Thursday, December 31, 2015

When a Narcissist Rules Your World

I’ve had more than my fair share of narcissists in my life, but it was not until the news story about therapists diagnosing Donald Trump as a narcissist that I felt it was worth talking about – publicly. In talking about it privately, it seemed to me that most people had never heard of narcissism as a personality disorder, so it was like talking to a blank wall the few times I attempted it. 

Now, I think maybe, just maybe, talking about it may help someone else. Perhaps, if I write out my take on how narcissists affect a family, someone out there will recognize the narcissist in their life and be able to cope a little better. I say cope because really that’s all that can be done. There’s no changing a narcissist, at least according to what I’ve read and my own experiences. 

At the end of this post, you’ll find a number of links with the benefit of professional advice and information, so please be aware that the opinions I express here are just that - opinions, rather informed ones, but still opinions without the benefit of any professional training.

Recognizing a Narcissist

1 – In my opinion, the number one trait and the easiest to recognize is the complete and total requirement for others to comply with the desires of the narcissist. This can range from demanding a certain lifestyle to having partners, spouses, parents and children that perfectly reflect the image the narcissist has of her/himself. Or insisting on eating at their choice of restaurant or agreeing with their opinions (thereby being on their team). Not going along with those desires can result in outright arguments or simply passive/aggressive behavior, all aimed at ultimately bringing about whatever it was the narcissist wanted in the first place. 

2 – The second dead-giveaway is the total lack of empathy. An article from Psychology Today defines empathy as follows: “Empathy can be defined as a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another person, fictional character, or sentient being. It involves, first, seeing someone else’s situation from his perspective, and, second, sharing his emotions, including, if any, his distress.” (click here for the full article). 

While narcissists can express and feel sympathy, they cannot put themselves in the place of others. Things like gift-giving can be excruciating for them, and in fact, they are usually very bad at it because selecting a great present for someone requires being able to know intuitively what another would like.

They will often make outrageously insensitive remarks because they cannot understand what a comment’s effect will have on another and in many cases, just don’t care. 

3 – Narcissists cannot accept fault for anything. It is too painful because they are so emotionally fragile. In fact, in my experience, a narcissist cannot be wrong. Even if they occasionally mouth the words, “I was wrong,” they don’t really believe it.  Some narcissists will have learned key phrases that are socially acceptable and even how to use them at the appropriate moments, but seldom mean it if the phrase reflects “badly” on them. 

4 – Lying is just another in their bag of tricks for narcissists to get what they want. Often, the story will change several times, according to what makes them look the best and again, get what they want.

5 – The traditional description of a narcissist includes a sense of grandiosity – their own importance. This can be a bit deceiving, I think, because while that’s certainly descriptive of someone like Trump, some with apparent insecurity may not display this trait or sometimes, it appears as a sense of entitlement rather true self-importance. More of “they owe me this” rather than “I’m better than so and so”. 

6 – Because the under-lying sense of self-esteem is so low for narcissists (although they may display high self-esteem), they tend to collect imagined slights. Things that are not intended as a put-down may be interpreted that way with obsessive over-analysis. Narcissists have long mental lists of people who have “done them wrong” and keep a full accounting of all the things each has done to the “victim.” There is usually a shifting “scapegoat”, the person most at fault with them at that moment. Most people in their lives will eventually be given that position at one point or another. The one exception is the person who is most fulfilling their needs, which leads into the last attribute I will describe in this piece...

7- Narcissists are basically big bags of emotional needs which can never be completely satisfied and in their pursuit anyone is fair game. They are ultimately users who demand rather than ask for their over-sized needs to be fulfilled. If you’re deeply involved with a narcissist you’ve noticed that you seem very, very important to them until you’ve provided their current need. Then you may become invisible until the next time they need someone to go to the movie, they’ve selected, with them, or to agree with them in an argument against someone else, etc. Remember, that you can never, ever truly satisfy a narcissist, because the minute you’ve fulfilled one need (without acknowledgement in most cases) another arises.

In a family or work situation, narcissists wreak havoc. To say they create dysfunctional situations is a complete understatement. They are like whirling dervishes, (from Urban Dictionary):

(n.) A person whose behavior resembles a rapid, spinning object. These actions are often spastic fidgeting and incessant babbling. The actions of the whirling dervish are irritating and annoying, often exhausting other people in the immediate vicinity.

Once you’ve accepted that the person in your life is indeed a narcissist (a very difficult realization if you happen to love them) you have very few options. Even the most positive assessments for the prognosis of narcissists don’t hold out much hope for treatment or change. Therefore, the choices are 1) go along or 2) get out.

Sometimes, there is only one choice – to go along because of family circumstances. If that’s the situation you’re in, consider getting help. A therapist or support group can give you tips on how to best handle your narcissist and if nothing else, someone educated to understand that with which you’re dealing.

Narcissists tend to develop co-dependent relationships and depend heavily on those to survive. This is too simple an examination to go into this at length, but since I can think of three of these situations off the top of my head, I will say that if a person has been co-dependent with a narcissist for any length of time the chances of that person recognizing it is very slim – again, in my humble opinion – but there’s always hope with therapy.

I sincerely hope that this post will assist someone in spotting a narcissist that is killing their chances of a happy life and maybe figuring a way out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Shared Languages

I’ve been in four countries now where very few people speak the same language I do and even when I do come together with someone who speaks English there are challenges, either from accents or the meaning of words. 

However, I’ve had reason to think about this – communication, that is – long and hard over the past few days and I’ve realized that in my own country, I really don’t speak the same language as many of my countrymen and they don’t speak mine.

What I mean by that is that we aren’t hearing each other at all. And I fear we never will. I see things everyday on my trusty laptop that concern me, either through news reports or social media. I watch as both conservatives and liberals – I am a very liberal liberal – speak their truths and then I watch the commentaries afterwards – again, on both social media and new sources. These are not conversations. They are diatribes against whatever is the news release of the day, or anything anyone has on their mind. There is no attempt to understand another viewpoint and frankly, that includes me, too.

Recent studies have shown that we are becoming more and more isolated within groups of our own persuasions. Liberals read and watch liberal outlets and Conservatives do the same thing. And thus we are being pushed further and further apart.

So here’s my beef with turning everything into a battle of politics or religion. What’s the point? If we are not listening to each other, it is simply a vomiting of opinion. My opinion isn’t going to be changed by the fact someone I have heard of or even know believes something. What I think and believe is formed by experience and true information. I don’t accept things at face value, either. Here follows an example:

I was on Instagram and a picture of Jon Stewart was posted next to a policeman with the caption “His only crime was”…(then an explanation that he was supporting continued care for 9/11 first responders). This would lead you to believe that Jon Stewart had been arrested for something. Not true at all. And these types of provocative messages appear all day long on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. from both sides of any issue. Had I not looked further into it I would have been irate and fuming. 

So what is the point, really? If you just want people to know where you stand, I get it. But let’s not pretend there’s any higher purpose. Change only comes about when both parties are open to change. Period. When I meet someone I feel will listen to my point of view without judging me, and I do sometimes, then I open up about how I feel. The furthest I’m willing to go in an open forum is to support those who do express an opinion I agree with by clicking "like" or the heart sign (whatever), and in truth there’s no actual benefit to that either, except not letting that person hang out there all alone. 

So this is an open question to all, feel free to express yourself here, because that’s what this post is for.

Hopefully, someday we’ll all speak the same language again. I’m usually an optimist but I don’t hold out much hope.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

What is Luxury?

Dining room at Le Meridien
Most people would agree that staying in a 5-star hotel is probably pretty luxurious and I would agree. That’s why I thoroughly enjoyed my two-day stay at the Le Meridien in Ho Chi Minh City (the amazing bathtub and cloud-like bed especially). However, in my time traveling through Asia, I’ve realized I have a new definition of luxury:

Anything that isn’t absolutely necessary is a luxury in that moment. 

Library lounge at Le Meridien

So my thoughts about this started swirling around when I happened to stay in a hotel that had two items that for me were completely luxurious, a pool and a lamp by the bed that could be easily switched off when I’d had lulled myself to sleepiness by reading. 

The lamp was the first thing I focused on. Most of my other rooms required that I turn the light off somewhere near the door – therefore nowhere near the bed on which I lay prone, completely relaxed and ready to nod off.  I found myself so thankful for this simple feature as I rolled over and flipped the switch. 
Le Meridien's 9th floor pool.

It wasn’t until I stepped into the still warm salt water of the pool at my hotel in Siem Reap my first night there that I truly appreciated the magnitude of having a pool at the hotel. Oddly enough, I had one in Alona Beach, Philippines, and I used it. It was just outside my room, but this pool in Cambodia was somehow more relaxing and more enjoyable. The ownership had surrounded this one with palms and lovely cabana chairs. There was even an arbor to one side. This pool felt personal and therefore more luxurious. And on top of all that, I had the great pleasure of meeting very fun, nice people in and around that pool!

The pool in Siem Reap
In the little hotel I’m staying in here in Ho Chi Minh City, there’s not much that could be considered luxurious until you consider that the convenience store next door is open 24/7 in case I need something and anything I wish to eat I can find in one of the many restaurants within 50 feet of the hotel. Tonight I found wonderful Indian food I’d happily pay much more for – an incredible chicken curry – at the amazing price of $3.11. Now that’s luxury!

Perspective is the number one factor in determining luxury, followed closely by gratitude. What’s a luxury to you?