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How to Deal With Narcissism
What is Narcissism?
Like many other psychological issues, there is a range of narcissism from mild to severe. Because of our inherent ego (as analyzed by Freud), a tendency to want to protect, celebrate and honor yourself is normal.
Yet, some people go much farther on the narcissism scale. Depending on the severity and the person's self-awareness, a narcissistic individual can be very difficult to relate to. Not surprisingly, many of their relationships fail. In extreme cases, a relationship with a narcissist can be emotionally abusive and damaging, particularly where children and significant others are involved.
The Mayo Clinic defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as:
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
After years of sitting in a counselor's chair, I finally asked myself whether I have narcissistic tendencies. I value my friendships, my marriage and relationships with my kids. And I don't want to be that self-absorbed person that can only talk about themselves and seek to control every situation in which they find themselves.
I have also come to certain realizations regarding my parents, siblings and spouse. While I cannot change their behavior, I can change my own reactions. Based on my personal experience, you may be able to deal with narcissism, in mild situations, with the proper tools and approaches.
NOTE: I am not a psychologist. If you are in a relationship with a person that shows symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (whether a co-worker, lover, spouse or parent), you may wish to seek professional advice.
The Myth of Narcissus: Self-Worship Ends in Tragedy
Narcissism is a term based on the Greek Mythology story of Narcissus. Briefly summarized, the myth tells the tale of a handsome man, Narcissus, who was punished for rejecting the love of a water nymph (Echo). The gods caused him to fall in love with his own image, reflected in a pond. Narcissus stared at himself for hours and hours, days and days.
Unfortunately, the reflection could not reciprocate any love, no matter how obsessively Narcissus worshiped it. Nor could he take a drink of water from the pond because, to do so would shatter the "perfect image" and expose his flaws and needs.
Eventually, Narcissus died of heartache, and a flower grew in his place.
One-Way Conversations with a Narcissist
- Smile and nod - do not try to "talk over" the narcissist
- Excuse yourself - perhaps you have an appointment, or simply need to get back home or back to the office to complete a task
- Realize that you do not "owe" the person any more of your time than you are willing to give
- Be consistent and firm - a narcissist may continue attempts at manipulation. Stand your ground!
- No is a complete answer - no explanations are necessary and should be avoided if possible
- Avoid asking a narcissist for advice
- The less you say, the less they have to "work with" - do not inadvertently invite explanations or offers of expertise
- Say, "thank you for your suggestions, I will consider them." Do not attempt to argue your position on the topic of discussion to convince the other person they are incorrect
Dealing with Mild Narcissism
There are several, relatively simple tips on how to deal with narcissism, when it is mild (see right).
A mild narcissist is overly eager to talk about him or herself. They can still usually empathize to a certain degree with others, and may offer to help those in need. This condition can be annoying to others because the narcissist tends to monopolize conversations and often seems to be bragging about themselves, their spouse or partner, their kids, their job and/or their possessions.
A narcissist often takes a lot of photographs of his or her family or themselves, and may document their every move on social networks, via posting, commenting, or uploading links or photographs for others to see and comment. They will interrupt conversations in groups and switch the topic back to them, or to a member of their family or someone they know. Its as if they feel like they have to be talking to be contributing to the discussion!
These people tend to have big personalities - so give them room! You are not condoning their behavior or allowing them to walk all over you. Rather, you may simply recognize the fact that a narcissist has little leftover attention to give you. They usually feel compelled to seek approval of others, which is what they want from you!
Its not a two-way conversation with a narcissist. However, you probably have other friends, family members and co-workers who are better prepared to listen to you. Just make sure you are not monopolizing those conversations!
Facebook for Narcissists
Signs and Symptoms of Narcissism
- Talk about themselves almost exclusively- rarely ask about you
- Delusions of grandeur - they are going to change the world!
- Lack of empathy - other peoples' problems do not concern them, or they respond to them with irritation and snap judgments that the problems can easily be "corrected"
- Turn conversations back to themselves constantly
- Obsessed with appearance (weight, body image, skin, hair, designer brands, jewelry, cars, houses, etc.); some seek plastic surgery to correct "imperfections"
- Attempt to control others, even down to minor details of life
- Lack of remorse.
- Extreme need for attention/admiration
- Believe that they are uniquely special
- Tendency to be contemptuous
- Jealous tendencies and/or belief that others are jealous of them
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
For people that have advanced to the level of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, they may not be aware that they function and interact differently than others.
This fact in and of itself is one of the hallmarks of narcissism: they refuse to believe that they have any flaws. They often erect a protective "barrier" around themselves to insulate themselves from emotions. A narcissist does not want to show any weakness or a tender side. Nor do they wish to be swayed by emotion. This is why it can be so difficult to be in a relationship with a narcissist. Your needs, feelings, desires, and emotions have little, if any, weight.
You may spot a narcissist in a position of authority - whether as office manager, president of the PTA, or chairman of the local arts foundation. They love to be in charge, sharing their "expertise," and controlling the operations of the institution. If you don't revere or adore them, watch out! Heaven help you if you disagree with or criticize them. A narcissist does not wish to have co-workers or committees to work with. They desire a group of "yes" people to accomplish their own goals and aspirations, and to make them look good as a result.
As described by relationship expert and author, Rokelle Learner:
Narcissists are actors playing a part. They are expert liars and, even worse, they believe their own lies. Practiced in dishonesty, they can't tell the difference between their own version of the truth and a falsehood. Narcissists lie to themselves first, and then systematically and often deliberately torture others with their lies. They may take the past and re-arrange it to make themselves look good. They rarely, if ever, admit fault and they never say they're sorry.
Does this sound like someone you know?
What if You are the Narcissist?
If you happen to have enough self-awareness that you can admit to having narcissistic tendencies, you will want to work to improve your relationships.
Like they always say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
Here's how to be a better friend, spouse, parent, child, co-worker, if you are a narcissist:
- Practice active listening - challenge yourself to ask at least one pertinent question (not "how are you," but a good follow up inquiry when someone updates you on their life)
- Do not turn the conversation back to yourself - unless specifically asked, stay engaged with the person talking to you
- Limit your interaction on social networks - if you cannot stop yourself from posting regular updates (2x a day or more), then put yourself on a budget. Only one per day unless it's a general comment about something that has nothing to do with you directly. This includes photos and videos.
- Celebrate your friends and families' successes - put yourself in someone else's shoes. If you were the one posting or discussing an item, how would you want others to react? Now, do the same for your relatives and friends!
- Challenge yourself to consider another viewpoint - no matter how small a topic, see if you can open your mind and listen without judgment to another person's perspective at least once a day
- Avoid certain topics of discussion - a narcissist may get exercised during a discussion involving politics and religion; if the topics come up, listen and enjoy any resulting debates among others that are present
- Avoid or limit alcohol or drug consumption - its hard to hold back the reins of a strong narcissistic personality when inhibitions are lowered.
Is there a Narcissist in your Life?
Spot a Male Narcissist
© 2013 Stephanie Hicks