|photo by Gabe Walker|
by Michelle Simonsen
You know there is a problem. It’s not you. But you’ve been told it’s you. Just smile and nod your head. ‘Thank you.’ ‘You are totally right.’ ‘I don’t know what I would do without you.’ Blah, blah, blah.
The narcissist. We’ve seen them in the public eye. Donald Trump. Bernie Madoff. Lance Armstrong. Charlie Sheen. Guess what? Most narcissists are not on television. They walk among us. They are your husbands, your bosses, clergy, and even your children. They can easily ruin lives. They wreak havoc in the boardroom, the courtroom, and the family room.
Don’t fool yourself. A well-developed narcissist cannot be cured. Narcissists are resistant to change, making it almost impossible for them to recognize their own behaviors in order to save their relationships or careers. If you insist on having a relationship with a narcissist despite the bleak prognosis you’ve been given, you’ll need to arm yourself for psychological warfare. Learn to conquer the narcissist--before they conquer you.
When dealing with a narcissist, ignorance is not bliss, and knowledge is power. Educate yourself. You must be able to recognize a narcissist before you can correctly handle them and the situation. Caution: Handle with care!
WHAT IS A NARCISSIST?
Narcissism is an excessive fixation on oneself. The personality disorder was named after a mythological Greek youth named Narcissus who became obsessed after falling in love with his own reflection in a lake.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines narcissistic personality disorder as:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. He or she will exaggerate achievements and talents and expects to be recognized as superior.
2. Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people.
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has a sense of entitlement and unreasonable expectations of others.
6. Is exploitative. He or she will take advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
7. Lacks empathy. Narcissists are unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
8. Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes. 1
Other pervasive traits include constant interruption and domination of conversations, whether it be one-on-one, or in a group. A narcissist believes that if you are not special and superior like them, you are worthless. They will criticize not only you, but also everyone around them that doesn’t agree with them. Beware: If the narcissist is criticized or “attacked”, they will react with anger and inner humiliation. This will trigger rifts, arguments, and ultimately, alienation of friends, colleagues or family. A narcissist is incapable of successful long term, healthy relationships.
CAUSES OF NARCISSISM?
The etiology of narcissism is unknown, but researchers and experts believe that several factors occurring in early childhood may lead to narcissistic behavior. Some of these circumstances include excessive praise and admiration of a child by a parent that is never balanced with realistic feedback. Overindulgence by parents, family, and friends is also thought to be linked with narcissism. On the other hand, narcissistic personality disorder can also originate from severe emotional abuse or trauma during early childhood, including unpredictable or unreliable caregiving from parents. 2
A FOOL IN LOVE
Lynn was married to a pathological narcissist for over 20 years. She didn’t see the signs at age 18, when she met him in high school. He was good looking and irresistible with an abundance of superficial charm and charisma. He fooled everyone around him because he was a master at first impressions and false bravado. He was a compulsive and pathological liar. He had countless affairs, made up educational pursuits and degrees, and exaggerated stories about people he knew and where he’d been.
It took her many years to learn that she had been duped.
Throughout their marriage, Lynn’s husband was constantly fired from jobs. It was never “his fault”, instead blaming others for the discord. He burned bridges right and left. Like an abusive relationship, he kept Lynn controlled and isolated from family and had few friends. He expected undying loyalty and respect from everyone, but would turn on you
in a second if crossed or his logic was questioned. He found humor in making people upset or cry, and never apologized for his offending behavior. Why would he? In his eyes, it didn’t affect him, so it wasn’t his problem.
STUCK WITH A NARCISSIST? TIPS AND COPING SKILLS
• Lower your expectations. One shouldn’t have to lower their expectations in a relationship, but when dealing with a narcissist, there aren’t many choices. Please realize that your relationship will be completely one-sided because they are not capable of filling your emotional needs. Expect that they will exploit you by monopolizing your attention and demand that their needs and desires are attended to at all times. Remember, the narcissist lacks empathy and will never know (or care) that you are unhappy or have feelings.
• Don’t rock the boat. Choose your battles wisely. Never question the narcissist’s knowledge or point out his/her lack of knowledge. They must be “right” at all times. Be prepared to listen, but don’t plan on speaking. Don’t forget--you must forego your own opinions and ideas. Incorporating praise and admiration throughout any interaction with the narcissist is a must.
• Learn to keep yourself at an emotional distance. The narcissist will try to make you dependent upon them. If you keep your independence the narcissist is more likely to respect you.
• Master the ability to foresee bad behavior and reiterate to the narcissist the consequences for the specific behavior. Make sure you both know what your non-negotiables are, because this is where you MUST draw the line.
• Learn how to manipulate. Example: Your boyfriend never wants to see your family during the holidays. Turn it around and make it about him, “We should go to my parents for the holidays. They think you are so funny, they just love your stories!”
• Take back control. If you are able, limit your interaction with the narcissist. Keep your boss at arms length and avoid idle chatter. If your father is an unbearable, self-centered egomaniac, put a time limit on your conversation.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
Assess the reason why you are in this relationship. What are you getting out of it? Are your needs being met? Weigh the pros and cons of why you remain in this toxic liaison. If you are not getting what you want, walk away. Never love anything that can’t love you back.
1 Narcissistic personality disorder – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) American Psychiatric Association (2000)
2 "Narcissistic Personality Disorder". Personality Disorders – Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Armenian Medical Network. 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-14
Michelle Simonsen is an outspoken activist and true crime blogger well known for the grass-roots campaign,"Boycott Aruba," surrounding the time of the Natalee Holloway disappearance.