Understanding, Identifying, and Coping With Narcissistic Personalities
Most people have encountered an individual in their lives that was notably narcissistic. The term 'narcissistic' comes from the myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, and could not tear himself away. This characteristic of the Narcissistic Personality is an oversimplification of this difficult personality.
The average individual has little knowledge of Narcissistic Personality other than associating these folks with 'someone full of themselves'. But this personality issue often has a broad spectrum of characteristics that spans normal, healthy narcissism to so called 'malignant', sociopathic narcissism, which is a mental health disorder. There are many people who suffer from Narcissistic Personality all around us, in every walk of life. From celebrities to politicians, even to individuals in ministry, narcissists turn up everywhere. And wherever they turn up, chaos, broken relationships, shocked witnesses, and high drama often are the norm. The average person is able to articulate that there is something off, or something wrong, or something confusing about the narcissist, but have a hard time defining the problem or recognizing the Narcissistic Personality for what it is: a mental health disorder of personality.
In normal human development there is a stage of childhood where the child is extremely self centered and demanding, usually from infancy to around age three. It returns again in the early teenage years. Just imagine the tantrums that two year olds and fourteen year olds can have as a method to get what they want. The adult narcissistic personality is basically emotionally 'stuck' at age two, but inhabits an adult body, with adult experiences. A child in the 'terrible twos' pales in comparison to the power, manipulation, and tactics of an adult narcissist.
The Narcissistic Personality got to be where they are due to having lived with a parent with a Narcissistic Personality, though all children of narcissists do not become narcissists. The relationship between the narcissistic parent and the child is often one of extreme emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse. The other thing that shapes the narcissist is time. Over time, they get lots of practice in creating the 'mask' that makes them look as if they have a self esteem and a normal emotional life. And what a mask it is! Under the grandiose self presenting, there lies a two year old child who believes that they are worthless and unlovable. The narcissist never really enters genuine, intimate relationship, and they never really come to love others. They have no real ego or personality development. Rather, they rely on others to give them a reflection of themselves, to be mirrors, in effect. They have learned that other people either hurt or abandon them, and they can only rely on themselves.
The Narcissistic Personality has a lifelong pattern of extreme symptoms, which may include the following:
Self-centered need for adulation and attention; it's all about them.
Any attention is better than no attention, even negative attention.
They are grandiose, entitled, more important than others; their agenda must be foremost. Their program, initiative, plans, and ideas are clearly more important than any others.
Other people's ideas, achievements, and successes are not nearly as important, brilliant, or as good as theirs.
They will deride others behind their backs, or purposely sleight them directly. Backstabbing and gossip are a narcissist's playground.
Their grandiosity is often easily seen by outsiders a smokescreen, but is swallowed whole
by those who keep 'supplying' them with attention and adulation.
They often tell mistruths, twisted truths, or outright lies with impunity, often believing their own lies or telling outrageously unbelievable lies. They may become insulted or fly into rage when their lies are challenged.
They exploit people, use people, and throw them away easily if the person stops doing what they want. You can be their best friend one day, but if you cross them, you are anathema.
They are in constant search for 'Narcissistic Supply' (NS) ; people who are willing to be mirrors to them and give them the adulation that they feel they deserve. Or, they 'seduce' people with charm, compliments, and intense attention in order to trick a person into being their NS.
Narcissistic Personalities often develop many NS sources, and will have a small, close group of NS individuals around them that not only supply them with adulation, but can also be used as 'minions' to sic on those that the narcissist desires to defame or damage.
A major motivation for the narcissist is the gaining of power; it is their drug (as they believe that power is their due). Any kind of power will do, including the power to gain NS to the power to infuriate or make others angry or shocked, to even the ability to control those in superior positions.
Their actions and words often do not match. Others find them curiously shallow, awkward with emotional situations, fake, forced, insincere, callous. Every action appears to be a 'performance'.
Narcissists can be charming and kind one moment, the abusive bullies the next, often with shocking displays of temper tantrums, rage and anger not commensurate with the situation.
They kick others to the curb once they are of no use.
They do not have real emotional expression, but are masters of manipulating others. Victims often find themselves doing what the narcissist wants, even though they did not want to do so.
They have an uncanny ability to seduce to the point of 'brainwashing' others.
They will take your criticism or request of them, twist in such a way that they express anger and rage, and blame it on you!
They will offer scathing assessments (even contrived lies) about others, but fly into a rage if any criticism comes their way.
They have inconsistent, temporary relationships. Often, those who are not offering NS will drift away or actively avoid the narcissist.
In organizations like businesses or churches, the narcissist wreaks havoc among staff, often able to get away with their sabotage scot-free and smelling like a rose. They can even fool judges and psychologists.
They find power intoxicating, no matter if it is gained positively or negatively. The ultimate power for them is attention; they cannot tolerate anyone or anything other than them getting the attention in any situation. They will reliably 'one up' or 'upstage' someone who is getting attention, or very soon viciously attack them directly with lies and gossip, or with their minions.
The narcissist is an unabashed violator of boundaries: physical, emotional, and mental. They will make decisions that are not theirs to make and they will assume that they have the right to use, borrow, or even keep anything that belongs to others. They will routinely violate budgets with offhanded remarks or vague explanations.
When their NS supply dries up (it inevitably does, once enough people catch on), they will become dysphoric, depressed, engage in high drama, or will rage.
They will fiercely protect their NS (not the person, per-se, but the impersonal NS). If the NS is of no more use, they will cast them aside. They will make implicit and even explicit threats to their NS victims to keep them in place.
The victims of the narcissist get trapped into becoming NS by either brainwashing, or because the individual discovers that they have been 'taken in' and may have done the narcissist's bidding. This is both embarrassing and potentially damaging to the NS’s integrity and reputation. The only choice is to continue to serve the narcissist, or to keep quiet about the narcissist's secret.
Because people either flee the narcissist or have unwittingly become a part of their NS and are embarrassed by this, the Narcissistic Personality very often goes unchallenged. The narcissist will then take the game as far as they possibly can, getting ever more outrageous. By the time challenge comes, there has been much pain, damage, and often total destruction of a family, business, or church.
In business, narcissists may inhabit middle or upper management, and are brutal dictators to work under. They may violate personal space, union rules, and even the personal lives of those who work under them. Most victims endure hell before being ruined emotionally and career wise. In most cases, the only answer is to submit or quit.
Because of the nature of 'church', it is a common environment for narcissists. The narcissist may bea church board member wielding remarkable power over the programs of the church, or a ministry staff member that at least some in the congregation realize is out of control and causing members to leave, or even a pastor, who holds tremendous power of position and influence.
Narcissists are ideological chameleons, changing positions in service to self. They do not have genuinely ordered, systemic moral codes; all morality is relative to their desires. They are often obvious hypocrites.
Their chameleon nature allows them to marginally 'pass' in public, but they are dictators and terrorists in their private lives. They often have incredibly dysfunctional and damaged family lives; it is not uncommon for them to have multiple marriages or partners (that they still use as NS), or ex’s that they harass and stalk relentlessly. Many have a long pattern of cheating on their partners.
Narcissists are emotionally stunted and immature; when they tantrum they really look like a two year old.
They will easily lie and gossip about others if it makes them look better, or do this just for the power / thrill of it.
The narcissistic personality will demonstrate back handed insulting behavior to others in order to let others know how special the narcissist is, and how others should be adoring them. Behaviors like totally ignoring others, being late for important meetings or events, simply not attending or walking out of events, consistently going over budget, avoiding being a team player at all costs, refusing to consult or ask for help are all common back handed behaviors.
There is no having a relationship with a Narcissistic Personality; you may be in relationship with them, but they are not in relationship with you. You are only in their life to make them look good or because you are useful to the narcissist.
Narcissists often make outrageous claims of previous honors and accomplishments, or 'close personal friendships' with notable people or organizations. Cursory examination reveals this as pure fantasy.
Interaction with the Narcissistic Personality often feels like a game of 'let's pretend': everyone is supposed to pretend that the narcissist is royalty and the commoners are to pay homage, adulation, and thrill just to be in their presence let alone be given their attention or special favors.
Many professionals say the best way to cope with a Narcissistic Personality is to get away, as far away as you can, as fast as you can. They do not like to let go of a person that they perceive as Narcissistic Supply.
The second task is to coping with a Narcissistic Personality is to realize that your sensation that 'something is wrong' is right. Experienced narcissists are excellent manipulators that can convince you that it is you, and not them that have the problem.
The next task is to learn about and understand the Narcissistic Personality. Without this knowledge, you will be constantly blindsided and sucked in to their strange, dramatic world.
The best way to cope with a narcissist is to get away from them. The treatment success is extremely poor, and requires the narcissist to confront their own behaviors and inner damages, and they often simply refuse to do that, or even acknowledge that they have any problem at all.
The next best thing is to learn to block their narcissistic behaviors. In short, ignore them and remove any Narcissistic Supply (NS) that they are getting from you. They hate to be ignored, and will go on to someone else to find NS.
'Catching them out' on their lies, imperfections, and grandiosity is also effective and tends to shut them down. They hate light to be shined on their secret methods. They will tend to avoid people who can see through their ruse and identify them for what they really are.
Never award them the attention for their intimidation, shock or displays of rage; respond with being nonplused. Since they often have an uncanny ability to read other people's reactions and emotions (from long experiential study of manipulative techniques), they can even sometimes pick up on your thoughts about them from just observing you. Even this supplies their ever hungry narcissistic need.
Be super assertive and just say 'no' to their ridiculous requests, suggestions, and demands.
Interrupt their use of NS minions by challenging the person they have sent to do their dirty work.
Since narcissists will belittle attempts of the commoners to control them, finding an outside authority to challenge them is often effective in shutting them down.
Press the narcissist to discuss or express deep emotion consistently; they avoid this like the plague and find approaching genuine intimacy and emotion to be very uncomfortable.
Change things up, and often. Narcissists tend to live lives of patterns and routines, and do not much like changes to the order of 'how things go'. Once they have their system of manipulation and a 'minion organization' in place, they get upset when someone challenges the group-think process. The narcissist is the head of the 'group-think' and their many followers are content to simply follow the wants and be the 'yes-men' of the narcissist.
Treat them like 'nothing special'. The narcissist cannot tolerate others not deferring to them as if they are God's greatest gift.
Identify and build strong personal boundaries against the narcissist's violations. These boundaries should include emotional, mental, and even physical boundaries. And make the boundaries strong, enforceable, and leak-proof.
To cope with a Narcissistic Personality effectively, you must be able to differentiate, consistently validate your own experience and morals, and hold on to yourself with a firm grip, never allowing the narcissist entry into violating and controlling your emotions, thoughts, or behaviors. If you don't, they will eat your lunch and tell you that YOU already ate it!
Finally, pray for the narcissist; they have a nightmare of a mental health disorder that only at the deepest, unconscious level do they admit having. Their life is one of constant pain of finding their identity in what others mirror to them. They work tirelessly to create a person to the world of someone who is normal, happy, and successful instead of the shallow shell that they really are. They are grown people with a hurting, damaged, raging child inside, and they have no idea how to stop the pain.