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Stop Expecting Narcissists to be Like Everyone Else
Dealing with narcissistic people can be not only unpleasant, it can often be extremely frustrating. Probably one of the most frustrating things about dealing with them is that they are often so opposite from other types of people. Most people are basically who they say they are. They understand basic concepts, they perceive reality pretty much the same way you do. This is not so with narcissistic people. Their minds just don't work the way other people's minds work. It's not their fault, and it's not your fault. It's just the way things are.
Much of the frustration people feel when dealing with narcissists stems from the fact that a lot of times, people haven't truly accepted that this person is not like other people. There is a propensity to keep using the same methods to communicate with or deal with the narcissist and then frustration results because they don't work. And of course people keep using the same methods of communication because these methods are what they use with everybody, and they work with everybody except this one person.
It's like trying to communicate with someone who speaks a totally different language than you. You can't understand them and they can't understand you. The difference with narcissists is, you probably want to understand them but they generally are not worried about understanding you. One way communication usually doesn't work. You're listening to them, and they are listening to them. The only person who is being heard is the narcissist and even still, they usually do not feel understood a lot of the time. They are frustrated, you are frustrated and it's just a very unhappy situation.
Another reason for frustration is that people often don't understand why the narcissist just can't get it. Why can't they understand what the problem is, or what problems they are causing or what role they have in a situation? Why can't they understand that they are hurting others? Well, in a lot of cases, this is a misunderstanding in itself. The idea that they would stop their behavior if they understood it's hurtful is a reflection of your own basic humanity, not neccessarily the reality of the narcissist. Many of them understand just fine. They don't care. However, it's often very difficult for people to really wrap their heads around that, so instead they believe the narcissist doesn't understand. Some people stay stuck in this mentality for a very long time before they realize that it's not the case. And that makes sense; it's a very alien mindset in a lot of ways. How can someone just not care like that? But they really don't. The narcissist understands intellectually. It just doesn't matter to them. They understand intellectually that the family can't afford these things they keep buying, for example, or flirting openly with people hurts their significant other. But this information has no emotional significance for them and therefore it is meaningless. Buying things makes them feel good. Attention from others makes them feel good. That is what has meaning. The other things are simply collateral damage - if these things are even acknowledged at all, it is as unrelated instances that have nothing to do with them.
When dealing with narcissistic people, this mindset needs to be accepted so that time is not wasted trying to explain to this person what they are doing wrong and why it's wrong. In that regard, they will never get it because the problem isn't that they don't understand. It's that they look at it so differently than you do that they will never see where you are coming from in any way that matters. Repeatedly attempting to try and get through to them is only going to frustrate you more. It can frustrate them too, because many will feel you are nagging them over stupid things that don't matter. Others may feel you are demonizing their behavior. Either way, trying to force them to care about the impact their actions have on other people is pointless. It's unfortunate that they don't, and it's not how most people are but it's what it is. People cannot be made to feel feelings they don't have.
Narcissists are not like other types of people. They cannot become like other types of people. They are what they are, just like you are what you are. Expecting them to stop being a narcissist would be like expecting a person with two broken legs to get up and walk. They are not able to do what you want them to do. They have to be accepted for who and what they are. That doesn't mean you have to stay in any kind of relationship with them; acceptance doesn't mean approval, but it does mean that the reality of the situation has to be accepted. This person has a serious problem. They are not just going to snap out of it, unfortunately, and they aren't going to change.
So when we say that people need to stop expecting narcissists to be like everyone else, what does this mean? It means that narcissists need to be understood and evaluated as they are, not as people think they should be. They don't think like other people do, or feel, perceive or reason like other people do. They are not going to, no matter how many times anyone tells them or explains things. That has to be accepted or the hurt their loved ones experience at the constant re-opening of these wounds every time the narcissist does what narcissists do is never going to be able to heal. Your expectations are probably pretty reasonable and regular; you probably want what most people want: to be respected, to be treated with decency and compassion and fairness. But narcissists are not reasonable. They are not regular. They cannot meet these expectations and don't care to anyway. They simply want what they want and that's it. That's the most important thing to them, regardless of where on the spectrum they fall. Some are more abusive than others, some may have more of a conscience or a sense of empathy than others, some may be less unpleasant than others or whatever, but in the end, what's most important to all of them is what they want. Whatever that thing may be at the time, it is the only thing that matters. Anything that gets in the way of that is a problem for them.
Part of healing and moving on is understanding that this is the reality of the situation and it's not going to change. When you can adjust your expectations of the narcissistic person and accept that what they are is just what it is, you can eliminate some of the stress and pain of dealing with them. So much of our distress comes from our expectations of what things should be like. There is an old Buddhist teaching which states that the root of all suffering is desire. Look at narcissists. All they know is desire and want, and they are miserable for it. That's one of the reasons relationships with narcissistic people is so painful: the desire and the reality are vastly different. That desire keeps people holding on and trying long after they know they should move on. With true acceptance of the situation and the understanding that this person is not like everyone else and never will be, that desire and the expectations that arise from it can be adjusted so that more realistic things can be put in place and suffering can eventually be eliminated. Once people accept the reality of the situation, they can then decide whether this is something they want in their life or not.