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Narcissists Live in the Moment

Updated on August 5, 2018
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The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach and specialist in cluster B personality disorders.

If you have a narcissistic loved one, then you have probably realized they often don't seem able to see very far into the future. This can cause problems when trying to deal with them in realistic terms. For example, let's say you only get paid once a month. The narcissistic person in your life may seem to see this as just one lump sum of money that is available right now, with no apparent understanding that it has to last until the next payment comes. They seem to see it as "Hey! We have X amount of money right now! We can buy this and this and this!" and no matter how many times you try to explain that the money has to be budgeted so it will last, they don't seem able to understand this concept. They will simply be angry and resentful that you will not do what they want.

It's sort of like the way children look at things. Kids often have no concept of planning or budgeting. They don't understand how things work. If they see that Mom has $600 in her purse, they think "Hey, we have $600!" They don't realize or understand that money is for bills and food and gas for the car. When Mom says, "No, I have no money to buy that toy," they don't understand and may become angry because "Mom does have money. She just won't buy my toy with it." An adult narcissist may react exactly the same way. And while we expect this from children, it can be confusing, frustrating and even maddening coming from another adult.

Pathologically narcissistic people don't just behave that way about money, either. They seem to exist in an endless moment of now, where everything that happened before doesn't matter and everything in the future does not exist. This is where the infamous "future faking" comes from. It's easy for narcissistic people to promise things for the future because to them, the future does not really exist. They're saying whatever they have to say now to get what they want now. Most of us don't promise things that we don't intend to deliver on, or that we don't think we will be able to do. This is because we are looking at it realistically. Pathologically narcissistic people don't operate that way. They aren't really thinking about it at all in a concrete way, and most of the time, they are anything but realistic. If they are forced to explain how they will achieve these things they are promising, there is often a lot of magical thinking involved. The attitude seems to be that "something will happen" and make it all go smoothly, or that "it'll all just work out." There is often no understanding at all that this is not how life works, or that plans cannot simply be made with no action behind them and be expected to work out. And of course, this is only true in the case that they actually meant any of it at the time. Sometimes they do, but other times it's just lies.

This propensity for living in the moment can manifest in various different ways. One of the most troublesome ones for people dealing with pathologically narcissistic loved ones is the manifestation of this mindset as poor impulse control. It often seems that narcissistic people cannot let opportunities pass them up. Whether it is sleeping with people, reckless spending, quitting jobs, binge drinking and using drugs, stealing, gambling, rage behavior or any other type of impulsive behavior, this is one of the most dangerous aspects of narcissism. Acting on the urge to feel better in the moment often has long-term consequences for both the narcissistic person and others that are not considered because the narcissistic person is living for right now. All that matters is what I want right now. All that matters is feeling better right now. It is all done in the name of survival, and because of this, the narcissistic person generally feels it is justified or at the very least, understandable. When other people do not react this way, the narcissistic person may claim they are being mistreated or that others are being unfair. The way their actions have affected or hurt others does not matter. They are the only ones that matter and if you don't want them to feel better in the moment just because it hurts you, you are cruel and selfish. Some may take this as manipulation, and it is, but their belief in their own victimhood seems very genuine. They really do seem to believe they are the most important thing and everyone else is supposed to care more about them than their own self. They are shocked when it does not go that way.

One of the most common and consistent ways that this live in the moment mindset presents itself is as ingratitude. Pathologically narcissistic people are often very dismissive of the things that others have done for them in the past if they are not getting what they want in the moment. It doesn't seem to matter how much you have done for this person. The minute you say no, you are cruelly and punitively withholding. If you have given them $100 yesterday, they want another $100 today or you never give them anything because you're selfish. If you spent the whole day with them today and you can't tomorrow, you never spend any time with them because you hate them. There is no end to the need with this type of person and no way to give them enough so that they will be satisfied. You could give to your absolute limit every day and they will still want more.

This is often where people get stuck, caught in an endless loop of trying to prove themselves to this person and hoping that one day they are finally going to do enough for this person that it will be recognized and appreciated. Unfortunately, this does not usually happen. What usually happens is that, frustrated and exhausted, the giving person finally realizes it is hopeless and stops giving, or the narcissistic person uses the giver for everything they can and then moves on when there is nothing left.

There is no understanding from the narcissistic person of sacrifices made for them, of the hardship they are encouraging for another person, of gratitude, of anything. If you can't afford it - emotionally, financially, or any other way - there is no recognition of this, no empathy for it. It just doesn't matter. All that matters is that you give them what they want. What they need. If you don't, they will often mistreat you until you do. They may freeze you out in cold silence, cut you off, rage and terrorize the house, become hysterical, depressed, suicidal or engage in any manner of other behaviors designed to torment, harass and punish you until you do.

This is again, not unlike small children. When a baby needs something, they have no empathy for the mother. If she is exhausted, if she is stressed, if she is sick, if she is in pain... there is no sympathy from the baby. There can't be. It is the shrieking, single-minded struggle for survival and there is no empathy in it. If their needs do not get met, they will die and there is no room for other people's pain in that equation. Pathologically narcissistic people operate in the same way. Some people compare them to predators instead of babies, and regarding the lack of empathy in pursuit of survival, this can be a fair comparison. However, predators can attend to their own needs. They can sustain themselves. The pathologically narcissistic people among us cannot.

Just as a baby has no way to meet their own needs, pathologically narcissistic people are dependent on others. The only way they know how to survive is by forcing others to meet these needs for them, through any number of means. It may be through manipulation of some type, harassment, rage behavior, begging, hysteria or any number of other things. The behaviors can vary, depending on the individual's personality or change depending on the situation, but the motive doesn't vary, the goal doesn't change and the message is always the same: Give me what I want or you will be sorry.

When dealing with pathologically narcissistic people, it is important to remember that they don't look at the situation the way that you do. They can only see now. Things which don't affect them generally have no emotional meaning for them - which is to say, these things have no meaning at all - and things which do not confirm or validate their feelings are often not even processed at all. This is why you can take ten minutes to explain something to them and they will continue right on talking when you're done, as if you never even said anything at all. No acknowledgment, no response. You might as well be talking to a brick wall. They're not listening. They don't care. All that matters is the part of the conversation where they find out if they are getting what they want, whatever that might be.

This is why we say, stop explaining to the narcissist. There's no point. It makes no difference. You can say it a hundred different ways - a thousand different ways - and it doesn't matter at all. They don't care about anything you're saying except whether they will get what they want or want. And again, this is not just about material items. It could be something they want you to do, or say, or be - or not do, not say or not be. Their self worth and identity are totally reliant on what other people reflect back to them. This is extremely important to understand, because every minute of every day is spent trying to manipulate, convince and force people to mirror back at them what they need to see in order to survive.

It seems that the only time the past or the future ever matters to a pathologically narcissistic person is when they are talking about what they believe others have done to them. And even then, their concept of time can seem very flawed; they may talk about something that happened years ago as if it were recent, or they may speak of something recent as if it were a long time ago. Generally, you will find that if something has no emotional impact on pathologically narcissistic people, it has no impact at all. This is why their memories of perceived trauma at the hands of others are often recounted as if they just happened even if the situation was years before, yet their memories of their own behavior seem very distant, even if it wasn't very long ago at all. This is likely because they have not processed their feelings very well about the trauma at the hands of others - if they've processed it all - so it feels fresh. And of course, they often have no feelings about their own behavior because they believe they are justified in whatever they do. Whatever they did might as well have been 100 years ago for all that it really matters to them. There are exceptions to this, of course, but in general, this is what you see.

So remember, when you're dealing with a pathologically narcissistic person, you are dealing with someone who really only understands right now. That's all that matters to them and all that's important. In a way, it's understandable. When someone is locked in a day to day struggle just to survive, it's not difficult to understand why they live in the moment. For them, that's all there is.

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