not only is his rebuke ineffective, but he is also causing a sense of malodorous repulsiveness in the souls hearing his rebuke.

This is because his rebuke arouses the stench of the evil deeds and bad character traits of those he is rebuking….

By thus causing them a sense of malodorous repulsiveness, he thereby weakens their souls, on account of which the effluence from all the worlds that are dependent on these souls ceases.


What is Rabbenu teaching us, here?

First of all, that NO-ONE can ‘rebuke properly’ today.

Or to put it another way: no-one can ‘criticise’ someone else, and expect that criticism to be helpful.

Rabbenu spells it out:

Your rebuke / criticism will be ineffective, and you’ll just cause the person you’re criticising to feel ‘toxic shame’ (aka, a sense of ‘maladorous repulsiveness’.)


If you want horrible shalom bayit, angry and emotionally-challenged kids who act out a lot, and to feel horrible and existentially disatisfied about yourself, deep-down – then ignore all this, and carry on with the criticism.

(That’s exactly what the real NARCS are going to do, anyway.)

But for everyone else…. Internalising what Rabbenu is saying here can literally change your life for the better, in some very big ways.


It’s a very long lesson, but other practical advice we can glean from LM 2:8 include:

“[B]y virtue of prayer, sins are forgiven, for prayer atones….”

In other words, instead of ripping other people (or yourself….) to shreds for being ‘selfish’ etc, spend some time praying for them to be able to get on top of their yetzers.


NARCS are really not in to prayer, or at least, heartfelt, sincere and private prayer, for a whole bunch of reasons.

A true NARC doesn’t really believe in God, no matter what they say or how they appear.

Another key NARC trait is wanting control, and particularly, wanting to control others directly. ‘Giving things up to God’ and praying for something, or someone, instead of ‘trying to make it happen’ is just not something a true NARC would do.

We will come back to CONTROL,and its Breslov antidote, in another post, BH.


Here’s another clue from Lesson 2:8:

[O]ne must fervently search and seek for a true leader to become his follower….

However, one must search and seek for such a true leader very intensively, begging God that one have the privilege to become the follower or a true leader so that one attains perfect, true emuna.

This is because when one becomes a follower of a false leader, this brings a person to false faiths, for a false leader corresponds to a false prophet….


Constant, soul-destroying criticism is part of the narc-shaped world we live in.

There are 180 degree ‘evaluations’ in the workplace…. There are never-ending ‘ratings’ of everything online….

There is no end of horrible, usually anonymous, people who are just looking for a reason to project all their inner cack onto someone else in the comments section.

And that’s even before you get to what’s going on closer to home.


In 2024, only a ‘true leader’, spiritually, is going to be telling you that “criticising other people is wrong, and counterproductive.”

Even knowing that, it’s still very hard to overcome this bad middot, and to make real progress in breaking it.

But if you’re following a ‘false leader’, you won’t even have the clarity required to even begin to understand that NO ONE IS ON THE LEVEL OF BEING ABLE TO REBUKE, IN OUR DAYS.

And you’ll still be fooling yourself that ripping people to shreds is ‘constructive criticism’, or ‘telling it how it is’, or ‘just doing what I gotta do’, or [fill in your own justification for shaming other people and making them loathe themselves, to make yourself feel better.]


I’m painting all this is very stark terms, in order to make the point.

But the truth is, that ‘rebuke and criticism’ can also be subtle and non-verbal.

And especially when it’s coming from a parent or significant other – it can be even more devastating.

Again, we are still just setting out the stall here, and hitting the ‘top notes’ on a whole bunch of subjects.

But bottom line is that anytime we are making an effort to ‘get the upper hand’ over someone else, and to manipulate them into reacting a certain way, that’s behaving like a narc.

Disappointed ‘sighs’, hard stares and cold shoulders are sometimes even harder to deal with than outright insults, because they can be ‘plausibly denied’.

And that’s headwrecking for the person who is on the receiving end of them.


Off on a slight tangent, but while I think of it, if someone is ‘firing personal criticism’ at you, (and you can’t just walk away….) sometimes it’s OK to react in kind.

If you’re dealing with a full-fledged narc, then ‘acting like a narc’ yourself is one of the best ways of repelling them.

We’ll cover that in a separate post.


OK, let’s recap the main points of where we got to:

  1. Rabbenu teaches no-one can ‘rebuke’ or criticise other people today, without weakening the other person’s soul, and causing them to feel ‘toxic shame’.
  2. NARCS feel justified in tearing other people to shreds over an error, mistake, or failure, because they never own up to fact that they themselves also make mistakes and errors, and sometimes fail and fall down. (This is a function of the lack of empathy for other that characterise NARCS , which we’ll get to in a different post, together with an antidote for it.)
  3. Never, ever criticise a person personally (unless you are trying to ‘repel a narc’) or use ‘all or nothing’ statements. If you have to ‘criticise’ at all, stick to talking about the specific incident, accident or behavior.
  4. There is a much higher, and better level, where we can address situations and behaviors without criticising at all – instead, we ENCOURAGE the other person to do better, and we spend some time praying for them to find the strength to overcome their yetzers.


This last point segues into the next discussion of another Breslov antidote for NARC criticism, harsh judgement and toxic shame, which is AZAMRA, or seeing the good in people, but particularly in ourselves.

And we’ll take a closer look at that in the next post on this topic. BH.

1 reply
  1. Simon
    Simon says:

    Shalom Arush says in The Garden of Peace that a husband should not criticize his wife at all. That will be difficult for me, but I will pray to God to give me help.
    Also, in this world, if you believe that Eli’ezer Berland isn’t a criminal, that vaccines (and especially the covid-19 injection) are harmful, that governments don’t care about us, that certain rainbow-colored things aren’t okay, and the like, then you are crazy and deserve death. A totally healthy dynamic; no problem whatsoever.
    I believe it will be a very big challenge to implement these teachings, but that’s as God intended it..


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