Part 1 is a compilation of observations and lessons I have documented over the past 30 years. Each example and observation has been thoroughly processed through therapists and teachers, on panel discussions and in professional seminars. So be forewarned that I have very strong, reinforced opinions about this topic. If you are a narcissist, you probably need to know this stuff to increase your own understanding but it can be a big, bitter pill to swallow.
Part 2 is an article from an expert and past mentor Sandy Hotchkiss called "Coping With A Too Self-Involved Person." She is the author of Why Is It Always About You? Saving Yourself from the Narcissists in Your Life (Free Press).
Part 3 is an article from a favorite author and teacher Wendy Behary. She wrote the best seller Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving With the Self-Absorbed. Her article is a favorite patient handout "How to Cope If Your Loved One Is A Narcissist."
To my knowledge, none of the narcissistic individuals I've lived and worked with had official diagnoses of Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD); they have not and would not seek help and so haven't been assessed clinically. On the other hand, members of some of their families have sought help to cope with them as I have. For me, it has been 30 years of study. I offer here a few field notes - that is, descriptions and observations to assist in identifying narcissists and also, I hope, to give aid and comfort to others who have been targeted by bullying narcissists. I'm sorry that I cannot also give hope, but since a prime characteristic of narcissists is believing that they are always right no matter what, narcissists are extremely resistant to change and, unfortunately, tend to get worse as they get older.
A lot of people in my professional and everyday life have some narcissistic traits some of the time. It's easy to be arrogant, selfish, conceited, or out of touch with other people's feelings without being a narcissist. The practical test, so far as I know, is that with normal people, no matter how difficult, you can get some improvements, at least temporarily, by saying essentially, "Please have a heart." This doesn't work with narcissists; in fact, it usually makes things worse! This request is seen as criticism, and they will retaliate.
It is impossible to over emphasize the importance of narcissists' lack of empathy. It colors everything about them. I have observed very closely some narcissists I've loved, and their inability to pay attention when someone else is talking is striking. The last two times I was asked by someone I see on occasion how my practice was going, my answer was cut off just as it began. The questioner's interest was elsewhere - as usual. End of discussion. Even though he's "known" me most of my life, he has no idea who I am and couldn't care less. Such confounding, blatant disregard surprises me at times because my circle of friends all give normal human responses.
You've read theories of how narcissists are made. Some experts trace NPD to early infantile neglect or abuse, and some blame over-indulgence and indiscriminate praise by parents. Others say that NPD shows up in adolescence. Some say narcissists tend to peak around middle age and then mellow out. Others say that narcissists stay pretty much the same except they tend to depression as they get old and their grandiose fantasies about themselves are not supported. The narcissists I've known have apparently always been "that way", and they get worse as they get older. Depressed narcissists tend to blame the world, of course, and not themselves for their personal disappointments. This blame is often quietly internalized to save face but can come out as a flurry of put-downs and/or negative judgement of others' worth and intelligence.
Now it is possible to have a relatively smooth relationship with a narcissist, and it is possible to maintain it for a long time. The first requirement for this, though, is distance: this simply cannot be done with a narcissist you live with. Given distance, or only transient and intermittent contact, you can get along with them by treating them as infants: you give them whatever they want or need whenever they ask and do not expect any reciprocation at all, do not expect them to show the slightest interest in you or your life, do not expect them to apologize or make amends or show any consideration for your feelings. But note: they are not infants; infants develop and mature, whereas narcissists never outgrow their demands for dedicated attention. Adult narcissists are like vampires: they will take all you can give while giving nothing from the heart back, then criticize you (usually behind your back) for running dry and then discard you as a waste of their so very precious time. Once you fail to serve their need to feel better than others, you are either disposable or tolerated as long as they can punish you - that is, if you continue to allow it.
It is also essential that you keep your emotional distance from narcissists. They're pretty good at maintaining a conventional persona in superficial associations with people who mean absolutely nothing to them, and they'll flatter the hell out of you if you have something they can use or if, for some reason, they perceive you as an authority figure.
I was plenty old before I realized that it was actually my expression of affection that triggered the narcissists' nasty reactions - shocking and bewildering for decades! Once they know you are emotionally attached to them, they expect to be able to use you like an appliance and shove you around like a piece of furniture. If you object, then they will say that obviously you don't really love them or else you would let them do whatever they want with you. If you should be so uppity as to express a mind and heart of your own, then they will cut you off - just like that.
So, yes, it's possible to get along with narcissists, but it's probably not worth bothering/struggling with. If family members are narcissists, you have my deep sympathy.
If you're reading this because of problems with someone you know now, the chances are excellent that one or both of your parents was a narcissist. Narcissists are so much trouble that only people with special prior training (i.e., who were raised by narcissists) get seriously involved with them. Sometimes narcissists' children become narcissists too (especially the "star" children) but this is not inevitable provided stable love was given by someone, such as the non-narcissist parent or a grandparent. (I don't think dogs count here but I wish they did because I had unconditionally loving dogs.) Beyond that, a happy marriage will heal many old wounds for the narcissist's child. But children of narcissists tend to keep trying, by bonding with new narcissists, to somehow "cure" the narcissistic parents by finding the key to their heart. Thus, we've been trained to keep trusting people who aren't capable of loving us back, setting ourselves up to be hurt yet again in the same old way.
If you've had a narcissist for a parent, you are probably not afraid of dying and going to hell - you have lived hell on earth. Narcissists cannot be satisfied and do a tremendous amount of damage to their children, younger siblings and partners in their relentless demand for a perfect outer appearance to reflect the superior, or even perfect, inner image that obsesses them.
PART 2 - "Coping with a Too Self-Involved Person" by Sandy Hotchkiss; bottomlinehealth.com, July 2003. She is the author of Why Is It Always About You? Saving Yourself from the Narcissists in Your Life (Free Press). (The Bottom Line article is currently out of print but we have copies at our office.)
PART 3 - "How to Cope If Your Loved One Is A Narcissist" by Wendy Behary; bottomlinehealth.com, Health Insider, December 2014. She wrote the best seller Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving With the Self-Absorbed.
A COUNSELOR'S WARNING LETTER
After a colleague of mine read my blog post about Understanding Bullying and about The Bullying Narcissist, she recently wrote to me the following note to hopefully add to these safety warnings. She specializes in counseling couples with one or both partners being narcissistic. She has also served as a part-time Protestant minister for 41 years. Here is her letter:
Dear Al, please include my observations here in your very timely warning to your patients.
Judgment and preconception are what you repeatedly get from the narcissists, often without their full awareness of its effects, because it has become an automatic habit. This, of course, ends up deeply hurting the person being judged because it is experienced as being put down, devalued, dismissed and excluded. Patients frequently begin a session with tears, having recently come from yet another doctor's office or family gathering, wondering why they feel "so toxic" or "deflated."
These patients are usually confused about why they are so frequently interrupted or ignored when speaking about the most important, most valued things in their lives. They ask, "Why aren't they interested in me?"
Narcissists tend to focus excessively on presentation and appearances, sometimes leading to insatiable consumerism. This addiction to showing off comes from an attempt to fill the internal void that would normally be filled with empathy and gratitude. They also get a quick hit of adrenaline when their new stuff affirms their delusion of "I'm more successful than and therefore superior to you." This formula partly works for them as long as others buy in to that dysfunctional belief. One of the dysfunctions here is that they use arrogance as a substitute for humility with its openness to things being different, to people and their values being different . This know-it-all world view affects the narcissist's sense of deservability (actually its entitlement which is declared, not earned.) True deservability largely comes from practicing humility with empathy, a capacity that is not present in everyone because of the lack of nerve connections in the brain's region for empathy/emotional understanding. "If we can stuff more irrelevant trivia into our brains and more possessions into our houses, we can simply put these on display to prove our superiority." These clients often will give up their family before relinquishing their self-appointed sense of entitlement. Even their definition of success is about propping up the facade.
I frequently hear from my "old soul" clients how truly free and light they feel after stepping off the game board of competing for attention, adoration and approval. This breaking out of the prison of excessive materialism and intellectualism is a turning point, a breakthrough, often described as an awakening. Their priorities and focuses in life change. There emerges a higher level of joy and real gratitude. Anxiety subsides. Outside validation no longer is used for self-value. The source of toxicity has been forever identified. Once this has occurred, they tend to never go backwards to that old way of life. (Letter received March 3, 2016)
SHOULD YOU FORGIVE A BULLY?
Forgiveness has been shown to be a powerful tool for working with trauma, but can it work for victims of bullying? It might, according to a recent study reported in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. When victims of bullying "rescripted" their interaction with a tormentor to feature forgiveness, their negative emotional response decreased. It also decreased when they imagined avoiding the bully, but not if they imagined revenge. Imagining forgiveness was more stressful, though, than either avoiding or revenge. Mindful Magazine August, 2016.