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.