Narcissism & The Problem With Personality Disorders
There is always a lot of talk about helping people who are pathologically narcissistic and treatments that could be tried and medications that can be used. There is always the question of why:
- Why can't they see the problem?
- Why won't they just stop reacting that way?
- Why don't they change their behavior?
This is the problem with personality disorders. Pathological narcissism is not just an emotional problem. It's not just a behavioral problem. It's not even just a perception, cognition or developmental problem. It's not a problem with just one area or part. The personality itself is disordered. The whole identity-personality structure is dysfunctional and maladapted. Literally the way they think is dysfunctional. If we think of the personality as a vehicle, think of the auto recalls you've seen in your life. It's usually things like, the braking system is faulty or the airbag system has a bug. It's a problem with one part of the vehicle. With a personality disorder, the metal the entire car was created from was compromised. It's not just a problem with one part or one system or one function. The entire thing has been affected.
This is one of the reasons narcissistic people don't often seek help for their actual problems: they don't see them. They may go to therapy for depression or anxiety, they may go because they believe they are the victim of abuse in the relationship and they may go because other people insist, but they generally don't go to therapy or seek help because they see the real problem. Because this is how it's always been, it seems normal to them. They don't see the problems that other people see.
If you heard voices in your head for your entire life, you would not just wake up one day and think it was odd that you hear voices. If someone else told you they didn't hear voices, instead of thinking you are odd or have a problem, you might think they are the ones who are odd or have a problem. If someone told you that hearing voices is abnormal, that would be super-hard for you to understand. That's kind of how personality disorders work. People with a personality disorder often do not realize there is a problem with the way they think or perceive things - even when it has been repeatedly pointed out. In the case of pathological narcissism, the personality has been structured in such a way as to keep threatening information and feelings away. In order for narcissists to realize there is a problem with the way they think and perceive things, they would have to accept this threatening information - and the feelings attached to it - when it is presented. Since their entire personality has been structured in such a way as to keep threatening information away... you can see the problem here.
Even if that could happen, there is still another problem. If you say to somebody, "Everything you think, the actual way you process and perceive information ... all the conclusions you come to... they're all wrong." Now what? It would likely require the person to think in a new way about everything. That is extremely difficult even when someone does not have a personality disorder.
And even if they could, their perception is affected and skewed. How can someone use flawed perception to find the flaws in their perception? This is why reality testing is often difficult for narcissistic people. When they look around at reality to determine whether or not their emotional conclusions are reasonable and rational, they often find evidence to support these conclusions - even when none exists. This is because their skewed perception causes them to interpret information incorrectly. That's how they came to the incorrect conclusion in the first place. That is very difficult to overcome.
A person can rely on a trusted friend to tell them how it really is, but pathologically narcissistic people have no one they trust that much and no ability to accept situations where they are wrong, so the chances of this happening - or of it being successful, should the narcissist request somebody to do it - are small. Even if they requested that someone help them in this way or call them on their behavior - and this is not unheard of, believe it or not - narcissists often perceive feelings as facts and evidence, therefore when you are arguing facts, it feels to them as if you are trying to talk them out of their feelings. This may be experienced by them as manipulative and abusive on your part.
It is doomed from the start either way. For example, a narcissistic person may say they want to be a healthier person and ask you to call them out if they sneak a cigarette after they quit. However, if you do so, you will likely be told that you are controlling and any other manner of negative things. Why? Because when they said that, they wanted to be healthier but right now they want to smoke. You're trying to stop them from what they want to do, so you are hurting them or are otherwise bad. You are pointing out their failure and therefore, you must be punished. It really is that simple, and it doesn't matter that they asked you to do it. You're not supposed to, although of course, if you don't do it, or if you don't agree that you will when they ask you, you are still hurtful and bad because you are not supporting or helping them when they need you. You cannot win with this kind of person. They don't even know what they want from one minute to the next and they want to implicate and punish everyone around them for their own inability to get it.
This is the problem with personality disorders, particularly those that involve narcissism. It isn't an isolated problem, or a problem with just one or two functions. It's a whole-system problem where the central dysfunction feeds off of itself through the maladapted parts. This is why we say narcissists have no "normal" to get back to: this is their normal. It's how it's always been. As foreign as their thought process is to you, that's how foreign yours would appear to them. It is not possible for you to adopt their thought process as your own. You can try to understand it and you can learn to deal with it, but you can't simply begin functioning using their thought process because you're not a narcissist. What makes you think they can adopt yours - or would even want to do so? Just something to think about.