Read any post talking about today’s relationships, and you will find this word. Look back ten years or even five and it is absent. I mean other than in psychological journals...
In today’s world the words Narcissist and Narcissistic Personality Disorder have become commonplace to describe behaviors that used to be peripheral. In today’s world, there seems to be a great deal of heartbreak over loving or trying to love someone who works against you at every turn.
I have watched the progression. It used to be one in twenty people would walk through the law firms doors, throwing those terms around. Then it became one in ten, when I left that world last April, one in five.
Why the sudden and drastic uptick of this particular pathology or this particular mode of behavior?
Let me give definition to each so that we are sure of exactly what we are talking about...I think that an ill defined term is part of the reason the above two terms are being used so widely.
Narcissist - a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves. (Oxford Dictionary).
10 Signs of a Narcissist:
Fixation with Appearance.
Disregard for Other People.
Praise, Praise and More Praise.
It's Everyone Else's Fault.
They Fear Abandonment.
The Narcissist Lives in a Fantasy.
There Are Always Strings Attached.
(Applied Behavioral Analysis Program Guide)
Then there is Narcissistic Personality Disorder -
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition in which people have an unreasonably high sense of their own importance. They need and seek too much attention and want people to admire them. People with this disorder may lack the ability to understand or care about the feelings of others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence, they are not sure of their self-worth and are easily upset by the slightest criticism.
People with the disorder can:
Have an unreasonably high sense of self-importance and require constant, excessive admiration.
Feel that they deserve privileges and special treatment.
Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements.
Make achievements and talents seem bigger than they are.
Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.
Believe they are superior to others and can only spend time with or be understood by equally special people.
Be critical of and look down on people they feel are not important.
Expect special favors and expect other people to do what they want without questioning them.
Take advantage of others to get what they want.
Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
Be envious of others and believe others envy them.
Behave in an arrogant way, brag a lot and come across as conceited.
Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office.
At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they view as criticism. They can:
Become impatient or angry when they don't receive special recognition or treatment.
Have major problems interacting with others and easily feel slighted.
React with rage or contempt and try to belittle other people to make themselves appear superior.
Have difficulty managing their emotions and behavior.
Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change.
Withdraw from or avoid situations in which they might fail.
Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection.
Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, humiliation and fear of being exposed as a failure
Now, if we are all honest, we all have these traits to some degree, some days. They are human. But when practiced without restraint or control, they wreak havoc in relationships.
What is interesting to me in all of this, is how successful Narcissists are in getting people to love them. I mean, they don’t suddenly become these people. They have these traits or disorders all the while. Why then do so many loving, caring people seem to end up in these relationships with people who either behave in this manner enough that the nomiker applies or so much so that they would qualify for a diagnosis?
It is my belief and observation that the world loves Narcissists. We reward them. Covet their achievements. We elect them to office. We glorify the person who seems so cocksure and confident. But we fail to ask ourselves why...why is this person this way? And is this persona actually real?
When I read all of the above description, I found myself kind of wishing I could be a Narcissist. I mean, shit, it sounds pretty great to be able to dedicate lots of time to my appearance, set unreasonable expectations of others, disregard others, collect as much praise as possible, blame everyone else, live in a fantasy world, and only give with strings.
And I am not kidding. I thought that as I read it. Then my next immediate thought was “Oh My! Am I already a Narcissist and just don’t know it?”
I mean I do care about my appearance. I do have unreasonable expectations of myself and others. I sometimes disregard other people. I like praise. I would really like things to be other people’s faults. I have lived in several fantasy worlds in my time. And I have totally given with strings attached.
But what I believe excludes me from membership of this particular club is my immediate assessment of myself, checking to see if I have any of these traits, then owning that I do. I am pretty sure that a Narcissist wouldn’t agree, or even make the comparison. And that to me is where the divergence happens.
We ALL have narcissistic traits. They are human. We all want to present as better than we are: more attractive, put together and happy. We all want our expectations to be met and often times when really examined those expectations are not reasonable considering who we are projecting them onto. We all love and want praise and we want to avoid being blamed. We all create and maintain a certain level of fantasy life, it is how we make it through the drudgery of every day. And we all give with strings.
I have given this whole narcissist thing a lot of consideration. And I have come to what will likely be an unpopular conclusion. The label has become so commonplace because it is easier to label it (them) and then dismiss them. Just because they are Narcissists doesn’t mean that they aren’t still human and also right some of the time.
To me, labels are only helpful when they point me in direction of solution. And labeling someone with NARCISSIST only helps if it provides me information I can use. And I cannot ever diagnose someone, I do not have that degree or license. I lack the training and ability to diagnose...and so do most therapists who throw the term around, usually towards the spouse who is NOT their client.
My point in all of this is, so you are married or dating or co-parenting with a person who exhibits a great deal of the above behaviors...so what? Other than now joining the ranks of millions of other people who are being labeled a Narcissist, how does that help you?
When dealing with someone who displays any of the above behaviors, I think it is helpful to engage yourself in the following line of questioning:
1. How often do they display these behaviors and to what degree?
2. How does this information help you?
3. What can you do with the information to help you exit a relationship with this type of person?
4. What do you need to know to protect yourself from the negative effects of a Narcissist?
5. Ok, so you are married or dating a Narcissist. Now what?
We label to categorize people and things to make them more understandable. But if that is as far as we get, I feel, most especially where Narcissists are concerned, we don’t take it far enough.
Labeling a Narcissist in some ways diagnosis us as well. Who are we to be married to or dating this person? What does that say about us? What is our pathology? What is our deal?
Without looking at why we chose these type of people, we seem to be doomed. I am big believer in that the only person we can make happy is us. Also, the only person that can truly make us miserable is us. We give away these powers to others all the time to our own detriment. And the sooner we take our power back, from Narcissists, or anyone, the better our lives become and the freer we are to love people who are actually capable of giving it back.
Tomorrow we will look at this issue on the flip side: “Why did you pick a Narcissist?” Because I think that is where the healing happens. Then we will move on with how to use the Narcissist’s traits to your advantage. And how to disengage yourself from the web that all Narcissists spin.
We appear to be in a time where there is a pandemic of Narcissism as a society. That is a much larger topic and one to which I will say: that says a lot about us don’t you think? There must be rewards that are definitively sought after...otherwise why the proliferation? Think about that...